Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: March 2015

Publishing Books with Blurb

An area that my teaching in expository writing needs improved is publishing and audience.  My students need more of an audience to write to–more than just writing essays to me.  I’ve got some plans in mind.  Next year may finally be the year that I implement blogs (I’ve wanted to for a while, but I want to make sure I have a set plan in mind for them).  Another is that I need to set up a list of publications for them to submit to…and encourage them to do this.

What I’ve done this week is a third part of my plan, and it involves the Blurb website.  Blurb allows you to publish ebooks or hard copy books, magazines, or portfolios at a very reasonable price.

Bookwright copy

First, I downloaded the free BookWright program from Blurb.  For those who aren’t familiar with publishing programs, Blurb also provides tutorials.  However, if you’ve used publishing programs before, BookWright is intuitive and easy to figure out.

Note:  If you’re used to using Adobe InDesign and you want to publish more advanced, high-graphic pages, I would suggest sticking with that.  It will give you more control over your pages, and Blurb will upload InDesign files for publication, too.

Then, click the upload button when you’re finished, and the program will automatically upload all your BookWright files to its website.  There, you can order hard copies, PDF files, and ebook versions.  You also have options of how you want to promote your book–whether you want to keep it semi-private to those to  whom you provide a url, or if you want it available to the public.  Blurb also provides embed codes for Facebook, Blogger, WordPress, or any website, so you can promote your book there.

Blurb sets the base price for each book based on their costs, but you can then add your own profit margin.  This is a great way for others to purchase your book without you risking money.

Blurb provides many other options, too, for selling your book.  Definitely go check it out!

Oh, and if you want to check out the book I made of my last year’s class’s writing, you can see it here:


New Updates at Quizizz!

Yesterday I compared Quizizz to other selected response systems.

And I found out thanks to Ankit Gupta (@ankit042) that a few days ago Quizizz added brand spanking new updates to Quizizz!

Here’s a rundown of them below:

Quizizz  Select Question Set

Jumble Order:  When my students tried out Quizizz before, I was disappointed to see the questions scrambled.  I had set up a “Finding the Main Points” quiz so that a few early questions would get them warmed up to more difficult later questions.  Then I realized they were all scrambled!  My students were flipping through their hard copy papers (with passages) with every question.  But now, I have the option to shut off the jumble order if I desire.

Show Leaderboard:  I love the competition that leaderboards bring on, but if it’s early on in a unit and students are still in the early learning stages, I may not want students to feel that competition yet.  That’s why I love the ability to shut this off.

Show Answers:  Most of the time I definitely want my students to see the answers at the end of a quiz.  I want them to know right away what they missed.  So often, it’s the ones I missed back in high school that I remember most today nearly 20 years later, and I think this “instant gratification” of seeing the answers helps feed this.  Of course, teachers can shut this off if they don’t want classes sharing answers with later sections.

Question Timer:  One issue I had with Kahoot (and Quizizz to an extent) was a time constraint.  Sometimes I like giving students more points for quick responses, especially for lower-level depths of knowledge.  But I’ve found that students often get in such a rush to get their answer in that they accidentally click the wrong one.  Now I can shut the question timer off on Quizizz, which eliminates the timing anxiety that encourages students to rush through a question.

Shut off Meme:  After students answer a question, a meme pops up to inform them of their success or miss.  Teachers may now choose to shut off the memes (I love them, but these can be distracting for lower elementary classes.)

If I could have one more update, it would be the ability to add a graphic/media to each question.  Currently you can add a graphic to serve as a background to the question text, but often I give students passages to read (or re-read).  I can also see social studies teachers wanting to use maps, math teachers inserting angles and shapes, and science teachers inserting images of cells or chemical equations.  For now, I create a hard copy handout with passages on it for my students.

I’m very psyched about these new updates from Quizizz!  More than ever, I highly encourage everyone to check these out!



Can’t Miss Gamification Webinars

I frequent to check out free new information about teaching from some of the greatest experts.  It keeps me entertained while I’m cooking dinner or working out.  This week, I watched two fantastic webinars about one of my favorite topics:  gamification!


This week Lee Sheldon, author of The Multiplayer Classroom (great book, btw for anyone interested in games in the classroom) led a webinar about his experience in creating classes based on games.  He discusses topics such as curriculum,
narrative, attendance, and grading.  Concepts I loved:

1) A point-earning grading system rather than averaging

2) Technology is not necessary

3) Students can work in guilds (groups) for many quests and raids (assignments and tests).



I also viewed The Game Based Curriculum webinar, led by Chris Haskell of Boise State University.  I’ve read many of his papers and articles, and watching this webinar only further impressed me with both Haskell and his work.  The first part of the webinar focuses on the reasons and benefits of gamification, and the second half shows a walk-through of the 3DGameLab, a web-based platform that hosts teachers’ quest-based curriculum.  (I beta tested the platform earlier this semester–it’s pretty cool, though I’m not sure whether I’ll use it full time in the next school year or not).

Interested in gamification?  I’d certainly recommend these two webinars for anyone ready to put their big toe in the water (or if you’re ready to take the plunge into the deep end, too.)

Comparing Classroom Response Systems: Kahoot, Pear Deck, and Quizizz

**A new updated comparison of response systems can be found here.


UPDATE:  The day after I tried out Quizizz with my students, the good people at Quizizz updated the software to include brand new controls, including unlimited time and non-randomized questions.  Definitely some fantastic upgrades.  I also updated my table below to reflect these changes.

Kahoot and Pear Deck have been staples in my classroom teaching this year, but in the past few weeks, I’ve become acquainted with Quizizz, another classroom response system.  A few days ago I while we were reviewing, I wanted a response system, but one that didn’t emphasize answering the question quickly, as students tend do (and are rewarded for doing) with Kahoot.  Pear Deck would have worked, but we were also having a group competition, so I wanted something that also had a scoreboard.

Enter Quizizz.


Quizizz is newer on scene than Kahoot, but it does have some bonuses.  For one, the time allotted for each question can be programmed to up to 5 minutes; while students are still rewarded for answering the question faster than others, extending the time helps ease student anxiety.  They don’t feel as rushed to answer the question.

The program is also very intuitive.  It takes only a few minutes to throw together a quiz for a class.  The system also delivers questions in random order to each student, so the quiz process contains less class interaction than Pear Deck and Kahoot have, resulting in a quieter environment.

I won’t give up Pear Deck or Kahoot.  All three have a use in the classroom depending on teacher/student needs.  Here’s how I see their sequence in my teaching:

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 7.55.30 AM

1) Pear Deck comes first, as it is really an interactive presentation system, not solely a response system.  I can deliver a few slides of material and then ask students to respond to a question.  Pear Deck also works well with new material because it does not use a public scoreboard.  Students see others’ responses, but all responses are anonymous in the “presentation” and “student” view.  (Teachers can view the “teacher” view on their mobile devices and see how students answered each question.)

2) Quizizz is a logical next step.  With longer times for questions and a quieter environment, students are able to better concentrate and work through new material at their own pace.  At the end of the quiz, they can see how they compared to other students on the public scoreboard.  Students could also use code names or student ID numbers to add more anonymity.

Quizizz is also better than Kahoot for higher depth of knowledge questions or questions with passages.  If you want students to take their time, this is the better format.


3) Kahoot is fabulous for rapid recall questions.  As much as we should stress critical thinking, there are some facts students still need to know (multiplication, countries, presidents) or skills they should do quickly (looking up a number on the periodical table).  For a quick-paced review, Kahoot is your tool.

What I do want to emphasize more than anything is that these are all tools for formative assessment.  I use these to check the pulse of the class, to determine what needs more review and what they understand well.  When I give a summative assessment, I do not want my students to feel time constraints, either placed on them by the application or by the teacher/classmates on Pear Deck waiting for them to answer.

Check out the table below for a more detailed comparison:

1Student Selection Response comparison Google Docs

Classroom Chats with Today’s Meet

In my last post, I talked about using The Question Game as an uber-effective way to teach question forming.

Now what did we do with those questions?

I looked at the “favorited” questions that were circled by the students and selected the top ones to be on our online chat agenda.  Then I wrote up a question agenda for our online chat.

After a quick online chat tutorial (I knew a few students did not know how Twitter/online chats worked) and a warmup question, the students took off.

Below is a bit of the transcript.  I was really impressed with this class’s theory that perhaps Lady Macbeth’s insanity is due to her “missing” child.  In the play, she states that she’s nursed a babe, yet there is no other evidence of the child or that it is still alive.  They theorized that the loss of this child has perhaps pushed Lady Macbeth’s emotional instability and her desire for power to fill the void in her life.  Deep thinking from 17-year-olds!

Isthatadagger   Transcript   TodaysMeet



What I need to do next time is a third day for a short reflection period.  I didn’t have students go back and evaluate their questions post-chat, discuss which questions worked and which didn’t, and analyze reasons why.

Teaching Question Forming…with Dice!



Last week we finished Act II of Macbeth, and I wanted to do something different for our discussion.  We tried Socratic Smackdown for Act 1, which worked pretty well for its debut in my classroom, but I wasn’t ready to repeat that right away.  So I did a little combining of good ol’ fashioned dice throwing and Today’s Meet.

I started with “The Question Game” from @TeachThought.  Using the diagram provided, I created dice with question starters on each face.  I can’t say the dice were too fancy–paper, glue stick, packing tape for lamination, and a couple paper clips thrown in the middle for a some low-budget sound effects.

I also adjusted the questions a bit.  Here’s a photo of my template below:


After that, I split the class into groups, and they played three rounds of “The Question Game.”  No fancy rules.  You roll the die, then create a question using that question starter.  Someone in the group serves as the recorder and writes the questions down.  Group members are allowed to help provide ideas.  At the end, the group circled their 2-3 favorite questions to discuss in the “Today’s Meet” chat the next day.

The game is just that simple.  The students had much more fun, though, than if I’d given them a sheet of paper and said, “Write down at least 12-15 deep questions about the play Macbeth through Act II.”


It’s all about the game.  Not much of a game, you say?  I’d agree.  But that slight anticipation of what question starter you’ll roll–that makes all the difference.  Plus, students started thinking of questions ahead of time, then hoping they’d roll that question starter.  That made the stakes higher.  Since members were allowed to help, students had to decide whether to give up their prize question to another student so that it would be on the list (and hopefully chosen for the chat), or whether to keep it in case the next time they rolled that question starter.

Will I do this again?  Absolutely.  I may make new dice with different question starters to change it up, but it was a great way to encourage deep question forming.


Big News! Curriculet and USA Today Join Forces!


Curriculet new current eventsAny of my blog or Twitter followers know I’m a huge proponent of Curriculet.  Every time I use it, I marvel at its effectiveness.  Students can read extra annotations to point out inferences or allusions they may not pick up on their own or watch related videos.

And just when I think it can’t get much better, it does.

Curriculet and USA Today are working together to create current event Curriculets!

First of all, they are cross-curricular.  Not only is this for social studies teachers, but for arts, science, physical education, health–articles are available for any subject area.

Plus, they’re premade.  No questions to make up, no annotations to add on.  All the work is done for you.  Need a quick subplan?  Want to integrate more non-fiction reading into your class but you don’t have time?  Everything is done for you.  The questions are well-written and correspond to Common Core standards.

Curriculet current events 2

Many of them link to videos, infographics, or other articles for the students to read, so not only are students reading one article, but they’re “reading” other media that enriches and deepens their understanding.

It’s a huge win for digital literacy.

Making Some (Web-Based) S’Mores


Don’t throw rocks or sticks at me, but…I’m not a big fan of s’mores.

The campfire kind, that is.

As for the smore website–I love it!!

At first, I thought I’d provide students the option to make a smore for their “How to Conduct an Interview” project.  The problem:  I’d never made one myself.  So I made a quick one just to get the feel of it.

Then I decided just to put the assignment information into a smore.  It was so easy and intuitive that I had it done in less than 20 minutes.  Probably the same amount of time I would’ve spent just typing it into a Google Doc, except that with a smore, it’s so much more attractive and easier to read!

Check it out here:

Although they have the choice of a smore or slideshow, most of my students started their own first smores today.

For future assignments, I’ll definitely use more smores!  It’s such a quick and easy way to put together a quick one-page website that looks fabulous and is easy to read!



Studying Word Choice & Mood with Macbeth

For my multimedia class, I had to create a video with captions, images, and music, so I set up a tentative project for my students to choose a soliloquy/monologue from Macbeth and do a similar video, probably in Animoto.

But once  I’d made my video on the dagger scene (see above), I realized I suddenly had a quick prop for our final dagger scene wrap up day.

Using the sample video, students wrote down on post it notes the words with strongest connotations.  Here’s a sampling of what they came up with:

murder, fatal, dead, ravishing, dagger, bloody, knell, wicked

We talked about what kind of mood Shakespeare is establishing with those words–and how this can be related to other forms of reading and writing.

When students are asked about mood, whether on a test, in a college lit class, or simply while pleasure reading, one of the greatest hints to mood is the author’s use of word choice.

We also discussed how the same goes with writing.  As writers, we need to choose words with strong connotations to help express our style and tone.

It was a quick 8-10 minute lesson, but an effective one–full engagement from every student on a concept they could see visually both in language and images, hear in the music, see the patterns in our list on the board, and–hopefully–apply in their reading and writing lives.

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