Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: July 2015

Animate Your Screencasts with Tellagami

I’m still trying to get used to narrating screencasts. I’m more comfortable with it now, and my students comment that they like seeing me narrate on the screen.

But there are times I don’t want to do a screencast–especially when I have bedhead and am still in my pajamas at 10 am on a Saturday morning.

That’s where a Gami comes in handy.

Using the Tellagami app on your iPad, you first create your narrator by selecting his/her appearance. More options are available for minimal cost if you want variety. Then you can select from a variety of backgrounds…or upload your own. Since the video I created is set in the Beowulf unit, I uploaded a Norse background. Finally, you record your message. Messages less than 30-seconds are free, but you can upgrade to 90-second messages for only $.99.

At that point, the animated message can be viewed online, or it can be saved to your iPad–this second option allowed me to email it to my computer and embed it into my video on Camtasia.

Gamis can not only be a great tool for teachers, but for students as well. In iPad classrooms, students can create Gamis as an alternative form of assessment. Plus, Gamis can be embedded into blogs, so they can be shared with the outside world.

Here’s my Gami:


Royalty Free and Creative Commons Photos Links: A Symbaloo for Students

I have very few plagiarism problems in my classroom–with the written word.

With images–well, that’s a different story.

To help remedy this, I’m using lesson plans from Common Sense Media to instill in my students that using images without permission or attribution is the same as plagiarism. (I’m also hoping to snag a few photos of theirs or images of their artwork to post without their permission, to hit the lesson further home.)

Earlier this summer, I also set up a Symbaloo with links to a variety of sites that are either public domain or Creative Commons. (Thanks to Rachael Burden at 180 Days to Happy for giving me a few more tonight!) I’ve used Symbaloo before to share student Smores and other resources, and the visual tiles on Symbaloo seem to work better for students than having a written list of links on a webpage.  They try out more links rather than focusing on one or two. I hope they’ll do the same with this Symbaloo:


“About Me” Thing Link


To prepare for our make and take #edtechchat tonight, I made an “About Me” thinglink. I’m going to be absent the first day of school, so I may have my students plan their collage based on questions I give them, and then help them craft their photo collages and Thinglinks when I return.


AppSmashing w/ Haiku Deck, Canva, Camtasia, and Zaption!

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 2.51.15 PM

In past years, I’ve introduced vocabulary words traditionally. I designed a Frayer model on Google slides, and I presented the word, definition, synonyms, antonyms, and examples. Then I presented a samply sentence and a sentence stem for the students to finish.


Who did all the thinking to add to the Frayer Models on the slide deck? Me. Who should be creating the ideas to add to the Frayer model? The students.

I’m changing that this year.

Today I made an app-smashing video for my first set of vocab words from Beowulf. First, I made a screenshot of the words in context, and using Canva, I uploaded those screenshots to a 600×800 px canvas and added a background.

Next, I went to Haiku Deck and made a slide for each of the words and definitions.  I downloaded the deck into PowerPoint and then exported them out as images.

Then I put all the screenshot images and definition images into Camtasia. I did a short screencast to introduce the video, and then recorded my voice over the definition slides, explaining the definition and how the word connects to real life.

Last step:  Uploading it to Zaption.  This is where I added questions about the context clues and stopped the video when I wanted students to take notes.

Students will take notes on their Frayer Models (I use this template in Google Drive). I’m also considering let them do sketchnotes this year, giving them a choice between the Frayer Model or the Sketchnote.

It took a while, I’ll admit, but now that I’ve got the first one down, the rest should go faster.

Hacking Education: 10 Hacks for Your School

Yesterday, I got the privilege of previewing Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzales’ forthcoming book Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. It comes out in the next week or two, and it’s a read that I would snag right away if I were you.

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Hacking Education is a quick read, perfect for every single educator on the planet.  The layout helps with that–every one of the ten chapters is laid out in beautiful headings and with the same format.  Most of all, it fits my #1 criteria for education books:  Practicality. Every reader will immediately latch on to at least one or two of these quick fixes and can implement it into their school in August.

This book goes beyond the classroom teacher to everyone on faculty.  It’s a fabulous book for administrators–if I were a principal (God bless administrators–I could never be one), I’d still be latching on to several of these hacks to make school more efficient and effective.

My favorite hack, you ask? (OK, so maybe you didn’t ask.) The Pineapple Chart.

The teachers in our (literal) corner of school often talk about the wish to watch other teachers.  How do they teach? Manage classroom? Use technology? We all lament we never get a chance to do this, but have we done anything to remedy it?  Nope.

That’s where the pineapple chart comes in.

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From Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzales


In the teachers lounge, draw a chart on a white board outlining the periods of each day. Teachers who are open to visitors can sign up along with the topic or feature of that day. Other teachers are welcome to pop in for a few minutes or the whole period.

How do you get this started?  What obstacles are you going to face–and how do you overcome them?  Get this book, because Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzales address the How-tos and the potential pitfalls of every hack.

The Pineapple Chart is obviously a great way to share new teaching techniques, new activities, and new technology–a huge benefit to teachers.

But I’m also thinking of the benefit the Pineapple Chart can have on students and the culture of a school. Imagine a school where students frequently see other teachers in their classrooms. They see the investment other teachers have in their learning, that teachers care about what’s happening in other classrooms, not just their own. Imagine the basketball players seeing their head coach sitting in an art class, gleaning ideas to apply in his geography classes! (Granted, I teach in a small high school where students generally know all the teachers). This simple strategy can be a great way to strengthen a culture of education among staff AND students.

Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School is scheduled to be available on Amazon by early August.  As soon as its page is up, I’ll link it here!

Can Struggle Lead to Autonomy?

Last night, I participated in a lively #whatisschool Twitter chat.  The discussion topic at hand:  Autonomy.

One of the questions puzzled me: “How do you develop a culture of autonomy in the classroom?” Right now, I feel autonomy is a weakness in my classroom.  In my school for that matter.

So I’ve continued pondering this question. Why do I want autonomy? Because I want my students to have investment in their learning and search for answers on their own, so they can better problem solve in the future.

But how do I encourage student investment?

I circled back to a recent Cult of Pedagogy podcast with Make It Stick co-author Peter Brown, where he talked about generation: the idea that students try (and struggle with) a problem/concept/challenge first before learning from a teacher/coach/mentor.

Brown gave the example of when he learned about short story writing.  Sure, he could have gone to a writing class first, learned the basics, and then went home to draft it. Instead, he drafted a story first, then went to a writing class.

The difference? Brown says he gained much more from the class. He already had some experience and encountered some problems in his writing. In the class, he was able to immediately apply his learning to the draft he’d already worked on.


Make It Stick is a fantastic book (I highly recommend!) about making learning stick with students, but I also think this plays into student investment. Instead of starting with direct instruction, letting kids “get their hands dirty” first is more effective both in learning–and in investment. If students struggle with a problem, they gain background knowledge and develop questions in their minds–questions you can then answer through direct instruction. Without the struggle, students don’t retain the direct instruction as well, and you’ll likely end up answering questions that you already addressed in the direct instruction.

Think about some real life examples where we let kids struggle.


Swimming. We don’t keep kids on the pool deck until we go over all parts of swimming.  We put them in the water, let them get the feel of movement, watch them struggle with trying to float and swim on their own.  Only when they have that background knowledge, we start teaching them how to swim.

Web Apps. When testing out a new web app, I’d much rather play around first, test different buttons, and then watch some of the tutorial videos and read the FAQs. Only then will I tweet or email others with questions.

-Sweeping. My own kids just wanted to jump in and sweep the kitchen floor without any instruction.  You can imagine the result: tons of crumbs and dust in the corners and crevices. But when they finished and I showed them the detritus they’d missed, they see that their own technique wasn’t good enough and were willing to add on my suggestions.

One of the keys is safety–both literal and figurative. A shop teacher wouldn’t allow students to play with a table saw before they learned the safety rules. Nor would I expect a struggling writer to complete an entire research paper before teaching them the guidelines to research.  Doing so would result in such frustration that I’d likely never rebuild rapport with that student.

To practice generation–this idea of giving kids a chance to experience and struggle before learning from a mentor/teacher/coach–we need to build sandboxes that are safe and provide the right amount of struggle. Instead of letting a table saw rookie to cut wood without practice, maybe–with the table saw unplugged–the teacher gives the rookie the task of finding all the safety features.  Instead of forcing struggling writers to write an entire paper without assistance, ask them to write the best thesis statement they can.

Find a right-sized task that will build background experience in their brains but not make them feel so overwhelmed that they give up.

Here are some possible classroom applications:

ELA: Above, I already mentioned writing thesis statements if that’s the objective you’re teaching. But what about reading? If your objective is teaching students to find the main idea, give them a short article and tell them to do it.  Then discuss what they think the main idea, and more importantly, why they think it’s the main idea. Then comes to time to present any direct instruction (as needed) that will help those struggling or refine the main idea for those whose answers are too general.

Math: Present a “try it” problem for students based on the day’s objective. Make it just beyond their reach–but not too hard that they don’t know where to start. Strengthen the investment by making the problem based on a real-life problem. Before students get too frustrated, have them talk about methods they tried to solve and directly teach them any new techniques or methods they still need to finish solving it.

Science: Instead of a 30 minute lecture, give students a (safe) experiment or hands-on task based on the objective first, such as “What causes a substance to dissolve in water?” Let students try different substances for a few minutes and then discuss what worked, what didn’t, and why.  Of course, make sure the experiment is safe–no handing over caustic chemicals to rookie chemistry students without thorough instructions.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all for any lesson. You have to know your students, their ability level, their frustration level, and adjust accordingly.

11422490305_4eb2cddb2f_oBut if we want students to be more invested and gain more autonomy, we have to release our control as soon as possible, let them struggle, and maybe most of all, let them get used to the idea of struggling, and that it’s okay. Then the direct instruction becomes more applicable to them.

We have to let our students get their hands dirty as soon as possible. Direct instruction doesn’t need to be the first activity of a lesson. In fact, by putting it later in the lesson, the concept of generation (and the struggle students experience with it) not only cements student learning better but will increase student investment–and as a result, student autonomy in the long run.


Map Making: Bringing Gamification to Life



This year I’m bringing a Medieval Fantasy-type theme to my classroom–think Game of Thrones crossed with the boardgame Risk. In my journal, I played with a VERY rough sketch of a map of the Land of Badgeria (our mascot is the badger). (Also, the name is tentative until/unless I conjure up a better name.)

Tonight, I drafted a second map, testing out my map-making skills.  I can’t draw anything realistic, but turns out I’m not bad at making fake maps. There are still mess-ups and scratch outs, but I started it with the thought of another “rough draft” in mind.  I knew this wouldn’t be the final one.

The object of our game will be to “conquer” the Land of Badgeria, which is accomplished through a process similar to the boardgame Risk. Every few weeks, we’ll have a Royal Rumble, where guilds will challenge each other (via dice like in the Risk game) for countries. Guilds will earn “challenge rights” through their average level (if their members’ average level is 3, then they will have 3 challenges), as well as through the Royal Rumble, where they practice ACT questions and compete against their own previous scores. Any score improving on or maintaining their previous score earns them another challenge.

For each challenge, a guild can challenge the right to own another “country.” Both guilds roll the dice, and the higher one wins. However, some countries also come with special privileges, such as the right to use the pillows or access to the snack drawer.

There are a few highlights to the map.  My students will notice that the countries are named after teachers at our school. My country is “Pilakowskia;” others include the “Arnold Archipelago,” “Loofeland,” “Arganbright Heights,” “Muirhead Moat,” and perhaps my favorite, “Thorberg-burg.”

Also, you’ll notice a transparent frame around the border. That’s because not all countries will be visible at the beginning of the school year. More countries–and privileges–will be available as the year progresses based on student achievement and responsibility. If I feel students are ready to handle more responsibility, part of the frame will come off, revealing the hidden lands underneath. (The final frame won’t be transparent, but students will see lines and notations indicating that there are “secrets” hiding beneath.)

I’m still uncertain about a few things.

1) Will I create a final draft of this on my own? Or will I commission a student of mine to create it for me? I have one in mind who would blow my skills out of the water, and she’d add tons of creativity…but then she will know my secrets, too.

2) I’m deciding how to reveal the map. I could simply have it hanging the first day and create intrigue. However, I could also embed it as an Easter egg somewhere in the first week of curriculum, and award an extra challenge or XP to the guild who “finds” the map (maybe I will hide it somewhere in our school, and give clues to students as they complete assignments?)

What’s most important for me to remember, though, that this is a process. I won’t have a pretty, perfectly organized and polished game this year. (In fact, that won’t ever happen.) I can’t burn myself out early on aiming for perfection. I need to have fun with it while not getting overwhelmed, as I’m wont to do.


My 9 Top Apps for this School Year


I love finding new apps. Some might call me an app-aholic. There are just so many pretty, shiny, really neat apps out there! Every time I find a snazzy one, I immediately start lusting and believing I must use this next year!  I must find a way!

The truth is, I can’t use them all.  Trying to integrate dozens of apps and websites and programs into a classroom can be unwieldy to say the least.


Schoology: It looks as if our school will be adopting Schoology as the official LMS (goodbye ancient old Angel!!!). I’ve used it the past year and a half in conjunction with Google Classroom. This year, I’ll focus even more on Schoology.  This should work well with my gamification & blended classroom plans, especially with the control Schoology gives the teacher for allowing students to work through lessons.  For example, does a student need a grade of 80% on an assessment to move on? You can program that in Schoology. If they don’t reach 80%, they don’t move on. You can keep the quiz open for them to study on their own and retry when they’re ready, or you can spend one-on-one time with them.

 Expository Writing Pic

Google Classroom: Yes, I already have an LMS in Schoology, but Google Classroom isn’t really an LMS (yet.) How I plan to use Classroom is as a Google Doc creator for student.  I love the control of ownership that Classroom provides me over student documents, and I can easily embed Google Drive assignment links into Schoology assignments. Students can also copy/paste URLs into their assignment submissions. The Doctopus script can also do the same thing I’m aiming for, but Classroom is much faster and efficient.


Padlet: This virtual bulletin board is such a great go-to tool!  I’ll keep my daily agendas posted here, as well as announcements. Padlet embeds easily into Schoology, so students can access it without ever leaving Schoology–another huge bonus. I can use this for exit slips, for student “blogs” (think 20Time weekly reflections), or collaboration assignments where students need to submit ideas.

 Hstry for Education

Hstry: This great timeline site is phenomenal--and useful far beyond the history classroom. I use it myself for recording short reflections and thoughts that I want to remember about books I’m reading. This year, I want students to create Hstry timelines of books they’re reading to track their thinking progression through the books.  The cool thing is they can upload videos and images, too, so if they’d rather write out their thoughts longhand or record thoughts as a vlog, that works just as well. This could be done using Padlet, too, but I just love the timeline format that Hstry provides–you can see a lot of information in order at a glance.


I’m also planning to use Hstry for some of my blended lessons. In addition to embedding videos, Hstry also provides short quizzes for students to take as formative assessments. (Imagine the possibility for PD, too)

Imagine Easy’s Scholar: If you teach online research (and who doesn’t?), check this out. Along with its extension, Scholar allows students to highlight information in articles and automatically creates a “notecard” out of it with an MLA citation. Students can add their own thoughts and paraphrases to the notecard.  When their research is done, students go to the Scholar website, peruse all their notecards, and move them around into main points. This also creates an outline for students who like outlines.

 Actively Learn

Actively Learn: If Scholar is the go to place for teaching research, Actively Learn is the go to app for teaching reading. Actively Learn allows you to upload PDFs or paste URLs, and then add questions for students to answer. Other apps do this, but what AL also offers is the chance for students to make their own notes–and the ability to share those notes with other students when other students read the text. Think of it like “Comments in Google Docs comes to reading!” Reading becomes more of a team effort, where those who go before can leave thoughts to share with those who follow. In addition, students can also see how they performed on polls and MC questions compared to the rest of the class, and even better: they can read other students’ answers to open-ended questions AFTER they’ve completed their own answers. Immediately, students can compare their answers to others and assess how they did.


NoRedInk  TeacherNoRedInk: While the above apps are for anyone, this one is likely just for the ELA folks. I’ve always struggled with finding time to teach grammar on top of vocabulary, reading, and writing. Once students hit high school, the two different periods of reading and writing (at least in my district) become one 50 minute period. To add to the struggle, students are all over the grammar spectrum; some need to review punctuating compound sentences, while others can move into the advanced uses of the dash. With NoRedInk, students take diagnostic test which tells students their grammar weaknesses. After this, teachers can assign units to students based on their weaknesses.


PearDeck: Regardless of education trends, direct instruction will never be completely gone. While I don’t think it’s beneficial to use direct instruction all period every day, it’s important to bring the class together for key lessons that everyone can benefit from. That’s where PearDeck and it’s interactivity comes in. Essentially an interactive slideshow, PearDeck allows me to create text slides, embed images and videos, ask students questions and polls, and invite students to draw and drag, too.


Smore: I love the ease of this site. I can make a snazzy-looking page about anything. I’ve used Smores often for complex assignments, such as research projects. A Smore can provide an easy to read, step-by-step sheet complete with videos and even Google Forms. My students have used Smore for creating assignments, too, because it’s so easy to learn, complete, and publish to the world.

This list certainly isn’t exhaustive. After all, there’s Kahoot and Memrise and ExitTix and Quiz Bean and Pathbrite and WeVideo and PowToon and Curriculet and Spoken and Blendspace and…well, there’s no way to list all the amazingness out there. Some of these I’ll definitely be using. Others I won’t use for now, but they’re on my backburner for possible future use. I invite you to check out any/all of them. But these eight are the ones that I know or believe will make me the most effective teacher for this school year.

Visiting Right-Brain-Land

I haven’t blogged much.  I don’t have an excuse–it’s not like I’ve been swamped with teaching.

All I can say is that I’ve been lost in Right-Brain-Land.

And it’s a place I encourage all teachers to visit.


For much of the school year, I find myself locked in my left-brain. I suspect most teachers do, too. My mind focuses on giving feedback, assessing students, planning the next lesson, evaluating how I handled the situation with <insert name here>.

This doesn’t leave much time to dream about big ideas, pushing the boundaries, imagining what could be.

In my spare time (is that an oxymoron?), I write. My master’s degree isn’t in education; it’s in writing. And any great writer will tell you that you need to let go of your self-editor when you draft. Dream. Imagine. Let your ideas roll out of your fingers, onto your paper.

The same goes with teaching. Every teacher needs time to read new books, explore new ideas, and re-create teaching methods and curriculum ideas.

That’s what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. Listening to books on my iphone, journaling, browsing through my Twitter feed, reading blogs, trying out new apps–and most of all, imagining how I can use these nuggets of knowledge in my classes.

Tomorrow marks one month before school starts. This also means it’s time to leave my right-brain-land and start sorting what I want to do right away in my classes, what I want to do the future, and what isn’t going to work for now. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

1) I’m gamifying my classroom. I’ve loved the idea ever since I started research back in January. I piloted a gamified unit in February, learned what worked and what didn’t, and am launching my beta gamified classroom in August. At first, I dreamed of creating games for each class I teach, complete with narration and lots of game elements.

Now that I look at it with my left-brain, I can see the immense work involved. Instead, I’m focusing on one Game of Thrones-ish type game for all my classes. I can focus more on fine-tuning it, and more importantly, focus more on developing my lessons.

2) Speaking of my lessons, I’ve been re-working my curriculum so that it better follows Understanding by Design. Although I’ve followed the concept (sort of) for a few years, I’ve sat down with a binder of blank templates and established the objectives and skills to focus on for each unit. It’s been hard work, but it’s good work, too. This will make my teaching more focused, and in turn, more effective for my students. (Plus, a slightly less-stressed me.)

3) The last major area I’ve been working on is weeding down all the pretty, shiny apps I’ve found this summer to the ones I want my students to bookmark and focus on this school year.

You’ll find those eight apps in my next post.

If you haven’t been to Right-Brain-Land yet this summer, go visit. Spend some time on Twitter, read some books, do some imagining of crazy ideas that would never work in your classroom. Then let your mind go, imagine, and tweak all those ideas to make them fit you.

How to Embed Riddle Polls into Schoology


I’ve been working with online discussion formats for next year. If you’ve ever checked out Collaborize Classroom, the discussions start with a poll or question. I love this idea because students immediately have to take a side or make a decision–it gives them more ownership. Something to root for, to argue about and discuss.

I wanted to do something similar in Schoology for discussions, but I’ve had a difficult time finding a poll application that I like that will also embed into Schoology. Poll Everywhere is usually a go-to polling place, but I can only have one poll open at once. Schoology has polls in their updates and backchannel chat, but not within the course materials (not sure why that is.)

Enter Riddle.

I love the graphic-ness of this, and you can find the images right within the app–no opening a new tab to search. Then Riddlle automatically cites the image URL. With Riddle you can make polls, but also multiple choice quizzes, personality quizzes, lists, and commenticles (which could be great springboards into discussing articles.

The problem I faced was Riddle polls would not embed into Schoology. I could link to it, but I like students being able to stay within the Schoology platform whenever possible. So I asked the good folks at Riddle if they could solve this conundrum.

And solve it they did–in less than 24 hours!

First, to embed a link into Schoology, it must have an https://, not just http://.

Second thing they did was set me up with an iframe code to embed the Riddle poll.  Riddle gave me permission to post it below:


<p><iframe src=”” width=”540″ height=”700″></iframe></p>

The only change you need to make is to replace the poll number (2303) with your own. (Unless you really like starting provocative conversations about Macbeth’s murderous motivations.

A big props to Boris at Riddle for making this work! His quick work and the turn-around time shows how driven and hard-working the Riddle folk are!

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