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!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Tracking Progress with Google Sheets

My friend Andreas is a Spreadsheet Jedi. So when I saw this post of his where he created a progress tracking to-do list, I immediately wanted to try it. Since I am a new AP Chemistry teacher, using Andreas' system to track progress in AP Chemistry seemed like a great idea.

My AP Chemistry students have their first unit exam in my class next week. I wanted to help them self-assess and review, but I didn't want to make a typical high school review guide. AP Chemistry is, after all, supposed to take the place of a college class. AP Chemistry has something like 117 learning objectives, all keyed to six Big Ideas. I recently created a list of the learning objectives in Google Docs so I could use it for curriculum mapping and so forth. I used Andreas' tutorial and my list of learning objectives to create the AP Chemistry learning objectives tracker.

I shared the file with my students so they could each make their own copy. I suggested that they look at their lab and quiz scores from our first unit to deduce whether or not they have mastered an objective. If they have, they check the checkbox. When they do, the objective turns from yellow to green and the text is struck-through. The percent of mastered objectives is instantly calculated and displayed. Our goal will be for 100% mastery by AP Exam day.

This afternoon a fellow chemistry teacher (named Amy!) mentioned she would like to try something like this for her work with Standards Based Grading in AP Chemistry.

I think this could work the same way as my tracker except I would add a second column of checkboxes for "progressing" (or some other word that means not yet mastered but progress is being made). Conditional formatting could turn those rows one color while mastery could be a different color. The visual cue of different colors would be appealing and indicate progress.

Now we can all keep our goal in mind, while staying organized and focused. How are you tracking student achievements? How are your students tracking their mastery?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Getting Kids Talking with Talking Points

I'm teaching AP Chemistry this year for the first time in a very long time. Since many of the students in AP Chemistry are my former students, I had the benefit of knowing almost everyone on day 1. Rather than start with a traditional icebreaker activity, I decided to use a strategy called Talking Points that I learned about at TMC18

Talking Points is a strategy that is designed to get students involved in discourse about a topic. The teacher creates a short list (10ish) of statements that have some built-in controversy or at least differing interpretations. Using words like "most," "best," "worst" help create statements that are easy to argue about. In groups, students read the statements and tell their tablemates if they agree or disagree and why. They tally up the agrees and disagrees for each statement and then share takeaways with the whole class. While they discuss, the teacher can circulate and eavesdrop on the interesting discussions that ensue.

Where I can see myself using this to address chemistry content this year, on day 1 I used the strategy to learn more about what my students think about AP Chemistry. Since I am designing some of what we will do based on my agreement with some of these items, it felt like a good way to introduce the rationale for what we do. My statements are pictured below:

It was fascinating to listen to their ideas as they discussed these statements. Every students participated in the discussions and many were very lively. Here are some of the takeaways:
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that a major focus of AP Chemistry should be preparation for the test.
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that we should practice tasks that are similar to the test this year and that we should become proficient at solving a certain number of problems in a certain amount of time.
  • Most students disagreed that earning an A in AP Chemistry ensures a 5 on the test. 
  • There were mixed reactions on whether or not we should practice calculating without a calculator (and most did not realize that you cannot use a calculator on the multiple choice part of the AP Exam).
Some of the trends and takeaways they identified included:
  • "We really want to practice the test."
  • "Although the test is important, the class and material is most important. The score is not necessarily definitive." 
  • Our agrees and disagrees were split in half.
 Here are reasons I will use Talking Points again:
  • In small groups, every student spoke. Without having to guide the discussion, I could just listen to the interesting things they said. 
  • It wasn't like pulling teeth to get them to share ideas.
  • When I described the AP Chemistry Exam and the types of tasks we will tackle this year, I think my vision made more sense to them. I think the activity did lay a foundation for the rest of our work.
I'm looking forward to using this in a more content-specific way the next time. Perhaps to compare answers to a lab or methods to solve problems or  review essential questions. I'm also planning to use this same activity with parents at Meet the Teacher next week. I hope they will embrace discussing these statements, too!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Anchor, Aweigh!

Podcasting is an area that I would like to explore this year. I'm not sure I want to podcast (maybe, though), but I know a lot of people who regularly listen to podcasts and that is not a medium I have tapped into much so far. In some ways, podcasting appeals to me because I could speak my thoughts much faster than I can type them, so maybe a podcast to accompany a blog post or instead of a blog post? I'm not sure. Still, I would like to learn more about them in the next 12 months.

To that end, my friend Ryan and I serve together on the Board of Directors for the Ohio Speech and Debate Association. Ryan suggested that maybe the OSDA needs a podcast, so we volleyed that idea back and forth at a recent meeting. Ryan started by asking a lot of logistical questions - how would we do it, where would we store it, could we mix in listener questions and comments, and on and on. My answer to all his questions was "yes, with Anchor." Again, I don't know much about podcasting, but I had heard that Anchor is a great tool. We quickly checked it out and, to prove to him that we could do it, we made a test podcast that I have embedded below:

Thoughts on Anchor: 

  • It was incredibly simple to make that 2 minute podcast. We did the whole thing (create an account, click New Episode, and start/stop recording) in fewer than 10 minutes.
  • You can upload audio files, record audio files, grab files from your anchor library, mix in listener messages, and add transitions. All with easy buttons.
  • You can store your podcast on their site. And you can farm it out so its available other places too.
  • Their mission: to democratize audio. How cool is that? They say they will do that by having a diverse team that represents everyone and offering awesome tools that are 100% free. It sounds too good to be true, but, in my limited so far use, it was true.

How can we use podcasting in our classrooms? Weekly podcast that reviews the week? Designated but rotating podcaster who makes a recording of a big idea or important takeaway? Citizen chemistry podcast? I really like these ideas, but I need to think about it more. 

Are you podcasting at school? With students? Share ideas as comments.