Monday, September 26, 2016

Help Students Stay Organized With The Google Classroom Stream

I'm writing all about blended classroom tips and tricks over the next few weeks--those really useful things I've "discovered" as I go hybrid (pen and paper blended with digital). So far, we've learned how to submit pen and paper work digitally with a Chromebook and how to take a poll in Google Classroom.

I'm loving blending my classes so far, but the most important thing when we're going back and forth between digital and pen and paper is that the students stay organized and know right where to find everything.

During the spring, I wrote about helping the students stay organized while blending by creating a printed three column table of contents (I have a free template for it HERE) and then having students create sub-folders in their Google Classroom folder for each unit.

Blended Classroom Table of Contents Sample: Notice the three columns that direct students to where they can find their resources for that unit.
Students creating all those sub-folders is no longer necessary thanks to a brand new Google classroom feature. Now, when we create an assignment in Google Classroom, we can categorize it under a specific topic. I do mine by units so that when students are reviewing, they can click on the unit on the left-hand side and see all of the assignments (and only the assignments) that are categorized under that topic.

Here's how it works:

This is convenient for end of unit and exam reviews. You can direct students to their Table of Contents for each unit so that they know whether to look in their paper notebooks or in Google Classroom for specific questions. In Classroom, they simply click on the unit they need, and it filters the assignments for them. No more creating sub-folders in DRIVE.

Do you have any blended classroom tips and tricks to share? Let me know in the comments!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Monday, September 19, 2016

Poll Students with Google Classroom

Throughout this school year, as I discover things that I think are really cool or useful for the blended classroom (learn more about blended learning HERE), I'll write all about them. They may be things everybody else already knows, but they are novel to me, so I'm pretty excited. Lewis and Clark wrote all about things that were old hat to Sacajawea, but they wrote about them all the same.

So I'll be Clark here (Lewis, tragically, met his demise in a violent fashion--he's not one I want to identify with). Last week, I wrote about taking pictures of paper assignments and submitting them on a Chromebook (complicated at first and then surprisingly simple). Check it out HERE.

This week, I want to talk about polling in Google Classroom.

I love polling my classes. It's a great way to get the students engaged and a sneaky way to have them reflect. They are always interested in the final results.

Some of my favorite polls, using examples from each of the subjects I've ever taught, are:

-Who is the craziest Caesar in the Julian line? (World History)
A. Nero
B. Caligula
C. Tiberius

-What is the most arbitrary usage rule in the English language? (ELA)
A. Lay vs. Lie
B. Less vs. Few
C. Finished vs. Done

-Which personality disorder best describes Regina George in Mean Girls? (Psychology)
A. Borderline
B. Histrionic
C. Schizotypal

- Flash Mobs can best be explained by (Sociology)
A. Contagion Theory
B. Convergence Theory
C. Emergent Norm Theory

- Truman dropped the atomic bomb in order to (U.S. History)
A. Bring the war to a quick end.
B. Show the Soviets U.S. strength.
C. Punish the Japanese for Pearl Harbor.

Back in the day, my students would answer these polls on mini whiteboards. We already had these on our tables, so it was no effort. The results were more of a quick impression or a time-consuming count, though. Afterwards, we would discuss, debate, and compare our responses.

Then my school went Bring Your Own Technology, and we used the website to get analytics back right away. This is a good program, but it takes some effort to create an account and send the students there. We would discuss, debate, and compare our responses.

Now that we're 1:1 and use Chromebooks, my students are in google Classroom everyday. Last week, I "discovered" a feature that would allow me to take a poll right in Google Classroom. No effort. No redirection to a new site. No taking the time to count or just using impressions.

Here's how it works:


It's as simple as that. The students get to see the class results immediately. And afterwards, we still discuss, debate, and compare our responses.

Do you use polls in your classroom? If so, how? If not, do you think you might like to try? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Monday, September 12, 2016

Submitting Pen and Paper Work Digitally With a Chromebook

I've been back at school for over a month now, and we have officially gone 1:1. Each one of my students has her own Chromebook. No more fighting over technology carts on my hall. No more changing plans at the last second because the technology cart must be used for a "higher" purpose.

It is bliss--well, not quite bliss, but it is nice not to have to worry about having the necessary technology to implement my lessons.

But even though I started blending early (mixing digital with traditional instruction), many kinks still arise, and I still have a lot to learn. That's what this latest series is about. Hopefully, we can all learn from my mistakes with The Blended Classroom Tips and Tricks.

For the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about helpful things I am (often painfully) learning along the way in my school's 1:1 journey. So here it is:

The Blended Classroom Tips and Tricks #1: Submit Pen and Paper Work With a Chromebook

I've written in the past about how I intend to create a digital and paper "hybrid" (or blended) class. I think pulling a digital all or nothing is a mistake because certain things work best on paper and certain things work best digitally. And forcing a really great pen and paper assignment into the digital realm makes no sense to me. I've already written about it HERE. So I love it that Google Classroom offers an option to turn in pen and paper work digitally simply by snapping a picture of the completed assignment.

What I didn't anticipate when I wrote about submitting pen and paper work digitally in Google Classroom as we merrily used our IPAD cart was doing it on Chromebooks, my county's 1:1 device of choice.

On an IPAD, it is super simple--you click "ADD" in Google Classroom, and the IPAD gives you the option to take a picture.

The Chromebooks are not so simple. The first time I asked my students to do it, they were all hopelessly confused, and so I made a tutorial that I'm about to share with you now. Once students get used to it, it's simple, but don't approach it without clear guidelines for them. Hands will shoot up. Chaos will break out. Chromebooks will go flying. Trust me--I write from experience.

So here are the 11 Steps (that's right--11) to submitting pen and paper work digitally on a Chromebook.

Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3:

Step 4:

Step 5:

Step 6:

Step 7:

Step 8:

Step 9:

Step 10:

Step 11:

Download the free printable cheat sheet to share with your students, and feel free to share the film tutorial below, as well. 

Print it HERE!

I'll be back next week to discuss more blended classroom tips and tricks that a month of trial and error has taught me!

Are you 1:1 yet? What tips and tricks do you have to share? Be sure to leave a comment below to let me know!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Friday, August 26, 2016

Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

The first half year I taught, I did not smile. I did not suffer excuses. I frequently wrote students up. Granted, I walked into a unique situation. I've written about it before, so I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say that I took over classes mid-year in a troubled urban school after the teacher had been fired.

I did help bring order to chaos, and it felt good to have "succeeded," but I was miserable. I've recently concluded that I was so miserable because I entered a culture of chaos that somebody else had created and instead of trying to reshape it into a positive culture, I simply managed the old culture to death. That was exhausting.

"Classroom Culture" has become an educational phrase du jour, on the menu right alongside "Growth Mindset," "Flex-Grouping," "1:1," "Blended Learning," "Differentiation," and "Formative Assessment."  In education, we often hear phrases thrown around without a lot of advice as to their practical implementation.

Merriam Webster defines culture (the kind we're discussing) as "a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)."

Merriam Webster defines positive (the kind we're hoping for) as "thinking about the good qualities of someone or something: thinking that a good result will happen: hopeful or optimistic."

So let's talk implementing a positive classroom culture, one aspect of Webster's definition at a time.

We should focus on our students' good qualities. Everybody has them, and we need to find them. Even when they are misbehaving, we should not allow that to define who they are for us. We should address and have consequences for misbehavior, but we should always look for the positive in our students.

They should see that we are optimistic about who they are. On the first day of school, I have students fill out an index card. One of the things they put on it are their interests. I try to ask them about those interests and even bring them into lessons (usually tied into bellringers) and attend extra curricular events when I can.

Here are a couple of examples of how I've tied student interests into bellringers in a world history course:
- Classical Greece: A student mentioned she liked the Percy Jackson novels, so I showed a clip from the film and we discussed how it tied into the mythology we had been discussing. She was a quiet student but ended up leading that discussion.
- Middle Ages: I had a student who didn't have much success in school but competed in archery tournaments explain a demo of the English Longbow that I had shown from YouTube as a bellringer.

Not every student feels good about our respective subjects. If we behave as if we know that they are more than a grade in our class, we are creating a positive culture for them.

I work hard in my classroom. I work to plan lessons that I hope are engaging. I work to have grades posted in a timely manner. I take a lot of pride in my classroom. I work hard because I have hope that a "good result will happen."

I expect for my students to do the same. I am optimistic that if I take the work seriously and do my part, then so will the students.

When my son was three, I went to a talk on parenting led by child psychologist John Rosemond. One thing that he said really stood out to me. 

He said that in his younger days, he used to tell parents, "If you do this or that, you will get positive results."

He said that he wished he could take all of his "method" talk back. Equations for good behavior imply that the onus of good behavior is on the parent or teacher and it negates the reality of the child's free will.

All the parent or teacher can do is model for the child and expect to be obeyed. If the child chooses to do wrong, there should be consequences, but no amount of consequences can ensure that a child will choose right.

And so it is with all of us (life, liberty, and all), and so it is in the classroom.

Will they all follow my lead? Will they all think positively? Will they all behave optimistically? Will they all work diligently?

Well, no, they won't. But that doesn't mean that I can't expect them to and model those behaviors for them. That is what creating a positive classroom culture is all about. Oh, and of course, have consequences in place. Consequences are very, very important.

But we should never expect those consequences to control. That is exhausting. And it moves the onus of the students' behavior onto us. That's not where it belongs, and there's nothing positive about that.

Want more insight into creating a positive classroom culture? I know I do! Check out these other posts on the same topic from other classroom teachers.

Thanks to Desktop Learning Adventures and ELA Buffet for hosting!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Writing Blocks: A Writing Program Based on Deliberate Practice

If you are daunted by writing instruction, this post is for you. If you are looking for more 1:1 information, please check back next week. Writing is on my mind tonight. 

One of the most daunting tasks for any teacher is teaching writing. In the era of texting and Snap Chat, it can feel almost hopeless. I taught 8th through 11th grade ELA for six years before moving on to social studies, and it is an issue in both subjects.

Regardless of the subject I am teaching, I always require writing. Students should be doing it, and practice makes perfect, right?

Well, actually, wrong. If students are writing, that’s beneficial, and it has its place. They should be doing it. But if I sing in my typical off-key fashion every night in a friendly game of Rock Band with my son and husband, I may become more comfortable at singing, but I’m not going to get any better at it. I’m still singing off key.

Likewise, my students can journal and write essays on a weekly basis and become comfortable doing so, but they may not actually get any better at it. Eighteen weeks later, they are in the routine of writing, but their sentences are still not varied, their subjects and verbs still don’t agree, and their capitalization and punctuation are still inconsistent.

So what do we as teachers do about this? When I was working on my gifted endorsement 12 years ago, the instructor said, “If it’s not an ELA class, we should only grade the students on their content and not count off for grammar and mechanics.”

I have never disagreed with something more strongly in my career as an educator.

Writing is a medium for conveying ideas. If students are using that medium, then regardless of the subject we are teaching, they should use that medium correctly.

Would you ask a student to create a PowerPoint and accept a single slide packed with text? You would probably expect students to follow some guidelines in creating an effective presentation. The medium AND the content matter.

Why should that be any different for writing? Writing is not just the problem of the ELA teacher. Writing spans all of the content areas. Students should become adept at using the medium.

We all, then, regardless of our content area, need to have a writing emphasis. The question then becomes—how do we teach it effectively? Just having students do it is helpful, but it is not sufficient.

I became interested in generative grammar about 11 years ago when I was fumbling with this question as I was working on my Specialist degree. Generative grammar is essentially all about the logic and structure of language. It was originated by linguist Noam Chomsky. In essence, you use existing sentences to generate new ones.

I created a simple sentence imitation program that I used in my own classroom as a daily warm up and saw distinct improvements in student writing. But I never fully fleshed it out until recently.
It has become a daily writing program called “Writing Blocks.” Writing Blocks is based on the principles of generative grammar and sentence imitation that I became intrigued by so many years ago, but the true value and function of sentence imitation crystallized for me fairly recently. It all started with my addiction to podcasts.

I love podcasts. One of my favorites is FREAKONOMICS. Back in April, they did a series on self-improvement. One of the episodes was centered around K.A. Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice is the idea that anyone can become an expert at almost anything if they devote time each day to meaningful practice.

I have absolutely no musical talent, and again, if I sing in a Rock Band game every night, I may become more comfortable at singing, but the quality of my voice probably won’t improve. However, if I hire a voice coach and work on scales and improving my range and ear daily, I’m more likely to improve. That is meaningful, deliberate practice.

But what is meaningful practice when it comes to writing? I think it goes back to generative grammar. Students should look at existing sentences, consider their structure and meaning, and imitate them.
Most writers begin by reading and are somewhat derivative at first. On that same episode of Freakonomics, here’s what Malcolm Gladwell, an established writer had to say about his craft:

"I began as a writer trying to write like William F. Buckley, my childhood hero. And if you read   my early writing, it was insanely derivative. All I was doing was looking for models and copying them. And years of doing that — out of years of doing that, emerges my own style."

Gladwell did this by being a life-long reader. Many of our students have not been. So how do we help them make up for lost time?

That is difficult to do, just as it is difficult to learn a foreign language in old age, but it can be done. 

That is what this program attempts to do.

Each day, students are exposed to a different sentence. They discuss the sentence. They play with its order and its meaning. They imitate it. At the end of each week, they use those sentence patterns to construct a paragraph. At the end of six weeks, they use one of those paragraphs to construct an essay.

It comes with examples, rubrics, PowerPoint Presentations, and foldable graphic organizers. Check out this video preview:

You can grab a free sample of the program HERE.

How do you teach writing? Leave a comment below, and let me know!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

1:1 Ready: Teaching Digital Citizens

As teachers, most of us have more content than we can possibly teach well, let alone cover, in the time allotted to us.

Time has always been our enemy, but now we see 1:1 on the horizon, and a blended classroom promises to alleviate much of that stress. It is easier to flip, differentiate, assess, and grade than ever before.

But with these blessings comes a new burden—the burden of teaching our students to behave responsibly in the digital realm. We must now teach our students digital citizenship.

There are many components of digital citizenship, but I would define it simply as learning to behave responsibly in the digital realm.

Responsible digital behavior has several basic components, including but not limited to:


Students should maintain respect for one another and their devices at all times. They should refrain from harmful language and cyber-bullying. They should clean and care for their devices.

Students should understand that people they encounter online are not their friends and that conversations with friends online are not private. They should know never to disclose personal information such as location and passwords. They should understand the danger of meeting someone they met online in the real world.

Students should be aware of intellectual property laws and understand how to properly credit a source. They should understand that illegal downloading and sharing is theft.

     Students should understand that anything that they share, text, or upload will not go away. They should be aware of the permanence of their digital reputations and that it will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Students should be responsible with their internet use. They should not allow the digital world to consume them at the expense of real-world relationships. They should also be responsible with the sources they choose to trust and practice fact-checking.

 Download this FREE Sign (in color and black and white) and accompanying note page to remind students about the importance of these five components of digital citizenship for free HERE.

I spoke to other teachers (the type in the trenches) who are going 1:1 this fall about the need to teach digital citizenship (they all have blogs that I find immensely useful, so I’ve linked to them for you below, just click on their names), and here’s what they had to say.

Brittany Washburn, a science and technology specials teacher for grades 2-5, said:

Have you all seen the new ISTE standard 2 for digital citizenship? It's really intense wording. "Permanence of my actions" "legal and ethical behavior" "obligations of sharing intellectual property" "maintain digital privacy and security". They aren't messing around.
Starting the school year with digital citizenship when you're in a 1:1 classroom is so important to setting expectations.

Danielle Knight, a pioneer in creating digital interactive notebooks, and a secondary ELA special education teacher, said:

I try to instill the values in my students about credibility and what to believe online.

Danielle has an excellent point. How many of your students believe everything that they see online? The infamous Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is a clever example of that. We must teach our students to be discerning—now more than ever in this age of information overload.

Christina Schneider, a secondary ELA teacher, made an excellent point:

I don't think students always come to us with this as background knowledge. Just think about how many emails you've received in the past from your district's IT dept. warning teachers not to click on a certain link...
As we use more digital teaching tools in the classroom, it is important to also teach our students about digital citizenship. Today's youth need to know the written, as well as the unwritten, rules of the Internet so that they can be effective and productive collaborators in the digital world.
I will teach digital citizenship to my students this year by introducing them to a Digital Citizenship Mini Flip Book. This mini flip book will cover different aspects of digital citizenship, from laws to passwords, so that they can be digitally aware.

Get it HERE!
This is an AWESOME flipbook. My free sign and notes offer a brief reminder to students about citizenship, but Christina’s flipbook is very detailed. I’m going to have my students keep a copy in their paper interactive notebooks. I really like that it has a place for students AND parents to sign. You can get a copy of it HERE.

Get it HERE!
I have a Digital Citizenship Video Webquest, as well that encourages students to look into some important issues surrounding digital citizenship. The films are short and engaging and students are guided in responding thoughtfully to each one. You can get it HERE.

Will you teach Digital Citizenship when school starts? If so, how will you do it? Leave a comment below to let me know!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Sunday, July 17, 2016

1:1 Ready: 3 Ways to Avoid Making Technology the New Book Work

Summer is a reflective time for me, and I'm guessing, it is for most teachers. I use the mini sabbatical to spend time with my family and recharge. But I also use it to plan for the next school year. That is a process that comes with a lot of reflection.

So far this summer, I have been preparing to go fully 1:1 with my classes. I began the process last year (as much as my access to technology would allow), so I've used the summer to reflect on what worked and what didn't. So far, in this series, I've blogged about two things that have served to make my life as a teacher so much easier--Google Forms for Multi-Media Assessment and making OUR lives easier and Screencastify for content delivery in absentia.

Technology has opened a wide world of possibilities in the classroom--virtual field trips, flipped classrooms, less paperwork for teachers, digital interactive notebooks (thank you Danielle Knight for teaching us how to do it--you can check out her brilliant toolkit HERE).

But as we move forward, I think it's important to do so mindfully. We should remember our
ultimate goals as educators of students and as purveyors of content. We are here to nurture young minds and to deliver content in the most effective ways possible. Just because students are using their devices doesn't mean that they are engaging in quality assignments.

Think about it this way--when textbooks were the thing, we didn't exclusively use them just because we had them. Most of us realized that teachers who did so week after week were phoning it in. Let's try to be the same way with our Chromebooks, IPads, or whatever devices we're using.

Planning is at the heart of the effective classroom. That's not going to change just because we go 1:1.

So, upon much summertime reflection, I've thought of...

3 Ways to Avoid Making Technology The New Book Work

We've all been there--I'm there now--sitting in front of a screen, typing away. That's good. We're focused when we do that. We're thoughtful (if we're not checking facebook, which I may or may not be currently doing). But we're also shutting other people out.

Technology is certainly not the only cause of that--book work certainly has the same effect.

But in the old days, it was considered bad practice to do nothing but book work for an entire course. So let's avoid doing that with computers and thinking that it's okay just because we're incorporating technology. Let's continue to vary our activities.

An example of how I might do this is when I'm introducing a new unit. I always begin with vocabulary. I have digital flashcards with film links and 10 to 11 pages of activities (cloze reading, matching, puzzles). I assign it all in Google Classroom. Last year I made the mistake of assigning it all at once. That made for a lot of screen-staring time (a.k.a.--a whole block of book work).

So I'm making an effort to break it all up. I can make copies of my big documents in Google Drive (as many as I want), and delete slides or pages so that I'm just assigning a little at a time. Students can create folders for each topic in their Drives so that they stay organized.

Here's an example of how I plan to do it this year (you can preview the entire vocabulary unit I'm using as an example HERE):

1. Assign the flashcards and matching activity before we begin the unit and instruct students to preview the cards, watch the films, and complete the matching activity at home, during lunch, before practice, in study hall--you get the idea.
2. The day we begin the unit, I'll only assign the cloze reading to the students. I'll set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and let them complete it and submit it to me.
3. Then we'll go over the answers together. There are all kinds of ways for me to know if they actually tried or just put down anything down, not the least of which is that I'll have their submitted answers. I also like to "cyber stalk" them while they're working. You can read about how to do that HERE.
4. Then we'll play QUIZ-QUIZ TRADE or QUIZLET LIVE.

I've advocated a 3-3-3 Station Rotation Model in the past. I like it--it's simple. It enables flex-grouping and differentiation. It allows the teacher to give students more individual attention. You can find out more about the Station Rotation Model HERE.

I plan to use it as a way to avoid turning computers into book work substitutes. But--and this is important--only ONE of my stations will use technology. I know, I know, I know--that's not what I said last time, but now all of my students will have their own device. They need something different at each station--moving locations is part of it, and what's the point in moving if they can just access everything on their devices?

*A work around for this if, say, you want the task cards at station 2 to be digital, or you want to give virtual notes at one station and a virtual tour at the other, is to have a link or QR Code to the activity (the website--your screencastify on YouTube or linked to your Google Drive). If you have digital handouts for these, you can assign them in Classroom or via email, but they should have to move to get the link that goes with it.

Here's an example of what I might do:
Station 1: Technology Station, for example: virtual notes, virtual tours, digital interactive notebook activity
Station 2: No Technology (*or see suggestion above) for example: task cards, foldables, cartoons, puzzles
Station 3: Teacher Led--some type of remediation or enrichment
End of Class: Formative Assessment

Games require thinking and interaction. They can help students review or learn material, but they also promote cooperation and collegial competition. In other words, they build social skills. When students are playing games with each other, even if the games are on the computer, they are not isolated.

They don't have to be lengthy games or take much prep. For games like this, I highly recommend becoming familiar with a few Kagan Structures. You can read about five to get started with HERE. They are quick, they break up your lessons, and they get students talking (hopefully about what you want them to :)).

I'm not a huge fan of whole class games because some of the students just don't participate. I prefer partner and small group games because they force everyone to participate (generally). Check out this video to see some that I made for Google Drive that are easy to assign in Classroom and can be played in small groups.

You can check out the games HERE.

How are you planning for effective instruction in a 1:1 Classroom? Leave a comment below to let me know!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required