Saturday, November 30, 2013

Turning SAMR into TECH: What models are good for

Image created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D.
SAMR, developed by Ruben Puentedura, is one model for examining the evolution of tech integration in classrooms. It focuses on the type of work students are doing and how much that work deviates from traditional classroom practices. In a sense, it measures the future against the past. This four minute video is great if you would like to hear him explain it in his own words.

I like the SAMR model and I think it does what models are supposed to do, it get us talking and thinking about the work going on in our classrooms. This graphic shows the progression of a teacher's thinking with a bit of humor too.

As a model though, I think SAMR has some issues we need to talk and think about more. This is my list of concerns.

For further exploration:

  • It privileges the modification and redefinition stages such that good teaching without tech is marginalized. Even after five years of 1:1 I still have a few fabulous lessons that just work better on paper. They are worth keeping even if they do not integrate technology.
  • Teachers often underestimate the kinds of tasks that might qualify as redefinition. (I'm seeing this a lot lately and it worries me.) My friend Holly was tweeting about it from a keynote Dr. Puentedura gave in Boston a few weeks ago. 
  • It scares teachers new to technology integration by placing substitution at the bottom of a steep climb, when many of them are still figuring out how to substitute effectively.  I like this graphic better for working with teachers who are very new to educational technology. (If you work with teachers new to technology, take my advice, don't show them the SAMR model until they are already comfortable doing some substitution and augmentation.)
  • The assumption by educators, (though the model does not specify this,) is that responsibility for task design still rests with the teacher, but in reality the classrooms that really reach redefinition are often rife with student driven innovation. 

What if SAMR focused on students and teachers instead of tasks?

Creative Commons License
TECH: For Teachers and Students by Jen Roberts is licensed under a 

Because models are good for making me think, I began thinking about SAMR with a focus on the people in the classroom, not just the task being done.  I wondered what a progression might look like that moved from a traditional teacher-created tasks to student-centered, tech-integrated learning.  This image above is the progression I came up with and it fit rather magically with the TECH acronym. (That's a sign right?)  I tried to combine the technology progression of SAMR with a progression toward student centered learning.

One thing I would add about both SAMR and TECH, is that none of these categories are exclusive. I think most of us spend most of our teaching time floating between the two middle categories of both models, occasionally hitting both higher and lower levels of pedagogy.

I'm interested in your thoughts and suggestions. This is just a first draft of my thinking.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why is this Twitter chat so compelling?

I should be writing. I should be grading. I should be folding three loads of laundry. But, I'm not doing any of that. I'm engaged in a Twitter chat.  While watching the stream of responses fly down my screen like a somewhat more legible version of The Matrix, I'm wondering what makes this chat so compelling? Why am I drawn in so far? What makes it hard to leave?

I think there are a number of complex psychological factors here. I'll break them down.

It's fun.  Dozens of other teachers I have never met are all talking about a subject of interest to me.

It's ego boosting. Often I say something in a chat that other people like.  I get the immediate gratification of seeing them respond, retweet, favorite and in may other ways approve of what I tweeted.

It's educational. Many of the questions will push my thinking. Other participants will share resources that I will dig into further.

It's inspiring. I love seeing what other teachers are trying or watching them get excited about something they want to try with their students.

Monday, October 7, 2013

5 Ways to Use Twitter Without A Twitter Account

If you are a connected educator you know October is connected educator month. If you are not a connected educator then someone who cares about your professional learning probably sent you this post. That same person has probably also encouraged you to get a Twitter account. But, (huge u-turn ahead) you don't have to be on Twitter. You can derive a lot of great resources from Twitter without having to actually set up an account, figure out who to follow, or learn the lingo.

So, Twitter for Non-Twitter-Users

1. See what almost anyone is tweeting:
Unlike Facebook or other social networks, most of Twitter is open and public. If you want to know what a person is saying on Twitter you don't have to set up an account and follow them. You can just visit their Twitter profile page.  You have probably seen some names that start with the @ symbol.  Mine is @JenRoberts1.  To view my Twitter page you can go to  (Note that the @ got dropped in the twitter address.)   So, whenever you see someone's Twitter handle, i.e. @edutopia, and you want to know what they tweet about, you can use your savvy, Non-Twitter-User powers to go to and see what those tweets are saying.

2. Research a topic:
Knowing what one tweeter is saying is great, but sometimes you want to know what a variety of people are saying about something. Twitter is a great search engine.  Go to and type in a key word for something you want to learn more about, iPads, Common Core, etc.  This can also be a great way to learn more about a developing event by searching keywords related to the event like earthquake, or the location of the event like Los Angeles. News organizations often lag (and they are pulling info from Twitter as well). When I want to know what happened I check the news.  When I want to know what is happening, I search Twitter.

3. Love those hashtags #:
Yes, I said it, hashtag. To those not on Twitter this can be scary technical jargon. You must be wondering why people keep #tagging their statements.  Twitter recognizes the # as an indicator that the attached word should be a link.  A # on Twitter becomes a link to all the other posts with the same #.  So if there is an #earthquake in L.A. people start adding the #earthquake tag to their tweets about it. Within Twitter this is a way to help users connect about a similar subject.  For non-twitter-users you can still take advantage of the # in combination with  Now that you know what #hashtags are you can search for them too. We Twitter folk often use hashtags to connect about events that you might want to know more about. Most conferences have a #. For instance in a few weeks I'll be presenting at #SDCUE. If you search for that tag you'll see a lot about the events there. Also, there are amazing groups who connect with a #. Check out #CAedchat to see what California educators have been sharing. The amazing Jerry Blumengarten @cybraryman1 compiled this awesome list of educational #hashtags.

4. See What's Going On Nearby:
Visit and see what people near you are tweeting about. Add search terms to the box to see tweets on a specific subject.

5. Display Tweets:
You can use without a Twitter account to display tweets that match any twitter search. This is a fun way to share the twitter feed at a professional event.

Screen Shot from Visible Tweets when I searched #merit14
Even as a Non-Twitter-User there are still several ways to access the info and resources connected educators are sharing there. Please go ahead and try some of these tricks. Also, please note that I almost managed not to suggest that being able to see into Twitter without an account might make you want to try connecting for yourself. I said almost.

Monday, September 16, 2013

This Post Is Not Contagious

How much influence does one blog comment have?  How connected are our social networks? How fast can an idea spread?

Viral internet phenomenon are nothing new, but this week I got a lesson in the amazing power a small group can have for spreading an idea.

Early last week, I noticed an uptick in comments on a post I wrote about plagiarism and the ways I use Google tools to prevent and detect it.  The comments were generally complementary and I got the sense that this was part of a class assignment, read-this-and-leave-a-comment, kind of thing.  My widget for tracking visitors indicated most were in Ohio.

The thing is, these nice comments also posted to the commentor's Google+ feed and so were seen by the people in their circles. Some had clearly linked their Google+ with Facebook, so that their Facebook friends also saw their comment and the link back to my original post. (Yes, I can see link sources in the stats from Blogger.)

Up to that point the plagiarism post had been very popular on my blog, but it quickly passed the 3,000 view mark previously held by the post about organizing student work in Google Drive.

A single class of grad students, probably less than 20, all writing positive comments on a single blog post, sent out ripples of influence that drew a large number of views to a niche post for English teachers using Google Drive and concerned about plagiarism.

This afternoon I got an email from an ed tech friend, who generally avoids social media, but got a link to my post from a contact on Diigo. And so the cycle continues and people continue to learn tricks for supporting students, working smarter and quickly checking on the status of student writing.

Perhaps next semester the professor in Ohio will assign a new class of grad students to read and comment again and the post will continue it's influence. These ideas we put on the internet spread out, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but people do eventually seem to find them and read them and, yes, spread them.

Views By Post This Week

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Voice Feedback with

Remember that video I made back in May about how to use Voice Comments in Google Docs?
The developers have been making it even better at

I made another tutorial video. It's a little longer because there are more features to explore and I'm still learning them.  I am really looking forward to using this with students this year.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Broken Games: Gamification Gone Wrong

Photo Credit: Google Stock Photos
I was at a large conference this summer. The organizers had added a game to the conference app. If you tweeted from the app, or reviewed a session or entered a code at a location, you were awarded points in the game. The prize was not trivial, a paid trip to the conference the following year for the person who "earned" the most points. Great idea. Except it was broken, very broken.

I don't mean that app or the codes didn't work; I mean there were several major flaws in the game design. Most attendees didn't know the game existed in the app until they got to the conference and by then the leader board showed several top scoring people had over 800 points on the first day. In a system where you are awarded 10-20 points per interaction, their leads were so immense that most attendees never bothered playing. A game that was supposed to be fun, just wasn't because there was no way to win if you started playing at the conference, no second place and no random prizes for participants.

Conference organizers are always looking for new ways to entice attendees to submit session reviews and awarding points in a game for something like that probably seemed like a great idea, except that there was no requirement that you actually attend the session before submitting a review. Those at the top of the leader board likely submitted a review for every session. So, rather than getting the organizers more data about sessions, it got them more noise in the data and probably made it tough to tell what the actual participants really thought about any given session.

Gamification is not as simple as slapping a point system on some already expected behaviors. (We call that grading.) To design a game you have to consider all the ways a person can beat that game. You have to consider if winning behavior also matches the behavior you want from participants. If you want people to review a session after attending it then you have to give out an access code in the actual session. If you want a level playing field for all participants then you have to make sure everyone starts at the same time. If the game rewards cheating, like reviewing sessions you didn't attend just to get points, then the game discredits the players.

But games can fail for other reasons too. I was at an event a while back where they had a special door prize to be drawn just from those who clicked on a special button on the organization website. To be fair you could only enter at the event. Implicitly, this only favors people with a smartphone able to visit the website and click the button, but worse than that, the button did not show up on the mobile version of the site. Most attendees did not enter. But there were some real computers in the room, for another purpose. I went to one, visited the site, clicked the contest button and entered my name. I should not have been surprised when I won, but I was in the middle of a conversation and hadn't noticed they were having the drawing already. Did I cheat by entering the contest in the only way available? Should I have told others to go use the computers to enter? Is it my fault that the game creators failed to test their plan with mobile devices? And yes, I recognize my own hypocrisy that I complain when a game is not fair, but quickly exploit a loophole when I find one that gives me an advantage.

Good games are balanced, fair, and fun. It takes carefully planning to make a good game work, but a game can fail miserably if even one part of the equation is off. Players who know they can't win often choose not to play. Players who can't access the tools of the game will also opt out. These are the circumstances our struggling students are already dealing with. Is it any wonder they choose not to play school?

If you are excited about adding gaming principles to your classroom look first at what is already a game for students, consider the ways a student might "beat" your game by exploiting a loophole you didn't see coming, and above all, make sure all the players have a reason to stay in the game.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

2013 Was a Major Milestone in Education

Photo Credit: Jen Roberts
In the spring of 2013 the world passed a major milestone that, as far as I can tell, no one noticed. While we were preparing for the Common Core standards and debating which devices to buy for our 1:1 programs, the class of 2013...graduated.

What's so remarkable about that? It's not like it was a big year like the class of 2000 or even the class of 2025. Some might even say the 13 made it an unlucky year to graduate. So how is this a milestone for the world?

The class of 2013 is not remarkable because of their year of graduation. What's interesting about them is that they began kindergarten in the fall of 2000. The class of 2013 is the first group of students to have an entirely 21st century education.

While we've spent the last decade and change debating what a 21st century education looks like, they were quietly getting one. This begs the question, did they get the 21st century education they needed? Did the 12 years they spent in school prepare them with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive for the rest of this century?

A few years ago I ran into a familiar looking young man at my son's preschool. He was waiting outside the office when I walked by. We both did a double take and I went back to speak to him. He was too young to be a parent there, so I guessed he was waiting for one of the teachers, a sister or girlfriend perhaps. After a short conversation we figured out that I had been his 7th grade English teacher sometime around 1997. Edgar was personable, happy to see me, and articulate. Eventually, I asked what he was doing waiting there outside the office. "Oh," he said, "I'm waiting for the director. I'm their web designer and we have a meeting."

The student, who I had taught in the 20th century, was there because he had a 21st century career as an independent web site designer.  There were a few web designers in the late 20th century, but not enough that anyone thought of it as a viable career category.  I had always known, hypothetically, that I was preparing my students for careers that didn't exist yet, but running into Edgar showed me how real that adage had become.

We are preparing our students for futures we can't predict. They will get jobs requiring very specialized skill sets. They will have to navigate an increasingly automated and digital world. They will look back on their K-12 school years as "the old days", tell their grand children about learning in classrooms that only had one working computer, and share stories about how they had to be sneaky to use their personal digital devices.

The class of 2013 is only the first to get a 21st century education. When we get to the class of 2018 we will be graduating a group of students who were born in the 21st century. The education we give students today will need to see them through the rest of the century.

Monday, August 12, 2013

How do I love Remind 101... Let me count the ways.

1. I can set up multiple classes and text them separately or in combination. 
2. My students and parents can opt for text or email messages or both. 
3. I can schedule my messages ahead of time. 
4. I never have to know student phone numbers. 
5. They never have to know mine. 
6. I can send messages from the web or from my phone with the app. 
7. There is a record of every message I send. 
8. There is a widget to display those messages on my blog. 
9. My students love getting important info via text. 
10. They can't text back. 

Photo Credit: Diane Main

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Using Google Drive to Send Docs To Students With View Only Folders

Organization in Google Drive is one of those conversations ed tech geeks like me are always having, because it is always evolving.  I wrote a few days ago about my evolution for organizing student work in Google Drive, but this morning it occurred to me that maybe you want to know how I organize the outgoing docs, the things I send to students and how I do it.

This summer I learned about Doctopus from the great Kevin Brookhouser and that will probably change some of my workflow, but for those of you who aren't ready for that here are a few alternatives.

Step 1: Get Student Data
To share anything with students you need to know their gmail address. I highly recommend setting up a Google Form to gather this data. Here is an example of mine. Student Data Form.

Once you have student's information you can sort the spreadsheet by period, by name etc, copy the relevant email addresses, click the share button on any document, paste in a list of gmail addresses and you're off to the races.  Great, but a bit tedious to have to do that copy and paste step every time you want to share something.

Step 2: Set Up View Only Folders

You probably noticed when you shared that document, that you had a choice about how you shared it, edit, view and comment, were probably the different options. Giving 36 students edit rights on a single document is a bad idea. Most often I share with students as "view only". A student who has view access to a doc can go to the file menu and "make a copy" of that document. The student will own the new copy. If your 36 students each make their own copy from a view only document then they just saved you a lot of time.

To make this even easier. I share a folder with each period called "View Only". Any document I put into that folder is automatically shared with all of the students and they can make their own copy to edit, annotate etc. I set up separate view only folders for each period because there are times when I want to share something with one class, but not another. I made you a short tutorial video about how to set up view only folders.

Step 3: Set Up Group Folders
Group folders let my students and I share documents with a smaller group. I use this mostly with writing groups. I share a folder with the 5-6 students in a writing group, but this time I give them edit access. (I might switch that to comment access since that is an option now.) Anything I or the students put into that folder is shared with the group. Students use this to share their writing with their group. It is much faster than them having to type in each group member's gmail address.

I create the heterogeneous groups using the spreadsheet, putting a group number next to each student's name. I sort by the numbers and then I have student emails by group. From there it just takes a few minutes per period to set up the folders and paste in the emails for each group.  The prep time it takes me to do that is worth it because it saves my students time in class when they can share their work much more quickly.

File in More Than One Folder
You can still put a Google Doc in more than one folder. (I just found out lots of people thought this went away.) I use this trick to put the same document into the view only folder for each class.
Select the Doc in your docs list.
Pick the "organize" button. (looks like a folder).
Select the first folder you want to put it in then hold down the control key (or command on Mac) and click on all the other folders you want to have that doc go into.  Viola, the document will appear in each of those folders. I use this trick when I want to add the same document to several view only folders at once.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How do you organize your Google Drive?

One of the first questions teachers new to Google Drive always ask me is, how do you organize your files.  I've gone through several different ways before figuring out what works best for me.  Here are some options. I teach high school, so I have a number of different sections and sometimes more than one course to teach. I also teach a graduate class and have a few other projects going on.

My Files on 08-09
Option 1: Create a file for each period and then subfiles within that for each assignment. This was my first attempt to organize my digital student work, but it had problems.  Generally the more layers and separate folders you have, the slower your work flow gets. And I had to spend a lot of time moving student work into the right folder. Don't even ask me what happened when a student changed from one class to another. 

My Files By Assignment in 09-10
Option 2: Create a folder for each new assignment and put all the student work from that assignment into that folder. This made it much easier to find and review all of the short stories for instance. But, I still spent a lot of time adding student work to that folder.

Option 3: Stop putting student work in folders. Really. This is the system that is actually working the best for me now.  When my class starts an essay they name it according to a strict naming convention, typically period# name and assignment title, so if James is in period 3 the file name for his paper is "3 James Short Story" 

Why this no files method works for my student work: 
Typically my students work on one major project at a time. Google Drive has nice sorting features like "Not owned by me" and "Shared with me" When I want to see what my students work looks like I usually just switch to one of those. I prefer "Not owned by me" because it will still show me work sorted by the "last modified" column. (The "Not owned by me" and many other sorting options are hidden under the small grey arrow at the right side of the search box in Google Docs.)

I can also find a student's work by typing the student's name into the search box. The search will return any document that has that student's name in file name or even anywhere in the document or spreadsheet. Some of my results when I search for Adrian are below. Typing in the name of the assignment will get me all the papers with that assignment title too. 

The next evolution for my Drive organization and student work will likely be Doctopus.  Thats a script that runs in a Google spreadsheet. It will automatically create and share a copy of a document with all of my students. As it does so, it names the docs as I specified and puts the created documents into a folder. Because of that my student work will be back in folders, but as long as it's automatic and saves me time I love that. 

Jay Atwood has a great tutorial video about how to use the Doctopus script. (This is the UPDATED video to reflect recent changes to doctopus as of March 2014.)

I do use folders for most things that are not student work.  I have a shared folder with my colleagues who teach the same course and we use it to organize materials for our unit. It's crucial to be able to group all the docs for the same unit together that way. I also use "View Only" folders to send things to my classes. Read about how "View Only" folder work.

I have a folder about the graduate class I teach and keep all the related docs for the course in there. When I work on an ed tech project or a book project, I keep a folder for those things.  I guess I would say that I use folders to organize the things in my drive that are mine or that are part of a project I am working on. My student's work is easy to find without folders because their documents will share a common search term like the assignment title. (I teach them that the wrong title is like -no name-. They quickly master the naming convention.)

One more Drive/Docs tip for working with students. At the beginning of the year I have students create and share a document with me that we call their English Journal.  We use that for all the small pieces of work we do, quick writes, notes, reading responses, exit slips, etc. I require them to date each entry and keep their newest work on top (no scrolling for me). With this document covering the day to day writing needs in my class there are fewer documents flying around. (I do put all their English Journals in a folder for daily easy access.)

And then there is the preview feature. I use it all the time to review student work quickly.  Select one doc in the docs list. Look for the eyeball icon and click it. You will get a preview page of that doc. The best part is that you can use your right arrow to see the next paper, and the next. Use the up and down arrows to scroll in the document you are previewing. It's fabulous. 
Getting the preview eyeball icon
Previewing the document. Note the blue open button if you want to edit.
Email Notifications in Google Docs
You are probably really fed up with email notifications that your students have shared a document with you. You have probably begged your classes to uncheck the box that says "send email notification", but you still get way to many. You need a filter. 
  1. In Gmail select one of the "I've shared..."emails. 
  2. Then click on the "More" button and choose "Filter messages like these" 
  3. Delete the sender info in the first box and add "I've shared an item with you." to the "has the words" box. 
  4. Click "Create filter with this search"
  5. Select "skip the inbox, mark as read and apply the label."
  6. When you choose the label create a new one called "I've Shared".
  7. Also check the box to "apply the filter to matching conversations"
This should send all your docs email notifications to a separate "label" on the left side of your gmail inbox. Filters are a great way of managing your incoming Gmail.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Jen Helps Holly at CUErockstar

At CUErockstar camps we start each morning with "Shred" sessions. Each presenter gets two minutes to tell the audience about his or her session. On Thursday morning Holly showed a video (as a joke) that had pictures of some of the presenters "blabberized". She was able to make it look (awkwardly) like we were saying people should go to her session and not ours. It was hysterical.

The video below is my reply for Friday. I had never used GoAnimate before, so making it was a lot of fun. Hat tip to Diana Neebe and #Merit13 for the idea to use GoAnimate.

Jen Helps Holly at CUErockstar by Jennifer Roberts on GoAnimate

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When Strengths Become Limiting: Learning Styles

Photo Credit: Jen Roberts
I admit to not giving a whole lot of credence to the value of catering to a student's particular learning style. Sure some students may be more auditory, others more visual and some doggedly kinesthetic, however the world isn't going to cater to their learning preference and neither will I. It's a tough love stance, but let me explain.

There is some content information I typically teach my students, but most of that content is increasingly a Google search away. I much more highly value a student's ability to critically analyze a piece of writing, their ability to write sound arguments supported by credible evidence, and their ability to produce high quality work cooperatively. Any self supporting adult in our world is going to have to be able to teach themselves, or find the resources to learn new skills and information daily. The best thing I can teach my students is how to learn.

So, why would I allow myself or my students to accept that their learning style is fixed and limited? If a student comes to my class and tells me that he doesn't like to read, I help him find the right books, talk to him about those books, and encourage him to recommend those books to others. I do not say, "Oh, you're not a reader? Well, I guess that's your style then." So why would I accept a statement like, "I'm not a visual learner." If you don't learn well visually lets work on improving that for you.

When a student comes to my class and there is something they don't do well or feel confident about, I try to help that student build competence in that area, including learning styles. Knowing your preferred learning style may help you when you need to learn something fast, but I want to help my students to work on strengthening all their learning modalities.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Of course my students are blogging...

Photo Credit: Jen Roberts
Let me see, I'd like to find a way to get my students writing more, about authentic topics, for a real audience; something that would let them document their learning over time, a place they could showcase their work, leave each other comments, and even interact with others interested in the same topic. Perhaps this could also be something that might represent them well on the internet? What would do that? Well, probably not a series of pieces of notebook paper turned into me.

Why do I teach my students about blogging? Why not?

I've done a variety of different blogging projects with students over the years. The first was probably in 2000 or 2001, when I set up a single web page for my 7th grade class on our school server. The idea was to have a different student everyday write an entry at the top of the page about our class that day. I didn't even know this was a blog. I told the computer lab teacher about it and she said, "Oh yeah, that's a web log or a blog." It had none of the features of a blog today, not comments, no archive, and most likely no actual audience.

By 2006 I had moved to a high school and started a blog for my class with Blogger (still my platform of choice). It was just a weekly recap of what we had been doing in class that week and I was the only author. In the spring of 2008 my classroom went 1:1 and I was ready to try a blogging project with students, but there were so many students. I found a way to break it down.

For our last unit of the year we did a blogging project about issues facing the world. Students generated a list of the typical pressing issues, global warming, terrorism, water shortages etc. I asked each student to list their top three issues of interest and then used their interest cards to group them into teams. Each team started a blog about their topic and added posts as they did their research. It worked pretty well. By using group blogs I had fewer blogs to keep up with. Students collaborated well and went much deeper than ever before into the research on their topics. But the year ended all too soon.

Photo Credit: Jen Roberts
In the 2012-2013 school year a few things came together in a good way. My curriculum team agreed to do an "Expert Project". Each student would develop a research question to become an expert about and I suggested they could keep blogs to track their learning. This was the end of short term blogging projects and the beginning of a year long, sustained, effort. Blogging their research about their chosen topic was not a magic bullet that suddenly made all my students care about writing. Most of them didn't get any amazing reactions from the wider internet audience.  They did however, find out that a sustained effort builds a body of work, that looking back on what you wrote months ago could show how your thinking has changed, that searching for your topic might mean finding your own blog in the results.

I wish I had great stories to tell about miraculous things that happened because my students are blogging. Perhaps that will come in time. But, I also don't have any horror stories about bad things that happened either. I get my students blogging because it's a great and purposeful way of getting them writing. I hope blogging might be something that will help them in the future. I know that experience writing about their research and their thinking is something that they will need, so why not do some of it on a blog.

Now please excuse me while I go write this out on notebook paper, so I can give it to my teacher.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Paperless Classroom

My classroom has been paperless since we went 1:1 in early 2008. At the time I went to a training for other teachers who were also part of the very small pilot program and learned about Google Docs.  Now I can't imagine teaching with paper.

When we teach without paper in a 1:1 classroom we are implicitly teaching students values about conservation, resourcefulness, problem solving, creative work flow strategies, collaboration, and digital citizenship. 

Paperless is not the goal. Quality education is the goal, innovative education goes along with that. If reducing paper in your classroom moves your instruction toward a more digitally rich, collaborative and engaged space, then go for it.  If eliminating paper means you show movies everyday instead of reading and writing, well, that may be paperless, but it isn't education.

  • Obviously, we save a lot of paper, but we also save everything else associated with paper: printer ink, staples, paperclips, file folders, spiral notebooks,  binders, and even markers. I still love office supply stores, but there is less there that I need now. 
  • Because my students do their work online in Google Docs I can see it anytime I need to. With a traditional spiral notebook for class notes and writing assignments I have to either look at student work while the kids are in class or collect their notebooks to review on my own. With a shared doc in Google Docs I can check on student work daily if needed. Also, I don't have to take the work away from the students to be able to see how they are doing on something. 
  • Another advantage of digital student work is being able to share that work with other teachers and case managers easily. Giving a writing sample to a special ed teacher for an IEP meeting used to mean finding a student's paper in my files, making a copy of it  and then leaving it in the case manager's box for him or her to pick up later. Now it's a simple copy and paste from the student's doc into an email and it's done. 
  • My paperless classroom saves me time in lots of other ways too. I used to spend a lot of time in the copy room, as many teachers do.  Now I'm not there very often and when I do go it's probably to make copies for a department meeting rather than my classroom. 
  • Students can't loose their work. It's always in their Google Docs and they don't have to worry about bringing anything to class that they might forget in their locker, or their car, or their friends car, or their aunt's house or any other number of places they tend to leave things. 
  • My classroom is also cleaner. No paper means less bits of notebook paper and other trash on the floor. The custodians love me. 

  • Not all students have internet access at home. This number gets smaller every year and we have great access after school in our library, but it can be an issue I have to work out with a few students every year. 
  • Its easier to procrastinate about grading essays when I don't have a stack taking up space on my desk. Sometimes the lack of that physical reminder that students need a response from me makes me take longer to grade work. (I vastly prefer formative assessment to summative assessment anyway.)
  • Students can forget their password. This can cause a temporary slow down. Usually they can recover their password. In rare cases I've had a student create a new account and I share their work back to them at their new account. 
What you need
  • A 1:1 classroom is nearly essential. If you find a way to go paperless without that let me know. I'm curious. It doesn't matter if its a laptop or tablet. It could be school provided or a bring your own device (BYOD) model. However you get them get something in each student's hands.
  • A robust learning management system that you can use easily on a daily basis is also crucial. I use a blog to communicate with my students, but there are probably better options for you if you are just getting started, Edmodo, Schoology, Canvas, My Big Campus etc. Hopefully your school is encouraging (and training) you to use something like that. 
  • A work flow that allows you to easily disseminate materials to students, collect student work and return an assessment is important to figure out.  Your work flow is also something that may change.  This is the place we spend the most logistical time. Its a point of friction. Everyyear I find something, either a new tool or a new process, that simplifies my work flow.  Be on the lookout for things that make it easier to move information and student work between you, your students and a larger audience. 
My paperless toolbox
  • Google Drive/Docs: A really flexible tool for almost everything I need. I can create and publish assignments and link them on my blog, use forms for data collection and assessments, students share their work with me, groups collaborate, even my PLC has begun to use it for grade level collaboration.
  • Dropbox and DROPitTOme: Together these tools make it possible to collect a file from students if for any reason I can't use Google Drive. It also makes collaboration with colleagues easier as I transition them to Google Drive. 
  • Goodreads: A social network for readers, my students join and keep me up to date on their reading preferences, to be read lists and book reviews.
  • Socrative: Great for asking students questions quickly.
  • Remind101: Lets me send my students mass text messages that they can get by text or email.
  • Blogger: As our daily starting point the blog is crucial. I love the easy user interface and the duality of the static sidebar and scrolling (archived) daily posts. 
I wrote this post in support of #CAedchat for Sunday 7/14. You can find out more about #CAedchat on the website at  The archive for the chat about paperless classrooms is available here

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Encouraging End of the Year Reflection

I love asking students to reflect.  I enjoy reading student reflections more than any other form of student writing. I often assign reflections after major projects, as part of final exams and sometimes just for fun.

I'll take any opportunity to squeeze in a reflection.  I find mid-project formative reflections really fascinating.  Recently, I asked my students what they still needed to do to complete the feature article for their expert project and what they felt they needed help with.  I used a Google Form of course, and running through the spreadsheet I could tell which of my students had a coherent plan for finishing and which needed immediate intervention.  A student who has a plan for finishing a task is 76% more likely to finish it. Okay, I made that percentage up, but I find a strong correlation between knowing the specific steps to reach a goal and actually meeting that goal.  Just asking students what they needed to do made them think about their steps and helped them visualize themselves finishing.

I've long supported end of project reflections as well.  Back before my classroom was paperless I had each student complete a reflection sheet to attach to each essay they turned in. I would ask things like, "What are you most proud of about the writing attached? What did you have the most difficulty with? What did you learn from this project?" Now I collect those end of project reflections via Google Form as well.

I often include reflection questions as part of a final exam.  This was one of the essay questions on my first semester final this year.  (Confession, the essays from this prompt were way more compelling to read than their responses to the analytical essay prompt.)
This semester you have been asked to read and review two books per grading period, six in total. Write about how successful (or not) you have been with this part of your English course requirements.  How has this course requirement impacted your reading life? Include your thoughts about a particular book that has had an impact on you, and your experience with that book? Finally, what reading goals do you have for yourself for second semester?
Last year I taught ninth grade and our team used this prompt as our first semester final essay question.  It is formatted to match the style of our high school exit exam, so it's better just to link you to it.

Even better than looking back though, is looking forward. In June I use to have students write letters to themselves for the fall. Last year I had my freshmen write letters to themselves as seniors. "What advice would you like to give your future self?" If you are trying this with your students you'll want to walk around and peek over their shoulders because currently there is not a cc option. Also, I use to send myself a reminder to use again next year. My message to myself from last year arrived yesterday.

Reflection is fun and very educational. If it isn't a fixture in your classroom yet, hopefully you can steal some of the ideas above. If you are already cultivating reflection in your students leave a comment and tell us how it's working for you.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Should We Block Google Translate?

Photo Credit: kconnors via morgueFile
How should I respond to world language teachers who want to block Google translate?
A fellow Google Certified teacher posted this question to our group last week and I have been turning over my response in my head ever since.

Using Google translate is a form of plagiarism. It's cheating and students who cheat on homework won't know the material for the test in class, nor will they have the language skills they need for life in a global society. 

Long ago, my district used to block Wikipedia. Students used it at home, but at school we had no access to show them why it was not a good source. If you block translate language teachers will be in the same position. Students will use it at home, but at school teachers won't be able to demonstrate why it fails.  (Our district has now unblocked Wikipedia and I teach students to use it as a source of sources.)

When my son was in 4th grade I had to have him practice his Math homework at the kitchen table, so I could be sure he wasn't plugging the problems into his calculator in his room. Google translate is the first instance of language teachers needing to cope with their equivalent of a calculator. But even as a very fancy calculator won't help you solve a complex problem if you don't know the mathematical reasoning to use it, Google translate won't help a language student without the knowledge to make the appropriate corrections to their translation. 

If I were a language teacher I would require all at home writing to be done in Google Docs.  The revision history would quickly tell me if a student was using copy/paste from translate. (See my post about detecting plagiarism.) Then I would give students translations in class and ask them to fix the mistakes. It should not take too many repetitions of that activity to convince them that Google translate is not perfect. Further, correcting translations is probably a very authentic task for a modern linguist. 

Wikipedia isn't going away, essay selling sites aren't going away, calculators aren't going away, and translation apps are here to stay as well. It think it is a far better use of our time to adapt to technology moving forward than trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Further, blocking a tool with real, legitimate uses for teachers trying to communicate with diverse parent populations in many languages hinders our educational mission. 

Google translate may require language teachers to change the way they assess, assign and support student learning experiences. They may have to rethink the how and why of their instructional practices. They may have to adapt. I'm okay with that. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A conversation about 1:1 Pedagogy

How has 1:1 transformed your teaching?  Our conversation covered a lot of ground that might help teachers interested in going paperless, or teaching with more technology in the classroom.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Digital Foundations

We need to stop teaching students about their digital footprint and start helping them build their digital foundation.

Do metaphors matter? Well, I'm an English teacher, so I would say, yes. We use metaphors to communicate abstract concepts to others, and so our metaphors should reflect what we mean. The term "digital footprint" has been used for a while now to explain that all of us leave traces of ourselves online, evidence of our actions and thinking that others can view. We tell our students to be thoughtful about their digital footprints because others will judge them by the evidence they leave online.

Footprint though, is the wrong metaphor, because footprints, other than on the moon, are ephemeral. They get washed away by water and wind. Our students who live in the concrete jungle may go weeks or months without actually seeing their own literal footprint. To students then, the metaphor of a footprint is meaningless, nonexistent or fleeting.

What we are really helping them build is a foundation, something that will last, something they can build on later, something that was planned and constructed deliberately. This is the message we need to be communicating to our students, that what they do online will last and needs to represent them well because they will be adding to it.

Yesterday, I was helping a student with some book reviews she had written on GoodReads. There were errors and I was trying to tell her she should fix them because other people would see her writing. She looked a bit skeptical, "No one's going to look at that Mrs. R." So I Googled her name (in quotes) and our town, San Diego. The first five results were all her. The first one was the book review we were discussing. Three of her other reviews were there too, as was her Facebook page. Her jaw actually dropped.

All of the old advice about teaching students to be thoughtful and careful about what they put online still applies. I'm just saying we should change the language of the metaphor and perhaps our own thinking about it. Foundations will serve our students better than footprints.

Picture of Shallow foundation thanks to Billbeee from English Wikipedia and Ookaboo!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Triple #EduWin Week: Voice Comments, iPad Prize and Video Finalist

It has been an amazing week for me in ed tech and I wanted to share some of that awesome. Many of you have been along for the ride via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. I appreciate all the support and fun. Here's a recap.

On Monday afternoon I was skimming Twitter at lunch when I saw something about adding voice comments to a Google Doc. Excited I found out more, experimented with it a bit, and then produced this short tutorial video about how to do it. Within 24 hours almost 1,000 people had watched it, as I write this the views are over 3,500 which boggles my mind. This morning my friend Catlin Tucker tweeted her great post about voice comments with step by step screen shots, which might be more helpful for some people.

Later Monday afternoon, I participated in a Twitter chat sponsored by WeAreTeachers about paperless classrooms. I shared photos and videos of my paperless classroom, as well as strategies I use to reduce and recycle resources. At the conclusion of the chat I was amazed to be selected the winner of a new iPad! Most Twitter chats, don't come with prizes and this was new for me, but very exciting. You should check out their site because they do have great resources an a wonderful page about grants and contests.

Thursday morning I got to do a Google Hangout with some teachers who are also using voice comments. We talked about challenges related to giving students writing feedback and possibilities for using voice commenting tools beyond just feedback. This Google Hangout was live and you can watch the recorded version on YouTube here.

Thursday afternoon I got the word that I was a finalist in a video contest about technology in the classroom put on by the University of San Diego Department of Teaching and Learning. The winning video will be determined by the number of "likes" each video gets on the department Facebook page. if you are a regular reader of this blog, or if you have gotten any use at all out of anything I have shared ever (including the video above) I would really appreciate your "like" on my video.
  1. Visit
  2. Scroll down to Video Finalist #5: Jen Roberts'Classroom in the Cloud, and click the "like" button under my video. 
  3. Watching the video is also fabulous and comments are welcome. Several people have asked about sharing the video further with their own staffs and I fully approve that plan.
(I will embed the video here after the contest, but for now please go watch it and like it on the FB page.)

This weekend it is back to reality.  I have grades due next week, so I will spend the weekend reading student essays in Google Docs while making voice comments on many of course, reviewing student book reviews in GoodReads and preparing mini-lesson for our expert project research days next week. In other words, pretty much everything I said I do in my Classroom in the Cloud Video.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Scaffolding Academic Writing to Meet CCSS

As an English teacher, you'd have to be living under a rock not to know that the Common Core Standards require students to do a lot of close reading and text analysis supported by evidence from those texts in their writing.

As an English teacher I have said, "Include evidence in your essay." more often than the Math teacher down the hall has said, "Show your work." Until recently, getting students to actually include text evidence in their academic writing was practically a moon shot.  Some over achieving students would try, but most wouldn't bother to go back and sift through the text to find the sentence or two that supported their nebulous thesis. But now, thanks to a simple Google Form, my students gather oodles of text evidence, do a preliminary analysis of it, and create a resource they can all use.

How Evidence Gathering Works:
We have been reading Emerson, Thoreau, Gandhi and Dr. King for the past few weeks. Students did close readings of all of the key texts working alone or with partners to annotate, paraphrase and generally grok the concepts involved.  Before introducing the prompt they would be writing about, I asked them to spend a period going back through the texts and selecting quotes that they felt best represented that writers ideas. I put a link on our class blog to a Google Form that requested a quote from each author and an explanation of that quote. Due to some school site logistics, our periods were shorter that day, so I divided the class into halves and asked some of them to focus on Emerson and Gandhi while the rest looked for evidence from Thoreau and King.

In itself this was a good way to have students review texts we had read over a period of weeks, but I knew the results of their efforts would soon be even more helpful to them.  A Google Form deposits the responses in a spreadsheet and that spreadsheet can be published.  I removed the student names and published their work, linking it on our blog as "Your Suggested Evidence".  The next day when I introduced the prompt it came to them with their co-created resource of evidence.

As I modeled writing my own version of the essay, I showed students how I would go to the spreadsheet and select a piece of evidence that supported the point I was trying to make.  I showed them how to copy the quote and then use ctrl-shift-v to paste it into my essay with the same formatting as my existing writing. (The shift key makes that work and saves lots of time reformatting.) I modeled that I would paste in the quote below where I was writing, so that I could decide how best to introduce it before I added it to my paragraph. And, of course, I modeled explaining how that evidence added to my point.

The results are stunning. Students don't have to break the flow of their ideas to find the evidence that fits their need. They are excited about having a collection of quotes to choose from that are (mostly) ready to use. I am most excited that many of them finally seem to understand how including textual support for their ideas improves their writing. I know (and so do they) that they won't always have a bank of evidence to draw from, but at least now that they have had the experience of successfully citing texts in their papers, they move on with a better understanding of how to do that in the future.  See an excerpt from a student paper. 

Click to see larger image
Several are already even talking about gathering evidence for writing while they read, which is why I was so pleased to see something Jim Burke posted on Twitter this morning. It is a picture of a form he is using with his students (included here with his permission).  He calls it Paragraph Notes.  It asks students to select quotes while they are reading and to interpret those quotes as well. At the bottom students use their quotes and interpretations to write a summary of the text with evidence included. The sentence frames Jim provides are taken from They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing.  (A book I highly recommend if you don't already have it.)

Including textual evidence in their writing is something students will always have to do to meet expectations. Having them co-create a resource list of possible textual evidence to use is just one scaffold we can use to support their academic writing. They won't need it for long.