Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: February 2015 (page 1 of 2)

Add Class Snapshots to Google Classroom Banner

My 6th period Expository Writing class accused me of bragging about my magical skills when I showed them the new Google Classroom banner I made of them.  So, I told them they could choose their own banner.

They did:  they made me stand on a chair and take a picture of them with their mascot, the “writer’s block.”

Expository Writing Pic

I should also add that 6th period has a friendly rivalry with my 5th period Expository Writing class.

And by friendly rivalry, I mean that I’m wearing a bullet-proof vest and SWAT team gear for 5th period when I meet their wrath.  I’m also 99% sure I’ll have to take a picture of them and then split-banner the two.

Changing the banner is a great opportunity for teachers to build class morale.  Students can earn the right to choose the banner of the week, or as my students did, proclaim their ownership of the page with a photo of themselves.

Personalize Your Banners for Google Classroom

I’ve waited for this day to arrive–the day when I get to choose my own banner from a photograph of my choosing rather than the selection Google provides.

As soon as I arrived home tonight, I reset two of my three classroom banners.  Here are the results:

Expository Writing ClssrmBritish Literature Banner


Obviously, the cool thing is getting to personalize your own banners.  Possibilities include

  1. Adding an image to represent the current unit (as I did with Macbeth)
  2. Adding photos taken from classtime of the students
  3. Using photos of the top-notch visual work of students (posters, drawings, etc.)
  4. Allowing students to choose a “banner of the week” as a reward

But the change has come with some not-so-cool things…

  1. When choosing an image, remember that your class name will appear in the middle of it (and your picture will show up on the student side), so it’s important to choose a background that will not obscure the name of the class or look strange if your pic is thrown in.  If I had my way, I’d like the option to get rid of the class name (and pic) entirely.
  2. Images do need to be at least 800 pixels by 200 pixels.  Larger isn’t a problem; you’ll be prompted to crop within Google Classroom.


Teaching Research Via Google’s “In-Depth Articles” and Google Scholar


When I walked into Love Library on the UNL Campus back in 1996, I thought I knew how to research.  After all, I was an extemporaneous speaker.  I read Time, Newsweek, and the US News and World Report in my spare time.  Those brick red periodical guides–I knew them better than any student in my high school. (OK, not a huge accomplishment given I graduated with only 20 other students.)

Ready to research my first college paper, I walked into Love Library, expecting to find the periodicals section.  After wandering around for half an hour, I was still unable to find a single magazine rack; however, I did realize that I knew nothing about college research.

(Side note:  Love Library, when I attended in the 1990s, was a ridiculous structure where you literally had to enter one building, climb the staircase to the second floor, where you walked through a “tunnel room [really, a HUGE massive space that held computers, stacks, and librarian desks] into another building, where the English and education sources could all be found–usually in the basement, where I’m sure some people probably got lost and died of dehydration.  To leave–you ascended back up three flights of stairs in that second building, back through the tunnel room, then back down the stairs of the first building.  Obviously a sadistic librarian developed this logistical nightmare.)

Anyway.  I gradually learned how to locate journals.  How to read journals effectively.  How to spend the least amount of money at the photocopier.

With Google, students today have it made.

I demonstrated to my college comp seniors today how to use two sections of Google that they’d never used before.

technology in the classroom   Google Search

The first is the “in-depth articles” section, which can be found at the bottom of search pages if the keywords are fairly basic, such as “death penalty” “vaccinations” or “technology in education.”  These articles are derived from more academic periodicals, such as Forbes, The Economist, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker.  

ipads classroom   Google Scholar

Then we moved onto Google Scholar, so students could practice finding journal articles.  The benefits of Google Scholar, beyond the ability to narrow the search to just journals/patents/case studies, include being able to save sources to “My Library” so you can easily find them later, and PDF links in the right hand margin.  These are usually free, so students can access these without paying for article access or registering through the college library.

It’s a shame, really, that Google and the internet has made college-level research so much easier.  Fewer students will experience the hell joy of Love Library.  Though I didn’t have to spend much time at the campus rec center–with the number of staircases I ran at Love, I didn’t need a Stairmaster.

Prepping for College: Teaching Students to Read Journals


Today and tomorrow, I’m teaching a very important set of lessons to my college writing seniors:  How to read and research journal articles.

When I entered college nearly twenty years ago, I didn’t have a clue what a journal article was.  I prided myself on being a great reader.  I plowed through the school library’s books.  I scoured Time and Newsweek every week to prep for extemporaneous speaking during speech seasonunnamed-1.

But I hadn’t a clue what a journal article was.  Nor did I know how to read one.  I certainly didn’t know how to search for one on the internet (but that’s partly because I’d only been on the internet once or twice before I started college!)

I’m changing that with my college-prep seniors.  Today I made copies of journal articles (yes, photocopies–I wanted something for them to hold and flip through and get a tangible sense of what a journal article was) and we went through the most common parts of journal articles:

  • Title & authors
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Discussion/Commentary

I also explained different reading strategies to reading a journal article.  Abstracts are beneficial in determining whether the article will be applicable to your research or not.  The introduction and literature review can provide great background information for research.  Methodology and results tend to be data-heavy, and these sections can often be skimmed.  The discussion and commentary should be read closely, as it will summarize the results and discuss the implications.

Reading journal articles  pushes some of my students.  It’s text that’s denser and uses more advanced vocabulary than they’re used to.  So my students worked in groups today, reading the articles and then writing a group summary.

Tomorrow they’ll learn about Google Scholar and do more reading/summarizing on their own.  But after today, they’ll be ready for it.

Most of all, they’ll be more ready for college than I was.

Interactive Tools that Rock My Classroom!

For my multimedia class this week, we had to compile an annotated list of interactive web tools to use with students.  Of course, Google rules the roost with their suite of apps–enough to write thousands of blog posts on.  But for this assignment, I decided to focus on some others out there:


Pear Deck:

Free for up to 5 uploads (unlimited decks made ON SITE), $100 for unlimited PDF uploads)

Grades 2-12

Any subject

I started using Pear Deck, an interactive presentation app, in August, and it’s been amazing.  I’m a huge supporter, proponent, advocate, and everything else for this site.  You can create a slideshow deck right on site or upload a Google presentation or PowerPoint.  Then you can add multiple choice questions, open ended questions, drawing, or draggables.  Also you can embed YouTube videos and link to websites.  I love presenting a mini lesson, then using it for formative assessments.  It’s great for quick reviews or to go over problematic questions from tests or worksheets.  I had a Google Hangout with one of the Pear Deck gurus this Friday, and they’re wanting to start a Pear Deck library for slide decks created by teachers.  There’s not a lot of bells and whistles with fonts, colors, transitions, etc., but it makes the deck creation very simple, quick, while still looking sharp and attractive.  In teacher view, you can see every student’s screen and how they’re doing for instant monitoring.  What I love most about it is it saves right in your Google Drive, so if you are in a GAFE school, there’s no limit to the storage.  I’ve blogged quite a bit about Pear Deck here:


Grades 2-12

Any subject


Students LOVE this app.  An easy quiz/poll app that also creates leaderboards for each “game”.  Fantastic for reviewing information.  I’ve also had students create their own quizzes to review for tests Create your own quizzes or search the huge library for already made quizzes.

Curriculet Mac Stick spot

Grades 2-12

Any subject


I LOVE this app.  You can use texts already in the Curriculet library (some newer ones must be purchased for a minimal price) or upload your own PDFs or link to websites.  Any news article online could be used in this app!  Then you add questions, annotations, and links to the Curriculet.  Best of all, the app will track your students and automatically grade the multiple choice questions, as well as record how long students spent on the assignment.  This is SO great for flipped classrooms–I can give credit for students reading the material, see what they’re struggling with, know by the time if they tried or just clicked through quickly.  I blog more about it here:



Grades 6-12

Any subject!

Free for 2 weeks; $70/quarter or $120/year

Earlier this month I started experimenting with gamification with the use of this LMS-type site.  If you’re interested in using game mechanics–quests, badges, awards–in your classroom, this is an excellent tool.  Some students loved it, some hated it.  The ones who loved it were either gamers or ones who enjoyed working at their own pace.  The ones who hated it either 1) were gamers who just wanted to play Halo or GTA all day, 2) had senioritis and didn’t want to learn a new piece of technology, or 3) were students who would rather just be working outside with their hands and not stuck in school.  (Maybe that’s the same as the #2 students)  I’m not sure if I’ll continue to use this next year, but I’m definitely planning on using quest-based learning with these same principles.   More blogs about this site here:


GlassLab Games

Grades 2-10

Multiple subjects


An up and coming site partly funded by Bill and Melinda Gates as part of the game-based learning movement.  There isn’t much for high school here (yet), but lots for upper-elementary and middle school.  A great middle-school game I downloaded to my ipad is Argubots, used for teaching argumentation to grades 6-8.  I plan to have my 5th grade daughter start playing this soon.



Grades 2-8 (customizable for high school)

Multiple subjects

Free (Can purchase games with already made questions)

Still a startup,  but keep an eye out on this.  The app’s mission is to gamify tests.  Students get to personalize their avatar, and as they complete questions, they move along in the race.  Right now it’s only one running race/game available.  A few sample tests are available, but teachers can also customize their own tests.  I love the idea of this site and having students be able to see their success, but I’d like to see more games, particularly games that aren’t encouraging a fast pace.  Currently the running game would work well for basic memorization facts–multiplication tables, periodic table elements, vocabulary, etc.–but I wouldn’t suggest it for questions that you want students to take their time, such as critical reading or multi-step math questions.  I may play around with this more this summer and use it next year with my vocabulary quizzes.

Garden   Memrise


Grades 3-12

Any subject

FREE (Can pay for premium, but I don’t see much bonus to it)

My students LOVE this site for vocabulary usage.  Teachers type in the words and definitions, and when students log in, they are presented with two flashcards, then rapid-fire questions about those words.  By starting with just two words and then building after students show mastery of those, the kids very quickly get used to the definitions.  Their vocab quiz scores SKYROCKETED  on this last test.  The students also love the leaderboards that come with this system.  Sure, students who are naturally quick learners will garner points quickly, but even students who struggle can work their way up the leaderboard if they wish to spend more time on the site.  It’s very non-threatening and does not take away points for incorrect answers.  This created a very heavy competition between two of my students, who apparently both stayed up most of one night competing with each other over VOCABULARY words!  (It goes without saying that they both ACED the quiz!)  But as more proof:  my students have started using it for other classes, such as Spanish and anatomy!  They put in the words from those classes themselves and set up their own “flashcards” and quizzes.


Any others that you’d all recommend?  List them in the comments below!  I’m always on the lookout for cool web tools and apps!

Can Teachers Manage Time Like Google? (And Should They?)


google-clock-250pxThis week Noah Weiss published a provocative blog on about Google’s management of time.  Essentially, he suggests that professionals manage their time with a 70/20/10 method:  70% of time is dedicated to the now and the imminent days ahead; 20% of time is dedicated to this quarter; and 10% to the future beyond that.  Weiss suggests that we spend “30% of our time in the future.”

Sure, there are instances where this time is “lumped” up, Weiss suggests.  He gives the example of a week where you have your future goals or roadmap due.  However, Weiss warns to avoid these “spurts” because great ideas need time to marinate and develop.

And from what I’ve read and know about creativity, I agree.  When I plan units for teaching, or even just methodology for next year, I can’t simply sit down on the day after the last day of school and write down all the amazing ideas I’ve had for the next year.  I have to write them down as they happen.  I evaluate constantly, revising in my mind how I would change or do lessons differently.  Bits and pieces come gradually, not full-fledged units landing in my brain all at once, tied up neatly with a bow.

Yet that 30% remains in my mind.  Can–and should–teachers spend 30% of our time in “the future”?

During the school year, it’s impossible.  Over 70% of our day is spent with students in the classroom, and we most decidedly need to spend that time “in the moment.”  Giving feedback and grading papers are activities I’d also classify as “now or the near future,” so there goes even more of that blessed “30%.”  If you coach or sponsor activities, well, there goes some more precious time.

That doesn’t mean that Weiss’s theories are completely off-base for teachers.  Unfortunately, we have to do some “lumping” of “working on the now” some weeks.  During the summer, I certainly spend nearly 100% rather than 30% “in the future.”


But we should strive for more balance.  More “daydreaming” about the future.  I need to do better at forefront planning, so that I can spend less time with the “immediate needs” and think more about improvement of my teaching.

What does this 30% look like for me?  Listening to podcasts such as Bam Radio.  Watching webinars at  Reading professional books from Heinemann, Stenhouse, ASCD.  Tweeting and exploring others’ tweets about blogs, new apps, new theories, and just enjoying professional fellowship on Twitter.  Working on my multimedia grad class.

During the school year, it’s nearly impossible to spend 30% in the future.  Would it be ideal?  I’d say so.  But I don’t look for that to be a reality in my teaching career.  I’ll have to spend most of my school year “living in the present” at least 90% of the time.  If I spend 10% of my time thinking about the future, I’ll be doing well.

Perhaps that’s the way it should be.  My future students are important, but the students that I have right now–they deserve every minute that I can give them.


Linking to Images in Curriculet

Martletstick spot



Curriculet is such a great resource that I’ve found to use while teaching Macbeth.  Shakespeare uses so many metaphors and allusions that students don’t understand–such as the martlet on the far top and Lady Macbeth’s reference to the “sticking point” in the lower top.

With Curriculet, I can embed those images directly into the text, so students can see and understand the reference visually.  Extremely handy!

Curriculet has become my go-to app for assigned reading.  Instead of spending classtime reading the text with the students, explaining it, and helping them with the basic understanding, they can read it on their own here, follow my annotations, answer my reading check questions, and gain that basic level of understanding.  Then I can spend class time with deeper, richer activities, such as the Institute of Play’s Socratic Smackdown that we did earlier this week.

I also love the fact that students move at their own pace.  The ones who have questions I can work with one-on-one.  I also link the PBS Macbeth film to the Curriculet, so students can view the film while reading the text.  I love how students can see the play come alive with professional actors; seeing the film version simultaneously with the text also scaffolds their understanding.

My Favorite Google Shortcut

Occasionally, Alice Keeler will post her favorite shortcuts, such as command + L to highlight the URL and, most recently, command + W to close a window.  Although I’m still working at getting into the habit of command+W, I know I’m really going to like it and speed up my grading process.

Here’s my favorite shortcut in Google Docs:  Option + Command + M


When I first started using comments on Google Docs, I found always clicking on the “comment” button tedious, so I quickly trained myself to use this shortcut.  It’s now so engrained in my process that when I try to share the shortcut with students and colleagues, I find myself unsure of what buttons to tell them–my fingers have the pattern memorized.

But the time it has saved me?  I can’t fathom.  I can make comments without my eyes ever leaving the text of the paper.  I can type a comment quickly, and by the end of the comment, I’m already continuing on with the text.


Celebrating Student Writing with Google Presentations

At the end of every unit in expository writing, we celebrate  by creating a slideshow of our best lines.  I call it the Secret Santa slideshow.

Each student draws a fellow classmate’s essay at random.  He or she  selects a line of two from the essay and creates a slide for it complete with images, transitions, and images.  Finally, I compile all of them together into one long movie and we watch it with coffee, hot cocoa, cappuccino, and whatever goodies the students bring to share.  Yesterday we had homemade scotcheroos–that made the whole day worthwhile.

This has become one of my students’ favorite traditions in class.  The food helps, but they love seeing their words on the screen, and the surprise factor adds the “secret Santa” feel to it all.

Teach Macbeth Through Curriculet

Curriculet MB A1S3,4


In between parent-teacher conferences today, I made a new Curriculet for Act 1, Scenes 3 & 4 of Macbeth.  If you’re planning to teach Macbeth in the imminent future, you can check it out here.

The great thing about Curriculet is I can embed video links that allow students to view the scene before they read it.  Or, if they resize windows, they can watch it side by side with the text.  This allows for 1) students to pick up on body language and non-verbal cues and better understand the text, and 2) consider the lines that aren’t included or are rearranged in the film and why the director made these choices.

Below, you can see the side-by-side windows that I encourage my students to use when they’re “reading” Macbeth.  This method is a great way to “flip” our classroom, especially when I have several student-athletes who plan to be gone.

Next week, we tackle Lady Macbeth’s opening soliloquy in  Scene 5–then I’ll be testing out the Socratic Smackdown.  I’ll keep you posted with how it goes.

Side by side Macbeth.jpg copy

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