Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: June 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Shutting Off Notifications: A 7-Day Experiment.


Day One.

I’ve been having worse anxiety than usual lately. (Full disclosure: I have General Anxiety Disorder. I take Lexapro. I love it.)

My anxiety tends to intensify in the summer because I have more time to think and overanalyze. So I’ve done something I’ve read about hundreds of times but never had the courage to do: I shut off my notifications.

Facebook. Twitter. Snapchat. Instagram. All notifications off. (I did leave my text message notifications on for family reasons.)

Let’s see how this experiment goes.

Day Two.

I’ve realized what a habit I had with checking my notifications. Every time I walk by my phone, I hit the home button, only to see a blank screen appear.

But here’s my reaction to that blank screen: Relief.

Not because I don’t have any notifications waiting for me on Twitter or Facebook. I know I do. Since I can’t see them, I don’t feel the instinct to respond right away.

Instead, I’ve intentionally checked my social media once during the day and once toward the end of the day.

Day Three.

It’s Twitter chat day — the craziest day of my Twitter week. As usual, I scheduled all my promo posts first thing in the morning and then went offline.

Usually I spend these days fairly attached to the Twitterverse; even during the school year, I try to pop into Twitter a few times during the day to check for questions or messages. Today, I checked twice at times I personally scheduled to check my notifications.

Yes, there were lots of them. The majority of them didn’t need my attention. I responded to the few that did.

The result: I had less anxiety for this chat than I have in recent memory. Usually this day is a build of anticipation and anxiety, hoping for a productive and insightful chat.

Today I felt calmer going in, and although I had major tech problems during the chat and my stress-level was high, I felt calm coming out of the chat as well — an even-keel throughout the process.

Day Four.

Continuing to love this “notifications-free” experiment. I still find myself hitting that home button on my phone a few times a day, and then pleasantly realizing, “Oh. Yeah. I forgot I did that.” Definitely a sign of what a habit loop I’d planted myself into.

Yet every time I see that blank screen, I still feel relief. I know the blank screen doesn’t mean I don’t have FB or Twitter posts waiting for me, but I can’t believe the power of the blank screen. It’s like an illusion that I know isn’t real, but I’m happy to play along.

Day Five.

Re-listening to @melrobbins’ 5 Second Rule on Audible (I also have the hard copy, but I definitely recommend listening to it — Mel Robbins is an amazing speaker), I was able to reconnect to other reasons for shutting off the notifications that I’d forgotten the first time I listened to the book.

The past five days, I’ve been enjoying the less pressure to respond immediately to messages and tweets. But I also didn’t realize — until Mel Robbins mentioned it — that I’ve also enjoyed the greater focus that comes without checking notifications constantly.

Checking email — and I imagine Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever — releases the same chemicals as pulling the lever of a slot machine, says Mel Robbins. Notifications, especially with a tantalizing “ding,” only prod us further to check now!

I deleted my gmail extension several days ago, and today I deleted my Tweetdeck bookmark. Because how much time does bookmarking really save as opposed to typing the first couple letters of the URL before the rest of the address pops up? Very little. How much productivity and focus do I get from not having that visual reminder?

I don’t know. Not something you can measure. I can tell you that I’ve checked my gmail significantly less — I’d guess 75% — this past week that I’ve been without that extension.

Day Six.

The rabbit hole. We’ve all done it, checked just one thing on social media and then you scroll down. And you keep going…and going…

I’m doing this less often during the day without the notifications. What concerns me is I’m still doing it the 2–3 times a day I do intentionally check social media for messages and to participate in a Twitter chat.

I’ve realized the slot machine metaphor extends to all social media — not just email. We scroll through Facebook for several minutes at a time, but how many posts are we truly moved by or thankful to have seen? One out of ten? One out of twenty?

Same with Twitter. Not that I will ever let go of the greatest professional development tool out there, but even scrolling through a Twitter stream, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole, looking for the next great tweet. It is, in essence, finding a mini-treasure every time you find a tweet that resonates.

It’s time to be more intentional about my social media time. Maybe it’s limiting myself to three minutes on Facebook, or five minutes on Twitter if I’m not participating in a chat. Bottom line is I need to stop reading social media and telling myself I’m being productive.

Day seven.

Here I am, day seven, and the notifications are not going back on. Here’s what I’ve gained from the experience:

  • More relief from not seeing the constant stream of notifications that I “feel” I should respond to
  • Less checking my phone every time I walk by it. It’s a habit I’m still working on.
  • More focus and being “in the moment” without hearing the “ding” of a message and the immediate thought of “I should check that.”
  • More conscientious of my social media time overall — and my need to be more intentional with it.

Want to Publish a Class Book? Google Slides is the Answer

Generally, education is moving away from paper and locomoting to digital. This post is going to be about the reverse: Turning the digital into paper.

Digital provides endless possibilities for student creation. While I encourage many forms of online publication–it’s the easiest way to spread student work–they still get most excited about the old-fashioned form:

The hard copy.

A few of our hard copy publications

Each year, we publish a class literary journal for college composition. Each student chooses one of their favorite essays and does the following:

  • Edits the essay again for grammatical and style issues
  • Selects copyright free images to accompany their writing, OR creates their own images
  • Copies their writing into a template in Google Slides

There are some good online templates, such as Lucidpress. However, Google Slides is a quick and easy way to create a hard copy book AND an app that students are already familiar with.

Here’s how I do it.

  1. I create a Google Slides file and adjust the slides to be 8.5 x 11 inches.  I create several slides with  several templates.
  2. I distribute the file to students through Google Classroom and MAKE A SEPARATE COPY for each student.
  3. When students are finished pasting their essay & images, I open each file and copy/paste each student’s essay slides.*
  4. Download the file as a PDF
  5. Choose a publication company. I use MagCloud.

* You could certainly distribute the file as a shared file for the class. This will save the work of copy/pasting their slides into your master file.  I do this often for other activities. For this assignment, though, I wanted to avoid confusion of students creating slides, accidentally deleting others’ slides, not copy/pasting templates before use, etc.

On the last day of school, my seniors found their literary journals through a BreakoutEDU game. It was cool, but what was cooler: they spent the rest of the period signing each other’s pages, like the real authors they are.

Students selected from copyright free images or their own photography to pair with their writing.

Another publication of their found poetry collages. I took a photo of each collage, copied them into Google slides, and downloaded into a PNG. Very little time required!

You can also mix student art projects or other curricular projects into the book. Also notice the author profile in the bottom right. Students have the choice to write their own or partner up and write a classmate’s.

G-App Smashing: Combining Games and Non-Game Apps

I’ve been thinking: It’s time to take App-Smashing to the next level. I submit for your consideration, G-App Smashing.

G-App Smashing (verb): Combining a game activity with a non-game app to create sheer awesomeness.

Edtech is brimming with apps. Just as we gamified teachers twist everyday materials around us into games, why not do the same with apps?

I took another look at some of my favorite apps and reimagined them: How could they be used as a game or game-based activity?

Flipgrid: This was the app that launched this idea. A colleague and I brainstormed Flipgrid ideas one of the last days of school, and when I mentioned “flipping” it into a game, she said, “Easy! Charades, or skits. Have students act out vocabulary words!”

Another game-based use for Flipgrid is using it for a showcase following game-creation projects or game-jams. Demonstrating their game and gameplay through Flipgrid can provide a wonderful channel for parents and the community to see into the classroom.

Padlet: The column layout on Padlet provides a great place for modifying listing games, like Scattergories. Each team could list words or ideas in their column, but only if no other team has used it.

Tisha Richmond @tishrich used a column Padlet at the Summer Spark conference for structured game brainstorming. The first column was theme, and participants suggested theme ideas; then the second column was “setting,” the third “characters,” and so on. This format can provide structure to game planning for both teachers and students.

Popplet: The app is all about connections, so it’s perfect for students to illustrate their understanding of connections in their learning. In a two-person game, one starts a bubble with a key concept (osmosis, impressionist movement, monopolies) and the next must add a new connecting bubble with an image of that concept. Then the second player must start a third bubble that connects to either the first or second bubble.

Of course, Popplet could be used to mindmap ideas for games, too. I’ve had some students who think better with this format than linear ones.

Google Slides: If it’s possible to have a favorite Google app, then mine would be slides. There’s so much flexibility to this app, it’s ridiculous. One of my new favorite game-inspired ways to use slides is Dee Lanier’s Smashboards! Use one of Dee’s templates or create your own game-board-like slide to create a quest-based way to teach problem solving!

This concept gives me so many ideas it makes my head spin.

Google Drawing: Two words: Digital Manipulatives! Let’s face it, making manipulatives can be time consuming, but not if you use Google Drawing! Create manipulatives of concepts, vocabulary, whatever, and allow students to sort and classify them.

Another idea comes from Kasey Bell, who used Google Drawing to create Magnetic Poetry.

I’m sure I haven’t scratched the surface. Since I’m 1:1 Chromebooks, I’ve no doubt that there are dozens of iPad apps that I haven’t even considered. But next time you’re using some of those non-game apps, stop and consider: How can I game this up?

Summer: The Time for Dogfooding

The Silicon Valley-ites have a phrase teachers need to adopt — and use. Dogfooding.

It’s another word for beta-testing, for trying out new ideas and products before turning them over to their customers. In our case, our students.

Jennifer Gonzales from Cult of Pedagogy describes the process and benefits of dogfooding in her blog here. You should definitely read it.

Beyond classroom activities, there’s another thing teachers need to dogfood, especially during the summer months: new technology. Summer is the peak time for edtech companies to roll out updates; summer is also the peak time for teachers to explore new apps and decide if any might make their classroom learning even better.

But sometimes we (ok, I), get caught up with the bells and whistles and shiny things of new apps that we roll them out in the fall to our students. And then — the class grinds to a halt.

“Our screen doesn’t look the same.”

“It’s not letting us type.”

“It’s really hard to see. Is there a way to make it bigger?”

“This won’t let me log in.”

Oh, the joys of using new apps. In the excitement of the great advancements new apps will bring to class, we teachers can forget the unsexy nuts and bolts of new apps. We overlook the login process, the differences between our dashboard and the student screens, the idiosyncrasies of really running an app.

We forget to experience a new app from a newcomer’s point of view.

This is where dogfooding comes in. After we spend time vetting new edtech and concluding that Yes, this is the ONE, we need to switch on that Incognito screen in Chrome and test it out as a student.

By doing this, we can be prepared for what a student is going to see. In the past few days of dogfooding, I’ve found student views that made parts of my content far too small. I’ve discovered what I thought students would be able to do — nope, can’t do it.

And because of this dogfooding, I still have time to adjust and prep to make using new apps smoother for students.

Another aspect that makes dogfooding harder than it looks is forcing yourself to think beyond the moment. How will the app work into your overall classroom system? Will you use it for direct instruction? Small groups? Independent work? And how will students receive feedback for the work they’re doing — does the app give clear, automatic feedback? Or will you need to give feedback later? If that’s the case, how much time will this take? Maybe there’s a way for students to give feedback to each other with the app, but if you do that, how will you monitor this?

A mess of questions, I know, but ones that are easy to overlook when looking at new edtech — or new methods or activities — for your classroom.

This year I’m focusing on faster and more frequent feedback, so using tech for more immediate feedback is a titanic focus for me. While dogfooding and putting myself in a student mindset, I’ve found apps that don’t give good, clear feedback.

As a result, I’ve had to eschew some apps I wanted to use. For other apps, I’ve had to creatively embed or think of new ways to give student feedback immediately.

Summer is the time for fun, imaginative planning for next year, but it’s also the time for some down and dirty, immersive dogfooding as well. While discovering and creating new plans, don’t forget to take some time to consider how it will work in your classroom, with your teaching systems and feedback, and ultimately, is it really doing the work you need it to do?

#games4ed Takeaways: Adventure Paths!


This week we ventured down a path #games4ed has never gone before: Adventure Paths! There are many different definitions and interpretations of adventure paths — and none of them are wrong — but for our purposes, we chatters decided to define adventure paths as optional learning experiences that students could choose for deeper learning.

  1. Why use adventure paths? This question arose during the chat — why not just offer more options in assignments? The difference with adventure paths is that they’re optional. They’re not intended for all students, even the majority of students, to complete. They’re a way for students to go down a rabbit hole they’re interested in. As Jestin VanScoyoc @jvanscoyoc mentioned above, they’re also good for our explorer types from Bartle’s player types — those students who love going where “no student has gone before.”

2. How does a busy teacher overcome the challenges of adventure paths?

Luckily, chatters submitted lots of ideas for this question! @zapedu reminded us of the importance of sharing. This is important not to just share successes, but also share our not-so-successes.

3. Include more #stuvoice!

I’ve been contemplating a LOT about including more student voice in planning games — and this includes adventure paths. Perhaps have students who complete adventure paths design more adventure paths for future students?

Speaking of that idea, Alex Milton @Alex_Milton6 was thinking of something similar: Having her seniors create paths and games for 8th graders. I love this idea and how it provides purpose to those seniors!

If you want to read more, check out the archives here.

Join us Thursdays at 8pmET for the next #games4ed chat!

Why aren’t we creating new leaders? The answer: Excuses.

Earlier this week, I listened to a keynote address by #edugladiator Marlena Gross-Taylor about the need for teachers to follow their instincts and do what’s right for our nation’s most important resource: kids. During her presentation, this slide popped up:


Have I produced leaders? I didn’t know how to answer this question. If I have, it certainly wasn’t by intention. Through most of my career, my ideal teaching situation has been being in schools where I’m allowed the autonomy to be queen of my domain and no one interferes.

This graphic struck home. How do I encourage colleagues in my own school? Or more importantly, challenge them to do better? How often do I have conversations about teaching and innovation with others? Inside my core teaching group, I’d answer “often.” Outside my core group? Seldom.

I never articulated why until now, but I know what my excuses would be. It’s a different department. Or I don’t know them very well. Or their subject very well. Or they’re busy, or I’m busy.

And how many times have I eaten lunch in the teacher’s lounge where I could be broaching deeper discussions about teaching rather than complaining about admin decisions or student problems?

Instead of making excuses, blaming my exhaustion or introversion, I need to focus on making my colleagues better teachers. No, WE need to do this — to make each other better teachers and leaders for our students and our world. Just as importantly, we need to step outside our school walls and push our colleagues in other schools and communities to do the same.

Ditch the excuses.

Here are some of the excuses that need to go:

I don’t have anything to share. If you’ve taught for one or twenty-one years, you’ve got something to share. You’ve had experiences unique to anyone else, and you’ve found success or failure at a student interaction or classroom technique that someone else hasn’t found yet. SHARE IT. Talk about it at lunch. Write it on a blog. Post it on Twitter.

Not sharing our teaching experiences robs the rest of us. What can be gained by sharing classroom experiences? Only the good. Good advice, good feedback, good ideas, good mistakes that we will never do again. By sharing, others can benefit from your experience and apply it to their own teaching.

I don’t have it all figured out. This connects to the previous excuse. I used it for a long time, telling myself, Who am I to post this blog or present at that conference? Others know far more than I do. I’m still figuring it out. I’ve learned that even the best rock-star teachers are still “figuring it out.” It never stops. And that’s the beauty of teaching — we can evolve through our entire careers and there will always be some part of our teaching to innovate and improve. Because if there wasn’t, how dull our teacher lives would become. So you don’t have to have it all figured out. Share it anyway.

My colleagues won’t be interested. Or I’ll be ridiculed. Here’s a promise: there will be a colleague who won’t be interested. He or she might even ridicule you and your “new fandangled ways of school.” The easy response is ignore them, but it’s hard. Instead, focus on those who are open to listening and opening conversation lines about innovating schools. This may also mean going beyond the safety of your walls and approaching new people on Twitter or at conferences. Some colleagues won’t be interested, but there will be far more that will be.

I’m introverted. I’m not good at sharing ideas with people I’m uncomfortable with. Guess what? Me either. However, that’s not a viable excuse. We have to simply do it, go out there, shake hands, introduce ourselves at conferences, and share our ideas about education. If we don’t overcome our fear, who will suffer? Not us. Our students will.

Each new school year, speakers and consultants and administrators and teachers all buzz about “what’s right for kids” and “taking risks” and “being innovative.” But we’re not going to be able to do this — to truly do this — until we build more leaders around us.

It’s time to start. I’m all in.

Choosing the Right Q/A Response Game: Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizalize, or Socrative

Note: A newer post about  Q/A response systems can be found here.


With the explosion of edtech in recent years, I’ve received several questions from teachers about what is the best Q/A game app online.

The answer is, it depends what you want it to do. Each app has its own little benefits and specialties, so you have to choose the one that’s going to fit your objectives (Q/A apps focus on DOK 1 & 2) and is going the fit the atmosphere you want your classroom to have that specific day.

Right now there are lots of sites that are gather audience feedback, such as Poll Everywhere and Mentimeter. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to cover four of the most popular apps that have a “gamified” feeling to them: Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizalize, and Socrative. First I’ll give an overview of each one, and then you can compare the four more closely on the table below.

Kahoot: The most well-known and well-used of the four, Kahoot, continues to innovate to keep their app alive and growing. Out of the four, this one develops the most classroom energy and competition — if that’s what you’re looking for. Also, the new addition of Jumble questions allow game-makers to write sequencing questions, and Ghost Mode provides the chance for students to play against their old scores or students from other classes — or perhaps, a principal? Parents at Back to School Night?

Quizizz: A game app I use frequently is Quizizz, which is self-paced, so students can move through the questions at their own pace. I find this app works better if you want students to slow down and think about the questions, especially since you can completely turn off the timer (which I recommend unless your goal is quick recall). Quizizz can also be assigned to students outside of class as a formative assessment.

Quizalize: Like Quizizz, Quizalize can be played either synchronously during class or asynchronously outside of class. What first drew me to Quizalize was the ability to write longer answers — something I wanted for high school students preparing for ACT tests. The app also randomly splits students into two teams, so they’re not competing individually. Recently, Quizalize added a “basketball” version as well.

Socrative: The first Q/A app I used, Socrative is still working to bring great formative assessment digitally. Unlike the other apps, Socrative allows short answer questions (though you’ll have to check them). Why I first started using the app was the Space Race, where student teams compete against each other.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you want to do with the app, for each one has its own benefits for the classroom. For a closer comparison, check out the chart below.

The Power of Story: #games4ed 6/8/17 Takeaways

Story has the power to enthrall and engage, to help us learn and remember, to draw us in and connect emotionally. Storytelling is the innate way humans have communicated throughout time.

That’s why students need to know how to tell story. It’s arguably the most powerful way to make a point and to teach. And that’s what we chatted about the other night in our#games4ed Twitter chat.

We chatted about Choose Y0ur Own Adventure stories, collaborative writing, contributing to classroom RPG games, and integrating non-story telling apps into narratives. Here are some of my favorite takeaways:

  1. Using CYOA games to make mundane topics exciting. Classroom expectations are often a dull lecture that students hear several times in the opening days of school. I love what @Alex_Milton6 did: Create a CYOA game to review classroom expectations. Not only did this achieve his goal, but it also sets a fun tone for his classroom and provides a schemata for his students if they choose to write CYOA games in the future.

Also, @daveh3rd came up with a new idea of using CYOA to teach systems of the body — a perfect marriage CYOA with a non-ELA content. This just goes to show how great CYOA can be used across the curriculum.

2. Collaborative writing provides a safe place for struggling writers. Writing feels “dangerous” to many students. I hear capable students often say they’re just “not good at writing.” Somewhere, they’ve adopted this mindset. One way to help change this is through collaborative writing. Pairing mentor students with weaker students can help “bring out the most,” as @ZapEdu mentioned. The trick is truly working on collaboration, not the mentor students taking control of the process.

3. Elegy for a Dead World for creative writing. I’ve known about Elegy for a couple years now and have yet to use it. I’ll be revamping my poetry unit for Brit Lit later this summer, and I’m committing to using it.

4. Encourage students to help create your RPG game. Many teachers run overarching role-playing games in their class, either as a unit or throughout the entire year. While teachers may enjoy creating the game, allowing students to brainstorm and submit ideas, as @Alex_Milton6 suggested, promotes student voice and ownership.

To see the archives from the chat, check out

#games4ed meets Thursdays at 8pmET. Join us for great conversations about game-inspired learning in the classroom!

Celebrate Life — in the Classroom

Early in my teaching career, I adopted the “Celebrate Life” ceremony from another colleague.

For the few first minutes of every class, students and I would add parts of life we celebrated that day: an A on a math test, a new nephew born, tacos for lunch.


It didn’t matter how big or mundane it was. In fact, the more mundane, the better. (Not to say that tacos are mundane.)

At the first parent-teacher conference after we started celebrating life, a mother leaned over and said, “There’s one thing my sons just love about your class.”

I braced myself. Would it be a book we were reading? The group activities? The upcoming Renaissance Faire?

She continued, “You do it at the beginning of class every day? There’s a list you make of the good things going on. They just love it.”

OK, I was disappointed that the highlight of the class wasn’t connected to the learning or my teaching methods or anything connected to language arts. But, I decided, that’s great. And as the conferences went on, more parents gave positive feedback about it.

Eventually, a year or so later, I gave up the practice. Because standards. Because presenters and consultants stressed that we only had 50 minutes, so we’d better make those minutes count. Because I had to squeeze in reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary into my curriculum.

So I cut Celebrate Life.

More than ten years have passed since then, and I’ve grown as a teacher. I’ve learned teaching is not about standards, or content, or AYP.

Teaching is about relationships.

Conversations build relationships, and one of the best practices that helped me know my students better: Celebrate Life.

Next school year, I’m bringing it back, but I’m innovating it, too. Inspired by the #shiftthis Twitter chat and the  Miss5th Whiteboard Genius Pinterest board, curated by @LibbiAnn [whom you should probably follow on Twitter], I’m planning to transform one of my bulletin boards into a whiteboard for students to write their daily celebrations.

While some days we’ll simply celebrate life’s great and mundanely great events, I love the idea of guided responses, too. Like this one that prompts students into Random Acts of Kindness:

Or this one, that asks students to share their talents:

And this one could easily be content related…or not! Love this play on Jeopardy!

Creating a “Celebrate Life” board is such a simple way to build relationships with students and a classroom culture. Plus, doing on the white board has these other benefits:

  • Students reluctant to speak up can still comfortably share
  • Students can add to the list throughout class if something new comes to mind
  • Reviewing the board can be a great way to spend the last 1–2 minutes of class so they leave your room with a positive mindset
  • On the other hand, if students are wound up coming into the room, the Celebrate Life board can provide a way to share their thoughts so they can focus on their learning later.

Amazing Assessments: 6/1/17 #games4ed chat

Assessment: A word that makes many teachers groan, roll their eyes, and sigh.

As we talked about during the chat, however, assessment doesn’t necessarily develop these feelings. Conjuring a grade or number to match it is what create the negative connotation in assessments.

How can we make assessments, dare we say, amazing? Perhaps aiming to make every assessment an unforgettable, adrenaline-thrilled experience is far-reaching, but we did chat about many ways that made them effective and less grade-y and number-y.

Without any further ado, my favorite talking points:

#1: Sharing expectations with students. @legendlearning Aryah Fradkin is effective teaching 101, but sometimes in the midst of February and the weight of the school year, we forget about not just setting expectations but sharing them with students. This can be especially important in #gbl. Yes, we want games to be fun, but that’s not the only objective. What do we want students to gain from the game play? How is it connecting to what we’re learning, or about to learn, in class?

#2: Great reflection resource! When we talked about how to encourage students to go deeper in their reflections, @marianaGSerrato shared an @edutopia resource that I immediately knew I needed. Each section has a variety of questions about learning, and Mariana’s student select one question from each section to answer.

#3: How often in the process do students reflect? @MrRoughton’s tweet gave me pause. How often do my students reflect? Some will naturally reflect so, but not all. As I work through my plans this summer, I need to check that students are reflecting at a few checkpoints — not just the finish line.

#4: Keep games short. Another of @MrRoughton’s comments brought up an interesting point: Student-designed games that were shorter turned out better than longer games. Game-design is tough and complex; keeping it streamlined and focused on the objectives can result in better products. Perhaps some of it is due to the time allotted. Today, I learned about Parkinson’s Law, that any project will take the amount of time allotted for it. If I have 60 minutes to create a game, I’ll have a game in 60 minutes. If I have a week to design a game, it’ll take me a week. The question is this: How much better will the game be?

Want to see the transcripts of the chat? Check them out here!

Join us for #games4ed Thursdays at 8pmET!

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