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I’ve been using shortcuts in Google Documents for years to save time editing student papers. However, I do a lot of work online outside of the Google environment. Thanks to Marisa Thompson, who posted a blog about saving time with ProKeys, I now have a Chrome Extension that makes it possible to create keyboard shortcuts to save time in other online environments beyond Google.

If you are using a learning management system, like Schoology, with your students or you spend a ton of time responding to emails, ProKeys is worth checking out. Teachers can create snippets, which are letter/number combinations, that when typed in combination with a “hotkey” (e.g., shift+spacebar) it will automatically paste a larger piece of text that you’ve connected with that snippet.

For example, my students regularly engage in online discussions. They know they are supposed to use each other’s names when posting replies. When they fail to use their classmate’s name, I leave a comment reminding them of this expectation for online engagement. With Prokeys I create a snippet with the code “cn,” then when I type that letter combination and hit the hotkey, the comment “Always begin with the student’s name when you are responding to his/her ideas. Thank you!” will pop up.

In addition to creating banks of comments to use with students online, teachers can create email templates to avoid retyping the same email to multiple people.

To see this in action, check out my quick video tutorial!

ProKeys: Creating Snippets to Save Time - YouTube

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I’m still mourning the loss of TodaysMeet. I used it regularly as a teacher and presenter. It was the rare tool that was easy to use and free. I’ve been on the hunt for a viable replacement. Richard Bryne posted a blog with six potential alternatives to TodaysMeet. I explored them all and settled on Backchannel Chat.

I selected Backchannel Chat, in part, because it reminded me of TodaysMeet’s simple interface. Last week, I had the opportunity to test drive it in three separate workshops.

I opted to use the free version for my experiment and filled out the small form required to create my backchannel URL. It is important to note that the free version only allows you to create one room. This was enough to make me want to pay the $15/year to get unlimited chatrooms because I like to use a separate space for each of my classes and workshops.

When you press “Start,” your backchannel appears. The interface is clean, simple, and easy to navigate. To enter your room users need the URL and a password if you created one. I chose not to use a password for my trial run since it is another layer of complexity for people entering the room.

As participants at my workshop entered the chatroom, I realized there was a cap on the free version. Only 30 people can enter a chatroom at one time with the free version. The paid for version allows up to 50. Since I regularly have classes over 30 and most of my workshops have close to 50 participants, I will need to purchase the paid for version.

There are several features I was excited to discover as I used Backchannel Chat.

  • I enjoyed seeing everyone’s names and avatars on the right-hand side of my screen.
  • There is a search feature, which makes it easy to find content in the chat.
  • Transcripts of the chat can be easily downloaded and shared.
  • I can pin a welcome or instruction note to the top of the screen.
  • The “chat stats” makes it possible to track participation quickly.
  • I can embed media in the chat.

Since Twitter is my preferred method for sharing content, I was excited to see that I could copy and paste a Tweet directly into our chat. Teachers can do the same thing with YouTube videos!

I could tell Backchannel Chat was created by educators because the features available for teachers who pay the $15/year are excellent. In addition to allowing more people in the chatroom and creating unlimited chatrooms, the paid for version makes it possible for teachers to:

  • Send private messages to students
  • Integrate their chats into Schoology and Edmodo
  • Embed their chats into a class website
  • Create “office hours”
  • Provide a single code or URL for all chats
  • Attach files
  • Personalize avatars
  • Search all content (not limited to 3 months)

I also have to admit that I enjoyed writing messages longer than 140 characters, which was the TodaysMeet character limit. It allowed for a more robust conversation.

If you are using something else to replace TodaysMeet, please post a comment and share! I’d love to find out what other educators are using and enjoying.

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Time, or more accurately the lack thereof, is the number one “pain point” most teachers experience. They don’t feel they have enough time to get through the curriculum, cover the standards, scaffold and reteach, provide timely feedback, and plan dynamic lessons.

As a blended learning coach, I spend time in other teachers’ classrooms observing, co-teaching and coaching. It is common for the first 5-10 minutes of class to be consumed by housekeeping tasks–taking attendance, explaining the lesson, and getting the classroom set up for the first task. Teachers can take back this time if they rethink how they begin each lesson and communicate the parts of the lesson to their students.

Instead of writing an agenda on the board or projecting it onto your smart board and guiding students lock-step through the parts of the lesson, teachers can create interactive agendas using Google Slides.

Example of Interactive Agenda - YouTube

Creating an interactive online agenda accomplishes a few things:

  1.  It eliminates the time wasted at the start of class reviewing the agenda. Instead, teachers can train students to enter the class and immediately use their device to access the agenda via Google Classroom or a short Bit.ly link.
  2. It shifts the focus from the teacher to the students because they don’t need to wait for the teacher to cue every transition or provide materials for each activity. The materials can be embedded into the Google Slide agenda.
  3. It allows students more opportunities to self-pace through the lesson.
  4. It creates transparency about the timing of the activities and the trajectory of the lesson.
  5. It frees teachers to spend more time working directly with students instead of directing the parts of the lesson.

Two years ago when I began using Google Slides to create my agenda for each day, I created a template for each of the types of lessons I typically design (e.g., Station Rotation, Whole Group Rotation, Flipped Classroom, etc.). That way, I could decide on the type of blended learning model I wanted to use for a given lesson, then “make a copy” of that template and create my agenda for that day.

My agendas typically a few of the following elements:

  • A welcome or admission task
  • A rotation of some kind
  • A discussion element
  • An exit ticket or concluding task

I work with teachers who use one slide for each of the activities they plan to cover in a lesson. That gives them space to articulate the objectives for that task and provide clear instructions. Google Slides also makes it easy to embed media and hyperlink to online resources. Many of the teachers I coach record short video instructions and embed them right into the slides.

Shifting from writing my agendas on the board to creating interactive online agendas with Google Slides allowed me to spend less time answering the “what do we do…?” questions and spend more time working directly with my students. Instead of orchestrating the lesson, I spent more time in my role as a coach focused on supporting skill development or as an observer collecting formative assessment data. It was a simple shift that had a dramatic impact on both my role and my students’ role in the classroom.

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It’s summertime! For those of us with children, the summer break presents some challenges.

  • How do we keep our kids entertained?
  • How do we encourage them to engage in mentally stimulating activities?
  • How can we keep them learning and exploring during the break?

In a previous post titled “Learning Beyond the Classroom,” I wrote that my daughter reported not enjoying science. This concerned me because she is curious by nature and loves a good project. Both of these attributes seem perfect for STEM subjects!

My latest attempt to get my daughter developing STEM skills was with Sony’s KOOV.

The KOOV kit has:

  • Koov building blocks
  • Sensors, motors, and LEDs
  • The KOOV core–a microcontroller that connects code with the robots
  • KOOV app–kids can create a personalized avatar, access multimedia project descriptions and step-by-step directions, and code to make the robots move

When I presented my daughter with the kit, she was hesitant to dive in. Ironically, it was the ability to create an avatar using the app that grabbed her interest first. Then she watched the video on the KOOV homepage of several completed robots. Then she was hooked! She decided she was going to make the whale shark.

The step-by-step directions made it possible for her to work on her own without needing help from me. The app even let her manipulate the images zooming in and out and rotating them to get a clear sense of how to put the pieces together.

As I watched her work, I was struck by the range of skills she had to use to bring her creation to life. She was building the actual structure of her whale shark around the KOOV core microcontroller, wiring the KOOV core, and arranging the code on the app to ensure her whale shark would be able to move when her project was complete.

I was also pretty pumped that she did not have to call me up to her workstation every five minutes to ask me a question. Often with STEM projects, I field a lot of “what do I do next?” questions, but the KOOV app was clear and easy to use.

The coding part was the most challenging for her, but she was delighted when her whale shark began to wiggle its way across her desk!

As a teacher and blended learning coach, I see exciting possibilities to use KOOV to create a makerspace STEM station where students tinker to learn. The best part of the KOOV kit is that it is reusable and has a growing collection of robot recipes.

Now that my daughter has completed her project, my son is starting his own KOOV robot. It is the type of project set that can be used repeatedly by siblings or by students in a class. Below is an example of a station rotation lesson where KOOV could be a collaborative makerspace station with small groups of students working together to build and code a robot.

The KOOV educator kit is a financial investment, but the reusability of the kit makes it an attractive investment for parents, teachers, and schools looking to make STEM more interesting and engaging for younger kids!

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It’s summertime! For those of us with children, the summer break presents some challenges.

  • How do we keep our kids entertained?
  • How do we encourage them to engage in mentally stimulating activities?
  • How can we keep them learning and exploring during the break?

In a previous post titled “Learning Beyond the Classroom,” I wrote that my daughter reported not enjoying science. This concerned me because she is curious by nature and loves a good project. Both of these attributes seem perfect for STEM subjects!

My latest attempt to get my daughter developing STEM skills was with Sony’s KOOV.

The KOOV kit has:

  • Koov building blocks
  • Sensors, motors, and LEDs
  • The KOOV core–a microcontroller that connects code with the robots
  • KOOV app–kids can create a personalized avatar, access multimedia project descriptions and step-by-step directions, and code to make the robots move

When I presented my daughter with the kid, she was hesitant to dive in. Ironically, it was the ability to create an avatar using the app that grabbed her interest first. Then she watched the video on the KOOV homepage of a few of the completed robots moving. Then she was hooked! She decided she was going to make the whale shark.

From the moment she decided on her project, she was hooked. The step-by-step directions make it possible for her to work on her own without needing help from me. The app even let her manipulate the images zooming in and out and rotating them to get a clear sense of how to put the pieces together.

As I watched her work, I was struck by the range of skills she was employed to bring her creation to life. She was building the actual structure of her whale shark around the KOOV core microcontroller, wiring the KOOV core, and arranging the code on the app to ensure her whale shark would be able to move when her project was complete.

I was also pretty pumped that she did not have to call me up to her workstation every five minutes to ask me a question. Often with STEM projects, I field a lot of “what do I do next?” questions but the KOOV app was clear and easy to use.

The coding part was the most challenging for her, but she was delighted when her whale shark began to wiggle its way across her desk!

As a teacher and blended learning coach, I see exciting possibilities to use KOOV to create a makerspace STEM station where students tinker to learn. The best part of the KOOV kit is that it has a growing collection of robot recipes for kids to use.

Now that my daughter has completed her project, my son is starting his own KOOV project building the monkey. It is the type of project set that can be used repeatedly by siblings or by students in a class. Below is an example of a station rotation lesson where KOOV could be a collaborative makerspace station with small groups of students working together to build and code a robot.

The KOOV educator kit is a financial investment, but the reusability of the kit may make it an attractive investment for parents and teachers looking to make STEM more interesting and engaging for kids!

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While reading Katrina Schwartz’s article titled “How Helping Students to Ask Better Questions Can Transform Classrooms,” I was struck by the line “many older students have forgotten how to ask their own questions about the world, afraid that if they wonder they will be wrong.” When do kids lose the curiosity that drives them to ask so many questions as children? Why are they so afraid of being wrong? How do we inspire older students to take risks, ask bold questions, and seek their own answers?

These are questions every educator should be asking. As Schwartz points out, “good questioning may be the most basic tenet of lifelong learning and independent thinking.” The Right Question Institute published a resource on the Question Formulation Technique that teachers can access if they want to learn how to support their students in generating questions to drive research and learning.

Once students learn a clear strategy to develop questions, they must become researchers able to find answers. In most classrooms, the closest students get to research is using the Google Search engine, but that is only one strategy for gathering information. As a doctoral student in the middle of what feels like endless research, I believe it is valuable to teach students to extend their data collection beyond an online search.

Before students begin conducting research, they should ask themselves, “What type of information am I looking for?” Do they want to collect data in the form of numbers to understand the extent of a problem? Are they trying to explore why something happens or understand a behavior? The answers to these questions will inform the types of research techniques they will employ.

Too often students rely entirely on someone else’s research, data, and analysis. They do not feel empowered to collect and analyze their own data. However, if we want our students to think like researchers, we need to provide them with the tools necessary to conduct real research. Gathering their own data to complement online research has the following benefits:

  • It actively engages them in the research process as collectors of data.
  • It requires that they learn how to leverage tools beyond a simple Google search to understand a problem, issue, or phenomenon.
  • It demands critical thinking and analytical skills.
  • It develops technical skills (e.g., learn to use an online survey tool) and soft skills (e.g., practice interview skills).
  • It increases interest in the topic and investment in the quality of the report, infographic, or presentation on findings.

Thanks to technology and the internet, it is easier than ever for students to collect their own data. Students can:

  • Design surveys Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or Zoho.
  • Use voice memos or another audio recording app to capture data collected in interviews.
  • Skype, Google Hangout, or Zoom with people who may not be able to meet face-to-face for an interview.
  • Record video during observations.
  • Connect with experts via social media.

If students learn how to generate questions and conduct research to answer those questions, they are more likely to take that researcher mindset into the world and continue learning long after they have left our classrooms.

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One reason I am such a big advocate for blended learning is that using the various models allow me to spend more time on the aspects of my job that I enjoy and feel are most valuable for students. I don’t want to waste precious class time talking at my students. I want to sit next to them and coach them as they develop skills and apply new information. I want to provide real-time feedback and conference with students about their progress. I want to engage in side-by-side assessments so students understand where they are excelling and where they need to spend time practicing to improve their skills. Using playlists is one strategy that allows me to accomplish all of these goals!

The playlist concept stems from the Individual Rotation Model in which each student works from an individual playlist of activities. I’ve used playlists for formal writing, grammar, and projects. The goal of the playlist model is to allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning.

When I design a playlist, I always start with a template. I include all of the activities that I believe MOST students will benefit from then I customize individual playlists to ensure that students who need additional scaffolding receive it and those who are ready for next challenge get it.

My playlists mix the following elements:

  • Screencasts
  • Offline activities
  • Video explanations and instruction
  • Online quizzes
  • Personalized skill practice with online resources
  • Pair practice
  • Peer-evaluation
  • Self-evaluation
  • Side-by-side assessments
  • Conferencing

Playlists pull together a mix of activities designed to build specific skills. Students control the pace of their learning and teachers can customize individual learning paths with the playlist model.

An entire class can work on a playlist simultaneously, or they can be the focus of one station in a station rotation lesson. As students work on a playlist, the teacher must be available at a “help desk” to work directly with students who hit a “stop sign.” These short conferencing sessions allow the teacher to partner with students to ensure each child is getting the support, scaffolding, instruction, and practice he/she needs to develop.

Click here to view my argumentative writing template. It will give you an idea of how I lay out the activities. You are welcome to make a copy and customize it to use with your students.

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One reason I am such a big advocate for blended learning is that using the various models allow me to spend more time on the aspects of my job that I enjoy and feel are most valuable for students. I don’t want to waste precious class time talking at my students. I want to sit next to them and coach them as they develop skills and apply new information. I want to provide real-time feedback and conference with students about their progress. I want to engage in side-by-side assessments so students understand where they are excelling and where they need to spend time practicing to improve their skills. Using playlists is one strategy that allows me to accomplish all of these goals!

The playlist concept stems from the Individual Rotation Model in which each student works from an individual playlist of activities. I’ve used playlists for formal writing, grammar, and projects. The goal of the playlist model is to allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning.

When I design a playlist, I always start with a template. I include all of the activities that I believe MOST students will benefit from then I customize individual playlists to ensure that students who need additional scaffolding receive it and those who are ready for next challenge get it.

My playlists mix the following elements:

  • Screencasts
  • Offline activities
  • Video explanations and instruction
  • Online quizzes
  • Personalized skill practice with online resources
  • Pair practice
  • Peer-evaluation
  • Self-evaluation
  • Side-by-side assessments
  • Conferencing

Playlists pull together a mix of activities designed to build specific skills. Students control the pace of their learning and teachers can customize individual learning paths with the playlist model.

An entire class can work on a playlist simultaneously, or they can be the focus of one station in a station rotation lesson. As students work on a playlist, the teacher must be available at a “help desk” to work directly with students who hit a “stop sign.” These short conferencing sessions allow the teacher to partner with students to ensure each child is getting the support, scaffolding, instruction, and practice he/she needs to develop.

Click here to view my argumentative writing template. It will give you an idea of how I lay out the activities. You are welcome to make a copy and customize it to use with your students.

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In a blog titled “6 Shifts to Maximize Productivity and Happiness,” I encouraged teachers to designate specific windows of time during their day to check and respond to email. I found it draining to check my email continuously throughout the day, and the incoming messages distracted me from my other work. Even though I follow this practice in my own life, I still have a ton of emails waiting for me each time I log into Gmail. It turns out that there is a lot of functionality built right into our Gmail accounts that can help us manage our emails more efficiently.

I stumbled onto the infographic below published by GetVoip titled “Gmail Hacks & Tricks to Boost Productivity” and wanted to share it. It describes many of the Gmail features designed to save you time!

If you have additional tips that can help educators manage the unending tide of emails you receive, please share them here!

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I frequently use online articles and resources with my students to supplement our curriculum. I want them reading, thinking about, and discussing hot topics that impact their lives; however, engaging students around online articles hasn’t always been easy. InsertLearning has developed a Chrome Extension that makes it possible to transform any web page into an interactive lesson.

I decided to build a lesson around an article published by the BBC about social media use and mental health, which is a high-interest topic for my students. I decided to use InsertLearning to add highlights, notes, questions, and discussion prompts to the article.

InsertLearning Functionality

The InsertLearning toolbar lives on the left-hand side of the webpage. You can do the following:

  • Click the pen icon to highlight sections of the text.
  • Click the page icon to make an annotative note.
  •  Click the question mark icon to insert a question.
  • Click on the discussion bubbles icon to insert a discussion prompt for the class.

Ideas for using InsertLearning

Here are some ideas for using these features to engage students.

When students receive their interactive lessons, they can use the highlight and note features to actively read, type responses to the individual questions, and engage with peers in discussions.

One of my favorite features is my ability to see students annotating (highlighting and making notes) in real time. As students annotate the web page, an icon pops up, and I can select a student’s name and see their annotations as they work. This makes it possible to work with students in real time on their online active reading skills.

Sharing an Interactive Lesson with Students

Once you have designed an online lesson using a web page you want students to read and interact with, you can share it directly from your teacher dashboard. For teachers using Google Classroom, you can share your interactive assignments via Google Classroom.

This is a great tool for…

  • Encouraging students to read and engage with more informational texts online.
  • Teaching students active online reading strategies.
  • Getting students to think more deeply about online texts.
  • Developing online reading stamina and critical thinking skills.
  • Designing an interactive reading station for a station rotation lesson.
  • Flipping and engaging with an online text.

If you want to try it out, go to the Chrome Store and search for InsertLearning. Click “Add to Chrome” and the purple icon will appear next to your browser window. Then when you find a web page you want to create a lesson around, just click the icon and get started!

The free version allows teachers to design five interactive lessons and share those lessons with an unlimited number of students. If you end up loving it, there are plans for individual teachers or school districts that give teachers the ability to create unlimited lessons.

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