Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: January 2015 (page 1 of 3)

Flipping a Classroom with Curriculet


I guinea pigged my students with a week ago, and I absolutely love the results.  The website allows teachers to take texts and embed questions, annotations, and videos into it.  Teachers can then track students performance and check their mastery.  It’s a great flipped-classroom website, as this allows teachers to look at a glance whether students understand the material and then move onto more critical thinking activities during class.

In addition to adding your own texts, you can also use texts and “curriculets” from other teachers with questions already embedded.  This site is still young and growing, but what a great resource it has the potential to become for all curricular areas.

Individualize Grammar with

Create Pretest   NoRedInkNoRedInk  Teacher

My newest find–and one I can’t wait to start using, maybe even yet this year–is  This is more specifically geared to us ELA folks out there who teach grammar.  But for you language arts teachers, if you’re like me, I’ve always struggled with students being on different levels in their grammar and conventions.  I have seniors in college composition–some who are still plagued with the comma splice virus and others who are ready to take on advanced punctuation with the dash.  Yet how do you gear individualized lessons and still stay sane–and then I’ve still got the other 85-90% of my writing curriculum to teach.

Until now, my students have taken diagnostic grammar tests, and then they’ve submitted their “weaknesses” via a Google form.  As a class, we look at the overall results and made a plan from there of the 5-6 key grammar issues they thought we should focus on this year.

And it’s worked well.  I’ve used a lot of Pear Deck and interaction.  But sometimes I have students who are ready to move on and other students who need more review.  Plus, I’ve always feared that I was “shorting” the students who could benefit from more of the basic grammar lessons, but just when and how was I supposed to fit that into the curriculum?

With, teachers can build classes where students take a diagnostic pre-test, and then teachers can program individual or groups of students into grammar lessons ranging from commas to hyphens to subject/verb agreement.

I’ll probably still add some of my own videos to my website for them to watch in conjunction.  I think hearing the teacher’s voice that students are used to often helps them learn faster and easier than simply reading the screen.  But I love the accountability of the website and how well it can track student mastery of different areas of grammar.

Find Interactives for Any Class at

Homepage   ReadWriteThink

In my continuing assignment for my multimedia class this week, I’ve researched and annotated five of my favorite OER sites.

The ReadWriteThink website, created by the National Council of Teachers of English, may have a plethora of resources for ELA teachers, but it also contains dozens of interactives such as timelines, Venn Diagrams, and webbing tools that can be used in cross-curricular activities.

Younger students and struggling older students can use some of the interactives to write letters and summaries.

The site covers language arts-related lesson plans and interactives for K-12 students and has accumulated so much over the years that it’s nearly impossible to not find something related to any type of ELA content.  Even for other curricular areas, tools are available to help students synthesize content.

Material can be searched by grade level, curricular goal, or theme, but even browsing through the interactives can inspire plenty of new uses in your classroom.

Websites for Argumentation Writing in High School

Art & Design for Advocacy TrainingCreative Commons License IDEA iDebate via Compfight

This week in my masters multimedia class, we’re webquesting valuable open educational resources (OER).  One, or rather two, of my favorite websites for teaching argumentation are and

At the high school, and especially at the eleventh grade level, our department focuses on argumentation and persuasive writing.  (I’d bet most schools in Nebraska do, since 11th graders are assessed on their persuasive writing skills.)

Persuasive writing and argumentation is one of the most difficult forms of writing to teach.  Not only do we expect students to use proper conventions, smooth sentence fluency, and powerful word choice, but we also expect to see critical–and coherent–thinking.  In some assignments, we teachers throw in research on top of it, and we’re asking a heckuva lot from our kids.

Two websites I’ve used with students for persuasive research and writing are and  These sites provide objective information for both sides of controversial issues.

procon-logo-founded-2004 provides evidence including direct quotes and statistics on 52 current issues, ranging from standardized tests to concealed handguns to the Keystone pipeline.  Evidence  is presented in small chunks, giving students the building blocks to build their arguments.  Background information is also presented for each issue.


The Debate Club at US News and World Reports’ site is another argumentation site that I’ve used with students.  The site hosts essays about dozens of topics ranging from JFK’s assassination to the US military role in Syria, and essays about a new topic are published weekly.  Each week, essays by expert supporters and proponents of an issue are published, giving students several points of view.

Both sites are beneficial depending on the project.  If you’re looking for students to take raw evidence and synthesize it, is your goto site.  If you want to focus on critical reading of essays–and in the process, provide samples of persuasive writing that you expect students to perform–you can’t go wrong with the Debate Club.

This past November my business English seniors performed a debate for the culminating project of their persuasive unit.  After an entire class voted on their favorite topic, I split them in half; half took the pro side, while the other half took the con side.  They critically read essays from the Debate Club site, which provided them with possible arguments they could use in a debate–very beneficial with students who struggle with language.  Some students researched other sources and websites to find more information that they hoped other students wouldn’t find.

Even if you expect students to find research from a variety of sites, and the Debate Club are two fantastic sites that serve as springboards into controversial topics.

Quests: Attractiveness Matters

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones via Compfight

I’ve been reading lots–and I mean lots!–about gamification this weekend and jumped feet first into the 3D GameLab website.  I found myself falling into my quests faster than Alice fell down that rabbit’s hole, and I’m just as enthralled with this new wonderland that I’ve found.

In one of my quests, I read about Dr. Chris Haskell’s research regarding the importance of quest attractiveness.  Because here’s the thing:  like every new golden egg that’s been discovered in education’s hunt for motivating students, gamification and quests themselves aren’t a true panacea.  Do I think they can be part of the greater solution?  Absolutely.  But not because of the badges or the storyline.

Gamification provides student CHOICE:  choice in pacing, choice in educational order, choice in topics.  And choice is one aspect that makes quests attractive.  Students don’t have to do ALL the quests.  Students have choice in certain projects or the order that some quests are undertaken.

Quests must also have variety.  Just as a traditional classroom becomes dull with the same activities and assessments week in and week out,  quests can be repetitive and redundant if they’re too similar.  As Haskell found in his research, a YouTube video and questions will not work for each and every assignment.

In addition, Haskell found that quests need a variety of task-oriented and goal-oriented outcomes.  Some need to be simple; others more complex.  Some need to allow student-creativity.  Others can be straight-forward.

Simply taking a dull lesson and putting it into a quest form does not breathe life into student learning.  Quest creation still needs to be grounded in solid unit development, lesson planning, scaffolding, creativity, variety, and student choice.

My Goals for Multimedia Class

This semester I’m taking a  multimedia class through Chadron State College.  There are only eight of us, so it’ll be a small group–which I like.  It’s already been fun at the two-week point.

This week we had to set goals for the semester.  Specifically, three goals.  As you can see, I don’t follow directions very well.  I plan on making an update blog post every few weeks to keep myself progressing and evaluate where I am.


  1. To gain more practice and knowledge about Google sites/Versal/Educanon to develop a better online presence for my students’ to navigate my online content.

Current Progress:  I made my first Versal course on Sunday for students who needed extra practice in higher-level subject-verb agreement problems.  I may continue use of this with other grammar lessons.  Right now I teach grammar with Pear Deck, which has been really effective but I also know that students are ready to move on at different paces.  I haven’t done much with Google sites the past week since I’ve moved my focus to utilizing Google Classroom–so far, I’ve loved it.  I did log onto Educanon, and while it looks cool, I couldn’t figure it out very quickly.  I’ll have to go back when I have a little more time.  I can see the benefit in it.  I may continue to use Google forms a a question/answer format for videos.

2. To research gamification and possible uses in my next year’s classes, especially for hard-to-engage students

Current Progress:  I did some reading on gamification on Alice Keeler’s Teacher Tech website and Mr. Matera’s Blog.  I’m not sure if I can jump into everything that these amazing creators do–storylines and powerups and all kinds of organized crazy cool activities.  I do some badging this year in my classroom for students who improve on their vocab and grammar scores, and I’d like to expand that.  Later this semester I see we’ll be studying Mozilla’s Open Badges, so I’ll develop more ideas then.

3.  To practice using videorecording programs (Screencastify and Camtasia) to record lectures for absent students and learn better techniques in creating videos.

Current Progress:  I’ve used Screencastify a few times this week and really like it.  Videos are easy to upload to YouTube, and they automatically save to a Screentastify folder on Google Drive.  I have not yet worked with Camtasia, but I do have a video tutorial sitting in my email inbox, waiting patiently for me to watch it.

4.  To continue developing my blog about using technology in the LA classroom

Current Progress:  I’ve posted nearly every night.  Approximately 5 times a week.  More than I expected, actually.  I’ve also made a more concerted effort to add more to the conversation on Twitter.

5. To research technology that will assist in publishing a composition class final project (I currently use a WordPress blog as a final class portfolio, but I think a handheld one would be beneficial, too)

Current Progress:  After browsing a few possible sites, I’ve tentatively decided on Blurb.  I can create a template in Google Drive for my students, where they can format their own pages.  Then I can compile them in a PDF for publication.

6.   Gain more experience in Google Hangouts and its potential in distance learning instruction.

Current Progress:  None.  I need to work more on this.

In a few weeks, I’ll post again on how I’m doing 🙂

Use Pear Deck’s Draggable Tool to Teach Vocabulary

Vocabulary is, by its nature, a left-brained language-intensive study.  Because not all our students are left-brained, I try to throw in a more visual vocabulary review.

One technique is to use the Draggable Tool in Pear Deck.  First I create a slide with a question about a vocabulary word.  Then I choose two images from the internet–these serve as the two “choices” for students to drag their circle to.  Since Pear Deck only has the option of inserting one image (at least right now), I set up the images side-by-side in a Google Doc and then use Awesome Screenshot to capture the two images together.  Then I upload that screenshot to Pear Deck.

Here’s an example below for the word “prudent.”

prudent home


If you have a teacher view on another device (see below), you can see which students are still struggling by their answers.

croc dolphin


A few hints I’ve found:

1.  Make sure to “lock” student answers before showing the results.  Otherwise all the students’ dots erupt in a game of tag, and the students are too busy chasing each other’s dots than paying attention to the content.  (Even college-credit seniors don’t have enough will power to resist the urge to watch their dots move across the board.)

2.  Don’t use full-body photos of Beyonce (or any human for that matter) to avoid the issue of dots being placed “strategically” on the bodies.  (Yes, I’ve witnessed this first-hand when I foolishly used a Beyonce slide with a predominantly 18-year-old male class.)


Curriculet: A Love Continued…

Yesterday I posted about my anticipation for using Curriculet with my British Lit students today.  If you want to check out my Curriculet, click here for my (abridged) “A Modest Proposal” Curriculet.

So now…the results!

Overall, I declare a success with our maiden voyage with Curriculet.  So far, I’ve heard no complaints about the site.  (I did field some complaints about the content, as they read “A Modest Proposal,” but as I told them, if they weren’t at least a little disturbed by Swift’s suggestion of 18th century cannibalism, I’d be worried.)

I’m not sure how to organize all my thoughts, so I’m simply going to enumerate them.

1.  The one major problem I encountered was linking my Google Classroom to the Curriculet website.  The link directed them to the “Log in” screen rather than a “Join” screen.  Note that this problem is ALL ON ME.  Once they were on the “Join” screen and I gave them their enrollment code, they were golden.

2.  I also found problems with the embedding of the YouTube video.  Again, likely had NOTHING to do with Curriculet and EVERYTHING to do with our school’s filter.  Even if a video is open on the filter, I find they still don’t open when embedded on Google forms, Google sites, Versal–pretty much anywhere.  I simply copy and pasted the code into the annotation so they could still watch the video at YouTube directly.  (But if they’re using any other wi-fi, I bet they’d love the embedded videos right there next to the text.)

3.  Curriculet gives great data of both in-progress and finished students.  Check out the first screenshot:

Curriculet student scores


I didn’t give a “quiz” but only individual questions, so there’s not data there.  However, I know at a glance how long it took students on average to read the essay and how many are finished.  Then I can see their individual scores (names are blurred) followed by how many questions they answered correctly, how long each took, and whether he/she is finished or still in progress.

Curriculet question results


On another tab, I access data about individual questions.  I can see that I need to review questions 5, 6, 7, 8, and 12 during our next class.

I’m very pleased with how it went.  As with all inaugural website adventures, there’s extra time spent helping some students get to where they need to be, but once they were “in” the Curriculet site, they navigated it very easily.  I’ll definitely be using this again (and again, and again, and again.)  And so, my tryst wtih Curriculet continues…


Curriculet: A Crush Destined for True Love?

Two days ago, I happened upon Curriculet thanks to Kate Baker and her blog.  Immediately, I fell into a hard-hitting crush with the website.



At Curriculet, you can choose among texts that are already available in the “store” or upload your own text.  Then comes the magic.  In those texts, teachers can embed annotations, multiple choice questions, open-ended questions, quizzes, and even YouTube videos.

Today, I made my first Curriculet using a text I abridged of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modern Proposal.”  I inserted lots of questions, annotations about historical facts, and a modern-day interpretation of the essay on YouTube.  Tomorrow, my students will start read it, get immediate feedback from the multiple choice questions, and watch the modern-day interpretation all in one place.

Here are screenshots from my Curriculet.  I’ll let you know tomorrow how it goes!

Curriculet annotation Curriculet MC 2 Sample cirriculet page Curriculet question


So I Made a Versal Course!

I found myself in a conundrum last week.

My college comp seniors took a subject-verb agreement quiz.  About a third of them did very well, scoring As and Bs.  The other two-thirds scored D- or below.

The bell curve did not exist.  A middle ground did not exist.  They’d either mastered the concepts or were still very much struggling.

Obviously I needed to do some more work with the two-thirds group, but then what about the other third?  Do I force them to sit through more review and reteaching when they obviously understand the information?

I decided it was time to give Versal a whirl.



I happened upon the course-building website last semester.  Super impressed with it, I was determined to set up some courses on it.  Then time got away from me until this opportunity presented itself.

Versal works through gadgets.  After starting a course, you simply choose the next gadget you want and drag it into your workspace.  Want to start with a video?  Drag up the video gadget.  Rather start with text?  Drag up the text gadget.  Want to quiz the students about the video and/or text.  Pull the quiz gadget into the workspace–you can even program it so the student can’t go on until he answers the question correctly.

Versal gadget 1


Check the the gadgets above–lots of possibilities await.  For this project I only used video, quiz, and text, but there are so many possibilities to be integrated.  The gadgets make the course building so simple.  Drag, add your information, and you’re done!

Versal can be embedded in websites, blogs, Tumblr, and some LMS systems.  I followed the simple instructions to upload to Schoology, and it worked like a breeze.  (I also embedded it into my Google site, but I didn’t look as sleek, and since my students take quizzes via Schoology, it was just as easy to have them locate the Versal course there.)

Here are a couple screenshots from my course:

SVA video view SVA Quiz


I’m still waiting for the verdict from my students.  They’ll have a couple of drafting days later this week, when they’ll also be welcome to work on the Versal course and retake the quiz.

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