Thursday, January 17, 2019

Collaborating with Wakelet

About ten months ago I wrote about a new-to-me tool called Wakelet as an alternative to Padlet. Wakelet, like Padlet, is a curation tool, an easy way to create collections of images, files, videos, text, links, and tweets that all go together. It's easy to get started, free to use, and available as web tool on any device or as an iOS app and Android app. There is a Chrome extension, a Firefox add-on, and a Safari extension.

I recently had the opportunity to test drive a new Wakelet feature as part of a private beta. Today that feature shifts into public beta, so I am happy to share my experiences. This new feature allows users to collaboratively create collections and add collections to collections. I tried this out in two ways, in a collection of my own and my contributing to someone else's collection. Here's how it works:

Share your own collection

Create a collection of your own. Give your collection a name and start adding things to it. When you are ready, you can add collaborators by invitation emails or through use of a group code. Pass the code to people you want to collect with and they can join your group and start adding their stuff. 

I tried this out with my AP Chemistry students when we reviewed for our semester exam at the end of December. Students created Wakelet accounts with their school Google accounts, entered our group code, and joined the Semester Review collection. Each student was assigned a topic from first semester. They had to write some text about the topic, gather video and image about the topic, and include a link. When they finished with their personal collection topic, they added the collection to our Semester Review collection. Because they all had access to the collection, they could click on anyone's resources and explore topics they needed to review for the exam.

I loved using Wakelet in this way. My students created their own review materials for each other by gathering resources and sharing them with one another. Now the collection is available for the rest of the year and will come in handy in a few months when we review for the AP Chemistry exam. Because Wakelet has 3 visibility options (Private, Unlisted, Public), our collection is available only to members of our group, so I don't have to worry about the public seeing the names of my students or knowing too much about them. The collections are embeddable so I could move the whole thing to our LMS at school if I wanted to do that.

When I tried this with my students, it worked without almost any glitches. We had the slightest hiccup with adding collections when students tried to add them as a shortened link using Wakelet's built-in URL shortener. I used the chat feature within the tool to ask a couple of questions and got an instant response. Within five or ten minutes, we had the problem solved. The chat allowed for great user support. I loved that my students found something and then saw it get resolved. This is exactly what beta testing is designed to do!


Join someone else's collection

A second way I tried out the feature was to join someone else's collection. Laura Cahill, fellow Wakelet user, tweeted for bloggers to add their blogs to her collection:

In my Wakelet account, I clicked a button for Group Collections and was prompted to enter a group code. Once I did that, I had editing access to the collection and added my blog. Take a look at the collection of education blogs that she is curating.

When you are ready to ask others to join, Wakelet gives you many options. You can type in emails for invitations or share a QR code or link or just share the group code. You don't even need to have an account to collaborate in this way because Wakelet has an option to collect as a guest if you have a group code. That is a great feature for teachers of young children!

For a few years I have been co-facilitating a group of science specialists in Northeast Ohio. We have been stockpiling our resources in Google Plus, so I was annoyed to learn that Google Plus will fade away for many users, including my personal account that is tied to the Community associated with this group. Wakelet will be a great alternative for this use of Google Plus. The Northeast Ohio Science Specialists can use the group code to add resources to our stockpile. We can make it visible to the public so anyone can see it, especially specialists who miss a meeting and want to see what they missed or grab the resources. Now I just need a migration tool like the Wakelet wizards made available when Storify shut down.

If you haven't tried Wakelet, hopefully this new feature will convince you to try it. From trying it out without an account to sharing via QR code or group code, and now collaboratively curating collections, this tool has much to offer teachers and students.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Google Classroom or Google Sites: Which Should I Use?

Maybe as you rev up for 2019, you have considered creating a digital classroom to support your physical classroom. Or maybe you would like a way to stop answering so many questions about materials and due dates. Or maybe you have just been wondering about Google Sites and/or Classroom. Allow me to offer some thoughts on why you might choose one over another.

Google Classroom

Wikipedia describes Google Classroom as a "free web service developed by Google for schools that aim to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way." Can't trust Wikipedia? GSuiteEDU Expert Team Member Laurah Jurca explains that "Google Classroom is designed as a document management system. The primary purpose of classroom is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students. It is not an LMS like Moodle." With Google Classroom, you can:
  • Assign work to students within a class.
  • Assign certain work to certain students within a class.
  • Grade assignments paperlessly and record grades in a Classroom gradebook.
  • Make announcements to your class.
  • Schedule assignments and announcements.
  • Make every students his/her own copy of assignments.
  • Take a quick poll or ask a quick question of your class.
Put simply, if you are sharing digital resources with your students, grading things paperlessly, perhaps even struggling to keep your Google Drive organized while you do these things, Google Classroom could be a huge help. If you want to use technology to differentiate assignments, Google Classroom is a great way to get started. If you're tired of using class time to chant out the directions for making a copy of a Google Doc template for students, Google Classroom will do this for you!

Using Google Classroom does have a few drawbacks. First, if you are using it in a K-12 GSuiteEDU domain (aka you teach in a K-12 school), only other members of your domain can join your Classroom unless the domain administrator provides access. This means that your Google Classroom may only include students or staff members at your school. A Google workaround is that parents can be invited to get email updates from the Classroom. Unfortunately, the email updates are about assignments; if teachers are not using the assignments feature, the email updates would be blank. Remember that Google Classroom is designed to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students, so if files are not created to be assignments, it can be difficult for parents to participate. Second, you can do a little customizing of a Google Classroom (header image, name of class), but you don't get many options for how your Classroom will look. As an example, once you add materials to your Classroom, you can't reorder them easily. You also can't add pages beyond what Google Classroom wants you to have.

Google Sites

If file sharing and grading isn't your focus, but you like the idea of having a digital repository of resources that you can share with your students, Google Sites might be the tool for you. The tool is exactly what you imagine it to be based on the name, a handy way to make a website. With Google Sites you can:
  • Embed your class Google Calendar to class happenings and due dates.
  • Add images and videos to create a visual record of your classes.
  • Choose from set layouts and colors for a just right number of options.
  • Create one page or many pages depending on your needs.
  • Stockpile Google Drive resources for your students.
  • Co-edit the website with other teachers or students.
  • Connect your site to a Google Analytics account to see how often people visit.
  • Make your site available to the world or just the people you choose.
In short, if you aren't looking for a digital way to manage the files you share with students, consider creating a Google Site. If you haven't looked at Google Sites in the last couple of years, it's definitely worth a revisit. Where several years ago Google Sites offered endless (often confusing!) options and things to click, the new version of this tool is pared down to very popular choices and has a drag-and-drop ease to making a beautiful set of pages.

Like Google Classroom, there are some things I wish were different. First, there are only six themes to choose from. Each theme has several color and font choices to increase variety, but there are still design limits in place here. Second, old Google Sites allowed for page-level permissions so that the author of the site could decide which people could see and/or edit which pages of a website. That feature has not yet been added to the new version. Fingers crossed that it will be added someday soon.

The Last Word

If you are regularly sharing files with students and grading them digitally, start using Google Classroom. It can really help you and your students stay organized. When you get started, create announcements and assignments and invite guardians to receive updates. If, instead, you need a place to stockpile resources and document what is happening in your classroom for anyone to see, use Google Sites. You will have more design options and won't be limited to including just the people who attend your school. Parents will thank you for creating a way for them to support your work at home.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Tatsulok Puzzle Template

Several years ago I bought a bunch of science games from a company called Scienterrific Games. One of them was a puzzle called Tatsulok. Tatsulok is a Filipino word meaning triangle. In the puzzle you match question and answer sides of triangles in order to form a giant triangle. Scienterrific Games sells five versions of Tatsulok puzzles.

Just before the semester ended, I needed a couple of review activities for my reactions unit. Some students were struggling with the content and I needed to spend some time to remediate. Meanwhile, I wanted to provide activities for the rest of the students to practice a skill and get instant feedback. Puzzles are great for this, so I used the Balancing Equations Tatsulok that I purchased from Scienterrific Games ($13.95 for two copies). It took most students, working in pairs, about 15 minutes to solve the puzzle. Each side of a triangle had an unbalanced chemical equation or a set of coefficients that would balance an equation. Match them all up to form the big triangle. Most students seemed to enjoy the puzzle and worked independently while I provided extra help to those who needed it.

When I finished the lesson, I started thinking about creating a template for this puzzle. I love puzzles and have made several that I use in my classroom. I decided to try making the template as a Google Drawing. It is available here and looks like this:

The text boxes can all be edited to create a puzzle with 18 questions and answers (or some can be eliminated for a puzzle with fewer questions and answers).  The dimensions of the Google Drawing are 11" x 8.5" so you should be able to print it on a regular sheet of paper as a landscape document. I hope that you can use it to make something fun for your classroom. I'd love to hear what you do with this template!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Escape to

I've written several times about the amazing free tools at In fact, when I am looking for a way to get people interested in spreadsheets, I almost always use Flippity because once people see the variety of the tools, and how easy it is to create them, they are hooked. This weekend, when I teaching a Google class, I revisited Flippity as part of my Sheets lesson and found a new addition to the family: a Breakout tool!

Breakout games and escape rooms have become all the rage. Teachers are crafting lessons where students have to apply content knowledge to decode clues and open locks. Presenters are sharing breakouts at conferences in all content areas. And escape rooms aren't just for school. They are popping up all over for team-building, challenge seekers, or just a night of fun.

The trend to use breakout activities in classrooms meant a great demand for boxes. The one I purchased was $100, so if you wanted several for your classroom, you have to have a good budget to get them. Then there is the time it takes to create a great lesson, or the fee you pay to sites to find a lesson, and the time it takes to program all the locks. It's no surprise that digital breakouts emerged. That's what the tool at is, a digital breakout tool.

Head over to Flippity and take a look at the demo. Then download the template. It's a Google Sheet with eight lines, one for each lock. You delete the text in the cells and create your own clues and combinations. Then publish the template to the web, grab the link to share the game, and you are ready to go.

When you play the game, you will see red locks until you solve the puzzles and open the locks. Then they turn green.

This is a free tool, but it is very slick and includes many awesome options:
  • Make the answers case-sensitive. Or don't.
  • Make the locks open in a certain order or a random order.
  • Include images, videos, links, Google Docs or Drawings, and even Desmos graphs or EquatIO equations.
  • Customize the initial instructions, hint warnings, and completion text.
If you have been wanting to try a breakout game in your classroom, now is the time. If you can type things into a spreadsheet (and, of course, you can!), you can create an engaging lesson for kids without spending anything on a box and locks or a membership to a service to access lessons. Once you create your lesson with Flippity, I hope you'll share it with others!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Get Ready for Conferences

In most districts around me, October is the month when Parent-Teacher Conferences happen. Conferences are a great time to talk about student goals and progress, but they are also a great time to connect with parents and talk about ways to support students at home as they work on material they are learning at school. One of the most important ways to do this is to create a way for parents to access assignments. I like to do that with Google Calendar.

It's very easy to create a Google Calendar for your class. Go to and click on the + that is underneath the small month calendar on the right hand side.

 Then click on New calendar.

Give your calendar a title that matches your class and start adding assignments and class happenings as events. I like to make my class happenings "all day" events so they show on the calendar as a colored bar at the top of that date.

The next step to make this a shareable resource with students and parents is to go into settings and mark the calendar as Public. Then copy and share the public link to the calendar with your students and parents. Here is a short video I made to show how this works:

Quick hack for Google Classroom teachers: Google Classroom is notoriously unhelpful for parents because parents can't join Google Classrooms. If you are creating assignments and posts in Google Classroom, they get automatically entered on a calendar that matches your Google Classroom. You can follow the steps above to make that calendar public and share it with parents so they can see what has been assigned in your class even though they can't join the class!

When you sit down with parents at conferences this month, be sure to share with parents how they can help at home. You might have a system that you love for sharing the information with students, but consider whether or not that system makes sense for parents too. As a parent myself, I sometimes feel frustrated that I didn't encourage my child to study for a test or polish a presentation because I didn't know it was happening. Having access to a calendar that shows what is happening in class and what is assigned to the class is a great first step to helping parents help your students.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Digital Interactive Notebooks, Part 2: Adding to your Students' Collection

My last post demonstrated a way to use Google Slides and Drawings to make a digital interactive notebook. I had demonstrated this process at the SPARCC conference in August and a woman who attended my session emailed me this weekend with this question:
"When I was [using] worksheets, glue, and composition books, I was able to compose their notes as we went. These notebooks were continually changing. I'm having trouble seeing how this well work digitally since once I share a copy of the Notebook with them, I'm not seeing how to send out additional notes."
This is a great area for further consideration! There are two ways I would address this in my classroom, depending on how much or how often or how long I have been using interactive notebooks:

1. I've been using interactive notebooks for years.

If you've been using interactive notebooks for a long time, you probably have a demo notebook or examples from previous years. You might make changes from year to year, but you have the basics down. In this case, I would build a digital interactive notebook for a unit at a time. Instead of one composition notebook that contains everything from the year, you might have 10 different slide decks that function as one "chapter" of the total. Then you could use your example notebooks from years past to build all the templates you need for a particular notebook and share it with your students at the beginning of the unit.

2.  I'm teaching new content or new to interactive notebooks or teaching

If you're just getting started with interactive notebooks, or if you're just getting started with a new prep, you might not have a full idea of what the finished product will look like. Or maybe student questions cause you to take the notebook in an unforeseen direction. Or maybe you have an amazing idea a few days into the unit. Or maybe you want to use a particular template over and over again in many "chapters" of interactive notebooks. If so, the "import slides" option can be very helpful.

In Google Slides, you can import slides from one Google Slides deck (or Power Point presentations) into another deck. I would have my Notebook template made in Google Slides and shared as "View Only" with my students. Then, if I needed to add a page to their notebook, I would create and add the page to my Notebook template and tell the students to import that page from the View Only Template.

Below are some screenshots that demonstrate the steps to import slides from one deck into another. Have students start inside the interactive notebook file they are creating.

Click File and drag down to import slides:

In the pop-up window that appears, click on the presentation (notebook template) that contains the new slides they need for the notebook.

In the pop-up window, click on the new slides that will be added to the notebook. Then click Import slides.

It's important to know that you can import one page or every page just by clicking to select. As long as your template has been shared with the students and you make changes to the template, the students will be able to import the new slides they need for their notebook. This is a great feature for students and teachers to know, even if you're not using it for interactive notebooks.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Using Google Slides & Drawings to Make Interactive Notebooks

If you were using interactive notebooks in the spring of 2017, you probably remember the Great Glue Shortage. Somehow that spring making slime exploded onto the scene and glue was hard to come by. I know this because my son had 7th grade social studies that year with a rockstar teacher named Nikki Diehm. My son, who has hated crafts involving scissors and glue for his entire life, loved this class, and especially this teacher, and even seemed to embrace the making of the social studies interactive notebook. So when she asked everyone to help replenish the glue supply, he begged me to help get her some. The trouble was: there was no glue on store shelves anywhere. Because slime.

It was then that I first started thinking about digital interactive notebooks. As a high school teacher, glue is often a deal breaker for me. The getting it out, the everyone is sticky, the cleanup - these things make it not worth it for me. I do love the idea of interactive notebooks, though. My students have always really enjoyed using foldables and an interactive notebook seems like the place where you glue your foldable for instant notes + study tool.

Here is a sample I made. The background was created in Google Drawing. The blue rectangles are shapes I made in Slides and animated to disappear upon click.

Digital Interactive Notebooks are all over Pinterest; there are as many methods as people pinning them. Here are directions for my version:

1. Create a Google Slides deck as Interactive Notebook template.

2. Change size in Page Setup to 8.5” x 11”. Lots of people don't realize that slide size can be changed. See images below for tips to do this.

3. Create Google Drawing and change size in Page Setup to 8.5” x 11” (same as above). 

4. Create graphic organizer as Drawing. Download as JPG. 

5. Insert the Drawing JPG as Background on a Slide. This will keep the graphic organizer locked in place (unless students change the background of the slide).

6. Make copies for every student through Classroom or by providing the link. 

7. Kids create textboxes and shapes and add animations to make it interactive.

I want to be clear about a couple of things before I hit Publish. First, I probably wouldn't have thought about interactive notebooks in a digital way if it weren't for the fact that my son had an amazing teacher who he loved and who used them AND there was a glue shortage. I appreciate many things I have learned by listening to my kids talk about Nikki's classes. Second, I am a fan of Interactive Notebooks - digital, paper and glue, or otherwise. I'm not posting this because I think everything should be digital. In fact, I do not think that. 

If you try this or if this post was helpful, I hope you'll share that. Thanks for reading!