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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tips for Teaching Digital Citizenship in your Classroom

Our Dig Cit poster
According to a 2015 survey by the American Optometric Association, nearly 2/3 of American children now own their own smartphone or tablet. It's no wonder this generation of children are known as "digital natives"! However, owning a mobile device does not mean that children understand the ins and outs of safety and responsibility online. In the same way that we teach children how to be responsible and respectful citizens in the "real world," it is important to teach students how to be responsible and respectful citizens in the digital world.

When getting started teaching digital citizenship, I surveyed both students and parents to find out their background knowledge regarding digital citizenship topics. I found that most families had
never explicitly discussed with their children how to be good citizens in an online world. This was especially surprising to me because I live in the middle of Silicon Valley! About 90% of my students have some type of computer or device at home and access the Internet pretty regularly. With this information, I realized that if I didn't teach them digital citizenship skills, who would??

Ready to teach dig cit skills, but not sure where to begin? Below are some tips for getting started teaching digital citizenship in your classroom:
  • What grade level should you start teaching dig cit skills in? If students are using devices, teach the skills. I've taught mini-lessons in Kinder!
  • Are you a PBIS school? Align your dig cit instruction with your PBIS curriculum. 
    Internet Safety in Kinder
  • Find out what your students already know and what experiences and/or problems they've had online. Use that to lead discussions.
  • Not sure what topics to start with? My students do a lot of communicating and research online so I usually start with the big 3:
    • Respect (be kind to each other; ignore trolls; etc.)
    • Safety (don't give out personal info; report sketchy characters to teacher/parent)
    • Responsibility (use devices/Internet responsibly)
  • If you wouldn't do it/say it in the 'real world', don't do it/say it online!
  • Make it a discussion, NOT direct instruction-- have the students help with determining the digital citizenship expectations in your room... you might be surprised at how much they've thought about this, even if it hasn't been taught to them yet.
  • Take advantage of teachable moments. If students make a bad choice online, use that moment to teach or reteach a digital citizenship/social media skill. Like David Theriault said at his #FallCUE keynote, we didn't take away desks and textbooks when we found inappropriate language in them, so why would we take away a digital tool? (Side note... if you didn't go to FallCUE2015, take the time to watch this keynote... it is incredibly inspiring!)
  • Don't forget to talk about Digital Footprints... students don't always think about the fact that whatever they put online will be there FOREVER (even if they delete it). What do they want someone to find out about them 10 years from now...?
  • Reteach, reteach, reteach! Dig cit should be an ongoing conversation.
  • There are lots of good resources out there to help you teach dig cit skills:


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Engineering Mini-Challenges for Back to School

The way that you choose to start off the year in your classroom helps set the tone of the room. In my classroom, I wanted to set the tone for collaboration and creativity. I wanted students to know right from the start that we were a team, we would collaborate often, we would learn to solve problems with a little creativity, and that it is okay to fail because that is how we learn.

For those teachers wanting to delve into a little engineering this year, these are also great activities for introducing the design-thinking process. These challenges get students thinking about how to work with a team, how to manage resources, how to use iterations to make corrections on a design, and how to reflect on the process in order to improve next time. 

Below is a list of some of my favorite back to school engineering challenges:
Paper Tower
  • The Marshmallow Challenge: Students are given dry spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallows and are challenged to create the tallest free standing structure within a certain amount of time (I gave 12 minutes). Materials were distributed in a brown paper bag and teams were not allowed to open the bags until time started. And no, students are not allowed to use the bag in their design (I modeled failure as a learning opportunity when I messed up those directions last year). The official Marshmallow Challenge web page has videos, photos, and details about the challenge.
  • Paper Book Tower: In a simplified version of this activity, we provided 10 sheets of paper and some tape to each group and gave them 5 minutes to create a structure that would support at least 1 textbook. Winning team is the one who's tower can support the most weight! 
Earthquake Engineering
  • "Saving Fred": Technically not an engineering challenge, but a fun, collaborative, problem-solving activity nonetheless. Fred is a gummy worm stranded on top of his capsized boat (a plastic cup) who needs to get to his life preserver (a gummy lifesaver). The challenge is to get Fred into his life preserver without touching him with your hands. Teams are given 4 paper clips in order to move Fred.
  • Earthquake engineering challenge: There are a lot more in depth engineering lessons out there for this one (linked to one example), but I decided to keep it simple for back to school. Teams were given 1 package of 4x6 index cards, 1 foot of masking tape, and something sturdy to use as a base (we used clipboards). Students were given 20 minutes to create a structure at least 12 inches high that would withstand our simulated earthquake (used iPad cart as a "shake table"). 
  • Lego/playing card bridge: I don't know where this one came from originally, but we played it at a PD and I liked it so much that I tried it with my students. In the first variation of the challenge, teams are given a piece of 8" wide paper (river to cross), 5 playing cards, 4 paper clips, 6 dominoes, some Legos (including 2 flat Lego pieces for the river bank edges), and a strip of painter's tape (around 6"). Teams must build a bridge across the river that will support a Lego car. In a second variation on the game, each team is given a different size river to cross, but the same amount of materials as in the first version. In this version, it's fun to see how the challenge morphs from a team collaboration project into a whole class collaboration project! 

  • Lego Bridge Challenge
Challenges I've Collected, but Haven't Tried Yet
I've collected a number of mini-engineering challenge resources over the years, but haven't been able to try them all. Here are a few more to check out:

Have more mini-engineering challenge ideas or resources? Share them in the comments section below!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mind-blown Moments from CUERockstar MB

Last week I attended my first CUE Rockstar event, and I loved every minute of it! It's always fun to spend time with like-minded people, bounce ideas off of each other, and try new things as a team. 

The highlights of this particular conference were in the details for me. It was the little things that blew my mind! Here is my list of biggest mind-blowing moments from my time at CUE Rockstar, Manhattan Beach: 

Force copy a shared Google document
Dan Bennett (@dabennett7) showed us how to change the word /edit at end of a share URL to the word /copy before giving out the URL. This will force the recipient to make a copy of the document coming their way. For those using Google Classroom, this may not mean much to you as far as sharing docs to your students, but I'm seeing major possibilities for future PDs! And does it work with the Google URL shortener? Sure does! Just change the link ending before shortening your link. 

Try it!

Updated share link:

Are you kidding me with this one?? Accidentally close a tab in Chrome? Hit this magic combination of keys to reopen the last tab closed. Want to reopen the last two tabs closed? Click this combo twice.  And on and on... This little trick could have saved me so much heart ache in the past...Amazing! Thanks Lisa Nowakowski (@nowatechie)!

"Magic Button" in Google Sheets
@dabennett7's term for the little button in the top, left corner of your GSheet that highlights an entire sheet when clicked. You mean I don't have to click and drag to highlight the whole area? Yes, you can click Ctrl or Command + A to select all data, but this little guy will select the entire sheet. So nice for formatting purposes!

"Choice Eliminator" add-on for Google Forms
Last year I used GForms to create sign up sheets for class parties and events. I could embed the Form right into my class website (created on Google Sites) and all parents had to do was click a button to let me know that they could volunteer in class or donate butter for our baking project. It was great! Except... every time that someone signed up for something, I would go in and delete the item so that I didn't get repeat sign-ups. According to Jason Seliskar (@JasonSeliskar) I needed the "Choice Eliminator" add-on that automatically deletes choices from a Form once they have been selected by a user. Um, yes, it would appear so and I am so happy to have it now!

Notifications on GForms
Why did no one tell me about this before?? Luckily @JasonSeliskar was nice enough to do so! Want to know when someone fills out a Form? Turn on email notifications by going in to the spreadsheet attached to your Form (or click on "View Responses" from within the Form), clicking on "Tools", then "Notification Rules." Again, such a simple little thing that I knew nothing about and that is now going to be a lifesaver for me.

Google Public Data Directory
Adina Sullivan (@adinasullivan) introduced me to this fantastic resource! Need some real-world data to work with? Here it is! I'm already imagining the math/social studies/science possibilities...

Saturday, August 8, 2015

SCCOE EdTech Innovation Summit 8/14--Register Now!

The Santa Clara County Office of Education will be hosting their 2nd Annual EdTech Innovation Summit at Union Middle School next Friday, August 14th, where teachers come together to collaborate and learn more about integrating STEAM and Technology into Common Core curriculum. I look forward to presenting along side the visionary likes of Catlin Tucker, Alice Keeler, and John Corippo!

For more information or to register to attend, visit

Friday, August 14, 2015
8:00am - 3:00pm
Union Middle School
2130 Los Gatos Almaden Rd
San Jose, CA

5 Awesome Digital Tools to help Manage Differentiated Instruction

Digital tools allow us to more easily and efficiently differentiate and personalize learning for our students. Over the course of the last few years I have played and experimented with numerous digital tools in search of the ones that work best for me. There are tons of tools on the market to help teachers manage a blended and/or personalized learning environment--the trick is finding what works for you! Below are five of my favorite tools for creating and managing differentiated instruction in a blended learning environment.

I know, I know... there are a lot of learning management systems (LMS) out there. And everyone has a favorite. If you use something different, great. Just make sure that you're using something! Using an LMS has made it so much easier to differentiate instruction for my students digitally. With Edmodo it's easy to communicate with students, create differentiated work groups, build project teams, assign projects to small groups or individuals, manage and collect a variety of different assignments and projects (digital or not), and share out differentiated digital lessons from learning and presentation apps including Blendspace and Curriculet. Edmodo also makes it easy for students to share their learning and support each other, allowing the teacher to take more of a facilitator and coaching role, and students to take more responsibility for their learning.

Classflow is an interactive lesson presentation app similar to Nearpod and others. What I like best about Classflow over other interactive presentations are the adaptive assessments. Teachers can build in assessment cards that increase in difficulty for individuals who respond correctly to questions. Teachers can also send out specific lesson slides to individuals real time while running a presentation. For example, even though I might be going over slide 3 whole class, I can select slide 2 to be resent to Student X for review if I notice that he/she is still catching up or seems confused about the topic.

Assessments or assignments can also be built for students to complete asynchronously. Teachers can create differentiated assessments that incorporate videos, images, and/or text, and send them out to individuals to complete on their own. Students can navigate these digital assessment decks independently, leaving the teacher time to work with other groups of students.

I found Classflow a little more complicated to learn than similar apps, but that's only because of the awesome adaptive differentiation tools embedded into the software! If you struggling to create your first Classflow deck, check out the Classflow marketplace where other users have posted their lessons for free use. Teachers can use or modify lessons already created by other teachers to get started. It's the best I've found so far for creating lessons that you can differentiate ahead of time and on-the-fly!

Blendspace is used to organize learning materials and resources into lesson storyboards that students can navigate on their own. Teachers can create differentiated instruction paths and build in questions and activities for assessment. Students can also create their own Blendspace storyboards, which is great for research tasks, "20% time" projects, Genius Hour, and individual passion projects. Students do not need to sign up for an account to view a lesson path, but will need an account to create their own. AND, Blendspace is collaborative! Multiple users can contribute to a shared lesson storyboard and students with accounts can utilize the chat feature in the sidebar when viewing a Blendspace.

Bonus!... Blendspace's interface is really simple to use; teachers can search Google, YouTube, Flickr, or Gooru for resources directly in the storyboard, and can upload their own materials from Google Drive, Dropbox, or from their hard drive. Keep in mind... if your school district blocks YouTube, any resources linked from YouTube will not play in the Blendspace lesson. The videos you insert from YouTube will stream in Blendspace, so if your school district has video filters in place you may want to download videos to your hard drive first (or into your Google Drive) and then upload them into the Blendspace lesson. Users can share a Blendspace lesson by sending out a share link, using a QR code, connecting the app within to Edmodo, or by embedding the lesson on a website.

Pretty new to the scene, and so far, pretty cool-- I wish I had had Versal in my life years ago!  And although I haven't used this program much just yet, Versal has quickly moved it's way to the top of my favorite tools list!

Versal is a tool used to create interactive, asynchronous lessons, no coding required. The program reminds me a lot of an easier to use iTunes U or iBooks Author (two tools that I liked using, but that didn't work well in my elementary classroom with students who don't have iTunes accounts). Versal is based on a widget design system that allows teachers to build in text, video, slideshows, whiteboards, audio, quizzes, sorts, and more using the Versal widgets. There are even widgets for embedding Google Docs, Quizlet flashcard decks, Desmos, pdfs, Thinglinks, Music and Art activities... the list goes on!

Lessons created in Versal are easily shared with a link or embed code. And as of a recent update, you can share your Versal lesson directly into Google Classroom! Something to keep in mind when creating a lesson in Versal-- the free version of the program defaults all lessons to public (meaning anyone that gets the link to your lesson can view it). In order to keep lessons private, you'll have to upgrade to a paid version.

Now that I'm coaching ed tech for my district, I've created my first PD session of the year in Versal and will share it with teachers in a Google Classroom. This way, teachers that want to move more quickly through the lesson can do so on their own, and teachers that want to reference the lesson again at a later date will have the lesson link available to them in our Classroom!

This is an amazing tool for creating interactive reading! Curriculet allows teachers to embed notes, images, videos, links, and quizzes right into the text they want students to read. The Curriculet library allows teachers to check-out popular books/novels for K-12 (some free, some paid...most are very reasonably priced for a 3-month check out), annotate them, and assign them to a class. Curriculet links to both students' Google Apps for Ed accounts and Edmodo. Teachers also have the option of uploading their own material to annotate and assign to a class, or can use articles from USA Today, which is linked directly in Curriculet and comes pre-loaded with activities. I love this tool for whole class and small groups/lit circle instruction!

Bonus-- My favorite digital content resources (all free!)

  • PBS LearningMedia... videos, articles, games, interactives, primary source documents, expert interviews, and more. Register and get searching now!
  • Khan Academy... still cool and just getting better
  • NextLesson... great place to grab pre-made lessons, activities, PBL...many of which students can work on independently (I use this resources a lot for extension activities)
  • Newsela... current events articles that can be leveled

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Using Google Docs to Improve Writing Instruction

Writing conferences are, in my opinion, one of the best strategies for teaching writing. Generally I've always thought that writing is one of the more challenging subjects to teach. Capitalization, grammar, punctuation-- pretty straight forward. Trying to help a student make their writing more "interesting" or "engaging", or helping students better develop characters or "establish a situation," is a little more tricky.

It was the time spent in writing conferences that always seemed the most valuable to my students. The conversations had and the edits made during conferencing are the ones that tend to stick with students the best. The challenge with writing conferences is that good writing conferences take a significant amount of one-on-one time, and when you have anywhere between 23 and 33 bodies in your classroom at one time (or more!), it is hard to find the time to read through and analyze and edit all of those essays or stories with each individual.

Enter, Google Docs. The "suggested edits" and "comments" tools (among others) in Google Docs made it so much easier for me to conference with more students more often. Docs also made it easier for students to conference with each other about their writing. Below are some of the ways that the tools in Google Docs improved writing conferences in my classroom:
  • "Share" option: This is by far one of the best features of the Google applications! Students can share their documents to me and to other students when they begin the writing process. We can collaborate on brainstorming, editing, and revising in real time allowing much speedier feedback. The "share" tool also lets me check in on student writing throughout the process; I don't have to wait until they (hopefully) finish a first draft of their story or essay to finally see what they're working on. 
  • "Suggested edits" tool: I don't have to go over every single grammar mistake with the student sitting next to me.  We can use the "suggested edits" tool to discuss and mark up capitalization, punctuation, or grammar mistakes that we find together in the first couple of sentences or paragraphs. Then, I can send the student back to writing and I can continue to make suggested edits on other errors I find. This way, the student has more writing time while also interacting with me in the editing process.
  • "Comments" tool: Another great way to virtually conference with students while they're working on their writing! Although I do still like to pull students to chat face-to-face when I think they need more intensive writing instruction, some conversations don't require as much formality. During structured writing time, I'll open up multiple tabs and watch students working in their documents. If I want to compliment a particular passage, or suggest a change, I'll leave a comment on the document. Students can make the change in the moment, respond to the comment, ask me a question, or leave the comment for later reference. This allows me to check in on twice as much writing (at least!) as I used to before using Docs.
  • "Re-open comment": If there is any question about a digital conversation that a student and I had about their writing, and the comment is "missing," I can always re-open resolved comments to review with the student. Sometimes students get "resolve happy" or make a change that I've suggested, but decide that they want to go back and look at the resolved comment again. That student and I can re-open the comment and take a look at it together to rediscuss.