Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Using Google Voice With Student Writing Projects

My computer is chiming again as I write this. I have an incoming call on my Google Voice number, but I'm not answering it. I want it to go straight to voice mail. My students are calling in their memoirs.
Yep, that's my GV number. Call me if you want to.
I probably won't call you back. I do answer
questions on twitter though. @JenRoberts1

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I'm not the most traditional of English teachers. I try things, and I look for ways tech can help me solve issues in our classroom, even low tech ways. My latest low tech tool, phones. Okay, sometimes smart phones, but any phone will work, even (gasp) a land line. I have my students call me and read their writing to my voicemail.

How does this work?
I have a Google Voice number. This is a free phone number you can get from Google if you already have a Gmail or Google Account. Calls to my Google Voice number ring on my computer (if it is on, and not muted) and on my cell phone, if I want them too.

So, on the day a writing assignment is due (in Google Docs of course) I require my students to call by 9:00 PM that night and leave a message of them reading that same assignment. (I make the cut off 9:00 PM because I don't want them to stay up late polishing their writing. If you can't call by 9:00 then you might as well try again tomorrow.)

I will grade the call and the writing separately. I give them full credit for calling on the due date and a few points lower each day after, until we reach a 70% threshold. I'll always give them the 70% even if they finally make the call weeks later.

When I listen to the calls, I add a note to each message with the student's name and period. This means that later I can search their name on my Google Voice page and find that message again. I continue listening while I record their points in my gradebook. Then I usually move on to the next message. I have over 100 students. Google Voice will let each caller leave up to a three minute message. At three full minutes each, that would be five hours of listening. I sadly don't have that much time, so I listen to most for just long enough to add the name to the note and record the grade.

But this is not about me or my listening. It's about my students getting a chance to read their work and all the benefits they get from that experience. Though most already read a draft of their writing to their writing group, they now get to read the final draft one more time. This is one more chance for them to actually proofread their text. I want to know when I read their docs they they really had every possible opportunity to see their own errors before I start commenting on their papers.

Other Benefits
  • For me it is also a chance to hear them reading without having to call on them in class. And there are always a few I end up listening to longer, just to assess their reading or hear more of their voice. 
  • I get to hear them pronounce their own names. At the beginning of the year this is really helpful. 
  • Plus, they are reading their own writing, so they are more comfortable with the text. 
  • It is fluency practice that many really need. 
  • It is a chance to learn how to dial a phone number, which a surprising number of my students struggle with. 
  • It is an opportunity to learn about leaving a clear voice message. 
  • It is also a great incentive for many to finish their assignments on time. They have to finish that essay to be able to read it for full credit on the first day they can call it in. 
When I go to meetings about a student and mention that I have a recording of them reading, their parents, case managers, and speech therapists get pretty excited. With the parent's permission I have even been able to email the voice message directly to the speech therapist.

My real cell phone has a pretty limited pool of minutes, but Google Voice is not connected to my cell plan and does not touch those minutes. (It will use your data if you are not on wifi.) I never answer Google Voice calls on my cell phone anyway. In fact, after I set it up I went in and de-selected my cell phone as a number to ring. If you want to get very fancy you can even arrange different outgoing messages for different groups of callers. (I'm not that fancy.)

Other Ways to Use This
  • Even though phone lines flatten out many nuances of speech, I have heard from World Language teachers who have students call in and read in the target language just for practice. 
  • Elementary teachers can have students call in and read from their writing or a favorite book. 
  • Groups of students working together can call in and report on their progress or have a few minutes of their discussion recorded. 
  • Google Voice is also great for text messaging. I've written about that use before HERE, but my favorite part is that when a student sends me a text I get an email. I can reply to that email and they get a text. 
  • You can embed Google Voicemails, so you can call your own number, record yourself giving some directions and then link your students to that recording. 
Google Voice is probably the most unknown, but tremendously useful of Google Tools. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

One Google Doc All Year Long: The English Journal

My students each share a Google Doc with me in September and they use that doc all year long. We call it their English Journal and it holds all of the small daily work we do. This is one of the secrets of my 1:1 classroom and it is such an ordinary part of our workflow that I have rarely thought to write about it. Let’s fix that.

The challenge for any educator is knowing what kinds of work and thinking students are actually doing in our classes. The traditional way of gaining this insight was to collect papers: homework, notes, reflections, quick writes, exit slips, graphic organizers, etc. It all happened on paper and we collected it to look at, or at least to make students think we looked at it.

The challenge for teachers switching to digital classrooms and is that we still want all of that information and it is natural to assume at first that we just need to collect those things digitally. The result though, is a separate document for every daily bit of work students do. If you thought the piles on your desk were overwhelming, just try opening 150+ new documents every day. And if you had your students turn in two things? Yikes!

My solution is the English Journal. Here are my tips for making it work. (P.S. This works for any subject, not just English.)

  1. I have my students create this document the first day we use Google Drive in class. I could send it to them via Doctopus or Google Classroom, but I prefer to have them create it and share it with me. This helps them learn how to share documents and it makes them the owner of their work. We cover details about how to be sure I have edit access and a naming convention for files (period, last name, first name, English Journal.)
  2. As students share their documents I add them to a folder for the year called English Journals. With all of the docs in one folder it is simple to use the preview feature in Google Drive to flip through all of their papers quickly. (More about the preview feature further on.) When I sort the docs in that folder by name they should line up by period and then alpha, pretty close to the way they appear in my gradebook.
  3. I teach students to always put their newest work at the top of the document. This is hard for some of them at first. They are so used to working under their previous work, but after a few days they get the hang of adding new work at the top with the date. Soon they learn to appreciate not having to scroll through their old work to do their new work. This helps me too because when I look at their documents I want to see the most recent work first and I don’t want to have to scroll to get to it.
  4. It gets messier as I reach higher to try to add things. 
    I keep a chart in the classroom about what should be in their English Journal. I start by adding dates and assignments at the bottom of the chart paper and work my way up, so that it mimics the sequence in their document. It only lists the date and title and my students know they can refer to the class blog for that date for more details.
  5. Every few weeks I ask students to reflect and self assess their work. We use this scoring guide.

Additional Suggestions:
  1. I use the English Journal for daily classwork kinds of things. Longer essays and projects get their own document template and I assess those separately.
  2. I use Google Forms to gather lots of student work that might otherwise have gone into their English Journal. Often gathering their work through a form makes assessment easier and faster. I will also have students put their work into a form when they are working with a partner. Usually,  their English Journal is for more individual work.
  3. Using the preview button I can quickly flip through my student's work daily, faster than a stack of paper even. When I find one who needs a comment I hit the "open" button, but immediately go back to flipping through the preview. When I'm done previewing everyone's work, I go back and add comments to the 5-6 docs I opened.
  4. Because the document is shared I'm never collecting anything from the students. I'm not taking it away from them. My students can continue to access and improve their work even as I am looking at it. Gone are the days when I carted home a trunk full of spiral notebooks and tried to assess them all in one weekend because my students needed them back.
  5. My students with special needs can share their journals with classroom aides and special education teachers. This often facilitates silent support during class work.
  6. By seeing student work daily I can adjust lessons and give immediate feedback.
How to use the Google Docs preview feature:
  1. Find the student work (or any doc) you want to view in your Docs list. It helps if all of the docs you want to preview are in the same folder.
  2. Click on the file name once. The row should turn blue. Make sure only ONE file is checked.
  3. A new set of options will appear right below your Docs search bar. One is a link icon, one is a share button, and one is an eye.
    Click the eye to switch to preview.
  4. Click the eye and you should see the document you selected large and in the center of your screen.
  5. Use your down arrow to scroll down on the student paper while in preview.
  6. Use your right arrow to display the next document from your docs list without leaving preview.
  7. I use that right arrow to flip through many student papers in a few minutes and assess who needs more help.
  8. To leave preview use the x in the upper right.
  9. To open the doc for actual editing or commenting use the open button on the lower right. You can also print or share right from the preview page. 
  10. Note: Google sometimes changes the steps for accessing preview, so these may change. 


Friday, June 26, 2015

Where's Jen at ISTE 2015?

I woke up way too early and I spent all day on airplanes, but I am in Philadelphia for ISTE 2015. This is some of what my schedule should be. I'm looking forward to meeting many more of my online friends and connecting with educators from around the world. If you are looking for me too then here are some of your best bets for finding me.

Saturday
I start with Hack Education. This unconference may just be my favorite part of ISTE. This will be my fourth year attending. I have decided to be reasonable with my jet lagged self and not try to be there first thing in the morning, but the wonderful thing about Hack Ed is that the amazing conversations go on all day. Search for #hacked15 for tweets from the sessions. Saturday evening there are several social events I am looking forward to.

Sunday
I am going to Global Ed Con for the first time. I'm not sure what to expect, but the agenda looks wonderful.

Monday
I admit I do love the exhibit hall. That's where I usually see the future first. In the afternoon from 1-3 Diana Neebe and I will be doing some mini-sessions based on our new book, answering questions and meeting people at the Stenhouse booth (#134). At 4:15 we have a BYOD session called Power Up: Top 10 Workshops for 1:1 (#PowerUpEd) and then we get to go to several more social events, including one with our fellow Google Innovators (the new title for Google Certified Teachers.)

Tuesday
Diana and I will be in the Stenhouse booth again from 10-12 this time, still #134. Then I am hoping for some time to hang out in the Bloggers Cafe or pop into a few sessions before more evening social events including the amazing Ed Tech Karaoke party.

Wednesday
We will repeat our BYOD session in the morning at 10:15. We were originally scheduled just for this Wednesday session, but it filled up so fast ISTE asked us to add the Monday session. (If you want to come there is probably still room in the Monday session.) After the session we will be at the Stenhouse booth from noon till 1:00.

On top of all that: 
I want to see some history. Liberty Bell anyone? I want to visit Rosa's Fresh Pizza for A Slice of ISTE. I want to see some great ignite talks, learn from amazing educators, eat some fabulous food, and catch up with friends. I want to remember to pace myself, but I also plan to sleep on the plane when I head home.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Getting Ready for Rockstar

Next week is CUE Rockstar La Jolla. It's sold out, but there are a few camps that still have spots. I'll add the registration link at the end of this post. 

I love the days before a CUE Rockstar camp. The excitement is building, the emails are flying, the websites are building, the shred slides are sliding. This is my teacher leader pals at their best, donating their time (yeah, we do this for free) to get ready to create a fabulous hands on learning experience for our fellow educators, the real rockstars.

As usual, I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone with my sessions. I'll be doing one I love and am very familiar with, Bodacious Blogging, another that I am passionate about, but need to spend some time putting together, Writing For Technical Subjects, and a third based on a chapter of my book (with Diana Neebe), Rethinking Class Time. (The book is Power Up: Making the shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning, the session is based on Chapter 9: Rethinking Class Time.) Since those last two sessions are things I know well from the teacher side, but haven't put together as workshops before I'll be dedicating some time to them this weekend.

When I show up next week I get to meet lots of awesome teachers, who are probably also out of their comfort zones. (They are also likely there to learn without being paid, and many are paying for their own registration and travel costs.) They will spend three days in hands on sessions, making, experimenting, playing, networking, planning, collaborating, eating (oh, there will be eating) and sharing. When they leave their heads will be full of new possibilities, their twitter feeds will be full of new friends, and their phones will be full of apps, pictures, contacts, movies, and memes. Call them educational missionaries with a zeal for learning and a desire to improve the way we educate our students, or just call them rockstars.

Want to see what it's all about? A few camps still have spots left. Register for CUE Rockstar. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Delay Your Re-Tweet To Spread It Further

I'll Re-Tweet This Later
This morning my friend Jen Wagner wrote a beautiful post encouraging those who are considered leaders in education to reach out, mentor, and encourage others. As Jen's posts always are, this one is graceful, elegant, and correct. She tweeted about her post a little more than an hour ago, and even though I love what she wrote I did not re-tweet her link. I will eventually, but not yet.

Her tweet was popular. It has nine retweets already and twelve favorites, one from me. I'm waiting on my retweet because Jen and I have many followers in common and nine retweets has probably already spread her message pretty far for this hour. If all of the retweets for Jen's tweet happen in the first hour, then people who log on much later are unlikely to see it. But in a few hours a whole new group of users will be looking at their twitter feeds. To help make sure more people see Jen's wonderful post I will retweet it later today.

This is the point of a delayed retweet. Only a fraction of Twitter users are looking at their feed at any one time. To spread a message wider I like to retweet slower.

This matters if I am trying to spread the word about an edcamp, a twitter chat, a conference, or a blog post. If it is informational and I want more people to know about it, I will wait an hour or two and then retweet. My method is to favorite the things I want to retweet, especially when I am browsing on my phone. Then when I sit down with my laptop later I check those favorites and retweet them.

Of course, it also helps to know when you should tweet for maximum exposure. Though our social media world is global, most of my followers generally share the same hemisphere, so a 3:00 PM tweet reaches more people than a 3:00AM tweet. You can find out when most of your followers are online from Tweriod. It tells me that on Sundays I have the most followers online right before noon, so that's when I will retweet Jen's message about her new blog post.

If you found this post through Twitter, please go ahead and retweet, just wait an hour first.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Review of 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom

If you are using Google Classroom you need this book. Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller have done a fantastic job creating a user friendly text that will help teachers make the most out of their Google Classroom access.

50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom

Leveraging their long experience with Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Alice and Libbi not only explain the functionality of Classroom, but also the teacher moves that will allow you to give feedback sooner, monitor group collaborations, collaborate with colleagues, have virtual office hours, and much more. This book is not just "what Classroom does," but, "here are some ways you can take advantage of these possibilities."

The book is neither grade level or subject specific. The authors focus on the logistics of running any digital classroom and how Classroom can help with that. Each tip includes a screenshot from Classroom and an explanation of how to make it work. Teachers can best take advantage of the book by reading it with their computer on and Classroom open. That way you can immediately verify that you can make it work for yourself.

Instead of attending an hours long training on how Classroom works, (and then forgetting most of it) you can dip into this book whenever you are ready to try something new.

And now for the shameless plug. For more about the logistics of running a digital classroom you should see Chapter 2 of my new book with Diana Neebe. Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning is full of pedagogy and classroom practices for 1:1 classrooms. It will be available at the end of June, but you can reserve your copy now.

Oh, and full disclosure, Alice is a friend and she sent me a copy of the book for this review, but I know I will be buying more copies for my colleagues as GAFE rolls out in my district.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I have withdrawn my support

It would be fair to say my 9th grade English students have experienced a plethora of scaffolds this year. I teach a detracked class and my students have a wide range of reading and writing levels. Meeting all of their needs means I wrangle daily with a variety of types of differentiation (content, process and product) and a host of scaffolds. But no more. It is May and they need to fly solo for a bit at the end of the year.

The transition to high school and high school writing expectations is not easy, and my fabulous grade level PLC team meets regularly to plan curriculum and instruction, with a focus on creating differentiated materials for our range of learners. Through out the year, my students have seen: paragraph frames for summary writing, sentence frames for introducing evidence, sentence frames for explaining evidence, modeled writing lessons, shared writing lessons, group evidence collection and analysis, rubrics, scoring guides, graphic organizers, outlines, peer discussion before writing, peer feedback, electronic feedback (hemingwayapp.com and paperrater.com) teacher feedback, revision oppourtunities and probably more. You name it, we have used it to support student understanding and writing development.

All that is probably why, at the end of the year, I am fielding questions like, "How many sentences should we have in our third paragraph?" Yikes, what have we created, dependent young writers expecting a step by step guide book for writing an essay from a basic prompt? Well they aren't getting one. I'm cutting the cord, pulling out the rug, and letting them sink or swim. No outline, no suggestions for the number of paragraphs they need. Just the prompt, and okay a rubric, but they have to go look at it themselves. I'm not explaining it. And sure, I gave them a writing group day to read their work outloud and get peer feedback, but that's it. After that, the work they turn in is all their own. It's the end of 9th grade. They should be able to write a multi-paragraph process piece over several days without me holding their hand at this point.

If this sounds harsh think of it as tough love. Scaffolds are meant to be temporary. You have to take them away at some point and be sure students can manage the skills you have been supporting for them. If they can't do it on their own then all I have taught them is how to lean on me, and I'm not coming to 10th grade with them. (At least I hope I'm not.) And, you know what. They can do it. Their writing is as good or better than anything they have done all year. Unleashed from the constraints of the scaffold, (let's face it scaffolds constrain as much as they support,) my students have found more of their own voice, made more of their own writing decisions and produced much more interesting prose.

Now, the question is, was I holding them back for half the year, or was the support and instruction up until this point necessary for them to be writing well now? Probably a bit of both, with as much variation as there are students in my classes. It only reminds me that scaffolds and differentiation need to be tailored to the student, withdrawn often, and only given when there is a clear need, especially in the second semester. I could go on and wax poetic about how great it is to be able to deliver targeted scaffolds digitally to my 1:1 class, but that would be stepping into territory covered better in Chapter 6 of Power Up. For now I'm just going to be satisfied that at the end of the year my students are better writers than they were in September.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Annenberg Learner: Videos for Content Area Literacy



I am excited this week to be exploring the resources now available from Annenberg Learner and specific to disciplinary literacy. These are videos of students working on developing their literacy skills in a range of core subject areas.

I'm looking forward to being able to use these videos as starting points for conversations with my colleagues and administrators about what literacy looks like in all subject areas, not just English.

I also appreciate that the collection is searchable by discipline and topics like close reading, differentiation, gradual release of responsibility etc. It makes it easy for me to narrow down my search and preview the videos I might want to use.

Full disclosure, the reason I know about this project is because my classroom is one of the many that were filmed for the collection. It's not possible to search by teacher, so if you really want to see me or my classroom you'll need to look here and here, but you may also spot me in some of the expert commentary videos. My classroom shows up as an example sometimes while leading educational researchers talk about current trends in literacy instruction.

If you are a literacy coach, a resource teacher, an administrator, or anyone else responsible for helping teachers implement Common Core or develop student literacy then you will appreciate the resources from Annenberg Learner as much as I do.

By popular demand, direct links to videos from my classroom.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Stop Pretending: Five things to #makeschooldifferent

Hmm, write a blog post about five things we need to stop pretending for #makeschooldifferent, or dump a bucket of ice water over my head. That's not really the choice, but I almost wish it was. Enduring freezing water might be better than the terror of telling you all what I really think.

Okay, here is my list, and I'm resisting the urge to explain all of these in detail, but you should know that in my head I have a rant for each of them. Has anyone seen my soapbox?
  1. Stop pretending that every student is going to college, that college is the best possible outcome for all of them and that anything less than a four year degree program is some kind of failure. Start building programs that prepare students for a range of career options. 
  2. Stop pretending that all teachers are excellent, dedicated, knowledgeable, compassionate individuals, who love children. (The majority are, but not all.) Start acknowledging that some educators made the wrong career choice and help them make a better one. 
  3. Stop pretending students are going to remember the minutia they memorized this week for a test, and start building skills and concept knowledge they will apply regularly. 
  4. Stop pretending we can help teachers prepare students for the future with a few days of PD. Start investing in instructional technology coaches, collaborative curriculum design, and responsive IT support. 
  5. Stop pretending teaching is a job you can do well in 40 hours a week. Start investing more in education, hire more teachers, reduce class loads, allow more time for collaboration, instructional design, professional growth, and reflection. 
Like all good challenges going around the internet these days, this one comes with a requirement that I name five people who also have to endure the agony. This challenge came to me from Nancy Minicozzi. (See her post here.) She named Karl Lindgren-Streicher, David Theriault, Alice Chen, Moss Pike, and me. Now I've only seen a post from Alice so far, and I'm really interested in what Karl, David and Moss will have to say, but it would be too easy to just tag them again. So I will poke new people, Jo-Ann Fox, Alice Keeler, Jeff Heil, JR Ginex-Orinion, and Diana Neebe

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The focus of a technology rich classroom: TPACK needs an S

What do you look for in a technology rich classroom? Watch the kids, not the tech.

Last week our director of educational technology, Dr. Robert Grano, came to visit my class because he heard that I use technology effectively with my students. Knowing his job title and the purpose of his visit I was prepared to show him how I use a spreadsheet I created to place my students in groups for differentiation, how our class blog facilitates the lesson, how I model using tech tools, and how work flow patterns in Google Drive facilitate formative assessment.

My students were nearing the end of writing a process essay comparing a film and a short story, but they were all in different stages of completion. Some still needed to go back a re-watch a video lesson from Monday about building paragraphs, others needed to add an introduction or conclusion, and a few were engaged in peer-review.

As I moved around the room supporting students, and my visitors moved around the room to speak with students about their work, I flattered myself that this was going pretty well. The model that popped into my head was TPACK (technical, pedagogical, content knowledge). My students and I knew the content and writing process very well, I knew the pedagogical moves I needed to make with each student, and we were all comfortable with the technology we were using to make it work effectively.

My visitors departed and later in the day I got a thank you email with a wonderful and unexpected compliment from Dr. Grano. He wrote that part of what he realized from his visit was that, "Technology is secondary to careful planning, knowing one’s students, common core standards, and a genuine love for teaching.”

I was particularly struck that he noticed how well I know my students, and the fact that knowing my students was a crucial element in making instruction effective. When I take that back to the TPACK model however, there is no place for students. They just don't figure into the configuration.

Of course I happen to be writing this on St. Patrick's day it, so seems appropriate to convert the three leaf clover into a four leaf clover. Knowing your students is just as important as knowing content, pedagogy and technology.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Preparing Students for Online Testing

We are rapidly approaching the point when most students will take most standardized tests online. Of course, the nature of the computer adaptive test is that they are far from standard, as the questions students answer correctly or incorrectly are likely to determine the level and complexity of their next question. I can't suggest any tools that are computer adaptive in that way. But there are several online options for preparing students to take online assessments.

Practice tests available online indicate new tests will likely include multiple choice questions with more than four choices, questions with more than one correct answer, listening passages, questions where students have to explain why they chose that answer, and even questions in a grid format.

Obviously, the first hurdle in preparing students for online testing spaces is getting them online. I can't help you much with that. The access part is up to you. Once you get students online though these are some tools you can use to approximate the experience they may have with an online test. All of them can be customized to the content you are teaching, so none of this should be viewed as test prep. These are just ways of adding more online assessments to your curriculum, so your students will feel comfortable, reading, writing, and thinking critically with a screen and a keyboard.

Thinking with a keyboard. Many students who are not used to using computers struggle to compose writing pieces on a keyboard. Any platform that asks students to type their answers will help with this. Try starting with short answers and working up to longer pieces. If your usual method is to have students write drafts by hand and then type them up, you should consider adding more opportunities for students to compose writing directly on the computer.

Google Forms
These are a great way to introduce students to online assessments. You can create multiple choice questions, as well as a variety of other question types. The one I want to be sure my students practice is a checkboxes question with more than one correct answer. Consider asking your students for the definition of a word that has more than one definition. I made a sample form with a few examples of the kinds of questions you can ask with a Google Form. (Ignore the content, focus on the format.) Paragraph answers in Google Forms are a place students can practice writing answers on the computer. You can also embed pictures and videos into a Google Form for visual literacy practice and some listening practice. More about Google Forms

Listen Current
Listening passages, where the student hears the text, but does not read it are another type of assessment I've seen on practice tests. To give students practice with this we need to give students things to listen to. TED talks are popular, but the video component means it's not purely audio. Listen Current is a site that creates curriculum materials to match audio content from NPR. With a wide range to choose from, there is bound to be material that matches the content you are teaching and gives students practice with listening.

Newsela.com
Reading from a screen is another skill students may need to practice. Newsela.com is a way to give students practice reading non-fiction and for many of the articles there are also quizes that give students more experience with online assessment. (And don't miss the lexile level adjustment buttons.)

Other Useful Tools
There is a proliferation of online tools teachers can use to customize online formative and summative assessments, give students practice reading on line, and encourage a digital comfort zone that will reduce the technical challenges of measuring student achievement with computerized assessments.
Socrative, Nearpod, and Formative

Monday, February 23, 2015

Photo Apps for Sharing Classroom Pics

I like to share pictures from my classroom, but I am also very aware that I don't want to post pictures of student faces. These are my favorite apps for modifying photos from my classroom to obscure student faces before I post them.

Tangled FX ($1.99)
With lots of options and customizations, TangledFX is my go to app for creating stylized versions of my classroom.

Percolator ($2.99) Beautiful circles create an abstract version of life in my classroom.

Bokeh Lens ($.99) Quickly mask off an area to remain sharp and then blur the rest. Intensify the blur strength until the student is not identified. This works best if what you are trying to show is in the foreground of the picture.

Prisma App (Free) Prisma lets you take your photographs and apply filters linked to famous paintings. There are new options all the time and they come out looking quite artsy. Some of the filters are not stylized enough to really conceal faces so you may need to try a few. 


Touch Blur (Free)  It's a little creepy to blur out their faces, but sometimes that's just what you need.

Oil Painting Effect (Free)

And my favorite...

CatBomb (Free)


With a little app practice you can share beautiful images of the learning in your classroom, without actually using student faces. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Potential Plot and Plot Profile: Two organizers helping my students with challenging fiction

For several years my PLC has been fond of Probable Passage, a pre-reading activity by Kylene Beers that helps students become familiar with some of the words in a story and also engages them in predicting what the story will be about. With Probable Passage students get a list of words and then sort them into categories like characters, setting etc. (You can find more about this and more great pedagogy in her awesome book, When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12.)

I was getting set to show my students this activity, when I reflected on fact that data from their first semester final showed that many were still struggling with basic elements of plot like, exposition, rising action, climax and resolution. I began to wonder if I could re-imagine the probable passage activity to reinforce those concepts. What I came up with is the Potential Plot version.

This is a Google Drawing. You can use this link to get a "view only" version of the activity. Use File/make a copy to create your own version to use with your students. You can print it out or share it with your students digitally.

I had my students complete this in partners and then I asked each partnership to write their gist statement on a sticky note. That made it easy to post them all on a chart in the classroom.

Later in the unit, I used another version of this for my students who were still struggling with the main events of the text. By rearranging some of the boxes I created a blank Plot Profile that guided them through a structured summary of the main events. You can use this link to get a "view only" version of the plot profile.

These were popular with the other teachers in my PLC, but they immediately set me up for my next challenge, creating a similar activity that will work with the non-fiction texts coming up in our next few units. I will share those when I have them figured out.

3/27/16
Just made some adaptations to work for non-fiction arguments. Get it here> Likely Argument

Friday, February 20, 2015

Doc to Form and Save as Doc: My Two Favorite Google Add-ons This Week

This week I have found two new Google Drive Add Ons that are making my digital life as a teacher more functional.

Doc to Form and Save as Doc are similar in that they both help you convert information in one type of Google file to another type.

Doc to Form, as it says, helps me easily convert questions written on a Google Doc to a Google Form ready for people to fill out and answer. Late last week our school nurse asked me if I could transform the quiz teachers have to take about blood borne pathogens and convert it to a Google From. She sent me a Word file. I uploaded it to Google Drive and used Doc to Form to make the transformation process faster. This tutorial video shows you how it works in about 90 seconds. Doc to Form is free for up to 10 questions. If you need more, there is a really easy process to donate $3 to the developer via paypal and use up to 50 questions. (I highly recommend donating, and I have no financial stake in that suggestion.)


Save as Doc is an add on for Google Sheets. It lets you quickly convert rows in a spreadsheet to a Google Document. You can even have it automatically page break between each row, so that each entry ends up on it's own page. You can select which rows you want converted. I'll be using this to generate reader friendly versions of some applications we are collecting with a Google Form. (And yeah, I made that form with Doc to Form.)  I figured out Save as Doc without having to watch a tutorial video, but if you want the two minute lesson, Richard Bryn has a great one.

I know I'll be using both of these a lot to make forms and documents from docs and spreadsheets.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Models of Learning: A team building intersubjectivity activity

Models of Learning
This semester I am teaching a graduate course for pre-service teachers aptly called, Learning and Technology.

I had a wacky idea for our first class about models of learning. I wondered what would happen if I collected a wide range of random art supplies and asked my students to build their own three dimensional models of learning. You see, all the graphics about models of learning are flat, but learning isn't flat, why shouldn't the models be three dimensional? Some of my groups even created four dimensional models with an element that changed over time. They ranged from wacky to profound, however all of the groups had rich conversations about how learning works as they built their models. I did this with graduate students, but I also think it would a a wonderful process for teachers to try at a staff meeting, especially at the beginning of the school year.

You will need: A wide range of craft supplies, the stranger the better. Chop sticks, styrofoam balls, balloons, fuzzy balls, clothes pins, tape, glue, pipe cleaners, and more were all in the bag of supplies I dumped on the table. You may also want your own copy of the slides below.

Step 1: Building the models. 15-20 minutes is plenty of time for this.
Step 2: Explaining the models. Split teams into groups and have them gallery walk to view each team's creation. Have one person from each team stay with their model to explain it. (Don't skip this step.)
Step 3: Make a video. (We are bringing in the technology now.) The gallery walk gave teams practice explaining their model; now just get out the phones and make it a video. The narrator can remain off camera.  (Remind them to shoot horizontally. I forgot that part.) Provide a Google Form or other method for participants to share the link to their video. Then create a playlist of their creations.

This slides I used for this activity. You can get a copy of them here.





Sunday, February 1, 2015

In a few words: Short form writing

Often there is power in saying less.

When friends first gave my parents a copy of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg in the 1980's the inscription they wrote on the inside said, "Often the elegance of an idea is revealed by the small number of words necessary for it to blossom in the minds of others." Clearly, a memorable thought if I am recalling it thirty years later.

Then I remember the words of my former writing tutor, David Colloff, who told me that if you can't say what you want to say in one sentence, you'll never be able to explain it in a longer piece of writing. That advice has been with me for 25 years now. (In hindsight, I realize he was probably trying to get me to write a decent thesis statement. As a writing teacher myself now, I can empathize with his struggle.)

So in the spirit of saying less I will get to my point. There is great value in asking students to distill their ideas, information, and arguments down to a single sentence, tweet, meme or phrase.

Say it in one sentence:
When David was teaching me to say it in one sentence he used an example from the Dustin Hoffman movie Tootsie. David said that script went through several writers and floated around Hollywood for a while until someone (I wish I could remember who) said, "This is a movie about a man who puts on a dress and becomes a better man." With that arc and a goal for the character the script came together and the movie was a hit.

Tweet it:
One hundred and forty characters is not a lot to work with, but it can be a lot of fun. In 2012 Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) tried live tweeting The Great Gatsby as his class read the famous novel. He had a hashtag for each character and often included their reactions to events in the tweets. Even with only 140, students can capture the essence of a moment, comment on it and share their thinking.


Meme it: 
Memes combine a few words with and image. They are expected to be funny or make a point. Students can use memes to show their understanding of a topic and also make it a bit irreverent. Memes also get students' attention. They don't have to rhyme, but I do enjoy using this one after we read Cask Of Amontillado.

I've seen students use memes to show their understanding of the Constitution, the Black Plague and The Crucible. To make a meme project more academic have students swap memes and explain in writing what their partner's meme means and what you need to know to get the joke.

Say it in six words: 
Think 140 is short, try six words. The six word memoir is a favorite activity for the first week of school. It helps me get to know my students and also gives them a low stakes first computer project as they type and format their memoirs on a single page. Along the way, we learn the importance of proofreading; it's short, there are no excuses for mistakes on this one. And, it's public. It's going on the wall, so make it look good.

Skip the words altogether:
My favorite end of novel assignment for The Great Gatsby is the art project that represents the novel. (I always offer a range of project options for the end of the novel, but I love when students pick this one.) Students always produce pieces rich with the symbolism of the novel, often creating striking artwork. Then along with their art they must write an explanation of the rationale for all of the details they have included. For some students this becomes their best writing of the year, as they are writing in response to a subject they have thought deeply about, and they are already invested in it.


Short form writing is a wonderful way for students to figure out what they want to say and then expand their thinking either orally or with additional writing.