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!

Engage and learn with podcasts!

Over the past few years podcasting has changed the way educators share and learn from one another. With a few clicks of the mouse pad or taps on the screen people can create content and share with great ease. I love driving to work and listening to my fellow educators from around the world share their insight on best practices. It keeps me motivated and inspired to try new things. Reading someone’s tweet or blog is one thing, but to actually hear them talk shop is another. Here are some tips, tools, and resources on how to make listening and learning a part of your routine:

Apple Podcast App: Download this app onto your iPhone and listen to your favorite educational voices as you work out or drive into work.

BamRadio Network: Access tremendous Twitter chat recap shows such as #Satchat, #Edchat, #BrandEd, and #EdtechChat to name a few.

TeacherCast Podcast: Stay current with educational technology trends and thought leaders from around the world.

SoundCloud: An audio platform that enables sound creators to upload, record, promote and share their originally-created sounds. Great way to create a school or classroom based podcast channel.

Audacity: Free audio editor and recorder.

audioBoom: Give students a voice and a world audience. Use this tool for assessment purposes so that students can show what they know.

Voxer: This push to talk app is great for group discussions on various educational topics. Listen to people in real time or while you are on the road. Discuss your favorite book or a best practice technique. There are so many neat things you can do with this tool.

Listen to Video Clips: Sometimes while driving in my car or working in my office I will play a YouTube video or Ted Talk that is education related. I don’t actually watch it while driving, just listen.

As you can see there are many great ways to stay current or at least begin to start thinking about how you can improve your craft through listening to or creating  podcasts. Reflection, collaboration, and the art of storytelling still remain an important process in the 21st century. All school stakeholders can benefit from the various conversations that take place on the airwaves.

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.

12 Powerful Project Based Learning Tips!

Project Based Learning (PBL) is using projects to teach. They can be challenging but are the cornerstone of my classroom and have been for many years. Here are 12 tips for successful project based learning in your classroom.

1 – Begin with the End in Mind

Always start with what you want to accomplish – your objectives. Share the objectives with your students so they clearly understand the purpose of what you’re doing.

2 – Always Have Rubrics

Students should clearly know what they are expected to do. Sometimes students want to spend more time on one aspect or another and may lobby for a change in the rubric. It is OK to modify rubrics in response to student requests and feedback. I recommend that this only happen well before the due date and after discussion with the whole class.

3 – Be Flexible

There are times projects take longer than expected or when one aspect doesn’t quite work out. If a project is new, call it a prototype and be flexible if you see you’ve underestimated how long part of the project would take. Then, adjust the project before you run it next time.

4 – Give Choices

Instead of requiring a specific tool, ask students to “create a multimedia presentation” or “create a video.”  Let students choose the tool. For example, if asking students to create a multimedia presentation mention that PowerPoint, Keynote, Haiku Deck, Prezi, Canva, or Emaze are options or they can find their own. You want to encourage students to explore and learn new tools.

5 – Add Intrigue

Add exciting, unexpected experiences – particularly to longer projects. For example, you might have a “guest speaker” via Skype or Google Hangout. You can be your own guest speaker! Dress up as a character or historical figure as you teach an element that will help them on the project.

Longer projects – particularly writing projects – can need a change of pace so have interesting class discussions and special activities intermixed. Put these mystery days on the schedule and create intrigue and anticipation to give students things to look forward to. (See Chapter 13 of my book Reinventing Writing for more ideas.)

6 – Engage with an Audience

Your wastebasket is a horrible audience. When students have an audience, they are more likely to perform at higher levels.(Aghbar and Alam 1992) This can be by sharing publicly or even by taking their best work and putting it into a portfolio that can be shared with parents and others.

7 – Have Ways to Make More than a Perfect Score

Competitions and contests with voting can also be an exciting addition. Have external judges at other schools review work online based on the rubric. You’ll find that they’ll find some hidden gems and performers that others may not spot if you have judges who are part of your school and know the students. You can also have student voting for “student’s choice” awards for best projects. Such competitions can be highly motivating to some students who would normally stop when they met all of the requirements on the rubric.

8 – Use Tools that Appeal to Multiple Senses and Allow Multiple Modes of Expression

Students have different strengths. Ensure that longer projects give students various ways to express themselves: voice, writing, video. Thinglink, Voicethread, Booktrack, Explain Everything and PowerPoint MIx, and many more tools can be used in this way.

9 – Involve Parents

Encourage parents to have dinner table conversations where their child explains what is happening of a topic of interest in class. Challenge parents to help students find their interests and encourage their pursuit. Encourage communication about the strengths of children not just areas for improvement.

Powerful parent relationships can start with you reaching out to parents to compliment their child. When parents know you care about their child, you become partners in helping the child succeed. I’ve never had a relationship built upon finding a child’s strengths turn negative. Projects with multiple modes of expression give students room for their strengths to emerge.

10 – Celebrate the Process

The journey is the destination as you work on projects. Students should be challenged to solve their own problems. Present alternate approaches and let the student decide which one. Have students take photographs and reflect on the process during the project. Conclude with online or face to face presentations where other students, parents, or administrators are involved. Celebrate and enjoy learning. (Some classes with have a Google Hangout or Skype presentation with another class to conclude.)

11 – Participate, Monitor, Engage

As students work through their rubric, check to see where they are. Ask for reports on what they are doing.

Watch to see if a part of the project is taking longer than expected or if a student gets distracted and loses focus. Engage with students in conversation about what they are doing to help them stay directed where they are heading with the project.

12 – Respond Promptly to Student Work with Specific Feedback at Checkpoints and When Done

Long projects deserve specific feedback. I’ve seen students do masterful work on a project just to be crushed when their teacher returns it to them with just a check on the front. Students need audience and deserve constructive feedback.

Projects are an excellent addition to the classroom. I hope that you’ll consider these twelve and add your thoughts in the comments. PBL rocks but it is all in the implementation.



Aghbar, Ali Asghar, and Mohammed Alam. Teaching the Writing Process through Full Dyadic Writing. Reports-Descriptive 141 ED 352808, FL021784, 1992, p. 19. As cited in Wynn, E.S. An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Research on Collaborative Writing, 1999. Retrieved January 16, 2012, from


“Your ideas are so worth sharing”

I often get asked how I got started presenting, especially at such a young age. And as much I’d like to pretend it was this long and beautifully thought-out process, it wasn’t. I just went for it.

My first awakening to all things ed tech came in the summer of 2011, after my first full year of teaching. A few of my coworkers and I attended one of the Ed Tech Team’s summits featuring Google Apps for Education. I was blown away by the possibilities. Our school made the transition the next week, and I was young and naive enough to try anything. At the end of the year one of my colleagues and I decided to submit our first session proposal about the things we’d done with Google in our classrooms that year.

At first, I was mortified. Teaching people older (and in some cases way older) than me was intimidating. I get middle schoolers, but adults… scary. It helped going into it with a partner. I had someone to plan and practice with and to reassure me by standing alongside me.

But if you’re looking to present, this is all you need to do: find something you’re passionate about and share it. I believe that passion is contagious, and I can’t help but gush about the cool things my students do in my class. Choose something you love that’s worked for you and find an avenue to share it.

I want to know what you do in your class, and I want to steal it. My favorite thing about educational technology is that it tears down the walls of isolation. I need you and your ideas. They help me be better. So whether it’s in a blog or on Twitter or signing up to share your ideas face-to-face, just do it. Your ideas are so worth sharing.


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.

Why reinvent the wheel? Leverage your PLN to find great resources!

The one thing I hear most from teachers during the school year when I talk to them about tech integration goes something like this: “That whiteboard/iPad lesson looks great, but I just don’t have time to create something like the on my own.”

My response to them is generally something like: “Me neither! That’s why I searched for a lesson somebody else made, then I made a few minor changes to it, and I was ready to go!”

That’s because I put a lot of faith in the PLN (Personal Learning Network). I’m on Facebook or Pinterest all the time anyway, so I take note (or favorite, share, or just take a screenshot) of great resources I see other people posting so I can use them myself. Sometimes I’ll post a resource of my own, but I freely admit to being a social media lurker.

A good way to think about your PLN: You get the great ideas and resources that you would get from a summer EdCamp or a PD week, but by leveraging your PLN, you get the resources all year long, when you need them, and you don’t have to give up any time during your summer to get them. Win-Win!

Here are a few examples of some of my favorite places to find quality ideas resources that I can lightly modify to suit my own needs.


South Berwyn District 100

Common Sense Educators

Teacher Tube

Green Light Learning Tools (shameless plug: this is me!)


Ideas for Exit Tickets

1 iPad Classroom

1:1 Devices

Classroom Decorating Ideas

Setting Classroom Rules

Facebook Groups:

Dreambox Learning

Teachers Sharing Resources


Edutopia Teaching Resources

Other online communities:

Promethean Planet (teacher-created lessons)

TeachHub interactive lessons

Using social media for professional development!

Professional development sessions are great, but often happen only once a month or once a quarter. How can you keep improving your use of technology in the classroom between sessions? For constant professional development, try harnessing the power of social media.

If that opening paragraph scared you, you’re not alone. The idea of social media for professional learning can be intimidating for some people. But take a step back and examine your computer use in your free time. Do you spend your time reading conversations on Reddit? Finding recipes on Pinterest? Sharing photos and status updates on Facebook? All those sites have active teacher communities. So start where you are!

While you’re on Facebook looking at your friend’s baby photos, spend 5 minutes searching for a group of teachers in your city, subject area, or grade level. Don’t be afraid to be a lurker at first. Follow the conversations and see how people interact. Then when you get more comfortable, join the conversation. You’ll find you’ll get a richer experience when you interact.

Another great option you may already use is Edmodo. In addition to communicating with students, Edmodo also is a great space for interacting with other teachers. Think about it, with all those educators in one place, of course they all start talking to each other!

To get started, check out Edmodo’s list of Teacher PD groups. Search the list to find one that interests you and request to join. If you’re looking for advice on a specific device or program, such as ClassDojo, search for the company’s publisher page. Many of them cultivate good communities, or at the very least provide a space to discuss with other teachers.

If you really want to expand your PD prowess, then it’s time to join Twitter. An executive at Twitter recently said that educators are an essential part of the network’s base. Anyone who hangs with teachers on Twitter already knew that! Twitter can be a busy place—let hashtags help you sort through all the information. (For those who don’t know, a hashtag is simply a keyword or phrase, no spaces, preceded by the # symbol.) Use hashtags to find educator chats and find people worth following.

Once you find a network of teachers, you’ll soon find that the information shared is invaluable to your teaching!

Online Book Talks! Connecting educators around the globe.

Online books talks are making an impact on how educators learn and connect with each other on a global basis. In 2013, I was fortunate enough to lead a district wide Edmodo book talk on Dave BurgessTeach Like a Pirate. Staff members signed up for an Edmodo account and over a two month period, responded and commented on a plethora of questions related to passion based teaching. You are probably wondering what Edmodo is, right? It’s a web based resource that enables teachers and students to hold a virtual classroom of sorts. Assignments, links, videos, and other materials can be posted and commented on in a secure setting. So to model its effective use in the educational setting, we used Edmodo for the book talk. Even more exciting was Dave’s involvement in the actual discussion. It’s not too often that you get to have the author of a book share insight. The entire experience allowed everyone to reflect on their experiences and learn how to use a resource that could be helpful in the classroom.

This year I was again put in the fortunate position to help run another Edmodo Book Talk focusing on Eric Sheninger’s Digital Leadership. In this particular instance over 175 educators from around the world shared their insight on best practices as it related to leading and learning in the digital era. Participants would comment on questions that were posted in the Edmodo group. As an added bonus, Eric Sheninger himself participated in the chat and shed light on his journey as a digital leader. The comments and resources posted during this online discussion gave me, as well as others, an opportunity to reflect and gain insight on what is possible in education.

Online book talks can have an impact with adults and children alike. Think of how inspiring it would be if students in a language arts or social studies class could share their thoughts on a book in real time. Simply set up a class or group on Edmodo or other online forum and post daily questions that encourage authentic reflection. Providing an opportunity for students and staff to share their voice about a topic or book is critical, especially for those who are reluctant to speak in public. It’s a win-win for everyone and promotes a learning environment that is collaborative and innovative. So what do you say? Take a risk and hold an online book talk or discussion with various school stakeholder groups. It’s a wonderful way to keep moving the education conversation forward.