Friday, May 29, 2015

The benefits of student blogging

image courtesy of flickr

This year I have been able to work with several classes to learn about blogging. It has been exciting to see the students eager to write and express themselves. I have seen a lot of benefits of students blogging. It has increased their writing, given them a voice, and provided some powerful benefits.

In particular, I worked with a 2nd grade class to help develop their writing skills. The first thing we did was set up their class blog to give them a place to write. The teacher would post a prompt and the students would have time to create their own post in response. On the days that I was there, I would search for the students that that weren't able to finish their posts or didn't have very many. I pulled them to the side and gave them time to finish their drafts. As I read through their posts I saw their personalities come out. They had a medium where they could express themselves and share their thoughts. They loved the whole experience!

This year I also developed and taught two professional development classes for teachers on blogging with students. Teachers were required to create a class blog and teach their students how to blog. At the end of the 5 week course I asked the teachers to reflect on the experience. Here are a few excerpts from their comments.

Lisa Canaff, a 5th grade teacher, was one of those teachers that took my class on blogging. This is what she had to say about blogging with her students.

Blogging has given my students opportunities to share with one another in a way that they have not been able to do in the past. Through blogging, meaningful conversations took place between my students. It provided them with a fun way to extend their learning. ...
My students embraced the idea of blogging. The majority of them could not wait to get on the computer to share their thoughts. Their comments and blogs written to one another were genuine and well thought out. Even though we have just started this process, my students are posting like champs! Blogging has definitely given them a voice! Since the process of setting up a blog was free and user friendly, I plan to start blogging with next year’s class right at the beginning of the year!
Carolyn Mansfield, a high school English teacher, had this comment about blogging.
Overall, I see more and more opportunities for implementing blogging as part of the classroom experience. The most positive aspect of blogging is that all students have a voice; I believe that the forum provides them with an opportunity to express their opinions as well as agree or disagree with others. Since my blog is essentially a debate forum, I am pleased to see that students’ comments to each other are respectful and tolerant, even though they may disagree on the issues.
Lydia Rechy, a third grade teacher, describes how blogging got her students excited about writing.

We had many good experiences, students were getting very comfortable with the blogging.  I finally saw my kids EXITED about writing. It finally did not matter if it was hard or they were still working on keyboarding skills they wanted to do more.  If it was one part of the day they were looking forward to was our writing block because they could not wait to work on their blogs.  I made it a point that often times we want to just talk to our friends and we would get in trouble for writing notes in class, and that the blog would give them an opportunity to communicate with each other without talking and without getting in trouble.  I think that replying and reading my responses were their favorite parts of this.  They got into it so much that even though we all knew this was for a class that I was taking, I promised that we could continue the blog after my class was over.  This gave them a whole new meaning to writing and even though some of their responses are still short, I feel that as time keeps passing their responses will be a bit lengthier.  I tried to make my responses lengthy so that they would have a model of how to respond.

Kiersten Baschnagel, a Digital Learning Coach, worked with students in several classes to help them through the blogging process. She posted this video on her YouTube channel describing one of the benefits of blogging. View the video on YouTube

With these examples you can see how motivating the blogging experience can be. What's important to note is that blogging is not the goal. Given students a voice and increasing their writing is the goal - blogging is just the platform by which that goal can be achieved.

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Finding free images for your classroom

image courtesy of Creative Commons
In today's digital world students are creating many projects that include images and videos gathered from various web resources. It is important that you and your students are not violating anyone's copyright. The best way to do this is to search for images and videos in the public domain.

Unfortunately most people go straight to Google Images and grab any image they find in the search results. Most likely these images are not free to use and are rarely attributed. A better way is to search for images that are licensed through Creative Commons. With these images you and your students know you have the proper permission to use the image.

This video from gives an overview of Creative Commons.

Finding images with a Creative Commons license is very easy to do. Below are several websites and curate these kinds of images.

Pixabay offers high quality images free of copyright and can be used for any purpose. I love this site because it also offers most images in a variety of sizes, making easy to find the one that looks best in any project.

Flickr is an image hosting site where any person can create an account and upload their photos. Many photos on the site are licensed under Creative Commons, allowing their use for any project. Students can search for photos on any topic and filter the results by license type.

Pics4Learning is a safe, free image library designed specifically for education. Photographers from around the world donate images to this collection. While the photographers retain the rights to these photos, they have graciously allowed their use through this collection.

Photos For Class works in conjunction with Flickr to filter high quality images suitable for education. Any picture downloaded from this site automatically has the proper attribution included with the picture. You can see the license and author included in this sample photo.

Google Images is probably the most common place students search for images. The problem with this is that most images found are not properly licensed for student use. There is an easy way to filter search results by license. After searching for the image at click Search tools and you'll see a dropdown for Usage rights. Use that to further filter your results. 

Getty Images is the world's largest photo service, providing photos to news organizations and other services. Previously all images were watermarked with the Getty Images logo. But recently the company has decided to remove that watermark for embedded images, as long as they are attributed back to Getty.

Search for the image and hover over it. Click the embed icon (the </> button shown below).

In the new window that pops up, highlight the embed code and copy/paste it into the website. Images will appear with the proper attribution as shown in the preview below.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Awesome iPad App: Book Creator

image courtesy of Red Jumper
One of my favorite iPad apps is Book Creator by Red Jumper. This app is so easy to use that even kindergarteners can create stories with it. Yet it's so powerful that secondary students can use it to publish multimedia ebooks. It can be used in any subject area with any grade level. Publishing for students has never been easier! 

The free version of Book Creator allows you to create only one ebook. Unlimited books comes with an in-app purchase of $4.99. Schools can use Apple Volume Purchasing Program to buy it in large quantities for 50% off. There are iOS and Android versions available.

This short video gives you a quick overview of how easy it is to use.

Launch the app and select New Book.

Choose a book shape (Portrait, Square, Landscape).

The first page is the Cover. All other pages are designed the same way. Tap the + icon to select an item to add. 

Photos - accesses the camera roll for pictures students have saved from the internet or taken with the camera. Also use this option to import videos saved to the camera roll.
Camera - use the camera to take a picture and insert it onto the page.
Pen - can be used to create simple drawings to include on the page.
Add Text - create text boxes that can be moved around on the page.
Add Sound - can be used to import audio from the iTunes library or record student voices. A speaker icon is placed on the page, which, when tapped, plays the audio.

Elements can be resized and placed by dragging the blue dots in the corner.

Format text or layer graphics by tapping the i symbol in the upper right hand corner.

Final projects can be exported as ePub files, which can be viewed in any ebook reader, or PDFs. PDFs lack the interactive element of videos, audio, and page turning.

Integration Ideas

  • In a math classroom students can create a book to compare and contrast different methods of solving problems using text for directions and videos modeling each method.
  • In a primary classroom students can create a number or alphabet book.
  • Students can collaborate on a book with each student responsible for a chapter.
  • In the science classroom students can embed video of an experiment, examine the data, and write out a conclusion.
  • Create a book describing and showing the different types of triangle. Include audio definitions for each type.
  • Create an instructional sequence with each step or task as a chapter.
  • Create an interactive report on an animal or country, including pictures and text.
This blog post by Technology Coach Chris Loat on the Red Jumper website has some really good ideas for using Book Creator in the classroom.

Download the Tech Integration Challenge for Book Creator and see if you are up to the challenge!

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Kidblog: Archiving classes

It's the end of the school year and time to clean up your class blogs! If you use Kidblog, the process is very easy. If you want to stop activity on your blog then you need to either archive or delete the classes.

Archiving your class blog is a process that lets you stop any activity on your blog and "freeze" it in place. Students will not be able to post or comment any more. When you archive the blog, the data is still visible to the world, but there cannot be any activity on it. Archiving is preferred to deleting the blog because students and teachers can still refer back to the posts. This is a great way for students to maintain a digital portfolio. Plus, teachers now have a successful blog to show future classes how it's done.

If you are on the old version of Kidblog, go to the Control Panel, select My Classes, and click the Archive link next to the class you want to archive.

If you are on the new version of Kidblog (version 4), click your name in the upper left hand corner and select Dashboard. You'll see a list of all your class blogs.

Find the class you want and select More and then Archive. Once it's archived the panel will turn yellow and it will indicate Archived underneath the blog name. Classes can be permanently deleted by clicking More and selected Delete.

If you delete a class blog, all the data will be gone and students will no longer be able to show their posts in a portfolio or have any access to the data.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Critically Evaluating Websites

I was working with a 5th grade class on a #mysteryskype to find a class in Delaware. The students already know to search Google for usable maps that show them counties, cities, and roads. They had done this many times before with success. In this particular case, though, they ran into trouble with maps that didn't match data. It made for some very interesting discussions between the students about what city they were trying to find and what questions to ask.

The two maps in question are shown below. The first one is from a real estate listing website and the second one is from a site about the history of Delmarva, a peninsula that includes part of Delaware.
from Weichert

from Delmarva History Online

During our reflection period of the Mystery Skype the students brought up the confusion these two maps caused. It was a perfect time to talk briefly about evaluating websites and the information we find on them. I mentioned that students needed to look at what the maps were trying to show and what the website that hosted them was trying to show.

This incident reminded me again how much we need to help students understand how to evaluate websites for their accuracy and any bias. Informational literacy is a skill we are constantly teaching our students, but are we teaching them how to evaluate their sources critically? I hear many teachers reject Wikipedia as a source, which I vehemently disagree with. But I don't see them teaching their students how to evaluate other websites.

I recently came across a blog post by Aditi Rao on her Teachbytes blog called 11 Hilarious Hoax Sites to Test Website Evaluation. In her post she lists the following sites that can be used to show students that not all information on the web is accurate. The dehydrated water site is my personal favorite.

  1. All About Explorers
  2. Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division
  3. California’s Velcro Crop Under Challenge
  4. Feline Reactions to Bearded Men
  5. Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
  6. Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie
  7. British Stick Insect Foundation
  8. The Jackalope Conspiracy
  9. Buy Dehydrated Water
  10. Republic of Molossia
  11. Dog Island
Kathy Schrock has an awesome website chock full of resources to teach students this critical skill. Her page includes forms for teaching the process, forms students can fill out to evaluate a site, and links to additional sites that can be used to show not everything on the web is real. Check out her page at 

If you have other lessons or tips for teaching this concept to your students, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

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Awesome iPad App: Tell About This

For the last several months I've been working with Ms. Blackwell's kindergarten class to help them become familiar with their class set of iPads and the apps installed on them. I'm only able to stop in once every two weeks, but we've become fast friends and have a lot of fun! We've created stories together, made screen casts to share our math knowledge, and explored a variety of ways to take pictures with the iPads.

The last time I stopped in we took a look at the Tell About This app. This is a cool app that lets you capture student's thoughts and stories using visual prompts and voice. It is perfect for developing oral skills with these young students. It addresses these Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten:

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
4. Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with prompting and support, provide additional detail.
6. Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.

There is a free version that has one visual prompt in each category. It's good for evaluating the app, but the paid version at $2.99 is a great value and gives you access to everything.

This 30 second video gives you a good idea of what it does.

I started them out with a very simple task of trying out one of the prompts. I guided everyone to a specific picture so we could practice together. Each category has about 15 beautiful, real-life pictures. Students tap the picture to go full screen. There is a prompt at the bottom of the screen that is immediately read out loud. Students can tap the sentence to hear the prompt again. 

To record their answer, students simply tap the Tell button in the bottom right corner. Students recorded themselves, listened to their answer, and then saved their project.

Teachers can create profiles in the app if the iPad is shared. Since the class I'm working with is a 1:1 iPad class, I just had the students skip the part about creating a profile.

I then let student choose any picture from any category they wanted. They recorded their answer to the prompt and then switched iPads with a partner to listen to what each other did. They had a lot of fun with this part! Sharing is always a fun part of any project.

Another cool feature of this app is that teachers (and students) can create their own customized prompt. I believe that the best way to learn a skill is to teach it to someone else, so I walked the students through these steps to create their own custom prompt.

At the app Home screen tap the Create a Prompt button. The students used the camera to capture a picture of something in the classroom. Since this is kindergarten I only had them record themselves recording an audio prompt instead of typing out a sentence. If I had more time with them I certainly would have had them type it as well.

These custom prompts are then saved into the Custom group on the Home screen. After creating their prompts, I then had the students share with a partner who would answer their prompt.

This was a really fun activity for the kids and it was fun to hear their thoughts and personalities come out in their answers. This was only their first time using the app so their responses were only one sentence. I imagine that after using it more they will talk more and more. It could be a great way to create a small digital portfolio of their oral expression.

My only with for the app would be to have an online management feature. For example, if the teacher wanted to create the same visual prompt for all students, she would have to recreate it each iPad. It would be much better if she could create it on one, either an iPad or online, and then have it pushed out to the students.

This is a simple, easy to use, and fun little app that I think every kindergarten teacher should have.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Formative Assessment Toolbox

image courtesy of Humorist John P Wood

Teachers use assessments all the time throughtout their instruction. Typically this is done to measure how much students have learned up to a particular point in time. This is what we call "assessment of learning", or a measurement of what students know compared to state or district standards. Although these types of assessments are important, teachers should focus more on assessment for learning, or formative assessments.

Formative assessments support learning during the learning process. They are not graded, but serve as practice to develop deeper understanding. They are quick checks for understanding and can be used by teachers to guide current or future instruction. Formative assessments help teachers differentiate instruction and thus improve student achievement.

Benefits of Digital Tools

There are a variety of digital tools available to teachers that make formative assessment activities easier and more efficient. In this discussion, we need to remember that formative assessment is a process, not a tool or instrument. Any tool used for formative assessment should simply be a part of that process and not the outcome.

Digital tools should be a part of every classroom teacher's formative assessment toolbox, because they offer these benefits:
  • make student thinking visible
  • provide efficient and immediate feedback
  • increase human interaction and debate
  • increase classroom participation and attentiveness
  • encouraging risk-taking with anonymous student responses
In a blog post from 2011, Nat Bantingz described 5 benefits to polling (formative assessment) in his math class. This is a very interesting read and illustrates very nicely the points made above.

The Tools

There are many tools teachers can use for formative assessment. They each have pros and cons. Ideally, teachers should be familiar with several of them. Some tools work well in some situations, while others are better in a different situation. I have blogged about several different formative assessment tools and have given a quick summary below as well as links to my blog posts.

Plickers are a good solution for classes that don't have access to classroom responders. Teachers print out QR Code style forms and use their cell phone to "poll" the classroom. This is a nice solution because students don't need a device in order to participate.

Poll Everywhere is great for BYOD classrooms. Students can use their own cell phone, regardless of whether it is a smartphone or not. Another feature I love about Poll Everywhere is the ability to collect words or phrases and display them as a word cloud.

Kahoot is a game-based response system. Students compete individually or in teams and earn points based on how quickly they can answer the questions. The game-based aspect of this system is highly motivating and engaging for students. It's web-based so they can use any web enabled device such as a tablet, phone, or computer.

Socrative is a good old standby for formative assessment tools. It has an iPad app for both teachers and students, but can also be accessed via the web. Many teachers have created Socrative quizzes and share them freely on the web.

If you use any of these digital tools in your classroom, or have suggestions for others, I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let me know all about it.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Formative Assessment Toolbox: Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere is a formative response system that teachers can use to solicit feedback, ask open ended questions, and generate polls. Students can respond using any cell phone with text messaging capability or via a simple web form on a tablet or computer. Answers are displayed in real time graph form. 

Educators can create unlimited polls for free, but each poll can have only 40 responses. For larger groups, there are fees involved.  Poll responses can be cleared and reused with other classes. Students do not need any app or account. They simply use their text messaging service or a web form to submit responses.

Not sure what a formative assessment tool like this can do for your classroom? Check out these 5 benefits to using Poll Everywhere in the math classroom posted on the Musing Mathematically blog. 

Here is a great walkthrough video on Poll Everywhere called An Educator's Introduction to Poll Everywhere.

How It Works

Go to and create an account.

Click on the My polls link at the top of the page. Click the Create Poll button in the upper left corner.

Type in the question for your poll and select a poll format. You can choose Multiple Choice, Open Ended, Q&A/Brainstorm, or Clickable Image. Formulate your question and possible answers and click Create.

Open Ended questions: the students respond freely to the poll, with anything they wish. Open-ended poll responses can be displayed in a variety of ways, including a live Word Cloud, ticker tape, text wall, and cluster. Teachers can even use Moderation to manage which responses are shown publicly.

Q&A/Brainstorm questions: The students submit responses, and can anonymously agree or disagree with other responses by upvoting or downvoting.

Clickable Image questions: The students click on a specified or unspecified region of an image to vote. Currently this poll only allows web voting, not SMS texting.

Once your poll is created, you’ll be taken to the poll itself where you can configure it further. Options are on the right side.

The How people can respond section shows you the URL students would go to or how to text their answers.

The Response settings section lets you set how many times a student can respond or make responses anonymous. You can also set a custom thank you message after responding.

Polls can be activated in several ways. 

  • Go to the poll page and click the Activate button on the right. 
  • Take the poll full screen and it’s automatically activated.
  • Embed the poll in a PowerPoint or Keynote and it will be activated when arriving on that slide.

Students respond either through the web form or by texting their answer to the designated number.

Integration Ideas

  • Check for understanding after a difficult lesson
  • Do Now! activity when students enter class (ex: What did you do this weekend? How do you feel about the upcoming test?)
  • Make classroom decisions (ex: What should we name our class pet? How much more time do you need on the paper?)
  • Assign as a homework assignment (ex: Answer the poll by midnight)
  • Keep track of student progress (ex: Text “Done” to the poll when you are finished)

More detailed help, including video tutorials, is available in the Poll Everywhere user guide.

Download the Tech Integration Challenge for Poll Everywhere and see if you are up to the challenge!

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Formative Assessment Toolbox: Kahoot

Kahoot is a free game-based formative response system. The teacher displays the questions on a screen and students answer them through any web browser on any device (tablet, smartphone, laptop). It is highly engaging and provides immediate feedback to students and formative assessment data for teachers.

Kahoot is a free web based app. Teachers and students create accounts at There is no mobile app, but it is optimized for mobile devices. Shortcuts can be created on your device’s home screen. Use to create Kahoots, and to join and play a game.

How It Works

  1. Teachers create a free account at
  2.  Choose which type of Kahoot to create.

  1.  Type in a name for the Kahoot and click Go.

  1.  Type in the question in the Question box. 
  2.  Choose whether to include points and enter a time limit for the question.
  3. Add an image or video. Both are optional.
  4. Enter the answers and click the Incorrect button to toggle on the right answer.
  5. On the Settings tab choose a language, privacy settings, and an audience.  Public means others on the web can find and use your Kahoot.  Private means only you and those you share with, can use the Kahoot.
  6. Add a cover image, (optional).
  7. To launch the Kahoot, click Play next to it. There are a few settings that can be configured at launch.
  8. Students go to, enter the Game-pin, create a nickname, and wait for the instructor to start the game.

Integration Ideas

  • Identify images.
  • Vocabulary practice.
  • Reading comprehension - after reading a story or article, assess how much students remembered.
  • Introduce a new concept or topic.
  • Connect with another classroom and use a screen sharing app such as Skype to play a game of Kahoot.
  • Create a poll to survey class interest on a topic.
  • Have students create their own Kahoot account and create a Kahoot for a project they are working on.


You can find out more about Kahoot by reading the Getting Started Guide or by downloading my Technology Integration Challenge for Kahoot.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Kidblog tutorials

Kidblog has switched over to a new platform as of May 1. You can read more about their announcement and watch a demo on their blog. I love the new look and functionality. They claim that it is easier to use and more student centered. I have to agree - there is much to like about the new layout and features.

Student Centered

My favorite new feature is the student centered approach to blogging. Students are now able to go through the writing process while creating their posts. In the upper right hand corner are new buttons: Draft, Review, and Publish. 

Draft saves a post as a work in progress that students can come back to another day. Review posts a version that only the teacher can see. The teacher can then offer comments to help the students improve their writing. Once the drafting and revising is done, students can Publish their final draft. Sound familiar? This is the writing process that teachers are always trying to teach, and now we have it in blogging!

Publishing can bring up another  new feature - an authentic audience. When publishing, students are presented with choices for their audience. They can choose to publish just for their teacher, classmates, connected classrooms or the public. Knowing who your audience is, is one of the important parts of writing. Now students can write for an audience of their choice!


My other favorite feature is the simplification of the privacy settings. As mentioned above, students can choose their audience, but only if the teacher allows those choices. In the newly redesigned and simplified Settings, teachers can turn certain audiences on or off.

For example, turning off Public in this screen means students will not be able to publish their posts for the public to see - it will be limited to only the other types of audiences.

With each audience, the teacher can still require approval and moderate the posts before they appear on the blog. These are great features for teachers who are concerned about privacy.


I have been teaching several online classes on blogging to classroom teachers and these changes confused many of them. The tutorials I had posted were based on the old version of Kidblog so they didn't match what the teachers were seeing. Not only that, but when teachers are signing up for Kidblog, it doesn't appear that they always get the new version - some were still getting the old.

So I put together some short video tutorials that show teachers how to setup and use the new Kidblog platform. I used a cool technique I learned from James Sanders to make YouTube videos interactive. Unfortunately embedded YouTube videos lose that interactivity. So if you want to see my video tutorials you'll have to watch my videos on YouTube.

If you haven't started blogging with your students, the new KidBlog platform makes it so much easier. Get started now!

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