ClassDojo App Spotlight: Parent Connection – Sushi Monster

As a former classroom teacher I know how important it is to provide resources for parents looking to support their children at home.  When I started using iPads one-to-one in my classroom I found more and more parents and caregivers asking for app recommendations.  They wanted to make sure their children were practicing the same skills we were working on in the classroom with the devices they had at home.

One of my favorite apps to suggest to parents looking to make an at home connection to learning is Sushi Monster.  This app is completely free, made by Scholastic, and works on both the iPad and iPhone.  With this app students can practice addition and multiplication skills.  The Sushi Monster in the middle of the screen gives students a target number they must reach.  If they are in the addition level users must choose two pieces of sushi that add up to the target number.  If they are in the multiplication level users must choose two factor pairs that have the target number as their product.

When families have access to technology at home, teachers have a great opportunity to give advice and suggestions that support student learning.  In the past parents would ask for a list of books for summer reading or suggestions of what to borrow from the local library.  As families increase their use of technology in their home get ready to share a few ideas for favorite apps and websites during the school year!

Coding… The New Problem Solving

Coding in the classroom seems to be at the forefront of what’s happening in the world of technology in education. I have read countless articles on the idea of learning how to code in elementary settings. After reading several articles, I do believe that we, as educators, need to seriously consider the ways that learning how to code can benefit our students and where it belongs in the classroom.

This idea of coding is a new frontier for many of us. It wasn’t until I assisted at our school district’s annual tech camp that all of my reading started to make complete sense. Within the week, I observed coding in the hands of students entering the sixth grade. What I witnessed was eye opening. My definition of coding completely changed. Coding was no longer just about creating software. Coding was about thinking with logic, thinking critically, and problem solving.

It all started with cup stacking and drawing arrows. A stack of cups and a packet of designs were given to the campers. They were asked to “write” code using only arrows that explained how to complete a chosen design. Their code and stack of cups were given to another camper to try. A simple task of stacking cups became a complex task of thinking through a process. I heard students discussing where a camper might have gone wrong in his or her “coding” and how to fix the code. It was a simple task, but one that had these kids curious and determined to make their code work correctly.

The cup stacking activity led to a website called Scratch. The campers only needed a short tutorial on the website before they were off making sprites dance or move. They embedded sounds and timing with Scratch’s program. Once again the coding was simple and well organized, but I found everyone engaged into creating something unique to show what they had learned.

It was on the second and third days of using Scratch that I realized the depth of how powerful learning to code can be for our students. In those days, the campers were asked to develop something and embed it themselves. On the final day, they explored games already created by others who use the website and they had to change a piece of the game. I slowly realized how much problem solving was going on in the room. I began imagining that this is what coders go through everyday in their jobs. I could see the development of code that didn’t work as they had hoped and having to find a solution. Needless to say, I had a whole new admiration for those who develop software.

I now understood how educators can approach the idea of coding within their classroom. In one week at camp, I witnessed true problem solving, critical thinking, and risk taking, to produce a final product. As a teacher, I want my students to take those risks and tackle any problems with just as much determination as I saw in these campers.

It leaves me with one question. Is coding the answer to get my students problem solving in other areas of their education? The answer might be yes, and one I am willing and excited to explore.


Poll Everywhere: 5 Great Ways to Use it

In the last post, I mentioned Poll Everywhere for beginning-of-class polls. Here are 5 ways you may want to try using polls in class.

Note: Poll Everywhere is free and for students answering, anonymous. They can answer from laptops, tablets, or even cell phones! And their reactions to the polls, in my experience, are surprisingly energized and energizing. It’s fun for them to see their vote counted on the shifting bars, and it gives you a “meta-text” to discuss – not only the student’s reaction to a text or an event, and also, students’ reactions to the reactions!

I suggest using Polls as the final step in FTW

I’ll spare you the details of each question. Read them for approach, rather than for speicifc meaning.

In every case, you can:

A: Ask for students to explain their own answer, in discussion or partners.

B: Ask for students to speculate about why the class as a whole answered with whatever trends they answered.

1. In the video you watched as homework, Darren Brown did some pretty amazing things in a small town in England. Which of these most closely matches your reaction?

A. It was inspiring.

B. It was apalling.

C. It was somewhere in between.

D. Something else.

Then, for 5 minutes, students explain their answer in writing.

Then, discuss why you wrote what you wrote.

2. I found today’s review session games:

A. Helpful, fun, and worth doing.

B. Helpful but not fun. Try a different approach.

C. Fun but not helpful. Try a different approach.

D. Hated it.

E. Something else.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

3. I found today’s all school assembly:

A. Interesting and relevant to my life.

B. Interesting but not relevant to my life.

C. Relevant to my life but not interesting.

D. Neither interesting nor relevant.

E. Wasn’t there.

F. Slept the whole time.

G. Offensive.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

4. Is your relationship with your parents:

A. Almost always harmonious.

B. Mostly harmonious with periods of conflict.

C. Mostly conflict with periods of harmony.

D. Almost always full of conflict.

E. Something else.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

5. Did you find the narrator in the story:

A. Mostly sympathetic?

B. Mostly unsympathetic?

C. Right down the middle?

D. Didn’t read it. Life is busy, yo!

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

5 ways to improve your technology skills!

If you’ve been to Pebble Beach in California, you’ll see the smooth stones. The pounding surf has rubbed off all of the rough edges and made them so smooth. So, they become something collected and touched. They have polish.

Just up the road in a quiet cove there are rocks that no one wants to touch – it is a very quiet cove with no surf to polish down the stones – so the stones are rough and while people may visit, there is no great beauty or anything to share.

The world is clearly divided into two kinds of people: learners and non learners. No mistake, as a professional whose job it is to help learners, learning is hard and requires work.

And yet those who have the best skills for technology are those who have been polished by tough problems. You become better with your computer in one way: by troubleshooting problems. Some people when they have a problem choose to ask me or another. Sometimes I get tweets from people asking me questions that they could find with a quick Google search.

Here are some of my tips for solving your technology problems.

1 – Try to get familiar with the terms

If you want to search for answers on YouTube or beyond try to figure out the terms of what things are called. While the very few pages that come with iphones or computers don’t have much, they do tell you what to call things. With every device I purchase, I review every button and what it is called. I snap a picture of any diagrams and put them in my electronic notebook: Evernote. You could also just keep them in a file.

2 – Be aware of things that change

One of the biggest signs of getting a virus or malware on your computer is a sudden slow down. If you’ve installed nothing and have done nothing on your computer, this usually means something has happened. Keep a current antivirus subscription (like AVG or Avast) on your computer. I also invest in Malwarebytes which you can download and run for free. Malwarebytes snags those little pieces of malware that might download as part of a picture or when you go to a site. On my computer at home it snags 3-4 pieces of malware a day.

3 – Look for answers

If I want to know how to do something in software, I first go to the help button and type in what I’m trying to do. The procedure to do a mailmerge changes quite often, for example, so often I’ll start there in Microsoft Word instead of looking for it.

Secondly, I’ll look for tutorials on YouTube. When I update my favorite filmmaking program, Pinnacle Studio, I’ll watch the tutorials on the program on YouTube first.

4 – Know how to search

One problem is that many of us need to learn basic search engine math.

For example, if you want an exact phrase use quotes: “iPhone 5S” for example will give you that exact phrase. If you want to add something to that search you can use a plus and to remove something you can use a minus.

So, if I want to find out all the latest tips for searching on Google I might type in “search engine” +tips +Google -Bing

5 – Give yourself time

It takes time to troubleshoot. The problem is that many people just want someone to tell them the answer. When they are told the answer, they don’t even write it down or try it for themselves. The problem with this method is that you are promoting dependence on others instead of independence.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a polished technology user, you need to take the time to troubleshoot some lower level problems yourself. You can do this. The funny thing is that technology experts like me are usually not the experts, we just know how to find the answers. We know where to look and we work at it until we find something that works.

With the wealth of knowledge on the web, take time to polish your skills and it may mean taking on problems sometimes.

The Importance of Schedule Once

The worst thing is… a student not getting the help he needs.

The worst thing is… a student going from struggling, to drowning, because she lets a small problem become a big problem.

The worst thing is… a student letting go of the chance to correct mistakes because of the hassle.

That’s a lot of worst things. But it happens way too often.

Here’s how I dealt with this for eleven years:

  • I lectured students on the need to meet with me, especially when things didn’t go well.
  • I told students to meet with me.
  • I told parents to tell students to meet with me.
  • I threatened students who wouldn’t meet with me.
  • I exacted consequences on students who should’ve met with me but didn’t.

Here’s what happened: students who had the proclivity to ask for help met with me and thrived. Students with social anxiety, who were afraid of my bow ties, or who were too busy never met with me, and paid the consequences.

What did those students learn about the importance of meeting with a teacher? Probably nothing.

Then, there was the other side of the problem. Students would email to ask if they could meet.

Email 1: Student: Dear Mr. Wolk. Can we meet to go over my project?

Email 2: Me: Sure. When are you free?

Email 3: Student: A block and B Block.

Email 4: Me: I teach A, B, and D.

Email 5: Student: How about Lunch?

Email 6: Me: I’m free Tuesday and Wednesday.

Email 7: Student: Wednesday Lunch works. See you then.

That process would take 2 days.

Then, on Wednesday, I would sit at my desk during lunch, until 2 minutes before the bell rang. And that’s when the student would show up to review his project.

OR: When I was free during students’ study halls, half of the period would pass, and then three students would show up at the same time.

I wanted to teach students that when you’re in crisis, you should ask for help. But asking for help was inconvenient for everyone. A pain in the butt. Time consuming and cumbersome. A headache for the student and for me.

There had to be a better way…

  • A way for a student to access my office-hours calendar – in class, immediately after a confusing review session, right when the panic and anxiety hits.
  • A way for the student to offer me two times, and where I could pick the most convenient one.
  • A way for students to reserve 5 – 20 minute blocks which wouldn’t be “poached” by another student dropping by.
  • A way for multiple students to fit into one 55 minute period.
  • A way for me to approve or request a reschedule while on the go – from my phone.
  • A way to sync appointments with my own Google Calendar and with my school’s Outlook system.
  • A way for me to survey all the times a student has met with me, to include as feedback on ClassDojo.

As it turns out, there was. IS. Schedule Once – I used the trial free account, then upgraded (gladly) to the pro account. It’s worth it.

I have more students visiting than ever before, but in a more orderly, dependable way. A student who panics when receiving a low grade on a test knows exactly what to do: make an appointment, now.

It’s a good thing.

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… 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.


Jump Start Your PLN—Start With What You Know!

Trying to jump into a PLN (Professional Learning Network) can be daunting. There are a bunch of excellent resources out there, but it’s easy to fall down an Internet rabbit hole and emerge without a lot to show for it. Here are some tips you can use as you start your networking.

1. Start with what you know.

Are you already on LinkedIn? Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? Begin with groups you’re already comfortable with, and use those to help you find new resources. Join a few extra teaching groups on LinkedIn, follow a few more people your teacher-friends follow on Twitter or Facebook. Have a favorite piece of software or hardware? Find the company that makes it and follow them to get tips and tricks about using it.

2. Let someone else vet blogs for you.

There are a bunch of blogs that focus on teaching and edtech. But it’s hard to know which have useful information or come from reliable groups or individuals. There are a number of sites out there, such as Teach 100, that rate the content or authority (number of social media shares, etc.) for each blog. This is also a good place to look to find niche blogs. It’s great to get a wide variety of information from Edutopia, but sometimes you just want to hear what another 7th grade Math teacher has to say.

3. Follow sources from posts/Tweets you like.

Pretend you’re one of your students, and you’re finding sources for a bibliography. A good place to start is always with the sources/footnotes of the book you’re currently reading. The same thing holds with building your PLN. Follow the source links that are embedded in a post or Tweet you liked. If that source seems useful, follow them too. Gradually your PLN ‘bibliography’ will grow.

4. Set a reasonable goal for yourself.

If you want to flesh out your PLN, set a weekly goal—something reasonable, like reading one new blog post or following one new person on Twitter. There is absolutely no need to jump in all at once. There’s a great chance you’ll burn out, if you do.

Happy sharing!

What are your students getting out of the tech in your classroom?

So it’s the middle of the year, you are finally feeling pretty confident about using technology in class—at least some of the time. You have your class routines down, you’ve identified your student tech support whizzes, and you have at least some idea of how to get the students to do their work on their iPads or computers.

What’s next?

Why not ask your students? Create a survey about how your tech integration has been going, and ask your students to grade you. As I see it, there are 3 benefits:

• They’ll jump at the chance to “grade” you.

• You’ll get some good ideas for how to improve your methods.

• You’ll have something to show your principal during evaluations about your interest in what your students get from your lessons.

There are several ways you could go about this. I recommend creating a quick and easy Google Form. If your students are working from iPads or laptops in class, it will be easy for them to respond. If your students are too young for email addresses, this is also a good option, since Google Form respondents don’t need to sign in. You can just post a TinyUrl of your form on the board and then they can fill it out from there. It’s up to you whether you want to have a line for students to write in their names, or if you want the answers to be anonymous. (Just keep in mind that you might get more honesty if you allow anonymity.)

Here are some sample questions I might ask:

• Remember that __________________ activity we did a few weeks ago? What’s one new thing you learned about using technology from it?

• When we use our [tech devices] in small groups, do you have enough time to finish the assignment? How about your homework?

• When you have an assignment that requires you to use your [tech device], do you usually understand the instructions?

• What is your favorite part about using your [tech device] in class?

• What is your least favorite part about using your [tech device] in class?

• What was your favorite activity that we did with the [tech devices]?

• What would you like to do next [week/month/semester] in class using your [tech device]? (Maybe name some options here and have students rate them on a scale.)

Give it a try! I’d like to hear how it goes for you.

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.

ELA, small groups, and the interactive whiteboard: 3 tips everyone should know

Turning over the interactive whiteboard pen to a small group of students can require a leap of faith. Those things are expensive, and some of them can break if you look at them too hard. But the benefits of using the whiteboard as a center outweigh the risks. Here are 3 tips for creating successful small-group English/Language Arts activities for your whiteboard center.

1. Create rules for proper handling of the whiteboard and the pen.

Don’t turn students loose until you feel confident they can follow the rules. Have reasonable consequences if a student breaks the rules. Some ideas for IWB/pen guidelines:

• No real markers on the whiteboard

• Take turns using the pen

• Help other students use the whiteboard

• Return the pen to the holder when finished with the activity

Use a classroom management system, like ClassDojo, to identify good whiteboard behaviors. You can edit your list of behaviors to include IWB-specific ones, like “Gentle with the IWB pen.”


2. Automate your classroom management.

Keep students at the whiteboard focused by giving them clear instructions on how long they have before they switch centers. You can do this for the whole class, in fact, by turning on the timer feature on your IWB. In ActivInspire, you can set the timer to automatically start over so you can easily keep students moving through centers. You can also set it to automatically reset the whiteboard lesson, so you don’t have to come over and restart it for the next group.


3. Find (or make!) whiteboard activities that are good for groups.

Look for one with great drag-and-drop functionality or click-to-reveal buttons. This is GREAT for vocabulary work. You can quickly make an activity by copying and pasting sentences from a PDF worksheet, make a word bank by dropping in the text of the vocabulary words and then setting them to “clone” or “drag copies.”  Here’s a good example of an activity I created in about 2 minutes. If you have 3-5 pages of these, your students can take turns answering and work together.


You can also copy and paste text from a Word doc or website into your IWB page and have your students collaborate to annotate the text. In this example, students have underlined instances of repetition and circled words that indicate theme or main idea. (Keep in mind when you make your page that younger students won’t be able to reach the top of the whiteboard, so keep all text in the bottom 2/3 of the screen.)


Would love to hear any of your IWB engagement ideas for students — please comment below!