Thursday, June 30, 2016

Helping students establish a blog identity

Blogging is one of my favorite activities to help students have a voice. I believe that, if implemented correctly, blogging motivates students to write more, gives them a platform to express themselves, and helps them safely establish a digital identity. I am always on the lookout for blogging resources and ideas. I've come across some pretty amazing student blogs that actually motivate me to be an even better blogger myself.

In April of this year Katharine Hale (@KatharinehHale) and Kelly Purman (@MsPurmanELA) led a webinar on blogging called Teaching Writing and Identify Through Series Blogging. This is a must see webinar for anyone interested in student blogging. In this webinar they discussed practical ways to help students build a blogging brand or identity.

I've written a little bit about this topic myself since I believe that students are motivated to blog more when they can choose a topic they are interested in. A brand for their blog, if you will. This webinar included some great tips for helping students to determine their blog identity. Here are a few things that caught my eye in the webinar.

In working with and preparing students to create their blog, there are several activities that can be done with them to help them decide on a blog theme, brand, or identity. These activities should be done before students start creating blog posts.

Read mentor texts 

Let students read real blogs that model their topic. For example, if a student wants to create a blog about pet care, find actual blogs that do the same. Students can read them, see topic ideas, how posts are structured, and get a feel for the tone of the blog.


Use several brainstorming activities to help students decide on a theme that they are comfortable with. Katharine Hale recommends doing these as four separate lessons. Have students 1) think about their interests 2) think about what happens in their life 3) try an identity map 4) ask their peers (What do you notice about me? etc)


Have conferences or conversations with students and listen to them talk about their interests. In those conversations you can hear what excites or interests them. Asking probing questions or prompting them for more information often gets them thinking and realizing what they really know a lot about.


I really liked this idea. Before students start working on their blog have have them create a list of 10 blog post ideas. If they can get that list then they probably have a theme they can sustain and get a lot of traction out of.

During her part of the webinar Kelly Purman talked about allowing abandonment. As students are working on their blog, if the ideas aren't coming or a different idea/identity comes up its okay to switch. Students don't have to maintain the blog to please the teacher - if its not something they are interested in let them try something else.

Building a blog brand/theme/identity is a big part of making blogging successful with students. I will definitely use these techniques to help students get started with their blogging in my class.

What about you? How do you get students started with their blogs? Do you help them create a blog brand or do you dictate what they must blog about?

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Awesome iPad App: Spark Page

Adobe recently recently rebranded several of their apps and now collectively calls them Adobe Spark. With Adobe Spark students can communicate ideas and learning with stunning visuals and multimedia, each focusing on a different presentation format (video, social media, and web page). I believe all three apps should be a part of everyone's presentation toolbox. All three Spark apps make it easy to create professional looking presentations that include stunning images, videos, and text.

I previously wrote about Adobe Voice (now rebranded as Spark Video), which is used to create amazing student narrated videos. Today I played with Spark Page and found a new favorite presentation app. Students can add pictures, videos, and text to create polished web stories with magazine-style themes. It’s so simple and easy to use that students in most grade levels and across all subject areas can use it.

It is available as a free app for mobile devices and also has a web page. Students can log in with an email address or their GAFE accounts. Projects are synced across all devices.

I embedded a short presentation I created while practicing with Spark Page. It was super easy and looks great!Antelope Island

Once students are logged in, either by creating free account or signing in with their GAFE credentials, they create their first project by tapping the + button at the bottom of the screen. From this main screen students can also view sample projects from the gallery and have quick access to their saved pages.

Students are then prompted to add a title and a cover picture.
When selecting images for any part of the project, students can choose from a variety of sources, such as the camera, Photos app, and even search high quality, creative commons photos.

Students can then start adding a variety of elements to their Spark Page, including images, text, links, and videos. One of my favorites is glideshow, where students add several images and they slowly transition as the user scrolls or swipes up the web page.

Adding links creates a button, that when tapped, take the user to other websites for additional information. Students just need to add the text for the button and the URL for the website.

When the project is done, students tap the share icon and choose their settings. Projects can be public or private. They must select a category and can add their information as the author of the post.

Projects can be shared by copying the link to the clipboard and sending to the teacher or embedding it on a website, like I did above.

Integration Ideas

This is the perfect app for students to use when presenting any type of information or report. Some examples could be:
  • Create an All About Me story
  • Summarize a chapter
  • Recount a story
  • Share a biography
  • Create a how-to video
  • Present a position on a topic
  • Cultural explanations
  • Journal of field trip
  • Book trailer
  • Descriptive language practice
  • Create a dictionary

Download the Tech Integration Challenge for Spark Page and see if you are up to the challenge!
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Summer EdTech Challenge #4: iPad apps

Welcome to the Summer EdTech Challenge! Summertime is a wonderful time to be a teacher! It's the perfect time to recharge your batteries, catch up on trends in education, read for pleasure, and learn new things. How about taking the opportunity to learn new tech skills or try out new tools and strategies?

Each Monday this summer I'll post a simple tech challenge, something you can do between dips in the pool and binge watching your favorite TV show. These challenges are practical, easy to implement ideas to help you develop your tech skills and start next year off on the right technology foot!

iPads are a popular technology device in most schools.  They are highly versatile, mobile, and engaging. Students can literally take them anywhere that learning is happening. The touch interface makes them ideal for learners of all ages.

Unfortunately they are not always used to their fullest potential. Often I see students consuming information by watching videos or using content delivery apps. I believe the true power of iPads comes out when students are allowed to create content. This gives them opportunities to show what they know in a medium they are comfortable with.

Here are a few apps to try out. These are my favorite apps for student presentation and creation. They can be used with pretty much any subject and grade level. The only limitation with these apps is your students' imagination!

Don't have iPads at your school? Many of these apps are also available for Android devices as well as having web versions.

Presentation Apps

Toontastic/Puppet Pals - these two apps are great story telling apps using puppets. I prefer Toontastic because it has more backgrounds and puppets. It also walks students through a story arc to help them develop their story. Both are great ways for students to publish their original stories.

Book Creator - this is an awesome app for publishing ebooks. Students can write their stories and add images, videos, audio, and a few animated widgets. Books can then be published as ebooks and read on any platform. Books in any subject can be written.

Haiku Deck - this is one of my all time favorite apps for student presentations. Its simple and visual. Students can't get caught up in all the dancing letters, animations, and bullet points that make up so many PowerPoint presentations.

ThingLink - this one is another of my all time favorite apps for student presentations. With ThingLink students select a "base image" and create hot spots on it that can display text, images, and videos. Its great for presentations that are non-linear in nature.

Spark Video/Spark Page -Adobe recently rebranded a few apps and brought them under one umbrella called Adobe Spark. Spark Video creates quick, high quality animated videos and Spark Page creates magazine-style web stories.

Canva - I was introduced to Canva at recent iPad conference I attended. This is a great graphic design app that I really want to explore more.

Educreations/Explain Everything -these are screencasting apps teachers and students can use to create videos teaching concepts or showing learning. Both have their pros and cons, so you'll have to decide which features are more important to you.

Pic Collage - this is a great little app for creating photo collages and adding text and stickers. Its great for vocabulary building.

ChatterPix -this is a fun little app where students can make any object talk. Imagine a rock with a mouth discussing all of its characteristics!

Video Apps

Students love creating videos. With iPads today it is extremely easy to create high quality videos with lots of special effects. Videos are great for demonstrating concepts in any subject. Here are a few of my favorite video making apps.

iMovie - Apple brought movie making ability to the masses with iMovie. This app is very powerful and extremely easy to use. Its free for any iPad purchase after September 2013.

TouchCast - I saw a demo on this app last year and have been dying to get to know it more. It has many powerful capabilities including a teleprompter, annotate any video, and embed images, documents, websites right in your videos.

Videolicious - another powerful, yet easy-to-use video editing app. I've heard alot about it in classrooms, but I haven't yet had the opportunity to play aorund with it.

Green Screen by Doink - at the last tech conference I attended I finally had the chance for some hands-on action with this easy to use app. With any green screen set up in your classroom you can use this app to transport students to any location either with images or videos. Final projects can then be imported into other apps for further editing and publishing.

Miscellaneous Apps

Popplet/Ideament/Mindomo - all classrooms have brainstorming and mind mapping going on at some point. These apps bring those activities into the digital age. Students can insert drawings and photos as part of the exercise.

Photomath - this is a great app for secondary math teachers. It reads and solves mathematical problems by using the cell phone or iPad camera. Not only does it show students the answer, but it shows students the steps necessary to solve the problem.

The Challenge

The EdTech challenge for this week is to explore an iPad app that you are not familiar with. It doesn't have to be from this list. Find one that you are interested in that meets your subject and/or grade level needs. Explore the app, press the buttons, learn everything you can about it. Figure out how you would use it in your classroom next year. In the comments, tell me about the app, what you thought about it, and how you will use it.

I'll probably check out Spark Page, TouchCast, and Videolicious. These are all apps I've wanted to learn a little more about and this challenge gives me the perfect excuse! I'll create a blog post on each one and publish them this week. Stay tuned for my answers to this challenge!

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Virtual Reality Museum Tour

Mabble Hoggard Elementary School has a Nevada History museum maintained by their Gifted And Talented Education (G.A.T.E.) students. It has displays on the Nevada Test Site, early Native Americans, mining, and other artifacts related to Nevada's early history. G.A.T.E. students give tours to other classes as they learn about Nevada's early history. The museum has been a Hoggard fixture for many years and is very popular.

The G.A.T.E. teacher and I worked together to add a little bit of virtual reality to the experience. She worked with the students to develop a script for each of the displays. Students researched information for the displays and synthesized the information into a 2-3 minute script they would act out.

I met with them to show how to use the Aurasma app to put together the virtual reality displays. Aurasma is a very easy app to use. The first step was to film their scripts. We used the camera app on the iPads to capture and save the videos to the camera roll. I then showed them how to bring the footage into iMovie where students edited out their mistakes and made their final videos.

In Aurasma the first step is to capture the image, or trigger. The app uses the camera to capture the object you want to trigger the video to play. It has a nice bar at the top to help you decide if the image you are capturing is unique enough to cause a trigger.

The next step is choose the video you want to overlay on the trigger image. You can capture your video at this point, select one from the Aurasma library, or choose one that is already saved on the device. Since the students had already created their videos using iMovie this was the option they used, tapping Upload and choosing the video from the camera roll.
The next screen allows you to position the video relative to the trigger image. The video can appear to the side or on top of the trigger image. The students preferred the later option because it makes the image appear to come to life.

The final step is name the aurasma and upload it to the Aurasma servers so others can access it.
Now when visitors come to the school museum they can use their own device or a borrowed iPad, launch Aurasma and scan the displays. When the app recognizes a trigger it automatically plays the video associated with it. You can see the white dots in the image below as the app scans to see if it recognizes anything.

Because Aurasma will recognize the trigger images anywhere, not just the live image in the museum, you can check out the virtual reality projects right here. Download the free Aurasma app, create a free account, and follow HoggardGATE. Scan any of the images below to check out the virtual reality displays!

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Summer EdTech Challenge #3: Student Interest Survey

Welcome to the Summer EdTech Challenge! Summertime is a wonderful time to be a teacher! It's the perfect time to recharge your batteries, catch up on trends in education, read for pleasure, and learn new things. How about taking the opportunity to learn new tech skills or try out new tools and strategies?

Each Monday this summer I'll post a simple tech challenge, something you can do between dips in the pool and binge watching your favorite TV show. These challenges are practical, easy to implement ideas to help you develop your tech skills and start next year off on the right technology foot!

Last week the challenge was to set up a Google Classroom for next school year. One great addition to the class stream might be a Student Interest Survey. This is a type of survey where you collect information about your students interests and learning abilities. Asking the right kind of question can give teachers insight into how students learn, what subjects they feel confident about, and a little about their personality. This enables teachers to tailor instruction to student strengths and interests.

Since I'm not the most creative person I searched online for Student Interest Survey question ideas and found a a treasure trove of ideas. I will be teaching 4th grade next year so I selected questions geared towards that grade level. I chose to do my survey in Google Forms and added the link as an announcement in my Google Classroom I created last week. This will be one of the first activities my students do when they learn about Google Classroom for the first time. My Student Interest Survey form is embedded below.

Creating your own Google Form is super easy.  Go to and log in to your account. Click the big + button to create your form. In the title area enter the name of your form (Student Interest Survey).

The first question has been created for you automatically. I recommend that the first question ask for the student name, otherwise you'll never know who submitted responses. I like to separate out first and last name so I can easily sort, but you can have students include both on the same line. Change the question type to Short answer and "require" this question, so students can't skip it.

Click the + button to add your next question.

Click the question menu next to the question title and select the type of question you want. Most of mine were Short answer so students could fill in whatever they wanted. I wanted to gauge their feelings on math since that is my main focus next year. For that question I selected Multiple Choice Grid, as you can see in my form above. Make sure you "require" any of the questions that you don't want students to skip.

When all of your questions are done, click the gear icon and change any settings you want. By default the form is set to allow access to only CCSD users. If your district subscribes to GAFE, you'll probably see your district's info there. I also like to check the box to automatically gather usernames. This gives me a column in my response spreadsheet where I can see all my students' Google email addresses.

Now click the Send button, click the link icon, and check the box for Shorten URL. This link is what I then copied and pasted into an announcement in Google Classroom.

I gave directions for the form in the announcement and then added this link.

Your challenge for this week is to create your own Student Interest Survey. This is an EdTech challenge, so no cheating and doing a paper version! You don't have to use Google Forms, any digital program you are familiar with will work. However, I found Google Forms super easy to use and adding it to my Classroom made it easy to distribute to students.

Once your Student Interest Survey is done, let me know in the comments below. Including a link is a great way to share with other educators too.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer EdTech Challenge #2: Google Classroom

Welcome to the Summer EdTech Challenge! Summertime is a wonderful time to be a teacher! It's the perfect time to recharge your batteries, catch up on trends in education, read for pleasure, and learn new things. How about taking the opportunity to learn new tech skills or try out new tools and strategies?

Each Monday this summer I'll post a simple tech challenge, something you can do between dips in the pool and binge watching your favorite TV show. These challenges are practical, easy to implement ideas to help you develop your tech skills and start next year off on the right technology foot!

This past school year many schools and teachers were introduced to Google Apps for Education, especially Google Classroom. Google Classroom is a great platform for working digitally with your students. Teachers can distribute and collect assignments, post announcements and resources, and hold discussions with students. If you haven't yet heard of Google Classroom, you can read about it here.

This week's challenge is to create your Google Classroom for the 2016-2017 school year. To get started you will need to log in to your CCSD Google account. If you've attended Google Classroom training this year, then jump right in and create your class for next year with the tasks below.

If you never attended any Classroom training, or would like to learn more about what can be done with Classroom, you can try out this self-paced activity. Make a copy of the Google Classsroom Challenge. Keep that open in one tab and open a second tab and sign in to Follow the tasks in the challenge, marking them off in the first tab while you complete them in the second tab.

Create a Class

Create a class for next year. If you are a secondary teacher then create a class for each period. You can't sort class names, so I would create them in reverse order, creating your last period first. That way your first period will appear in the list first when you look at all the classes respectively.

The easiest way to add students is to give them the class code, which appears to the right on the screen. You'll want to give this

Create an Announcement

After creating your class you are taken directly to the class stream. This is where all the action happens - where announcements and assignments appear for students. It looks and behave similarly to Facebook.

For your first announcement invite students to introduce themselves or share something interesting they did over the summer. Students can comment to any announcement and it will appear right below it. You know they are going to play with something new, so here's their chance to say "hiiiiiiiii!"

Create an Assignment

With assignments, best practices are to begin each assignment title with 001, 002, 003, etc. This makes it easy to find assignments in the stream and keeps assignments organized in Google Drive. For this assignment create a simple assignment for students to turn in. You could have them type up a couple of paragraphs in a Google Doc about their goals for the year, create a survey using Google Forms to collect beginning of the year information from them, or share a Google Slide document with them and have each student assigned to a slide where they introduce themselves and decorate it any way they want.

That's it! Now your classroom is ready for students. On one of the first days of school, have your students sign in to their Google account and join your class. As soon as they do they have a few things they can do to become familiar with it. Teach your students that everything starts with Google Classroom. That's where they should go to get information and assignments, and turn in work. Getting them in that habit will make things go smoothly for the year, especially on those days when you have a substitute.

To get credit for this challenge, just let me know in the comments below that you've created your class for next year.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Virtual farm visit with Skype

Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world into the classroom. Students can experience places and cultures that they otherwise would never have the opportunity to see. Kindergarten teachers at Kermit E. Booker Elementary School were finishing up a unit on farm animals. Students had learned about some of the large farm animals, such as cows and pigs, and a about crops. Knowing that many of the students might never venture outside of the city and have the opportunity to see a farm in person, they asked about arranging a virtual trip to a farm.

The awesome folks at the Polk County Farm Bureau in Iowa do just that type of thing through their Ag in the Classroom program! I got in contact with Gretchen Voga, the Education Specialist, and we made arrangements to connect with a large crop farm and a smaller chicken farm via Skype.

Three kindergarten classes gathered in one room and after some initial technical difficulties we were able to connect with the farm. The first thing the students heard was the mooing of the cows, which got them really excited!

Our host showed us a few cows, the fields where they planted corn, and a few of the farm buildings. We then switched to a smaller chicken farm. We were able to see chickens in the yard and learned that they are very noisy!

This host took us into the chicken coop where we were able to see how they are fed and watered. We learned that they have enclosed shelters where they sit and lay eggs. These shelters are shown on the computer screen below. We saw lots and lots of chickens and a few eggs as well!

After getting our tour a few students were able to ask a few questions. Before long our day day was almost over and we had to end our virtual tour. The students loved seeing the farms and animals. This was a great experience.

A special thanks goes out to the Gretchen Voga and the owners of the farms. I know it couldn't have been easy to get the necessary equipment out into the fields. This was one of those special experiences that makes learning fun for the students!

I found this virtual farm experience through a simple Google search, but you can find many virtual field trip experiences by going to the Skype in the Classroom website.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Summer EdTech Challenge #1: Inbox Zero

Welcome to the Summer EdTech Challenge! Summertime is a wonderful time to be a teacher! It's the perfect time to recharge your batteries, catch up on trends in education, read for pleasure, and learn new things. How about taking the opportunity to learn new tech skills or try out new tools and strategies?

Each Monday this summer I'll post a simple tech challenge, something you can do between dips in the pool and binge watching your favorite TV show. These challenges are practical, easy to implement ideas to help you develop your tech skills and start next year off on the right technology foot!

A few days ago my wife decided to help my young daughters clean their bedroom. When she was finally done and came out of the room she had two full garbage bags, one filled with garbage and the other filled with old toys, books, and clothes to donate to charity. The room looked fantastic, everything was in its place, and we could finally walk around the room! Bonus: she also found many missing items including clothes that needed washing.

Just like bedrooms need a good cleaning every now and then, so does your email inbox. The school year is over, most tasks completed, and teachers are preparing for a fresh start next school year. Now is the perfect time to go through your email inbox, prioritize and finish any tasks, delete old or unneeded emails, and employ a few strategies to reduce the number of emails you get in the future.

Your Summer EdTech Challenge this week is to get your email inbox down to zero (or as close as you can). Hop on over to my previous post, Mission: Email Inbox Zero and follow the suggestions there. At the time that I wrote that post our district only used InterAct for email. Within the last year many schools have started using Gmail as we transition into Google Apps for Education. Don't forget to apply this challenge to your Gmail account as well!

The previous post linked above has directions only for InterAct. You can't create folders in Gmail, but you can use labels to accomplish the same task. Directions for creating and using labels can be found here.

If you are interested in learning more about inbox zero, check out Merlin Mann's original work on this concept. He's the one that coined the "inbox zero" phrase back in 2007 and has a lot of excellent tips and ideas on managing your email.

Right now I have 420 emails in my InterAct account and 186 in my Gmail account. I'm committed to getting those down to zero if I can. I'll post my own reply here to let you know how I did.

In the comments below, let me know how you did. Were you able to get down to zero? How do you feel now that your inbox is a lot cleaner?
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