Friday, June 30, 2017

Professional Learning Networks

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I am quite often asked variations of the questions "How did you find that?". The truth is that I, personally, do not always "find that". The reality is that other people, my ever growing, active and remarkable reliable Professional Learning Network (PLN), are the ones truly responsible for the reputation I enjoy as an innovative educator. Because of my PLC, I've learned and then shared about gamification, hyperdocs, project-based learning, virtual reality uses in the classroom and so much more. This is my invitation to you to grow your own PLN.

What is a Professional Learning Network?

A PLN is your own personalized “network” of educators who share a common interest with you and is available to provide pointers, tips, and resources to you in order to help you explore that common interest is depth. This PLN goes beyond the teachers at your site or district, encompassing educators who you may not have met in person!

Why and How?

I was recently "challenged" by a member of my PLN to explain why a PLN is important and how do you grow one. This is what I came up with:

Where do I find educators to grow my PLN?

Most members of my PLC hail from three places:

  • Edmodo: You may be thinking, that is a learning platform for students. But for me, that has almost become a secondary use. Anytime I need pretty much anything I go to Edmodo and post in their topics or community streams. Educators from all over the world are there ready and willing to offer their insights. In this article, Edmodo explains how to use their platform as a PLN. 3 Steps to Creating Your Personal Learning Network (PLN).
  • Twitter: The dreaded words, social media, may be coming up in your head, raising all sorts of red flags. I was also very wary of it and did not even have an account until an Edmodo member of my PLC suggested I join a Twitter chat. WOW, that experience completely changed my perception of Twitter as a source of personalized learning. Education Twitter chats are happening almost every hour of the day! Anything you want to discuss, there's a Twitter chat for that. Just take a look at this calendar of education related chats - Chat Calendar. Once you join a chat, even if just to read the stream, you are sure to discover educators to follow. Here are a couple of suggestions from Edudemic, to which I would add @alicekeeler, @MatthewFarber, ‏‏@mpilakow‏, @mr_isaacs, @mrmatera, @legendlearning, @Ted_NSTA, @FredEnde, @legendlearning and‏ @carrierenfro, at least.
  • KQEDTeach: Relatively new, but so powerful. They are offering PD courses on demand to complete at your own pace. However, once you join you have access to all the other educators that are taking the courses, with a place to have threaded discussions. Basically, you learn together and continue the conversation within the platform. Who can say no to that?
I hope this post inspires you to grow your PLN beyond your site or district. As Pablo Picasso once said, "I am always doing things I can't do, that's how I get to do them". 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Avoiding the Summer Slide - Teacher Edition

Parque 2 by Fotoblog Rare is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For many of us, the beginning of June marks the end of another school year. Almost everywhere you look at this time you find all sorts of activities and ideas about keeping students engaged in learning and "stopping or preventing the summer slide".

From the teacher perspective, summer means teaching summer school, taking those well-planned trips with family and friends or simply having the time to read a good book. However, it is also a great time to explore new ideas and engage in some self-directed professional development. You know, those things that you bookmarked for later and never got the chance to look at since you had to grade all those essays and lab reports. What can you do (for free or close to free) to avoid your teacher summer slide and come back in the fall refreshed with something new to try?

Things you can do in an hour (or less)

Twitter Chats: Every day, at almost every hour of the day, there is an education-related Twitter chat going on. All those hashtags you see in your colleague's Twitter feed mean that they are having conversations about something you may find interesting with people from all over the globe. This education chat calendar lets you know what is being talked about. Pick one (or more) and off you go. If you have never done a Twitter chat before, it may seem daunting, but it is really not. First off, if you are unsure about what to do, you can simply search for the hashtag and see what the participants are saying, without even having to tweet yourself! If you ar ready to participate, but are afraid to get lost, you can use things like TweetDeck (tool that helps you organize your tweets) or my favorite Participate Chat (tool that organized the chat in one place, adds the correct hashtag automatically and also lets you look over what was posted in previous chats). Here is more information on how to get started with Twitter chats.

Webinars: In a similar vein as Twitter chats, webinars are online meetings, but in this case, there is an official presenter or host. I think of these as old-school lectures. This does not mean that they are boring, but rather there is someone that will be talking most of the time, there is an official slide deck of some sort, and although there may be time for questions, the pace is less frantic than that of the Twitter chat. Most of them have the advantage of providing you with an "after the fact" link, so if you were not available at the specific time, or you have to step away to reapply sunscreen, you can still benefit from participating. My favorite webinar for education sites include EdWeb and ASCD, but there are many others. Sign up for a couple and you will start receiving e-mails with invitations.

Things you can do for dedicated chunks of time  

If you are interested in developing a new skill or trying out a new platform, there are two sites that I would like to share with you:

KQEDTeach: In his introductory blog post, Randy Depew explains it much better than I ever could. They offer free mini-courses aimed at growing educators' media literacy and bring those skills back to your classroom. I have taken several of their courses myself, and they are super easy to navigate and, because they are self-paced, you can advance at your leisure.

BadgeYourClassroom: Created by Christopher Tucker in Indiana, in this site you will find mini-challenges that will help you learn how to use a variety of platforms in your classroom. All you need to do is visit the site, select the tool you want to explore and watch a video that explains how to use the tool. Once you complete the tasks, and fill out the required form to "show what you know", Chris will award you a shiny badge.

For those want to delve more deeply in education technology (or have a bit more time), you may want to look into becoming a Google or Microsoft Certified Educator. Both of these companies have several pathways to choose from, with corresponding certifications.

Google for Education Training Center: Whether you want to obtain certification, or simply want to hone your technology integration skills, the Google training center will provide you with self-paced courses. Even though I had been using GaFE for years before I actually took the courses, I still found them incredibly valuable to hone my skills and remind me of things that my students needed explicit teaching on.

Microsoft Education Courses: Some of their offerings are product specific, but others are more pedagogy based, aimed at teaching you how to better integrate technology in your classroom. Their Digital Citizenship and 21st Century Learning Design proved invaluable additions to my own PD last summer, and I am looking forward to taking some more of their courses this summer.

Things you can do if you prefer face to face interactions

EdCamps: This will require a little bit more planning, simply because they happen on specific locations, dates and times. However, they are well worth the effort for a day of conversation with educators who are interested in collaboration and sharing ideas and best practices. The site will allow you to search for Edcamps that are happening in your area, and though there may not be one near you, it is the perfect excuse for a road trip.

So what are your plans? I would love to hear about any other ideas you may have to grow as an educator this summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chrome Extensions for Teachers

Although I have been in a 1:1 classroom for many years and my students have been exploring Chrome extensions for a while, it was not until my district disabled student access to Chrome extensions that they became an issue for me. Perhaps it was that little rebel in me that questioned that decision or simply a case of "you don't know what you got till it's gone". While I understood the need to get rid of the annoying bee in student devices, having to go to IT to enable a specific extension pushed me to find the ones that I believe are a must for every teacher and student.

So what exactly is a Chrome extension?

Chrome extensions are small programs that live inside your Chrome browser, allowing you to customize Chrome, adding features and functionality. Once you install them, they appear next to your address bar, and you access them by clicking on them, much like you would a bookmark. Watch this video to learn how to install them.

The cool thing about extensions is that once you have added them, they are "attached" to your Chrome browser, so it does not matter which device you are using, as long as you are logged in to your Chrome browser, they are there for you to use.

There are thousands of extensions, and a simple search of education related extensions in the Chrome Webstore is bound to be overwhelming, so which ones are the ones that I chose for my students?

Chrome Extensions You Should Know About

Share to Classroom : Allows both teachers and students to push web pages directly to Google Classroom. Everybody goes to the right page without the need to type or copy/paste long URLs.

Mercury Reader: You found the perfect article to share with your students, but it is riddled with ads and distractions. With one click, this extension removes all that noise leaving only the text and images and helping your students focus on the content. You can even print the uncluttered article.

Read&Write for Google Chrome: By far the accessibility tool. With dual color highlighting, this extension will read any article, web page or document to your struggling readers. Premium functionality, as explained by Teacher's Tech, is available for free to teachers.

Scrible Toolbar: My absolute favorite collaborative tool for reading online. Scrible will allow you and/or your students to annotate any web page together! Once the permalink is created and shared among collaborators, Scrible will not only keep all notes and allow you to sort them, but also will notify you when you are on a web page you previously annotated.

Grammarly: Your students are ready to respond to a prompt, but they have been raised in a world with spell checker and although they know better, they don't always revise. Grammarly will identify misused homophones, subject-verb agreement and other common grammar and spelling mistakes. It can get annoying at times, but much better than the alternative.

Screencastify: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is priceless. Screencastify allows you to quickly record, edit, annotate, store, and share video screen captures. Create a mini-lesson or have your students record their thinking as they work out a problem. The mini-videos are instantly stored in your Google drive for easy access and sharing.

Install and Remove Chrome Extensions

More Extensions, please...

For more Chrome extensions for education, I invite you to visit ShakeUpLearning's searchable database. And if you use one that is a must in your classroom, let me know!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Evidence Based Rubrics using Google Forms

It all started a few weeks back. My students were putting final touches on one of their projects, and as is usual in my classroom, I asked them to bring out their rubrics and go over the work. I also asked them to go over each other's work, with the rubric in hand so they could provide some feedback to each other.  At this point, they were supposed to act on the feedback before presenting their final submissions. Everything was OK; I saw the exchange of papers and students went back to work. Then came the final submissions that included both rubrics. I sat down to grade and as I looked over the first submission and compared my graded rubric with the ones the students had submitted I had to stop. Was I looking at the same piece of work? The students had given themselves perfect to almost perfect scores for work that was quite sub-par. What had gone so completely wrong? How can I ensure that students look at the rubrics and identify the specific items that are done correctly or that may need work? I needed to teach them how to provide evidence for the scores and not simply mark an "X" on a rubric with no thought about what it means.

So I set about creating my first evidence-based rubric. I had already created some rubrics using Google Forms (Alice Keeler showed me how). However, to solve this particular problem, I wanted the students to be able to add the "evidence" for the scores they were giving. In order to do that, I set up a form that had multiple choice items, page breaks and "go to page based on answers" functionality, requiring students to provide evidence for the scores they were giving.

Satisfied with what I had created, I patted myself on the back and submitted a trial run. I then opened the form responses, added a formula that would add the score, and formatted the columns so the comments/evidence would be easier to read and thought I was brilliant. Oh, how wrong I was. I submitted my second trial, only to figure out that my formula, which I had painstakingly copied over and over in my results and the formatting was "ignored" as a new form came in!

So now, what? I knew that I would not be the only one with this problem, so I dedicated an afternoon to figure it out. As I immersed myself in this, I came across this array tutorial by Ad:AM, solving the first part of my problem: being able to apply a formula (adding the individual scores), to a form.

The formula that I applied to my spreadsheet is:
=arrayformula(IF(ROW(A:A)=1,"Overall Score",IF(LEN(A:A),(D:D + F:F + H:H + J:J+ L:L+N:N+P:P),)))
where D-P are the cells where the response in the score. I could not use a simple =SUM because the columns were not adjacent.

With that problem solved, I still needed a way to keep the formatting. Although it is hard to see in the previous image, you may have noticed that the paragraph responses where the students are providing evidence do not wrap, making the "evidence" the students are providing almost unreadable. Once again, through a Google search and the generosity of strangers who have come across the same issue, I found this silent tutorial on how to solve the problem, using =QUERY('Form Responses 1'!A:Q).

With the "problems" solved, I went back to the classroom and had my students each create their own copies of the three rubrics/spreadsheets I wanted them to use:

Evidence Based Essay Rubric
Evidence Based Project Rubric
Evidence Based CITE-IT Rubric - used to evaluate websites

In all three, I have hidden the "Form Responses" page, and when the students make a copy, it remains hidden. To view it in case you want to modify any of it before sharing with your students you just need to click View>Hidden sheets.

Once each student had made their own copy, I asked them to share it with me so I could have access to the responses. However, when having the students peer review, this is not necessary, they just need to send the form to the reviewer.

As a final step, I also taught them to create filtered views. My students use these to create filters that correspond to the websites, projects or essays that they evaluated, making it easy to share and have discussions about just one piece of work without having the rest of the information showing. The filtered views also have unique URL's, allowing for three-way discussion with other students or even parents without displaying everyone's input in the forms.

Have you found other ways to use Google Forms? I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

We don't need badges, or do we?

When I started my gamification journey, one of the sore spots, if you will, was the awarding of badges. On the one hand, I agree with the ideas in Daniel Pink's Drive and the overjustification effect, and which translates into "Badges ruining intrinsic motivation to learn". On the other hand, I have a gamer son, who keeps going back to specific games in his collection simply because he wants to get that elusive gold badge just so he can show it off in his profile. So which is it?

As I continued to ponder the answer to this question, I participated in a couple of workshops and PD that offered badges that could be "added to my profile". I was surprised by my own drive to complete the activities, not really for the sake of learning, but because I wanted to show off the badges I had. Badges were giving me a sense of accomplishment and encouraged me to persevere, even when I got bored! If badges were doing this for me, why was I being so reluctant to add them to my classroom?

I began exploring different ways that other educators have used badges and came up with two reasons that if addressed would make me re-think the whole badging issue.

First, if I were to include badges, I had to make sure that the badges represented real achievement. One of my concerns with badging is that it can simply become a sticker chart. The idea that everyone gets a badge simply for showing up or participating in an activity takes away the value of the badges. Let's face it if the students know that they will get a badge simply for filling in boxes in an assignment, will they put any effort into making sure that their answers are correct? Probably not. However, if they know that they will only get the badge if they get a high enough score, then they may feel that the badge has some value attached to it. Even better, let's say that they did not get a high score in the badge assignment(s) the first time around. Will knowing that they can re-work the assignment giving them more than one opportunity to earn the badge, motivate them to keep at it, even if they think it is boring or not worth their time? I think it will.

Now, if this is the case, then I knew that I needed to be able to make my own badges. There are several online tools that allow us to do that. ClassbadgesCredly and OpenBadges come to mind. However, I prefer to fully create my own simply using GoogleDraw and clearly explained here by Alice Keeler.

Second, the whole idea of badges for me is that they must be public. Students will want to know, not only if they have the badge, but also who else in the classroom has it. That gamer sense of competition and being able to showcase achievement adds value to the badge. The tools mentioned before for creating the badges, also allow students to log in and view their badges. Now this would require students to create an account and/or log in with accounts that the teacher creates. That, for me, was a no go, and although I toyed with the idea of creating my own system using GoogleSheets, I decided against it (simply due to time constraints), when I came across's Badge Tracker. With a few tweaks, this tool allowed me to import the data of my existing leaderboard, use my own badges and embed it in my webpage for public viewing. All around win!

For now, I have decided on three types of badges:

Leveled Badges: These symbolize achievement in on-going assignments. Students will earn these badges by scoring well on their weekly writings and reading assignments.

Project Badges: These badges represent the skills and knowledge gained in a specific unit of study within the scope of science and engineering curriculum. 

Commitment Badges: These are badges awarded for achievement outside the leveled and project badges. What I envision here is, for example, a "Digital Citizenship" badge or a "Creative Commons" badge. 

So, what do you think about adding badges to your gamified classroom? I would love to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Formative Assessment Made Easy

Do you know where your students are? As you walk around the room today, can you state with some which students are ready to move on and which group do you need to pull for re-teaching? You know the answer lies in the use of formative assessments, but with all other things that pop up daily you may feel overwhelmed. If only there was a simple tool that would give you the necessary information...


With a few clicks, GoFormative allows you to create and share simple (and complex) assessments. You can use multiple-choice and true/false quick checks that are self-graded or add short-answer and "show your work" (where students upload images or draw answers). You can even provide feedback to the students as they answer in real-time. No waiting until they have all finished to gather data, allowing you to address minor misconceptions quickly. Best of all, absolutely free.


This awesome tool allows your students to respond to your questions using video. You simply create a grid (i.e. post a question) and provide the link to your students. Your students can answer using any device they have, without having to create an account. Flipgrid can be used in lieu of traditional exit tickets, and it is much more fun to grade. Not free, but $65/year gives you unlimited questions and answers.


Socrative has been around for a while. This tool allows you to quickly assess your students through quizzes, quick question polls, exit tickets and space races (for those with a competitive edge or in a gamified environment). The tool can grade and provide you with visuals of the results making it easy to identify where each of your students is in their road to mastery.

What other tools do you have in your formative assessment toolkit? I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fines in a Gamified Classroom

Let me start by stating that I have two separate "but equally important" systems in my gamified classroom. The XP  system, which is tied to the students assignments (blog quests, mastery quests and PBL quests). In the XP system students are awarded initial points after submitting their work, and continue to gain XP as revisions are submitted. In true gaming style, one cannot lose XP. After all, once you have an experience you cannot undo it, you can only make it better. The XP system is shared out to students in my public leaderboards.

I also have a school currency system (we call them Patriot Bucks), which is tied to school and classroom behaviors, and stems from my school's PBIS. Students can earn Patriot Bucks at a staff member's discretion for things like picking up trash, participating in class, or basically any show of positive behavior. Students can use their Patriot Bucks to purchase items at the student store or enter them in weekly raffles. It is important to note that Patriot Bucks are a physical item (slips of blue paper, signed or stamped by the staff member who gave it out), and that no one, except for maybe the individual students, keeps track of them. This is what made it so easy to find a new use for them.

It all started a couple of weeks ago as I wrapping up of Back to School unit, which as in most classrooms involves teaching students the expectations, rules and procedures of my classroom. My students had just passed the Acceptable use Policy quiz, and were eager to get their hands on our classroom devices. I had taught/modeled how to take the devices out of the cart and how to put them away. I had explained how it was important that all devices be plugged (with their own plug) in order for all classes to have enough charge for the day, as well as how to make sure that each device was put in the correct slot. I even had students come up one by one and "show" the class just how to do it. Everything was going well until that first eager student picked up a "random" device (i.e. a device that was not assigned to him). The natural consequence for this is that the student would not have access to devices for at least that class period. But, I did not want to do that since that would mean that I would be the one to come up with something related to the activity, but that did not involve technology. The student in question suggested that he write a letter of apology promising to not do it again. It just so happened that I had just had a conversation with a fellow teacher about something she called the "opportunity log", where students write a reflection on a class misbehavior and promise to do better. I had shared with her that in my experience those almost never work. It is a forced apology, akin to a mother telling her children to "apologize to your brother for ____", only to repeat herself the next day and ask for another apology for the same behavior. I shared that with the student, asking him how many times he had apologized to a sibling without really meaning it. He sheepishly smiled, and stated that just that morning he had "apologized" to his sister, but he had no actual plans for "never doing it again".

At that moment, inspiration hit. I told him that in order to get his device he would have to pay a Patriot Buck fine. We agreed that 20 Patriot Bucks would be appropriate. He went back to his seat, carefully counted and came back to me with a proud look. He had just enough! He placed the "fine" on my desk and asked if he could go get his device. I simply thanked him and told him to get to work. The rest of the class exploded in questions about the "fine" system. For some reason they welcomed the addition of fines and saw it as a perfectly acceptable and fair way to overcome infractions. There were many questions about specifics, "What is the fine for not logging out? What about for forgetting to plug a computer?" It was the little things that bugged them as much as me that in their opinion should warrant a fine.

After much discussion, we ended up just having two categories of fines - minor infractions (20 Patriot Bucks) and major infractions (50 Patriot Bucks). Minor infractions include things like not plugging in a device, putting a device in the wrong slot, and taking someone else's device. Major infractions include things like off-task behavior or mishandling of the devices. I left myself some wiggle room, creating a third category that states "Fines for anything not mentioned before can be assigned at my sole discretion".

In a surprising turn of events, something else happened once the fines were in place. Students have begun to help each other avoid fines. Instead of simply walking away from unplugged devices (which of course still happen every once in a while), they take the time to plug them in for each other. I've overheard statements of,  "Dude, stop goofing off, that's a 50 PB fine!" This is already pretty cool, but there is more. A new student who did not have enough Patriot Bucks to pay for putting his device in the wrong slot, and who I was ready to excuse from the fine, saw his classmates (students he had just met), pool Patriot Bucks to pay his fine. No prompting at all, simply a spirit of cooperation and doing right by each other.

So far, this system is working beautifully, and I am wondering if you are using something similar. Do you have any words of wisdom to add? I would love to hear from you.