Tech Tuesday #12: Increase Teacher and Student Efficiency with the Number System

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Running a class of 25-30 students a day is overwhelming; add to that the stress of managing students when you switch classes five times, and the organization the teacher needs is multiplied exponentially! As an eleven-year middle and high school teacher, I often looked for ways to cut down the stress by adding organizational procedures to my classroom. One of these that stayed with me year after year was what I call the number system. The definition is simple–I assigned each student a number. It was simple to do; I just went down my alphabetical roster in order. As students moved out and new students took their places, I was able to reuse out-of-order numbers with incoming students without changing the existing students’ numbers around. I loved this system, and I’m excited to share in this post my top six ways to use the number system in the classroom. Ready?

Six Ways to Use Numbers to Make the Classroom More Efficient

  1. After students have been assigned numbers, use a random number generator. You can find these generators everywhere, and I prefer one that has an iframe embed code you can easily put on your LMS or website. Let’s say students have projects due a certain day; you and I both know not everyone’s presentation can fit in that one day, and yet we want to be fair with due dates. Enter the random number generator! After allowing volunteers to go first, simply “spin the wheel;” if a person’s number comes up, it’s their turn to present. I never had flack for being unfair on presentations, because it was the machine, not me, making the decisions. 
  2. Have students take their own attendance. True story: I probably should have been fired more than once for forgetting to take daily attendance when I was a middle school teacher. Our registrar at the middle school warned me that at the high school, attendance every period was going to be my downfall. That’s where my use of the number system to have students do a self check-in saved my life…or at least my career. I created a multicolored Smartboard file, and it was ugly but functional. I had enough slides for each class, each with a different-colored background. The colors reminded me and the students to switch the slide if needed. Each slide was labeled with two columns, absent and present, and enough numbers for all my students were in the absent side by default. As students entered the room, they knew to walk by my board and slide their numbers from absent to present. This board served two purposes for me: because attendance was taking up my whole board, it reminded me to enter my attendance into our system. Second, it sped up the attendance process overall; I only had to verify those whose numbers had not been moved over, taking about thirty seconds, as opposed to the time needed to call a whole roster of students.  Feel free to visit Smart Exchange, Promethean Planet, or even PowerPoint to find or make cuter ones than mine, but my slide deck is linked below to give you inspiration. Here’s a final couple tips if you decide to integrate this use of the number system: don’t save the slide deck when  you close it; you want it to be blank and ready for the next class. However, if you’re like me and may save by accident, include an extra slide at the end for each group so you’ll have blanks just in case. 
  3. Write student numbers on clothespins. As an English teacher, I knew my grading would always take forever. I probably could have gotten it done a little faster if I didn’t dread it so badly! As such, my slowness caused an inconvenience for parents, because those students who hadn’t done their work wouldn’t see zeroes in the gradebook until I had gotten around to grading. That meant there was little opportunity for them to get their missing work made up.  Cue the number system. This tip is low-tech but so helpful! Buy some clothespins and use a Sharpie to write numbers on each of them.  You will need one set for each class, so I color-coded mine the same way I had colored my attendance slides. I put each group’s pins in a jar in the front of the room, near my turn-in trays for work. As students came to turn in work, i had them pull their numbers from the appropriate class jar to clip on their papers. Remember that I taught upper grades? Students in those grades still love to help, believe it or not. I had a student secretary who would quickly put the clothespinned-papers in order and mark off on a roster whose work was missing. The numbers made the papers easy to organize, so I was ready to put in zeroes quickly for parent information and student makeup capabilities.
  4. The fourth reason to use the number system is that students can do anonymous editing of each other’s papers. If you train your students to write only their numbers on their papers, at least for essays, they are able to give honest feedback to each other when editing. No more popularity contests! Students can give praise or critical feedback honestly and really help their partners be more prepared for the assessment process when it comes. 
  5. I also used numbers to assign everything! Do you have a class set of laptops, clickers, or calculators? Students always know what number to pick up. Not only do computers boot faster when the same few users are logging on each time, but students also take ownership and are able to keep a tally on damage done by a previous classmate. I had students sign out their computers with the date on a roster every time we used them. They reported damage on that same sheet, and I was able to take care of negligence more effectively. Tracking calculators or response devices in this same way keeps them from walking away.
  6. Do you get overwhelmed by grading major essays, projects, or journals all on the same day? Use the number system to vary due dates. Break your students into groups by their numbers and according to the days of the week. Students then always know if they are “Monday people” and you do too. Know that there’s going to be certain group that wows you or others who struggle? Make it easy on yourself! Be strategic with who you grade each day of the week, so that there’s not one day of the week you dread more than others. Mix a little sunshine in each group:)
  7. I’ve saved probably my favorite use of the number system for last. Use student numbers to have them do carousel presentations. If you’re honest, your eyes (and students’) have glazed over when all students have presented to the whole class. Listening to more than twenty presentations in a row about the same topic is torturous for all involved. Try this plan instead. Hand out your grading rubric to all the students, but omit the grade part. Just leave the levels and the criteria intact. Group students according to their numbers. For example, student 1 would be in a group with students 2-5. When it’s time to present, they all watch each other and give feedback on the rubric. You might circulate among the groups, but you aren’t the one giving the feedback. In less time, students have received more feedback than they would have just from you, and they’ve heard it from an authentic audience, their peers. Here’s the best part: if you collect the rubrics at the end, and most people agree on the feedback, simply add the numbers and put that grade in the gradebook. If students disagreed, you have a few presentations to go back and review yourself.

Don’t you love the number system? Have you tried it yourself? I’d love to hear more ideas for its use in the comments below.

Love a good podcast? Listen to the episode of The Suzy Show where I describe even more about my new student strategy. Click to play below, and make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast player app.

Want to watch me talk about it? Tune in to this episode of Tech Tuesday, which you can join every week at 8PM EST at https://www.facebook.com/techlolley/. The episode about the number system is embedded below.

Resources:

Attendance Smart Notebook

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Check out the video below, which is embedded from the Facebook Live Tech Tuesday session I host every week at facebook.com/techlolley at 8PM EST.

Tech Tuesday #11: Acclimating New Students to Class with Ease

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If I haven’t shared it before, I struggle with forgetfulness. They say it’s a sign of creativity or even genius; that’s what I’m hoping for, but as a teacher, forgetfulness, whatever the indication, isn’t generally considered a positive trait. Welcoming new students into a classroom, especially a high school one, where the students notice everything, takes enthusiasm and finesse. It also takes a lot of organization to get the student caught up and familiar with class procedures. That’s why I developed a procedure I used in my classroom and want to share with you: the new student welcome packet.

Why do teachers need a new student packet? I can think of three reasons.

  1. Your class has been up and running the whole time this student has been elsewhere. You have procedures, policies, and content that is crucial for students to know if they are going to catch up and have success in the class. The packet gives them that information in one place.
  2. In addition to these procedures, it’s easy to forget what the new kid doesn’t know until you assign homework for which he doesn’t have the information. He might need a copy of the syllabus, the LMS login, the Remind code, etc. Having this information for future reference takes stress off both student and teacher.
  3. By using the folder, the teacher can give new students purposeful activities to do the first day they join the class or for homework that night, especially if the class is finishing something they don’t have time to catch up on.

How was the folder structured?

I gave my students a colored pocket folder with prongs, instead of just a packet, because it was reusable. It was labeled with “New Student Packet” on the front and copied the elementary use for the two pockets–one pocket labeled “read and keep” versus the other labeled “sign and return.” Students were instructed to return the folder to me when they were finished with it,  as well as the returned contents.

Let’s look inside now at the folder contents. I provided a list of these requirements on a cover sheet, which I have attached a copy of in the resources section below.

  • Student number and directions for self-reported attendance
  • Syllabus plus directions for syllabus quiz to get them a real grade
  • Literary essay handout–adapt for all courses (background knowledge)
  • Account setup or orientation for LMS
  • Sign up for accounts: Remind, Turnitin, Noodle Tools, etc.
  • What the kid does need to do along with the class and extended deadlines as necessary
  • Contact information for the teacher and a reliable friend
  • Procedures list and coping strategies:
    • How to find help at home: friend, read directions again, teacher (email shows me you tried)
    • Absent work policy

The Making of a More Modern “Packet”

When I last taught high school students, I did use Edmodo as a mini-LMS, but that platform was more project-based for my class. It was not as robust as the Canvas LMS our district has now adopted. If I were to take my packet into the modern era, I would make these two changes:

  1. The information would not be a packet at all but would instead be an interactive module in my course that students and parents could access repeatedly and from anywhere.
  2. Instead of just listing the assignments the student had to go back and complete as prerequisites for the course, I would assign those to him with a different due date than the rest of the class as needed.

Want a more robust tour of my strategy? You have two ways to hear me share more about the content!

Love a good podcast? Listen to the episode of The Suzy Show where I describe even more about my new student strategy. Click to play below, and make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast player app.

Want to watch me talk about it? Tune in to this episode of Tech Tuesday, which you can join every week at 8PM EST at https://www.facebook.com/techlolley/. The episode about my new student packet is embedded below.

Below, I’ve linked my resources for you, but I would love to hear the resources and tips you would add to my list. Be sure to leave a comment!

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Related Resources:

  • New student packet
  • Online learner module–If you’re a Canvas LMS user, search the commons for “Suzy Lolley” to find and add this resource to your course.

Tech Tuesday #9: Four Powerful Tools for Student Engagement

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I’m what you might call a free spirit. For that reason, I probably should never commit to doing a blog series, because if something more interesting catches my attention, I will definitely abandon the series to go to that topic. That’s just what happened when I paused to talk about blended learning and email/file straight-up strategies. Anyway, here is the long-awaited conclusion for my series on choosing the right tools for your classroom. In previous weeks on Facebook Live and in this blog, I have addressed how to choose assessment tools as well as content delivery tools and my favorite recommendations for each. If you missed those parts of this series, go back and read them or watch the videos. So with part three, we’re going to talk about student engagement tools. No matter what grade you teach, you probably struggle at least some of the time with your students’level of engagement. I know I did and still do, even with my adult students. And we’re only making the problem worse when we lecture or do worksheets or even show videos for extended amounts of time with no application. I’ve referred to the 10-2 method as I’ve discussed benefits of blended learning and other best practices. What do you do, though, with those two minutes of application? Well today, I have four tools I’d like you to try when you’re ready to engage your students. But before we get down to the tools, let’s talk my favorite topic: pedagogy. How do you know what tool to choose? What if the tools I recommend don’t work in your school or those companies go out of business? You can’t get too attached to a tool. I’ve learned that as one of my favorites, Office Mix, is retiring in a couple months. I have to instead get attached to what the tool does, and that’s what I want to help you learn as well. So without further ado, let’s dive In.

 Choosing the Right Engagement Tools

 What are the best features you should look for when you’re trying to find a tool to engage your students mid-lesson?
  1. First of all, look for live response. There’s nothing that excites a kid more than to see his or her name or nickname pop up on the board with a response. It could be exactly the same thing that we previously would have had them put on a sticky note, draw on the dry erase board, or write on a piece of paper. It’s not the topic. It’s the methodology.
  2. Next, you will want a tool that will allow you to have either anonymous or name-associated posts. Sometimes you need your students to be accountable for what they write. At other times, though, you might be looking for survey tools that will allow your students to do a response, especially if you’re expecting honest answers. Make sure what you pick is appropriate for the job. You could use a tool that allows anonymous or named posts, or you could use two different tools for either one. That might add some nice variety anyway.
  3. Number three, and this is basic, is to choose a tool kids like. Referring to what I just said in tip two, that pursuit of the elusive student interest might mean that you have to change things up every once in awhile. I showed the tool Sway, which I’ve discussed in a separate post, to a sweet male teacher a couple years ago. He fell so in love with it that he said, “Suzy, I’m having my kids make a Sway every week!” While I shared his excitement about loving this tool, I’m sure the kids did not enjoy working with the same tool week after week. So pick a good one, but don’t be afraid to change it up.
  4. Number four is to make sure the tool is free or affordable. You are the boss of how you spend your money, and maybe you’re still in one of those blessed school districts that still has classroom budgets to give out. Or maybe you can talk PTA into giving you some money. But if not, free is the way to go. If you do decide to pay for a tool, look at how many times you’re going to use it and divide that up from the total cost. That way you can see if you’re really using a tool that’s worth it.
  5. My last tip before we go diving into some of my favorite tools is to make sure that the tool does not mine student data. I am loving the new Common Sense Privacy Evaluation Initiative research. I was at ISTe when the organization launched this initiative to a small group of us at dinner, and the project asks companies to evaluate and provide evidence of their abilities to protect student privacy. I know it may not come to our minds all the time, which is why I’m sharing this tip here, but you really should care about what the cost of free is. Make sure the tool does not give away more than you would want to share about your classroom and the students in it.

Four Powerful Tools for Student Engagement

Now let’s get into the fun part and the reason that so many teachers go to conferences. I get it. You want tools you can use today or tomorrow. So let’s get down to business.
  1. Have you heard of Mentimeter? It’s a great pulling tool that allows you to collect student options in word clouds and eleven other ways. From their phones or devices, students simply go to menti.com and put in a code for your presentation. Preparation on your part is minimal, and students can respond to form a word cloud, take a poll, take a quiz, and more. If you’re using the tool to have students vote or give feedback to each other, I also love the ability to present only the winner, complete with a confetti celebration. Here’s a video that shows how the tool works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfKj2s69nio   Mentimeter has been the go-to tool at many conferences I’ve attended recently, so it definitely merited a place on my list. However, I don’t want to ignore the tried-and-true.
  2. Poll everywhere is a tool I’ve used for years. Though I’ve been out of the classroom for 5 years, I’ve still found use for this tool even in church camp settings. It allows students to respond to an open poll, again in word cloud or graph style. A practical classroom use I had for Poll Everywhere was the ability to have my students instantly vote on debates. I matched my freshman students in mini one-to-one debates for three minutes. At the end of each debate, other students were instantly able to vote for the winner. Though I graded everyone individually, the winner received bonus points. It was a great motivating factor. Any time that students can give instant feedback, that feedback is going to be more valuable. Also, the fact that the feedback comes from peers makes it ten times more exciting for students than if the teacher had just graded them.
  3. My third tool is Today’s Meet. Again, it’s an oldie but a goody, and I don’t want to assume that everyone’s heard of it. Today’s Meet allows you to open up a temporary room where students can chat or answer question you’ve provided. After the amount of time that you selected, the link deactivates, but there is a transcript feature while it’s still open. When I was first introduced to back-channeling, maybe ten years ago, this is one of the tools that caught my attention, and it still works well. A neat little feature that it has also is that students can’t put their full name in. When they start to type more than one word, it limits them–the tool respects student privacy. Try this fun little tool for shy kids in your class who may need to have an ongoing chat with you but don’t want to ask questions in front of everybody. You can also read any questions at the end of the lesson and answer them.
  4. Finally, Microsoft Forms is definitely a favorite. It replaced Excel Survey a few years ago,and has a beautiful layout that I was missing with the older tool. You can give surveys and graded quizzes. It also embeds beautifully in your learning management system or in a Sway. If you need to collect easy data and have beautiful visuals at the end of it, Forms is worth checking out. I actually did a whole webinar on this tool. Though some of the interface has updated, the basics are the same and I think you might find the webinar helpful.

Want to know more? Watch this video for a quick sample of all four tools in action.


So those are my tools and tips. I want to end, though, with two other little tidbits you might find valuable. First of all, try taking your link from one of the tools and pairing it with either a QR code or a short link or both. Any way that you can make the student link more accessible will just speed up the ability for students to get there quickly and to interact with you. You don’t want to waste the two minutes out of the 10-2 method just getting to the link. Also, as I stated earlier, you want to make sure your students have each other as the audience as often as possible. In addition to the debate idea I gave you, here’s another idea: two groups of students who need to give speeches could do so over Skype or video conference. As one student is speaking, the students in the other class are giving compliments and critiques via one of the tools we suggested above. These are just two more ways to get your students flowing with technology and engagement. 

Do you have other engagement tips or tools? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.
With Tech and Twang,

Tech Tuesday #8: 10 Straighten-Up Strategies for Your Computer Files

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If you tuned in to last week’s episode, you might be a little cleaner this week…or at least maybe your email inbox is. However, if you are a desktop, documents, and flashdrive saver, maybe you’re in need of a file cleanup intervention as well. Look no further!

Ten Straighten-Up Strategies for Your Computer Files

    1. Use one location for your working files, and make it cloud-based. It’s hard for any of us to multi-task, and trying to figure out where we’ve saved our files when they’re in multiple locations is an unnecessary stressor. I use OneDrive, but you could use Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, or whatever service works for you. I call OneDrive a giant flashdrive you can’t break, lose, or fill up, and your files are accessible anywhere.
    2. Recognize the difference between a backup and a working copy. When I went to India, I took the advice of other travelers to make a paper copy of my passport. However, when I went through the airport, I didn’t hand the attendants a piece of paper; I handed them my real passport. The paper was kept safe in my suitcase, in case of anything akin to the movie Taken.
    3. When copying or moving files from multiple locations, right-click on a file location and use the “open in a new window” feature. It’s just like opening a new tab in a browser; you can look at one file location without closing another, and the tip works perfectly when used with tip number four.
    4. In conjunction with the new window, use the WINDOWS + ARROW keys to split the screen. I always knew you could split a screen manually by dragging, but with Windows 10, this two-button combination makes moving files to a centralized location even easier.
  1. Renaming files is essential if you want to stay organized. If you’re using a cloud service, you’ll find the auto-saving to be an amazing feature, but the default name of such documents is not helpful at all. When those documents sync down to your computer, you’re left with twenty Word documents all named “Document 1.” Thus, it’s important that wherever you create and save your documents, you save them in such a way as to make them searchable later.
  2. When you need to organize multiple files, remember these two crucial buttons for moving contiguous or non-contiguous files: SHIFT and CTRL. If you want to move ten documents in a row, click the first file, hold down SHIFT and click the last one to grab them all. Need to pull non-contiguous groups of documents at once? Use CTRL; keep holding it while you click multiple documents that you can copy and paste where they need to go.
  3. Need to paste a document into your cloud sync folder? Remember the white space. Sometimes when you’re pasting a file to a location that already has a lot of files in it, you start to lose room for adding new files. Make sure to look for a white space on the edge of the destination folder to paste safely to the root of the drive without accidentally putting your file into a sub-folder where you’ll never find it again.
  4. Want to sort a frequently-accessed folder to the top of your list? Add an underscore. Simply add an underscore to the beginning of your assignment title when renaming, and you’ll never struggle to find that favorite folder again.
  5. Be consistent when renaming files, so that they will sort correctly. Especially if you’re going to use numbers in your titles, make sure they are formatted the same. For instance, sometimes your folder that starts with a 10 wants to file before the folder that starts with a 1; try different renaming strategies to see what works for you.
  6. The ultimate straighten-up strategy? Delete unwanted and unneeded files. Whether you’re working on the computer itself or the cloud, there’s always a recycle bin. In case you have cleaner’s remorse, you can always go back and restore the file, at least for thirty days. Most files I’ve deleted I never need again; take the plunge and delete, knowing that you can retrieve the deleted file if need be.

Want to see all these straighten-up strategies in action? After all, a video picture is worth a thousand words. Check out the video below, filmed on Facebook Live every Tuesday night at 8:30 PM EST.

Do you have other strategies I missed? Please share them in the comments below.

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Tech Tuesday #7: Straighten-Up Strategies for Outlook

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If you’re like me, your email box is one of your biggest sources of frustration and perceived busyness. Gone are the days when I started teaching fifteen years ago that we received memos in our school mailboxes; the color of the paper denoted the urgency of the message or lack thereof. One would think that managing messages digitally would be easier; nothing can get lost. I think that’s the problem. We never lose anything! It keeps piling up in our cloud-based limitless email boxes, to the point that the important does sometimes get buried beneath the minutia.

In this first part of the series I’m calling “Straighten-Up Strategies,” let’s tackle that inbox and the overwhelmed feeling it causes.

From today on, I want you to have two goals when it comes to your inbox. There is nothing new under the sun, so I want to give credit to two podcasters I mentioned in a previous Tech Tuesday, Amy Porterfield and Angela Watson, for inspiring these two goals. From Amy I take my first goal, one that I strive for but haven’t reached in forever: Start every day with inbox zero. Yes, you read that right. Make it a goal to completely clean out your inbox regularly, even if it’s not once a day. I know, I know…it’s just going to fill up again, especially if you’re a teacher. The same repeat happens with laundry and dishes as well, but we still have to try to make an effort, right?

The second goal, courtesy of Angela Watson, is this one: touch each email once. You know the drill with deleting, replying, and forwarding an email. However, if you will check out the video below, recorded as a Facebook Live I host every Tuesday, you will find more great strategies that will help you accomplish both goals.

Watch and learn:

  • how to create a calendar appointment from an email just by dragging and dropping
  • how to send emails and their attachments to OneNote
  • how keeping emails in both the “Sent” box and “Inbox” is redundant
  • how to use the Clean Up function in Outlook 2016
  • how to manage folders that are no longer relevant
  • how to use the Sweep function in Office365
  • how to undo an accidental click of the Archive button
  • how to create rules that automatically manage your email for you

It’s an action-packed video, so make sure to tune in!

Tech Tuesday #6: TCEA Reflections–Doing Blended Learning Right

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What happens when a Georgia girl gets flown to Austin to present at conference where the goal is to keep it weird? Let’s just I fit right in, except for the fact that sweet tea was a hidden treasure I had a hard time finding. But I didn’t mind having to navigate the loss of my favorite drink, as long as I got to share my love of OneNote and gamification. My passion for gaming the classroom first hit me when I was reviewing resources from a Georgia technology conference. Having just left the classroom about four years ago to work for technology in the district office, I’m still very much aware of teachers’ struggles to get their students to be motivated and turn in work. The concepts of badging, leveling up, and missions seemed to be what I was looking for, and what I would love to share with teachers. At this conference in Texas, I decided to give my gaming brain a break and follow a couple different tracks: blended learning and using an LMS with little ones. Thus, my overview below will not cover every session I attended but those where I got valuable information related to those two topics.

On the blended learning track, my first session was “Blended Learning for Elementary” on Tuesday morning. Because I’m from a Microsoft-using district, and many of these sessions focus on Google tools, I always go in with the mindset that I will need to adapt. In this session, I certain received several insights on what I could adapt. As teachers are sharing Office Mixes with students, they can use their LMSs to deliver either a Word online or PowerPoint cloze-style online recording sheet for students to take notes and make sure they got everything out of the video. I also thought of ways to use the new Microsoft Whiteboard app for students to do collaborative brainstorming; now all it needs is an embed feature, so students can access the web version without having to download an app. Later that morning, I went to a session on “Hacking Canvas,” hoping to learn even more ways to make our district’s chosen LMS do more. In this session, I was reminded how much I like Thinglink for its linkable hotspot capabilities. The session leader gave us the idea of using a Thinglink image to give a classroom tour with a reminder of procedures that happen in each area of the room. Because these enhanced images embed beautifully in Canvas, I want to show them to teachers for a way to bring even more capability to blended learning.  A Wednesday workshop continued my thought process about the pedagogy behind the tools with blended learning. Using different types of hammers, the workshop facilitators showed us that a good tool is not always the right tool. Different types of blended learning should be used when they work, not all the time. They emphasized the tendency of many teachers to fall back on old habits, even with new technology, and reminded us that an LMS should not be just a filing cabinet, but a place where the resources truly are interactive. They reminded me of the true definition of blended learning; students have at least partial control over time, place, path, and pace in which their learning takes place. My final blended learning workshop, which was later on Wednesday afternoon, added these tips to my well-rounded exposure to this topic. These presenters emphasized the need for student engagement; their workshop itself relied on a “BLT” theme to get our attention, which stood for Blended Learning Toolkit, and even involved the presenters wearing themed shirts. They showed us how hyperdocs could be engaging but still meet academic content. They also suggested having students create memes to summarize reading pieces. Finally, they showed through their examples that a teacher should always plan two different activities or articles for each standard students are to learn. This tour blended learning certainly broadened my horizons, and I look forward to being able to share with teachers as I model strong blended learning in my own trainings.

My second path for the conference was bent on trying to find ideas for engaging young learners, and thus their teachers, in using our Canvas LMS more effectively. Though I did get some ideas, which I will share momentarily, other interaction came with fellow attendees in person and on social media. One such interaction came when a group I met in a session shared that they were having the same trouble as me getting their K-2 teachers from Seesaw into the Canvas LMS. I was able to share information with them to help students do work in Seesaw but then submit it and share with parents in one place, Canvas. Also during the conference, a podcast episode I recorded with a first-grade teacher got a tremendous number of retweets and listens. That fact prompted another trainer to reach out to me on Twitter for some inspiration on getting more use for the LMS with his K-2 teachers as well; nothing but positive can come out of organic interactions and brainstorming sessions like those. As far as more formal sessions, I went to one on Tuesday morning called “Canvas for Littles.” In that session, I was reminded that by organizing our materials well in the LMS, we are “buying time back” to work with students. The facilitators told us that anything that takes students more than three clicks to access is too much. I was inspired to think about how I can simplify the workflows I’m asking teachers to try with their students to limit students’ and thus, their own, frustrations with putting work in the LMS for little ones. As far as practical ideas, I saw that Padlet embeds right into Canvas for students to use without going out of the LMS. Also, although the example was with Google Docs, I saw a drag-and-drop flower label worksheet that would be cool to share with students. The two presenters were both instructional technology specialists like myself; they reminded me that my making a resource to share accomplishes two things: it inspires my teachers to create the next one, and it helps me build up a repository of resources I can with teachers in the future. Everything I learned along this “littles” track may not have been new, but I was fired up afresh to get my teachers and young students using Canvas even more.

Technology conferences aren’t just conferences. Perhaps the best part of any conference is the congeniality that develops among new friends who find common areas of interest, all looking for solutions to help their kids do more. TCEA was that for me. Though I mostly teach adults nowadays, the excitement of my new friend and roommate attending the conference was tremendous. The travel program for MIE Experts should continue to be a valuable resource that educators like me can access to find renewal, ideas, and an outlet to show the great things about Microsoft tools to a larger teaching community.

Want to see my top ten tips for doing blended learning right? Watch this video from my weekly Facebook Live session, happening every Tuesday at 8:00 PM EST right here.

Tech Tuesday #5: Ten Tips for Blended Learning Done Right

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Blended learning is a relatively new concept to me. I certainly was implementing some online or technology-driven learning in my classroom a few years ago. However, the concept of blended learning was just really a phrase in the back of my mind. Thus, with my district implementing a Learning Management System (LMS) which allows for blended learning for the first time on a widespread basis, I thought it would be important for me to learn more about it.

I just got back from the TCEA Conference in Austin, Texas. At that conference, I decided to change my normal pursuit of gamification strategies to a two prong attack on a different subject line. I followed the track of blended learning, and then also within that subgenre, using an LMS with little children. I hope to share some of those second ideas more in a further post. Today’s post, though, is all about the logistics of blended learning, specifically my top ten tips for those who want to start it off right.

Ten Tips for Blended Learning Done Right

Number one. Use your learning management system as a one-stop-shop. Again, I want to go further into LMS for Littles in a further post, but suffice it to say here that you need your students to believe that everything they need to be successful in your class is found in one place, and that’s the LMS. Now, blended learning means that students have face-to-face and online learning. Thus the blend. However, the learning management system is certainly an integral part of the operation. If you don’t send your students there frequently, they don’t have a habit, and they don’t know how to login. They need to know that you are putting all of your best resources there for them to use. Forming a habit with students and parents will strengthen your ability to blend in one of the four situations I’m about to discuss.

Blended learning involves student control, at least part of the time, in each of the four areas which I will specify as blended learning tips 2 through 5.

Time, Place, Path, and Pace

Number 2. Students need control over their path. Maybe some students need to navigate through video content while other students need an article or a worksheet. The bottom line is that students have different needs and thus, they need different opportunities to learn. We call that paths in blended learning. Some teachers get as detailed as making personalized playlists for students. Maybe you’re not ready there yet,  but it’s important that students are at least beginning to exercise choice over the path of their learning.

Tip three. Students also should have some control over their pace. Give me a literature passage, and I can dissect it in no time. I can give you brilliant insights on the metaphors and the symbols and the characterization. But give me a calculus problem, and you will definitely see my pace become different. It should be all right for students to master content when they’re ready, whether that be faster than everybody else or slower. Pace is a huge component of a successful blended learning.

Number 4: students should also have control over time. Now I’m going to go ahead and discuss the big elephant in the room. I don’t mean that your students should be doing all their work at home and then coming to your class and acting like maniacs in their free time. What I do mean, though, is that if they work better in the morning or in the evening, we should account for that preference at least part of the time. I definitely work best in the early morning hours. As a matter of fact, I’ve often thought I would be just as productive if I only worked half the day 🙂 Training students to prioritize their most important tasks at their most productive times is also valuable life skill and one that is perfect for blended learning. If they have a playlist or a hyperdoc or a module in a learning management system that they can attack in their preferred order, that prioritization really will go a long way in their success.

Tip number five. The last area in which students should have control in blended learning is over place. This concept can range from flexible seating in the classroom to being able to do some work in the media center or at home or in a blended learning period. Blended learning makes possible this flexibility and place that is crucial to success.

Three Benefits of Blended Learning

My 6th tip is that blended learning done well should allow you to buy back time. Imagine all the processes that you explain over and over or the concepts that are something that students need to study in review. If you’re able to turn those into your online modules and then work with students who still don’t get them after repeated exposures, you are buying back both students’ time and your own time. The video content is doing the work that you might have had to do in twice as much time.

In the same vein, tip number 7 is it blended learning allows you to clone yourself. You may have students on multiple learning paths, but there may only be one teacher in the room. I know when I taught high school that was usually the case. Even students who were on special ed consultation didn’t necessarily have a caseworker or co-teacher in the room. Blended learning allows you to create content for most of the students most of the time so that you can pull small groups of students that you need to either enrich or remediate to your desk while the others are getting high-quality instruction.

I hope that those of you who are teachers and parents will appreciate tip number 8. It is to make blended learning, in both its explanation and its execution, simple enough that parents can help. We can pretend that parents won’t access the learning management system from home on behalf of their students, but instead, let’s find meaningful ways for them to participate. Let’s create videos that show how to navigate our system. Let’s eliminate options that are unclear in our menus or on our settings. Let’s make sure that parents who want to help their students to be successful can find what they need, and thus that students will truly be more empowered in their quest for time, place, path, and pace.

Number nine is crucial for every type of learning, not just blended. In addition to strong content, engagement has to be a priority. Just slapping some resources up in a module is creating a $1,000 pencil or another boring digital textbook. It’s not going to further the learning like blended learning is meant to do. It’s important to put interactive resources and formative assessments throughout the content.

Finally, tip ten is that blended learning is a perfect opportunity to build in differentiation with high-quality resources. One workshop I went to in Texas suggested that for every standard, the teacher has at least two learning options available. You could create those by learning style or by readability or whatever method you choose, but building in two options is auto-differentiating and also increasing the quality of the content we’re putting out there.

 

Tech Tuesday #5: How to Choose the Best Content Delivery Tools for Your Classroom

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Content delivery is not what it used to be. I think of the teachers in both Ferris Bueller and Charlie Brown’s classrooms–monotone, dull, and definitely not engaging anyone. It would certainly be easier if we could be like those teachers. In this modern age, we still want our students to learn, and it just simply takes more to engage them. In today’s episode, for which you can see the video at the bottom of this post, I want to share my favorite strategies and tools for content delivery. We are continuing our series on connecting pedagogy with technology. Remember that it’s not just any tool you’re choosing for your students. It has to be a tool that’s a good fit for both what you’re wanting to accomplish academically and what your particular students need.
What features should you find in a content delivery tool? I have four of them I’d like to share with you.

Features to Find

Number one. As I mentioned in my post on assessment tools last week, you want a content delivery tool that is device-agnostic or unnecessary. Even if you’re in a one-to-one school, there will be many days when a student’s device is in the shop for repair. That means that they either have no device or they have a phone in their pocket to substitute for the original. You have to have a tool that can deal with all of that.

Number two. As I mentioned before, you need content delivery that is engaging for students. What we used to think was engaging is no longer the case. I remember when I first started student teaching that foldables were all the rage. And the mentor teacher that I taught with had kids glue everything in their notebooks. She was interactive notebook before that was cool 🙂 With the tools I’m going to discuss below, you will find that engagement element. But let me also say that what engages today may not work tomorrow. We should not make our students feel like they’re at a dog-and-pony show, certainly–that we have to have a new tool to entertain them with each lesson. But it does help to have several good and reliable tools in our toolboxes, so I’m going to show you four favorites in the video below.

Number three. Remember the 10 and 2 rule. In my former life, I was the Learning Focused Schools trainer for my middle school. One of the best things I got out of that training was this rule. You should always teach for 10 minutes and then have students apply or respond for 2 minutes. Lecturing for a 45-minute period with no time for student response just is not going to be functional.

Finally, when looking for a content delivery tech tool, make sure that it looks good and is big enough on any screen where it might need to be seen. I’m talking about responsive design. Tools like Sway that I’m going to show you tonight are made to look great on any screen from handheld phones all the way up to a giant interactive whiteboard. They maintain their perspective and aspect ratios, and kids aren’t distracted by something that looks wonky on the screen.

Tools I Recommend

In the video below, tune in to an episode of Facebook Live where I share four of my favorite tools:

  • OneNote,
  • Office Mix,
  • Sway, and
  • Nearpod.

I’m going to give you a tour of each and tell you about the best features that make them fabulous for Content Delivery. PowerPoint might have been cool when it first came out, but it’s even cooler now. Check out the video to see what I mean.

A Final Word

Finally, remember that strong content delivery is not just about using technology all the time. Everyone, including the teacher, needs a break from screen time. It’s finding that perfect blend between phone-or-laptop-focused and hands-on interactive. People are still the key, and that means the teacher is the hub of the classroom. That’s why it’s so important for you, the teacher, to have your content delivery arsenal armed with the right tools to pull out when your students need them most.

Which of the tools is your favorite? Which would you add to my list? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below, and if this post helped you to engage students in your classroom, I’d love to hear that for sure.

With tech and twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Tech Tuesday #4: Using Good Pedagogy to Choose Effective Assessment Tools

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I want to begin a series on the pedagogy behind the tools. I work with a lot of teachers who go to conferences and return excited about great tools. As a matter of fact, when I work with them in their classrooms, they love anything I can show them that’s practical. However, and we’ve all done it, they often miss the most important thing, which is student learning. Pedagogy and best practice are how we do what we do. As much as we think certain tools are fun, the engagement factor will never be for students what it is for us, because we come from the digital immigrant generation. That’s why our assessment tools can’t only be chosen based on what’s newest and shiniest. So with this series, I want to delve into different categories of technology tools and how you can make a good choice for which ones will be incorporated into your classroom.

Assessment Tools: Seven Features to Find

Let’s start by talking about assessment tools. As much as we often think we hate assessment, it is what gives us that cold, hard data that we can use to make informed decisions about future teaching plans. In an assessment tool, these are the features you should try to find:
  1. Auto grading. You want something that is going to take some of the grading load off your plate. Trust me, I was an English teacher. I often rewarded myself with cleaning or working out, both of which I hate, as a result of accomplishing the grading of just two essays. Thus, if I’m going to look for a tool, I want it to do some of my grading for me.
  2. Multiple types of questions. There are some things I machine just can’t grade. For those, I want to make sure that I have robust choices for what data comes back to me. In addition to auto-graded features such as true/false, multiple choice, or drag-and-drop, I want a feature that allows students to respond to a prompt of my choice and that I can grade, preferably with a rubric.
  3. Exportable assessments and data. Thirdly, I want data that I can take anywhere I want it to go, even after I move on from a certain product. As much as I used to love Quia, the only thing that is exportable is their data. Quizzes I built there I can’t load anywhere else. I’m forced to start over. Plus, I want data, preferably in Excel form, that I can take and manipulate and load into other systems. Many modern tools provide that, and it’s definitely a feature I would look for before making a commitment to a tool.
  4. With that data should come easy reports. One of the tools I discuss in the video below is a favorite for assessment because of the beautiful pie charts it creates. I love to read. That’s why I taught English. However, when it comes to data, I want visual, differentiated reports. So that’s another item you should look for when you are trying to find an assessment tool.
  5. Included Survey Tool. Next, with assessment comes surveying as well. I like a tool that will allow me to do formative feedback in the form of surveys, not just graded or summative quizzes. I don’t want kids to think my “cool tools” are really just a mask for punitive, serious grading, at least not all the time, and as any education grad student knows, much of our data is qualitative.
  6. Price Plus Privacy. Next comes a conundrum. I like free tools. After all, I’m a teacher with a limited paycheck. However, I also care if the tool mines student data. I’m linking here to Common Sense Education’s new initiative on vetting different educational technology companies for privacy. As you’re considering a tool, consider the cost, but not just in monetary reasons: also consider the cost to your students’ privacy. Never use a tool that gives away so much you wouldn’t want your own children to use it.
  7. Finally, and I will use this factor for a lot of the tools I share, make sure the tool you pick is device-agnostic or device-unnecessary. You have some students with smartphones or the latest affordable tablet from Walmart. You might be in a one-to-one Chromebook or Surface school or have iPads. Whatever the device the student has, you want to make sure the assessment tool works on all of those student technologies. Especially if you’re going to invest money or have your school do the same, please do a thorough trial with different devices that your students may bring to school, to ensure that they work with your integral tools.

Suzy’s Favorite Assessment Tools

The video at the bottom of this page comes from a Facebook live session that I do every Tuesday. I call it Tech Tuesday and it happens at 8 p.m. on my Facebook page, linked here. The tools I’m covering in this video for assessment include some of my favorites, which are:
  • Microsoft Forms
  • Kahoot
  • Quizizz
  • Socrative
  • Plickers
  • the Canvas Quiz builder 
I’m not going to repeat all that I say in the video about each one, so you’ll have to tune in;) Click Play to watch.
Here’s how the tools in the video stack up on the features I mentioned:
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More To Think About

Let me leave you with these final thoughts when it comes to choosing an assessment tool. Although many of us were raised in a generation when the teacher didn’t even know what formative assessment was, we definitely do. As you’re choosing a tool, make sure that it’s casual enough to allow students not to feel stressed out when you’re doing an informal assessment but then robust enough to give great data when you’re doing a summative.
Also, to curb the cheating concern on devices, here’s a little trick I used to use. I bought lots of resources for my 11th grade classroom from Laura Randazzo. One of her ideas that I thought was very helpful was the one-question quizzer. I’d love to hear how you adapt this for your classroom, but in the literature classroom, I would ask one assessment question from the chapter students read the night before. Students had an according number of minutes to answer it…usually two or three. They knew it or they didn’t, and they didn’t have time to cheat. It worked really well, and if my students were cheating, they were doing a terrible job of it 🙂 I definitely knew who the readers were.
Also, if you are going to be quizzing on school provided devices, have students put their phones face down on their desks or in phone jail. It’s not that phones aren’t amazing tools. As a matter of fact, I tell you several ways they are used in this post.  But allowing students to use two devices during a test or quiz is just asking for trouble.
Finally, if you’re going to do some of the short answer grading that I mentioned in the first section, make sure to show students the rubric. In tools such as Canvas Quiz Builder, you can attach the rubric right there. If you don’t use such an LMS, maybe you want to provide a paper copy of the rubric or a link to it. Letting students see the grading criteria is a great idea if you want better answers.
 
I hope these tips help you choose a better assessment tool. After all, there are so many flashy tools out there that I I’m sure have not even named half of them. As a matter of fact, here’s what I’d like you to do in the comments below:
  1. Please share your favorite tool. It could be one I listed or not. Tell why you like it.
  2. Also, share an idea with our readers about how you choose assessment tools or manage them in your classroom.

I would love to hear from you!

With tech and twang, 

Missed the other episodes?

Check them out here:

Tech Tuesday #1: Visual Goal-Setting with Sway

Tech Tuesday #2: Creating an Excel Habit Tracker

Tech Tuesday #3: Classflow, a Device-Agnostic Tool for Lesson Delivery

Visual Goal-Setting with Sway

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Hey friends and happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I always approach the new year with a lot of excitement and a little bit of dread. Why dread, you might ask? Well, it’s because every year I make these little things called goals, and I seem to have a very hard time keeping them. As a matter of fact, I’ve written about that a lot on my other blog. Well, enthusiastic person that I am, I always think that maybe I can do better if I come up with another strategy. So that’s what today’s post is about.

If you missed my Facebook live last night, or if you saw it and need a reminder, I want to walk you through what I feel will be a more successful goal-setting strategy for this year. Successful for two reasons: Because this strategy is more visual and also because I have a habit tracker embedded right in alongside my goals. What do you think?
If you’re with me, let’s walk through quickly how you can do the same. First of all, you’re going to go to sway.com. Sway is a free Microsoft tool, so even if you’re living in the land of Google (or your school district is), you and your students can still use this tool. As a matter of fact, what were about to walk through would be a great first-day-back-my brain-is-dead  student activity that wouldn’t require a lot of thought on your part. So once you’re in Sway, you’re going to click to create a new sway. It’s really easy from there. There are two tabs, one that says design and one that’s a storyline. Think of storyline as the same thing as storyboard. It’s your planning side. Design will let you preview what you’ve done at anytime. FYI, I try to resist clicking design as long as possible to prolong my excitement. Yes, I’m a weirdo in case you didn’t know that 🙂 Anyway, sway is made up of cards, which are the individual widgets or units of different types of content you can add. You’re automatically starting with a title, so feel free to be creative. After all, that just might increase your motivation 🙂
For a live walkthrough of all the rest of the steps, won’t you click through to my video below? I’m here to help if you need anything, but what I would really like it if you come back and paste the link to your goals Sway in the comments below. I want to brag on you, be proud of you, and nudge you on if you need it. Trust me, this process will only take you maybe half an hour and you will feel really accomplished.
Something else I mentioned in my video is using the embedded habit tracker. I will be focusing Tech Tuesday #2 on creating one of those, step-by-step! The biggest, coolest thing about Sway is the fact that you can embed it and that you also can use embeddable content inside it, so I don’t want you to miss out on that feature.
Again, come back and share when you’re done; I want to brag on you. Happy New Year and all my best. Look for a another post coming next Tuesday, which I’m affectionately renaming Tech Tuesday.
With Tech and Twang,