Hidden Gems of ClassDojo — The SUPER-Dojo!

This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting some of the hidden gems of ClassDojo that you may not have heard of.

Sometimes the brilliant behaviour that your students exhibit deserves something more than the 1-point-ping from ClassDojo. Sometimes the student is so good, you end up pressing that reward button several times. Sometimes you want to make a behaviour just a little bit more special and sometimes a 1 point reward just isn’t enough.

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Technology in the classroom… start here!

There are a million resources for technology in the classroom.

Many of them are redundant. Many are distractions.

Some of them could be useful, but they are not a priority for a teacher first adopting technology in the classroom.

Here are my top 5 forms of technology for you to begin working with and a few notes about why.

Then, five more I’m sure glad I found.

Can’t Live Without Them

Google Drive / Docs – for students work and for hand outs. Keeps work from being eaten by the dog. Allows you to access student work from school, home, or a flight across the country (if there’s wifi). Allows easy feedback via comments, and can serve as a platform for making worksheets and texts, and a bank for digital media of all kinds.

Google Calendar – for communicating the lesson plan for the day, along with links, announcements, reminders, and homework.

ClassDojo – for recording feedback on students growth, communicating it to other teachers, to students, and to parents.

Exittix or Socrative – for formative assessments: did students actually understand what they say they understood? These “no-stakes” assessment platforms will help you make real-time decisions about what to do, next. And will ensure that the students are learning what you think you’re teaching.

Schedule Once – integrates with Google Calendar, Outlook, and others. Allows students to set up appointments with you in a way that will reduce migraines for everyone.


Prezi – ditch Power Point and create multi-media, zooming, cloud-based presentations on Prezi.com… and allow students to learn it and use it for presentations. Unlike most projected presentation format, Prezi gets better every year.

Google Voice – If students could only reach me at night to tell me that they will be absent from tomorrow’s big 4 person courtroom simulation. Or that the link to the essay questions is borken! But I don’t check email at night. And I sure as heck am not giving out my cell number. Well, The Wire taught me that a disposable phone is the best way to make contact with someone without fear of the info falling into the wrong hands. Google Voice numbers are disposable. You can even chose some of the digits. And I’d rather shoot a few texts back and forth with a confused study group than walk into the school the next morning to find waiting for me a mob of distressed students.

Today’s Meet – students who have action items for you to deal with could email you, where their “heads up” would be mixed into the thousands of other emails you get, or you can direct it to a “back channel” like Today’s Meet. In class, I use it like a Help Desk, where students ask for help in real time (if I’m busy helping someone, for example, they ask their question there, and knowing their question is posted, they move on in the work. I walk over and answer their questions in the order I receive them). Outside of class, Today’s Meet is where I direct students to nudge me to regrade their test-retake, or give credit for revisions if I don’t have time to open the gradebook on the spot.

Which I don’t.

Poll Everywhere – allows students to vote with cell phones or laptops, for beginning class with a generative question. Questions can be based on homework or can be to introduce new ideas and themes.

Super Grouper – I do a lot of putting students into random groups. And while I love pulling popsicle sticks with their name on it, this simple, Google Doc Script based tool allows you to pre-randomize groups and post the list where they can see it (on your class Google Calendar, for example). You just saved yourself five minutes and a lot of unnecessary groaning / cheering.


Time saving resources to help you auto-grade student work!

Grading is time consuming. That’s nothing new. You could spend so much more time differentiating instruction and remediating if you had a little more time on your hands. Technology is here to help. Let’s talk about some of the self-grading tech resources that are available (for free!) to help you out.

We did a post a while back about formative assessment, and a lot of that information applies here too. Services like Socrative, Kahoot, and bubble sheets from MasteryConnect offer self-grading assessment that can be uploaded directly to your gradebook.

If your class is 1:1 with devices, I recommend using BlendSpace. It’s free, and it not only allows you to create your entire lesson in one place that is connected to your Google Drive, Flickr, YouTube, Dropbox, and all of the files that are saved on your computer, but it also allows you to create self-grading assessments. You enter the questions and answers, your students sign in to your “class” from their own BlendSpace accounts linked with your teacher account, they take the quiz and click “submit.”

Google Forms is another nice way of creating self-grading assessments. This requires a little bit of spreadsheet work on your part, but after you do it once, it’s easy to repeat over and over again. Basically, you create your quiz in Google Forms, and answer the questions (correctly) yourself. In your Drive, you’ll see the response spreadsheet, and you can then insert a Chrome add-on script (called Flubaroo) that will then allow you to grade the assignment for each student and email them the results.  There are other, slightly more complicated methods for doing this but Flubaroo is the most effective.

Hope that’s helpful! Already have a favorite auto-grading system? Tell us about it in the comments.

How to engage the disengaged! …with ClassDojo :)

I had a difficult class of 11 year olds who liked to make a lot of noise, start fights and avoid work. Plain vanilla praise was often a double-edged sword because of their behavioral issues and problems with authority. I turned to ClassDojo to help with classroom management. It turned out that the least engaged children in that class were also the ones most motivated by ClassDojo and it improved behavior during lessons to a dramatic degree.

Here are some top tips for integrating ClassDojo in a middle school classroom:

1) Put the class page up on the interactive whiteboard at the start of the lesson. Give feedback points to students who are ready to start!

2) While students are working, pull up the ClassDojo and give feedback to students who are displaying character traits you’re class is focusing on (This might mean you awarding feedback points to ALL students).

3) Use ClassDojo while changing from one activity to another, or “transitioning”. If students see that getting down to business quickly is appreciated, time wasting is cut dramatically.

4) Use the random feature to select students to answer questions. I like to ask the question first and then push the random button, this gives students time to think about their answer.

5) Customize behaviors based on which character strengths you are focusing on as a class. You’ll be surprised which of your students truly rise to the occasion!



Tech-shy? Not after these helpful tips!

At my school, 21st Century learning is an intrinsic piece of our philosophy and teaching methodology. We have a 1:1 iPad program, implement a flipped instructional model, use NearPod and Doceri for classroom presentations, and students often create screencasts, Prezis, and iMovie projects. We are always on the lookout for the newest innovations and methods for making our lessons more interactive, meaningful, and relevant.

But not every teacher is ready to take on the challenges associated with a true 21st Century classroom. Here are some tips for how schools can support teachers who are a little tech-shy and produce a dynamic and collaborative community of teachers.

Play With It

I remember years ago getting an interactive whiteboard in my classroom. The training representative came in and wowed me by creating a Jeopardy-like game, manipulating tiles around the board and inserting sound clips. He did this in about 10 minutes, and I was sold; however, when it came time for me to use my own interactive board, I could barely write on it. My students complained about the lack of touch response, and soon enough, my interactive board became a plain old white board. I used to tape index cards to it to play Jeopardy. Teacher training is still important, but nothing beats diving right in and playing with a new piece of technology, whether its a Learning Management System or a fun spelling app. Play around with it, and feel free to click that “Need help?” chat screen at the bottom. It’s likely that a customer service representative is on the other end and can’t wait to walk you through the program.

Ask for Help

If you can’t figure something out through trial-and-error, customer service help, or Youtube tutorials, why not go to a colleague? Chances are, if you’re having difficulty using or implementing a specific piece of technology, someone else has had the same problem in the past. And don’t forget about your students! This is an excellent opportunity to engage our gamers and coders. Ask them to demonstrate how to use an app. There are experts all around us.

Be Patient and Have a Backup Plan

One of the biggest challenges with technology isn’t learning how to use it, but dealing with bugs and roadblocks. If your schools’ internet isn’t robust enough, your laptop or tablet hasn’t been updated or upgraded recently, or an app simply crashes, make sure you have a low-tech or offline backup plan. There’s nothing worse than preparing a fantastic, tech-based lesson and finding out that the schools’ internet is down.

Set Small Learning Goals

It can be intimidating for teachers who are new to technology to dive right into learning how to set up an online course on a Learning Management System or become entrenched in the SAMR model. Instead, teachers can start with educational video resources such as TED or Khan Academy and slowly roll out a few key apps for students to use with consistency. Tools 4 Students is a basic graphic organizer resource, Toontastic helps younger kids write and animate short stories, and IXL provides students with practice in Math and Language Arts that meets Common Core Standards. ClassDojo can help teachers track and monitor student behavior and even increase positive communication with parents, and best of all, students can take the lead on all of these pieces of technology. Put the power in their hands.

Keep Learning

Technology constantly evolves and programs reinvent themselves. As soon as you have mastered a particular program or piece of software, you can bet that the newest update will look completely different (I’m looking at you iMovie!). Like teaching itself, learning new technology requires educators to constantly return to being a student. Learning new technology can breathe new life into teachers and classrooms alike. Never stop learning.


Bringing the WORLD to your classroom!

Have you ever heard or said a version of the phrase “Technology (or the Internet or computers) brings the world into the classroom”? While undoubtedly that’s true, video conferencing offers the chance to connect with real people outside the classroom in real time, which is a valuable learning opportunity.

Mystery Skype

You may only know Skype as a way to talk to out of town relatives. But Skype is also a valuable resource for educators!

A great way to use Skype in the classroom is Mystery Skype—a “global guessing game” played by two classrooms. Each class gets 20 questions to figure out where in the country or world the other class is. Mystery Skype can also be used to bring in virtual guest speakers to talk with students about a fun career or a subject you’re studying. Finally, Mystery Skype can be used as a tool for students to practice a foreign language with native speakers and for English language learners to hone their English skills. Visit Skype’s education page to find participating classrooms and speakers.

Google Hangouts

Like Skype, Google Hangouts is another free way to bring guest speakers into your classroom. But Hangouts has some additional and useful features. Hangouts makes it easy to have multiple people in a conference at once, which you can use to host a virtual career day or a debate about a topic. Hangouts also allows screen sharing, which makes it easy for speakers to show a presentation or other documents while talking to your classroom.

In addition to connecting with other classrooms or bringing in guest speakers, you can use video conferencing to bring parents into the classroom to watch student presentations without requiring them to leave their home or office.  Oh, and both these tools can be used for free!

And remember, safety first. Before using any videoconferencing in the classroom:

  • Inform students, school administration, and parents. Detail in writing who will participate, when the conference or chat will take place, and its purpose.
  • Work with the outside participant(s) to set ground rules. Rules may include who will be present and whether the conference can be recorded.


Response to Intervention with 1:1 classrooms

If you have 1:1 devices in your classroom, first, take a minute to give thanks! After that, think about some of the great opportunities you have to differentiate instruction with your students using these devices. There are a lot of great resources that will track and assess your students’ work, responding to their needs and moving them forward accordingly.

My favorite is a little-known company—you may not have heard of it—called Khan Academy. Ok… it’s no secret. Many people know about this video-based lesson platform. However, many teachers think that’s all it is—YouTube for Math class. Take another look. Their new teacher dashboard system has all the bells and whistles when it comes to adaptive learning. You start your students off by taking a placement test, and then Khan suggests lessons for them based on how they did. You can override those suggestions at any time, if you need to. On top of that, Khan’s student-facing LMS is very game-like, which keeps the kids interested and pushing to ‘unlock’ the next level. If you want more information, check out my post from a few months ago.

For English/Language Arts (ELA), I would look into MyON. This online library isn’t free, but it’s worth talking to your principal about setting up a trial subscription. The system is web-based, so you can use it whether you have laptops, iPads, or mobile devices. You can assign readings to your students, allow them to choose, or let the system provide recommendations to them. The recommendations are all based on Lexile level, which is determined by a pre-assessment that students take when they first sign in. Probably the most useful aspect of this service is that it tracks all student reading time. Since research shows there’s a correlation between test scores and the time spent reading per day, a service like this is very useful. Consider creating a contest based on minutes spent reading.

There are a lot of other adaptive learning systems out there, and they can make it seem like you have several teacher assistants in class with you at all times. Take a minute to look into a few of them, or ask colleagues or members of your PLN about what has worked for them.

Keeping track of your online resources: well worth your time!

It may seem obvious to most that keeping track of resources you’ve found online is helpful, but it took me a long time to realize that this was something I must do in order to prevent myself from reinventing the wheel every year. Sure, I have a file cabinet stuffed to the brim with handouts and things I’ve used over the years, and I sometimes I use it when I’m looking for a specific activity, but I usually hit the internet if I’m looking for something new to try.

There are endless ways you can organize yourself to keep track of things, but this is the system that works for me.

Step 1. Generate ideas

You will likely hit up the same sites for ideas on a regular basis. Bookmark them, or create a google doc with a list of your favorite sites. Pinterest is great for this. I frequent ReadWriteThink.org,  PBS Learning, and Scholastic quite often so I have them all bookmarked. I use Pinterest more for collecting ideas I want to check out later (although it can turn into a huge time suck if you get caught up in all the cutesy stuff!)

Step 2. Save your resource or lesson for later

This can be as simple as punching holes in a print out and sticking it in a binder, or filing it away. But what if your lesson includes digital media? You should have a consistent method and system for keeping track of these resources that you have used and liked. You can also use Pinterest for this, if you have a specific board for each area of study, but I use it as more of an idea generation tool. For organizing resources, you can use a site like EduClipper, Evernote, or even a basic Google Doc. I have a Google Site where I keep links organized by subject, and it has worked quite well for me. Take the time to save what you like, you’ll thank yourself later. If someone gives you an idea, write it down, add it to your site as soon as possible. You will be so relieved that you already have a great video saved for teaching a particular standard, so you don’t have to scour the internet every year. Teachers spend so much time searching and vetting resources, it is worth the extra few minutes it takes to save something you may have spent hours finding. You may not always teach the same grade level, but there are events such as holidays that come up each year, regardless of your grade level. You won’t regret saving your materials even if you do switch grades.

Step 3. Be reflective

Every so often, go through your list of resources and delete the ones that have become irrelevant, or didn’t work out so well. You don’t want your list to end up like an over-stuffed file cabinet full of junk. Keep it fresh, and think about whether you will really use something again.

Can students control technology? Or does technology control students?

I am from the generation when cell phones evolved from being primitively monochrome, with its most entertaining feature being an ever-elongating snake, to sudden touch screen brilliance, with a sassy voice-activated personal secretary. I have been an avid user at each of these stages, relishing every new invention, novel distraction, and complicated organization tool.

We have evolved at a rate that would frighten Darwin, growing an extra appendage that our thumbs are incessantly tapping on. If I have become so dependent on technology and the instant gratification of notifications and Likes, how addicted must our kids be, who were born into this world likely in the company of 4-inch lit screens?

The answer is clear in my students who walk into our meetings with their phones clutched tightly yet subconsciously, whose hands instantly move to their pockets at the slightest vibrate or beep. Even if they do resist looking at their phones, I lose them to the moment of distraction as they ponder who it could be that just messaged them, sent a Snapchat, Tweeted. Yet, I cannot blame them, because their world – the world that we adults have created – is designed to turn them into consumers of technology.

This is why it is important for us to also teach our kids how to set boundaries with these entertaining distractions. If we are going to give them tools to make their lives better and more efficient, then it is also our responsibility to teach how not to get lost in them. Even as adults, we sometimes spend just as much time on Facebook as we do on our actual work. You can imagine how much time kids waste on these mind-numbing, infinite scrolling sites and apps that separate them from learning useful skills and knowledge.

I want to share the following three tips that have been the most useful in protecting our time against the machines, ones I personally utilize and also teach to my students:

1. Turn off your phone notifications for all non-essential apps.

We become slaves to our devices when every single app gives us a notification for every occurrence, training us to immediately slide it open to investigate what breaking news coupons Ebates is offering today. Do we really need to? No, we can shut off the notifications and regain control of when we want to check them. Otherwise, we become wired to look without thinking, when we are in the midst of reading an email, writing a report, or even having a conversation. It might hurt at first, but you’ll get used to it… and like it.

2. Hide your time-sucking apps.

If you know that you open certain apps 20 times a day and spend at 10 minutes each time you open them, then hide those apps in the way back pages and recesses of your phone, inside folders of folders of folders, so that you give yourself time to really think about whether you want to open them. Will it really benefit you to open them right now? The time to get to the app alone will probably stop you because you will think better of it. Congratulations, you just earned 3 extra hours in your day!

3. Physically place your devices in another room.

Take some time apart. If you have an important test or essay coming up, put your phone in a different room or ask someone to keep it while you focus on your task. What I learned from serving jury duty was that setting your phone on vibrate does not make it inaudible; likewise, placing it face down on the table does not stop us from reaching for it. Sometimes, we need a physical barrier and that is okay. I always love telling my students how my college roommate would ask me to hide her laptop while she studied, and to change her Facebook password when she was applying for medical school. And now, I can claim credit for helping to add a dedicated doctor to the world.

In each of these instances that we are taking something that seems like a necessity away, replenish it with something better. I encourage my students to replace the Facebook app on their phone’s home page with CNN or Ted, to substitute the phone on their table with a book I recommend. Those 3 hours you freed up? Learning programming online!

Most kids do not realize that they are being commanded by their handheld devices because that is how good the tech industry is, and we should be proud of the industry’s progress. However, with great technology comes great responsibility, and we need to make sure our kids learn the latter because the prior is here to stay.