When a Tech Hiatus is in Order

I’m doing this backward. I get it. I’m writing about a tech hiatus after the fact, but I’ve dug deep and realized that I am likely not alone in this. Others may benefit from my special brand of crazy. So, here goes.

I was tired.

It’s such a simple sentence, but it’s profound in meaning. I was tired of being wired. I was heading for burnout and needed an intervention. So many surface-level connections and not enough deep meaning and learning. Thankfully, I’m my own best advocate, and I realized that the person who needed to jerk the plug from the wall was the bleary-eyed brunette staring back at me in the mirror.

To be real, I couldn’t completely disengage from all things technology. I’m a technology integrationist and instructional coach by trade, and I like my paycheck. That said, I know when ancillaries need the ax. I started chopping. But first, let me explain a little of what got me to the point of being an ax-wielding techie.


Probably the single biggest, growing frustration for me in the last year has been this rapid influx of social media mavens who all claim to be the next big expert in technology and learning. Book tours, keynoting engagements, and images of their airline perils as they dash across the country and world. Now don’t tar and feather me if you’re one of these people. Nothing against you, personally, but I’m tired of platitudes. A great quote made all pretty in the latest “quote cutifying” app does not an expert make. I’ve seen numerous outstanding people leave the profession under the guise of helping even more people. While this is possible, it’s not the pattern I’ve seen. Instead, I see more distance from the trenches. Less applicability and more semantic recipes spun into some sappy sweet quotable Tweet or new book tagline. Everyone trying to make a buck off of those of us still deep in the muddy sludge of the daily grind in a world that has never been more anti-education, anti-teacher, and anti-common sense. Sadly, I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed simultaneously. So many sites, apps, ideas, and subscriptions and not one of them really made a drastic dent in student achievement. Our schools, teachers, and students are still struggling. It’s a system that needs fixing (and fancy platitudes aren’t gonna get the job done).

It made me sad.

So why do I risk ticking off a number of you? Because I freakin’ care about kids! On the daily, I see hurting families and parents who have lost touch. Kids who have never been more connected but never more unable to effectively communicate in person. I see tugging cords of “back to basics” stretching against those who stress the need for a more modern approach. More and more acronyms are thrown into educational alphabet soup. Kids needing authentic learning need PBL; kids needing behavior intervention need PBIS, giving me more reasons to drown my confusion at the local PUB (see what I did there?!) Twitter is abuzz with chatter of the Next Big Thing and the ever-changing list of what one must do to be successful. It’s crap. The prescription for this sickness isn’t the same for everyone. What troubles a set of students in rural Iowa is not likely the same for the struggles of an inner-city Californian. So why do we claim to be able to deliver inspiration without actual materialization? Show me evidence that this works. Don’t fill me with endorphins and proverbial Kumbayah. Show me. Don’t travel cross-country with your canned keynote. Show me proof that your words will make a difference. Be knee deep in it. “Mike Rowe” it and hike up your waders. Teaching is one of the dirtiest jobs out there. If you aren’t with students and teachers in a non-public speaking capacity, it’s time to get back in. I can stand up and speak about all sorts of feel-good ways to inspire today’s farmer. Does it make me a competent farmer? Ummm no. Even if I actually did farm in my recent past, farming today isn’t the same. Teaching either. Jump back in and reconnect. Talk to me when you are working with kids every day.

My Twitter feed had become a cesspool.

Don’t get me started on the political landscape of our country. Twitter has been filled with verbal vomit for the last year. All the way up to the Commander-in-Chief, we seem to think that what is typed is true. It sounds good, so it must be reliable, right? We are missing the very essence of fact-checking and using our bs radar. The rhythm of our conversations was painfully out of sync and lacking merit and heart. People throwing out ideas and global projects to get themselves on some who’s who list instead of doing it for the right reasons. Check out your Follow habits. Are your followers roughly equal to your follows? If you’re follower heavy, you need to get out there and push to make connections. Return the follow when that person may offer you insight or new perspectives. Don’t be so full of yourself that it becomes a junior high popularity contest. Are you follow heavy? Find lists of teachers in your grade level/content area. Those lists are everywhere! Heed the Twitter suggestions. Those have ended up being some of my favorite Tweeters! And don’t hesitate to weed out those who do not mesh with your purpose, personal or professional. For me, I had become driven by obligation and FOMO (Google it) instead of a desire to push forward for change in these very halls. I was in full V-Tach. Sputtering. Dying. So I pulled the plug and started cleaning my birdhouse.


After taking the last year off from non-essential connections, I have been jolted with super-charged paddles and ready to put boots on the ground again. I love technology and learning and all things “school.” My words are my actions, once again, and I expect the same of those from whom I seek information and advice. Let’s be in this together. Truly together. I’m searching for new connections that bring me real ideas, save the pearls of untried or non-applicable wisdom. I’m over it. How about you? Let’s dig in and make our mark. I became a teacher to be a change-agent. It’s my job to ensure that my work will matter to real people long after my epitaph has been written. This blog and my tech connections will once again be a steady place to share real ideas and real struggles of the day-to-day. Join me, will you?

Every day a little better than yesterday.

Using Classcraft for Gamified Motivation and Formative Assessment

Every teacher in this day and age must be able to juggle 3 to 45 things at any given moment. There are days when I feel that my head might spontaneously combust because, quite simply… Nothing. Else. Will. Fit. Classcraft, however, has proven to be a tool with which I can most effectively lead with the least amount of disruption, in a way that is both engaging and motivating for students of all ages. Gamification is a research-based way to take the fundamental appeal of play and apply it to non-game activities such as schoolwork and classroom management. My first experience with the game came at a Google Summit session I attended this summer. At first, I was curious, although admittedly skeptical. How effective could a game really be? However, upon signup and the interactivity provided during that session, a fire was lit. I signed up for the free version and experimented with it throughout the summer. It didn’t take long to see that this was the real deal. Since then, we have been able to successfully incorporate Classcraft into our at-risk room, elementary classrooms, as well as my middle-high school technology team, with more sure to follow!

What sets Classcraft apart from other forms of gamification is the fact that it is grounded in actual classroom behavior and accomplishments. There is the ability to create teams within Classcraft, which, I have found, adds a particularly effective form of peer motivation. Teachers can and should be the creators of their own environment and should adapt the experience to fit their own classrooms. There is a preset list of items for which students can receive or lose points, but they are completely customizable. While these are touted as “classroom management” points, I have found that with a little ingenuity, I was able to tie points to anything, including other types of formative assessments I do in classrooms like Kahoot, Wizer, and Quizzizz. These points can be divvied out to individuals or teams as desired.

There are five different point types found in the game. There are HP (Health Points), XP (Experience Points), AP (Action Points), GP (Gold Pieces), and PP (Power Points). Each serves a distinct purpose that helps maintain student interactivity and success. Additionally, there is a parent connection, where you open up the ability for them to award GP to their child for good deeds done at home. Within Classcraft, students have the capability to completely customize their own avatars and select from the role of Warrior, Mage, or Healer. Each role comes with a certain set of skills that can be advantageous for their team. With a coordinating Classcraft app and a Chrome Extension, you are able to manage your class with ease. This video helps describe a typical day in Classcraft.

A Typical Day in Classcraft from Classcraft on Vimeo.

Classcraft does offer premium access to their site for a minimal cost of $12 a month, discounted to $8 per month if you pay for 12 months up front. There is also a school/district account package available. If you should decide to upgrade, all data will be carried over into your premium version. The paid account allows for additional features such as linking to Google Classroom, analytics, gamified curriculum, extra gear/pets to earn, as well as several interactive class tools like the volume meter. The school/district package adds those plus admin controls and security features.

Classcraft has a unique penchant for encouraging positive behavior and deterring negative through common sense cause and effect. Their continued goal of using gamification for good has resulted in a recently published online guide for using Classcraft to prevent bullying.

Classcraft has been a fun adventure that has the kids abuzz and showing real progress and teamwork. Give it a shot! Before you know it, you will have the power to encourage continued learning, accountability, collaboration, and ownership through gamification, leaving you to do the one thing you never seem to have enough time for….teach.

Make Fall 2017 a Piece of Cake with These Must-Have Tech Tools!

I’m not gonna lie…this summer has been a bear. Actually more like a self-inflicted bear attack. For many, summer is a time of rest and renewal. But, because I am an incessant glutton for punishment, I have both taken and taught online graduate courses, presented at local (Northwestern) and national (ISTE) conferences, and attended a Google Summit, all while fulfilling an extended school contract. I’m like that last oyster cracker in a bowl of tomato soup…fighting to stay afloat while soaking in my surroundings. My brain is full. Thankfully there are such things as Facebook file saving and social bookmarking tools. If I had to rely on this 44-year old brain to retain all of this without such reminders, it would be hopeless.

Rachael_image7That said, I am so excited to begin another school year! At the end of May, most of us leave school looking like one of the evil Minions. By August, we are ready to start anew. It’s one of the things I love most about teaching and instructional coaching… the ability to start with a clean slate. I have spent significant time thinking of the top tools I want to introduce to new staff upon returning this fall. Lucky for you, I am sharing with you first!

Now before I share, if you’re new to my blog, let me reiterate my mantra. “It’s not about the tool; it’s about the learning!” If you go about technology integration with a focus on the tool or equipment, you’re doing it wrong. You (and hopefully your entire district) must have a framework by which you operate. As I teach my graduate technology courses, it becomes brutally apparent just how many schools have not adopted a framework for technology integration. SAMR, TPACK, and Triple E are all valid frameworks that are backed by research. If you aren’t aware….enlist the power of Google and come aboard.

Once you have an idea of what true tech integration is, you’re ready to start adding to your shopping cart. Teaching is like being a chef. Like any great recipe, there are many ingredients that need to be combined just right to help you create that delectable treat. Technology is just one ingredient. Once you bake a cake, the individual ingredients are no longer visible. They are stirred, sifted, folded, and baked in order to complete the right reactions needed to transform. Tech integration is no different. When melded with the other components of your curriculum, no one thing should stand apart. It should be seamless. It’s pretty easy to fall into the “Oohs” and “Ahhhhs” of a cool new tool or app. Run away from that trap. While it’s ok to be excited about trying some new thing, show your students that you’re excited for them to show what they know instead. Now, without further ado, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your school year.

Rachael_image6First ingredient: a social bookmarking site. There are so many out there, but I always resort back to Draggo . It’s easy to use, drag-and-drop interface and coordinating bookmarklet make it so easy to save sites. It even allows you to save to an inbox when you aren’t quite sure what category you want it in. My memory sucks, plain and simple. I am inundated with so many resources on a daily basis that I have no prayer of keeping up without a simple tool such as this. You’re welcome.


Second ingredient: a student work repository that can double as parent communication. There are a few I recommend here, primarily based on the age of your student and preferences. Class Dojo and Seesaw are my favorites for elementary. They are interactive, fun, and keep parents connected. Each has it’s own set of special features that set it apart from another. Dojo’s Mindset videos are pretty awesome and get rave reviews from the students I know who have viewed them. Both are free and come in web and app form. For older kids, I recommend Google Classroom. Parents can still be kept abreast of what’s happening, with the added independence of operating through a student’s school G-Suite account. Google Classroom can also be used in the elementary with ease, if even only for a simple way to get links, assignments, and information out to students!


Rachael_image5Third ingredient: video embedding resource. I shy away from calling it Flipped Teaching resources because video embedding resources can be used for so much more. Need to adapt assignments for special needs students? Done. Need to create a bilingual resource for an EL learner? Done. My favorite tools for this are Edpuzzle and Wizer. There are a ton out there that do similar things, but I suggest finding one and really digging into all of the features before expanding your horizons. With Edpuzzle, videos are at your fingertips and creating questions to ask within it is a task that does not require an advanced technology degree like some resources out there. Wizer, claims to be a digital worksheet maker (I really hate that tag line), but it makes up the bad advertising with some really inventive ways to get students digitally interacting with material. Both of these tools have a robust user-made collection from which to borrow ideas.

Rachael_image1Fourth ingredient: student interactive quizzing (self or simple correcting). Formative and summative assessments both have their time and place. These are tools I love for testing kids on progress and understanding. The first, Nearpod, can be both student and teacher-paced. Not only can you put videos, links, pictures, and text into Nearpod, but there are a host of pre-made Nearpods done by others that you can copy and tweak to fit your needs. I not about reinventing the wheel! The other one I want to bring to the forefront is Quizlet Live. Many of us have used Quizlet for years. However, within the last year or so, Quizlet Live was added to the mix (free!) and it adds an element of collaboration to the mix because students are grouped together in teams automatically, and the material that appears on each kid’s computer is different. Meaning, the definition to a term will be on one computer and the actual term will be on someone else’s in the group. Students must talk and share in order to make correct decisions. Quizlet Live also adds the element of competition on which students seem to thrive.Rachael_image10

Rachael_image9Fifth ingredient: digital citizenship material. There is a plethora of resources out there designed to educate our youth on Internet safety and proper use, most of which have been vetted by reputable experts. However, there are two teacher-friendly avenues I head toward every time. We don’t have time to figure out every little lesson and add that to already heaping full plates. The folks at Common Sense Education and ISTE have partnered with companies like Nearpod and Google to put together my two go-tos. Nearpod’s digital citizenship curriculum is already leveled, categorized, and covers 8 elements of digital citizenship well. We have implemented this in grades 1-12 in our school with much success. Even in its first year, we had a glorious collaboration between librarian, school counselors, and our MS/HS computer teacher to ensure that the material was being delivered. While we have tweaking to do this upcoming year, I see it as an essential tool for schools and teachers who like to save time and use high-quality products at a very low cost (there is a free lite version for each level). The second go-to is new, and I’m in love. The free game, from ISTE and Google is called Interland. It combines game-based learning with digital citizenship, and it’s, dare I say, FUN!?! I played it for awhile and quickly found myself immersed. Another win for Google with this encouragement to “be Internet awesome!”. Check it out here. Rachael_image8

This is, in no way, a complete list of sites I recommend for the school year. There are so, so many resources I use on any given day. However, by following the recipe (and adjusting and substituting when the need arises), you will set up your classroom for successful technology integration and your students for success. Best wishes on a fantastic start to your 2017-2018 school year!

GooseChase Scavenger Hunt App Review

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IMG_0893Part of what I love about my job is my interaction with our student-based tech team known as the TEACH Team (Tech Experts and Computer Helpers). This group is a compilation of 25 of the most creative, technology savvy thinkers in our middle/high school student body. I have the privilege of leading this group through trainings, activities, and the daily grind of working our Help Desk. They are our testers, our drop-everything-and-go fixers, and our guinea pigs. The most recent guinea pig extravaganza involved the testing of a scavenger hunt app that I’ve researched and played with but had never had the chance to implement.

The app is called GooseChase. This is where formative assessment meets mobility and creativity! The premise of the app is to serve as a host for scavenger hunts of any kind, and it truly does deliver. Claiming to be a “scavenger hunt for the masses,” GooseChase makes it very easy to add what it calls “missions,” both of the pre-made and self-made variety. It could easily be used for the standard youth group or party game scavenger hunt. That use alone would make it a worthwhile download. However, it’s the way that it can be used in education as an assessment tool that really gets me pumped!

IMG_0896I wanted a way to formatively test my students on their tech skills, ability to adapt to a challenge, and problem solving techniques. Hence, the birth of the RV TEACH Team Test of Wits and Wisdom scavenger hunt. By creating a free account online here, and downloading the coordinating app here or here, I was able to easily create a game that assessed the various skills I needed to, while offering a fun, movement-filled way in which to do it.

IMG_0899The game consisted of several of the pre-made missions and a large collection of my own missions that really put my kids to the test (pun intended). There were silly missions that had students challenging others to arm wrestling matches and capturing video of the event. There were missions that checked for tech prowess by using Google Advanced Search options to locate images with noncommercial reuse licenses. There were audio missions, social media missions, text missions, and physical missions. There were dance missions, interview missions, selfie missions, and photoshop missions. As you can see, GooseChase offers such freedom to create exactly what you want.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.43.54 PMTo get a hunt going, you must give it a start and stop time when setting it up. You can opt to password protect your game as well (definitely a suggestion when you’re doing this for an assessment such as this). Students then go onto the app, which is available for any mobile device, and create a log in. They are then allowed to sign into the game. In the free version, you are allowed up to 5 teams. This worked perfectly for my small group.

The real beauty of GooseChase, though, is found in the real-time uploads and points tracker. When creating a GooseChase mission, you can assign points. There are some recommended point values or you can select a custom point value. Within the Mission List Stats on the right (see photo), you can see how many questions and to what value you have assigned them. As the game is progressing, I can stay at “home-base” and watch the activities/submissions roll in. I have the ability to decline any that don’t fit the bill, so the speak. I may or may not have had to wipe tears generated by hysterical laughter from my cheeks more than once.

IMG_0897This really is an app you have to try! It is suitable for any age as long as they can read the missions. It makes learning and assessment engaging and enjoyable for everyone (including the teacher). And, frankly, once the end of May rolls around, we are all feeling it… that mental struggle.

Give this a shot! Go on a wild GooseChase with your students. Literally. I promise that it will not disappoint.

A Classroom Full of Dipsticks

No, it’s not what you think. In the education world, a dipstick is a playful moniker that refers to any formative assessment used to gauge learning as it’s being presented. Evaluating student progress is an essential part of instruction. While summative assessment is a useful and necessary tool to solidify that standards were met, waiting until the end to figure out that kids aren’t learning the material is disastrous. Think of it this way… By checking the dipstick, you know when your car is in need of oil.

Image credit: http://access-moldova.blogspot.com/2015/03/

Image credit: http://access-moldova.blogspot.com/2015/03/

So, you add more to it. Fail to monitor your oil, and you risk destroying your engine. Hence, the dipstick reference. In order to be successful, students need to be constantly checked, reinforced, and “have their oil topped off” if they are in need.So how do you find ways to efficiently monitor understanding without it taking away from valuable instruction time? That’s the $100,000 question. It’s all about balance. Instruction without intentional focus on the needs of students points to “covering” material instead of ensuring that student standards are being met. With a few high-, low-, and no-tech options, in just a few minutes, teachers can gather a plethora of information that should direct the path of the next lesson. Regardless of which ways you choose to track student progress, your classroom should be chock full of them. Below are a few of my favorites.

High-Tech: (Uses technology exclusively, some basic operator knowledge is needed)

  • Realtime board – online whiteboard creator. Students record themselves solving equations, etc…
  • GoFormative get live results to questions and provide feedback through your device.
  • TodaysMeet backchannel discussions about the topics. Students and teachers can use it to pose questions and get feedback during the lesson.
  • GoSoapbox – Create quizzes, polls, discussion questions, and even social Q&A. Extremely self-explanatory. Real-time interactivity. Includes “confusion meter”.

Low-Tech: (Uses some technology, good for all ages)

  • Kahoot – multiple choice game.
  • Socrative Space Race- team-based game
  • Classtools Twister – create a mock Tweet of what you learned.
  • Google Form- a short quiz over the day’s material can help you measure understanding.
  • PingPong (iOS App)- mult. choice, true/false, text, and image-based activities where students of any age can answer by entering a room code.
  • Nearpod- sign on with a room code, real-time results, reports provided.
  • Tagxedo- word collage of key concepts/ideas for the day’s lesson.


  • Ticket Out the Door- use a post-it note to write what was learned or solve a problem and stick it to the door on the way out.
    Sketch-it- students draw or create a cartoon of the concept.
  • Color Cards- Red- STOP (needs help), Yellow (I’m stuck/confused), Green (good to go).
  • Intrigue Journal- most resonant concepts of a lesson in an ongoing notebook (can be done online).
  • Question/Sentence stems- fill-in-the-blank sentences about key concepts.
  • Five Words- sum up the day’s concept in 5 words.
  • Postcard- students write a “postcard” about what they’ve learned for the day. (Added real-world connection and increase quality would be to draw randomly for one to be sent out daily).

Tech from the Trenches

My Elementary 1:1 Must-Haves!
This year we have embarked on an adventure that would make Captain Cook jealous. At Rock Valley, uncharted territory is our game. For a number of years, our students have had fantastic access to technology. We have never steered away from trying new things. We have the Smartboards and once used the associated “Clickers” (aka Responders). We have Apple TVs, iPads, Macbooks, Smart TV’s, TouchScreen TV Displays, a 3D printer, Laser Engraver…you name it. With these adoptions, thankfully, came the addition of a technology integrationist (that’s me!) who left the classroom to fulfill one of my biggest passions- ed tech that’s rooted in best practices. If you’ve followed my blog long enough, you know that I’d die on the sword for my philosophy of only using technology where it is the BEST tool for the job. After all, it’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning!

We are starting our fifth year of 1:1 in grades 6-12. Over the last four years, I have watched the technology-skittish turn into 21st-century champions of their craft. I have seen things tried, failed, and tried a new way. I have watched our CET department start up a student-run “real-world” business run, in large part, by computers and digitized machines (more on that in an upcoming post). The pride I have in our teachers and students is extraordinary. I head to conferences and share about what we are doing only to see baffled faces ask “You’re doing all of that in Iowa? In a school of 850 students?” Yup.

This year, we branched out even further. In looking at standards and knowing what our kids need to be successful in their futures, and in keeping with our district’s motto to “Teach Today’s Students for Tomorrow”, it was decided that the best way to go about this was to get a device into each student’s hand. When coupled with training in best practices and research-based ed tech sites and apps, this is powerful. It was time for our littlest people to see that the 3 R’s need to get in touch with the 4 C’s of technology integration: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

In keeping with our goal of providing the best tool for the job, teacher input was key. Our fourth and fifth-grade teachers opted for Macbook Airs to suit their curricular needs. Our first through third grades opted for iPads as their Tool de Choix. There are a plethora of excellent app choices to bolster the 4 C’s and 3 R’s. While our list of apps is far lengthier than this post should ever be, here are a few of the key players we wouldn’t be without…

GoogleDrive1. Google Drive- We are a Google Apps school, which means that we have the ability to provide protected usernames and passwords to Google Apps we can use across grade levels. It’s free, so there’s really no excuse to avoid ‘Going Google’. We fully utilize the suite of apps in grades as low as first! Don’t underestimate their abilities. Having a device for each student means signing in one time (can I get an amen?!?)

ClassDojo2. Class Dojo- This judo master of free ed tech classroom management had a big facelift this summer to include digital portfolios, in addition to its already fundamentally sound classroom management/behavior tracker. While I am NEVER a proponent of public displays of student behaviors, when done correctly, Dojo can provide students and parents with weekly summaries of both positive and negative behaviors. These notifications can and should be a springboard for communication with the student at home (They made great, positive conversations at our dinner table!). And the Digital Portfolio feature is fantastic. Much like that of SeeSaw (another favorite of mine), students scan their class code and take pictures or videos of their work for private viewing by family members who have set up their account and linked it to their child. Teachers have the option to share Class Stories to the entire group, as well.

MackinVIA3. MackinVIA- This free platform for digital reading has so many extras that make it perfect for readers of all age. With book purchases from our AEA (ESU’s for some of you), we have a solid offering of thousands of titles, including audiobooks and alternate language titles. With us also using Accelerated Reader to level books, MackinVIA has the ability to sync with a school’s AR login for student testing within the app. Couple that with built-in dictionaries and databases, note-keeping “backpacks”, and a robust search engine, kids have all that they need to be supported with their reading and research.

Nearpod4. Nearpod- This doozie is another favorite for a number of reasons. Besides having a library of ready-made and yet fully customizable lessons at your fingertips (many of them totally free), Nearpod offers a user-friendly platform for creating lessons that are engaging, interactive, and assessable. Not only can you upload those well-crafted Powerpoints of yesteryear for use within Nearpod, you can build in interactive activities within the slides to make it current and in keeping with the goals of 21st-century learning. Nearpod has also fairly recently provided excellent Digital Citizenship curriculum for students in grades K-12. Common Sense Education partnered with Nearpod to create 4 bands of age-appropriate content for teaching students about what it means to behave in this digital world. With paid school accounts, this material is completely free. The cost is not outrageous, though, if you opt to purchase them. They have had specials on and off all summer! We use this curriculum as the core of our Digital Citizenship teaching in the district.

5. Write About This- Our newly adopted writing app has so many incredibleWriteAboutThis
features, it was a no-brainer to add it to all of our iPads. To be completely
orthright, we used to be avid ScribblePress users. However, this spring, they made a great update to this app. What’s the bad news?? All those paid app codes of the previous version were rendered completely useless, and if I wanted to use it, they wanted me to re-purchase all of the licenses. Nope. I don’t enjoy being played. Enter Write About This. This nifty app has offered a tremendous alternative with its options for picture prompts, audio-recording options(also great for those with dexterity issues!), and a professional appearance that is easy to share directly from the app. The personalization makes it a grow-with-me writing application that can be used throughout our students’ school years.

6. Scan- QR codes have offered teachers a wide variety of easy sharing options,Scan
easing the deadly “type in this gigantic URL and don’t make any mistakes” direction that used to strike fear in the heart of any educator. QRstuff.com is probably my favorite for creating such codes to link to sites, videos, etc… However, I have noticed in recent years that scanning apps have really taken a nose-dive. We all need to have funds to function, I get that, but many scanning apps have sold out to the highest advertising bidder. This often leaves sideline ads that are completely inappropriate for the school environment. Thus, Scan. This app, while paid, is worth its salt. It picks up codes incredibly swiftly, not requiring the massive amounts of hand-eye coordination that some do.

GoogleClassroom7. Google Classroom- Being a Google Apps school made this a no-brainer, but I got the sideways stare from early elementary teachers when I first recommended its use in their classroom. “But we don’t have homework” and other sentences were quickly chewed and swallowed when we delved into this during our technology in-service day. Now our teachers have a quick way to poll their class, share videos or other websites, provide a Google Doc that auto-generates a student copy for each kid, and neatly stores all of those documents in folders in their Google Drive. Once again, it’s a once-and-done sign in that saves the day (and SOOO much time) in the long run.

8. AR 360- For schools like us who use Accelerated Reader, this will be your AR360new go-to. Before, students and teachers needed to sign onto either the AR app or the STAR app to complete whatever function was needed. No more. With the death of the STAR app last week, teachers went into panic mode wondering how they were going to access the STAR test from an iPad without having to type in a lengthy URL. Besides being able to “Save to Home Screen” from Safari, the answer came through AR 360, which reports being a one-stop-shop for all things Renaissance Learning. Teachers are even able to assign readings to students. Win!

Epic9. EPIC!- Another reading app, this excellent app provides additional digital titles, audiobooks, and alternate language reading for students. There are no longer student excuses for not finding a book that interests them. Between MackinVIA and EPIC!, there are tens of thousands of options and no need to leave the classroom or wait for a library book to be returned. Teacher accounts are free and students can be entered under your name. However, home use is paid (that’s how they make their cash). It’s still a definite must-have for schools.

Well, there you have it. I’ll be focusing a lot of my efforts this year to giving you specific examples of what we are doing within our school walls. With every conference at which I present, I get more and more requests to share about what we do….so, I aim to please. Until next time…


Badging….It’s Not Just for Boy Scouts

My friend Sarah and I have an agreement. The day either of us shows up at work in an apple-embroidered frock or wearing wooden jewelry that features pencils and the like, the other is to have an immediate intervention calling one to hang up the teaching hat.  Now, don’t freak. If that kind of teacher-y attire is your thing, bless your sweet heart. Truly. Some of my very favorite teachers were dressed that same way. It just isn’t ours. More than anything, it represents, for us, being in too deep. Not continuing to change with the times. Becoming stagnant and typical in a profession that requires constant evolution and the courage to try that which might push boundaries. I’m midway through my career (oh wow…excuse me while I choke on this realization), and I am constantly on the hunt for new ways to look at everyday things within the scope of solid pedagogy.

Being in ed tech, specifically, I have the need for change smashed in my proverbial face daily. There’s quite literally always something new. Just when you have one site or tool mastered (if there is such a thing), there’s something sparkly ready to replace it. It’s sort of like a twisted version of Whack-a-Mole. However, in this summer of Pokemon Go and its Augmented Reality superstorm, I am finding delight in what changes can mean for students as we provide them with self-directed learning opportunities. We need to quit teaching AT kids. Our kids need to learn how to think and where to find… period.

One of the ways in which I plan to foster this is through the use of Digital Badging. Think of it as your dirt brown Girl Scout sash (is that why we were called Brownie Scouts?!?) or that green blaze of glory across your chest that proudly showed the world your masterful accomplishments. I worked hard on those suckers. HARD. Why? I had started many a campfire before becoming a Girl Scout. Why did I bust my backside to prove it to others? Because of that ding-dang badge, that’s why! It was a sense of pride. Of honor. Badges are visual representations of what we know. In the words of Sheldon Cooper…BAZINGA!

Creating Digital Badges can happen in myriad ways. There are several sites out there that allow a person to create badges. Credly and OpenBadges or even Canva all have badge-creating options. However, creating the physical design of the badge is much less taxing than the thought that must go into creating something that is badge-worthy. I’m also currently reading a few digital texts on the topic, and I suggest the book, Reward Learning With Badges, by Brad Flickinger. I picked it up at ISTE in Denver this year, but it’s available online.

The first thing to consider….are your badges one-time completion or are they a metabadge? Think of a metabadge like those pie-shaped game pieces that come with Trivial Pursuit, where there are lots of different accomplishments (micro-badges, if you will) that comprise the whole. Who are they for? Teachers to show professional development learning? Students to show aptitude for standards and skills? All of that must be laid out in advance to give you the big picture and help you set realistic goals.

The next step is to design the actual BIE site for project-based learning ideas that you can use for badging. If doing metabadges, collect several related, smaller projects that will fit under the same concept umbrella (ie; Digital Citizenship Metabadge).

These projects should be substantial and something that a person isn’t going to accomplish in one sitting. Use a rubric so students can see what the expectations are. (See this list from the BIE or create your own here).

Once you have created your badges, it’s time to roll them out to students. This can be done in a number of ways. Just like the Scouts, you could put them into a booklet (a digital book would make sense here) or a web page where students can always go back to check what’s available and what others have accomplished. Weebly, Google Sites, and Wix are three of my favorites for classroom websites.

Now, get after it. It’s a marathon, not a 50-yard sprint. I’m still in the early phases of this newest endeavor, but I’m excited about its possibilities. I challenge you to join me!

Bloggers' Cafe

ISTE 2016 Live from Bloggers’ Cafe: How to Survive the Chaos

If you’ve never attended ISTE before, you should know that it is a bit like a cage filled with 18,000+ caffeinated hamsters. This is my third ISTE conference, and I whole-heartedly admit that I learn new tips and tricks every year for making the most of my time here. No-brainier tip number 1: make labels….lots and lots of labels…prior to coming to ISTE. There is no bigger waste of precious learning and socializing time than writing out hundreds of tickets for swag.

My second tip is to generate some themes on passion areas in which you really want to grow. While not being locked into only seeing exhibits and sessions on these topics, it really helps me focus my efforts to make sure I come back with exactly what I’d hoped for and more. This M.O. has not disappointed. A couple of my areas of focus included AR/VR.

If you read my last entry, you’d know that I really felt like I hit the jackpot in terms of getting started with moving this into curricular areas. Go read it here, if you’re interested. To further enhance my knowledge and get ideas, I also visited several booths and poster sessions on the topic. Nearpod offers one of my favorite VR experiences through their site/app. Their virtual field trips are phenomenal (available with a paid subscription that is well worth it)! Nearpod is also currently giving away VR headsets if you’re lucky enough to have the magic touch at the wheel. (Sadly, I didn’t get one, and I’m still sulking)

Today was a burst of information in another one of my focus areas: professional development. As the technology integrationist for my district for the past 6 years, part of my responsibilities lie with preparing and delivering professional development to our K-12 staff. Because I’ve been in education for 22 years, if you do the math, you’ll know that I’ve been exposed to my fair share of professional development. Some excellent. Some marginal. Some atrocious. I never, ever want to be associated with mediocre professional development. Hence, the constant learning and acquiring of new PD skills and ideas to enhance my craft.

One of the PD sessions I was most looking forward to was provided by Adam Bellow and Steve Dembo, entitled “Fear the Sitting Dead”. If you’ve never attended a session by these two, just know that they never disappoint. Throughout the session we were able to hear of and participate in several activities that would get both teachers and students involved and excited about their learning. Here are a few of my favorite ideas for PD as delivered by these two:

  1. Fast Pass– Modeled after Disney parks, a fast pass can be something as simple as a quick survey or sticky note display done upon entering PD. Teachers select the areas of your presentation they are most interested in and you begin there. Easy-peasy. And teachers are happy because their topics of choice are guaranteed to be covered.
  2. Snowball Fight– Using nothing more than paper, participants can write down information relevant to the topic (list your favorite tech tool and how you use it, for example), wad it up and toss it to another person around the room. Others then open it, add a comment or question, and give it another toss. In the end, simply post results and address questions or share them out however you wish, and you have all-inclusive learning.
  3. Rocks or Sucks– While I’ve used this method in the past, it was fun to hear a new take on it. In this method, a relevant issue is displayed. For example “Is homework a good idea?”. Moderators set a timer and the participants move to the designated side of the room for their feelings on the issue. During the allotted time, discussions on the issue happen. People may even change their minds after hearing others’ opinions. In this case, they mosey on over to the other side of the room (or the middle for the indecisive).
  4. Speed Geeking– A new take on speed dating, this lends itself to many variations. I’m already dreaming up ways in which my student tech team could utilize this in a PD setting to introduce teachers to new technology. The key is a timer. The session is only to wet appetites, not divulge every bit of information available about a topic.
  5. Block Walks– Research validates that movement increases engagement and retention. Walking or exercise in any form can really lend itself to fantastic conversations when done in pairs or very small groups. We have done Walk-n-Talks in the past, which is the same concept. Give teachers a focus and let them collaborate and discuss while also burning off that morning donut.

While this is in no way an exhaustive list of PD ideas that were mentioned, it should give you a good start into super charging upcoming PD for your district. I have a lot of ideas about what makes great PD and I’m passionate about individualized learning. PD is no longer the Ferris Beuller-style awful classroom filled with droolers and gum bubble blowers. It needs to be meaningful, relevant, engaging, and applicable. Thanks to Adam and Steve for adding to my PD toolkit.