Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rethinking Notetaking

When I first learned about Cornell notes, it was love at first sight. I loved them so much that I decided to change all the notes in my class to Cornell notes. I drew many vertical lines on my chalkboard, created SMART Notebook templates, and wrote a helpful handout to guide students in their use of these notes in my class. I talk about note-taking on day 2 at school, accompanied by said helpful handout, and then send the students off to read their first assignment and take their new special notes. By day 3, the rebels are already refusing to use this method. By day 10, many have realized that there won't be notebook checks, so they abandon it too. By day 30, I am really not using it either. At least not all the time.

These days on Twitter, it seems like you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a tweet about #sketchnotes. I recently poured over sketchnote novateurtrice Sylvia Duckworth's Sketchnoting for Beginners and downloaded a couple apps, including Paper by Fifty Three. Just today, in fact, I tried my hand at creating a sketchnote. I was really proud of my iPad drawing, but I hated the look of my handwriting. I had more written, but it looked so messy that I ditched it.
How do you like my first attempt?
Sketchnoting makes a lot of sense to me. Sketching is one of the early steps of the design process. Sketching helps eliminate ambiguity of ideas. If we all see a sketch, we are more likely to agree that we have the same idea. These are very important checkpoints in a subject as abstract as chemistry. Still, if everything for my class becomes a sketchnote, I think it would be more than the rebels who refuse by day 3.

The sketchnoting trend and impending August have got me reflecting about note-taking in my classes this year. Instead of putting all my note-taking eggs in one Cornell basket, it seems wiser to teach a variety of strategies and then model using different ones for different jobs (and encouraging kids to do the same). That's going to be my approach this year. To that end, a new helpful handout:

This one has fewer words and is more visually interesting. I wish I would not have already copied the old helpful handout. Well, at least I can share this one paperlessly. Hopefully that makes TWO improvements.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Engineering the Education of our Students

A Science Framework for K-12 Science Education, the blueprint for the Next Generation Science Standards, made it immediately clear that engineering practices would be highlighted as critically important when they were included as one of three dimensions of science learning in the Standards. Upon reading the framework, I panicked a little. Sure, I have included inquiry and discovery experiences in my classroom for years, but engineering? What in the world would I have my students engineer?

I found a great resource in eGFI (engineering, go for it!), brought to us by the American Society for Engineering Education. The eGFI brand includes an interactive website with many lesson plans and ideas, a magazine, an e-newsletter, and more. The recent edition of the e-newsletter announced a program for teachers to earn an engineering certificate through the graduate school at Tufts University. This afternoon I attended a webinar to learn more about the program.

The faculty at Tufts University's Center for Engineering Education and Outreach will launch the program this fall for K-12 teachers. There are four graduate classes, each four credit hours, that will be presented as asynchronous online experiences. Two of the classes are engineering content classes; two of the classes are engineering pedagogy classes. They are designed to be taken in a particular order and as a set, though teachers may elect to take just one or two of them as standalone classes if they wish. 

The webinar made it clear that these are Tufts graduate classes and will have requirements and responsibilities, including a focus on engineering design challenges. Participants will receive a kit in the mail with the most of materials they need to solve a problem. They will photograph and videotape their solutions, as well as participate in discussions and assignments with other participants. There are separate pedagogy tracks, and different projects, for elementary and secondary teachers. The classes are taught by the faculty at Tufts and graduate students will provide assistance as needed. I wish I would have asked how much time would be necessary to complete the assignments. Here is an example of the type of challenge students will work on:

I was bracing myself for the cost, but I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the pricetag. The courses cost $1000 each plus a materials fee. They are offering some aid, especially as they put together this first cohort of teachers. 16 graduate hours from Tufts and a certificate of completion for around $4000 sounds pretty reasonable.

I am intrigued. Are you? You can register for the upcoming webinar if you want to learn more about this interesting program. Or visit the website to read more about it.  While you are online, sign up for the eGFI newsletter here. And check out the website too. If you are looking for excellent engineering activities, you will find them there.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

It's time to begin or renew your subscription to the New York Times Replica Edition.  Are you using this terrific resource? The New York Times Replica Edition is a replica of the daily newspaper and 30 days of back issues that can be read on a computer or iPad. You can also listen to articles, browse a picture gallery, or print articles in an 8.5" x 11" format for easy use with students.

In addition to all the benefits you can get from reading this newspaper, there are many other excellent educational tools at the New York Times website. There are teacher resources, including curriculum guides, lesson plans, daily activities, and more. There are also replica edition activities, including a neat graphic organizer for keeping track of the arguments on a debatable issue. You might also visit the New York Times Learning Network, a free site for teachers that hosts new lesson plans every day September-June plus archived plans and other interactive features like polls and quizzes for older students.

It's free for K-12 classroom teachers and gives access to an outstanding source of news and informational text. Click here to sign up for the New York Times Replica Edition so you are ready to use this rich resource in the fall!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

P.S. Let's Stop Talking Down to Each Other, Too

Last Tuesday Richard Byrne, of Free Technology For Teachers fame, published an open letter on his blog regarding the way Ed Tech companies talk down to teachers, especially during product pitches and educational sessions. In his essay, he explains that when companies assume that we know nothing, will work for a pittance, and are not experts in our field, it destroys the very credibility they trying to build. I agree wholeheartedly! Hallelujah and amen! I'd like to take his ideas one step further by suggesting that in working with our colleagues, we also stop talking down to and about them. I would offer a few reasons why we should do this.

I'm sure it's the optimist in me - my son describes me as extraordinarily optimistic for no particular reason - but I believe that teachers make the choices they make in the classroom because they want to do what is best for students. Sure, there are a few who have cashed in their chips and are making hashmarks until they can exit, but the vast majority of teachers seem to be teaching from a place of what is best for kids. Of course, we may not all agree about what this "best for kids" looks like, but as far as intentions go, we all start from a place that's well beyond "first, do no harm." If that's the case, if teachers have made deliberate choices about how to teach their content, we need to respect and understand the choices before we start suggesting that practices are outdated or ineffective.

There are teachers in every building who people have written off. Likewise, there are students in those teachers classrooms who those teachers are reaching like no one else can. When I got my first teaching job, I had a desk opposite the most senior chemistry teacher in my building. He was a gentleman and a scholar, a real Mr Chips type, a very different teacher from young, loud, green me. I thought I had everything figured out twenty years ago, so I was certain that in the classroom he was boring and stodgy, that his ninety minute lectures were lullabies, that his students made hashmarks to mark time until their exit. Then, one day toward the end of the year, I found myself in the main office with a few extra minutes on my hands, standing next to the box of teacher of the year nominations written by students.  For fun, I started reading some of them. I don't remember if there was one in the box for me; the one I remember was written about him. It was a beautiful letter outlining all the passion and wonder this student felt for chemistry because of the ninety minute lectures delivered like expertly-told stories by my colleague. In the four years I worked there, I never watched him teach. I regret that now that he is retired. I am certain I could have learned a great deal. 

One of the wisest things I ever heard a colleague say was this: "When it comes to professional development, if something is worth a teacher's time to learn, you don't have to force them to go to PD about it. They will see other teachers doing it and they will beg to learn more about it." The power of modeling vs. degrading by chronic criticism is always obvious to me during the summer. The best part of summer vacation for me is spending time with my children, without the daily distractions and demands of teaching. Spending all this time with them, though, has highlighted the amount of parenting they do to each other. They nag each other constantly with a chorus of "the rules." I try to remind them that they will be parents someday themselves, that that is a hard job and they should enjoy being kids without the drag of constantly correcting behavior. As teachers, we should definitely model best practices and willingly share our successes (and failures!), but we should resist administering. Our job is already hard enough.

Finally, and most importantly, if lessons begin with "here is everything we think you're doing wrong" or "this is the technology we'll use to fix the mess you've made in your classroom," why would anyone feel motivated to get past the hurt and resentment those statements bring to conquer the fear or anxiety of trying something new? With our students, we don't start from a place of "you're in this class because you have been such a disaster" (at least, I hope we don't), so why do we send that message to colleagues?

With teachers under attack at every turn, we need each other now more than ever. Byrne said, "when you do well, we all do well" and never was this more true than in our current environment of merit pay and standardized test scores. Let's support each other and learn with each other so we all succeed together.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Let PacMan help you Review your Content!

This morning I read that Russel Tarr has created another fantastic webtool at  This one allows users to create a review game inside a game of PacMan.  As a child of the 80s, my curiosity was instantly heightened.  I clicked the link for later, thinking it would take me a while to investigate and try it out.  I was wrong.  This afternoon I created a game in under ten minutes.

Like my other favorite ClassTools (random name generator, breaking news generator, and SOLO hexagons), the creation of something usable only takes as long as it takes to type in information.  Step 1 is to input questions and answers in a screen that looks like this:

I typed in just 10 questions because I was anxious to preview. It's a very simple screen with some help and examples. I typed in my 10 questions followed by an asterisk and the correct answer. Step 2 is to click submit. It's that easy! You can also upload a CSV file with questions and answers.

Before play could begin, I had to answer one of the questions. The tool generated three incorrect answers that were close to my correct answer. Then the game begins, complete with music.  When PacMan dies, you can earn an extra life by answering more questions.

There is even a leaderboard! Delivering the game to students is also very easy.  You get a shareable link or embed code or QR code with the click of a button. Want to try your hand at my game on atomic structure?   

When I edit this game, I will probably select my own incorrect answers so that I can use it to address student misconceptions with this content. I will also add more questions. Otherwise, though, I thought my first, fast effort was fantastic!  I think this tool would be great for helping students memorize a set of information like math facts or polyatomic ions because the motivation is high to answer the questions quickly and correctly so you can getback to the game.  I think kids would enjoy this for any number of reasons, but with Pixels being released on July 24, there will be a buzz surrounding all things PacMan as the summer winds down this year.  What a fun way to review when it's time to go back to school!

Monday, July 6, 2015

These Tools are Flipping Awesome!

Almost a year ago I wrote a post about Flippity Flashcards.  I had just completed a two day course on Google Apps for Education at a local college and I introduced Flippity Flashcards in the class.  It was far and away the favorite tool we used during those two days.

Flippity Flashcards is a great way to make flashcards using a Google Sheets template.  Steve Fortna created the template that is available for free at  Once you have the template, you type in the text you want on the flashcards (images and videos are also possibilities) into the spreadsheet.  Then go to the file menu and drag down to Publish to the Web.  Copy and paste a link to see your flashcards magically appear.  Many teachers were initially apprehensive about spreadsheets, but everyone thought the flashcards were easy to create and they loved the results.

Today and tomorrow I am teaching the same Google Apps class at the same college.  Today I showed Flippity Flashcards to the class and saw the same type of response as last year. I already thought the flashcards were perfect, but now the cards can be colored (or color-coded) and the text can be colored too.  The template has been updated to the newest version of Sheets too. 

While I was at the flippity website, I checked out three other templates now available there.  They are every bit as cool.

Template #1:  The Quiz Show

Grab the template.  Remove the old questions and answers and type in your own.  Publish to the web (just like the flashcards).  Copy and paste your link.  Click on your quiz show link.  The Quiz Show lists five categories with point values from 100 to 500.  You can have no teams or as many six (create more or less with a click of a button).  The Quiz Show will keep score and greys out the questions as you use them.  It has a very clean look and is easy to create and use.

Template #2: Certificate of Completion

Grab the template.  Remove old questions and answers and type in your own.  Publish to the web.  Copy and paste your link.  Click on your new link to take a quick quiz.  After the quiz, a certificate is automatically generated.  How cool is that?

Template #3: Progress Bar Generator

I wasn't sure at first glance what this one was, but now that I've tried it, I really like it.  Picture the elementary school poster of a canned food "thermometer" that gets colored in each day during the food drive.  This template creates a progress bar like that for your students to visualize their growth toward a target.  

Grab the template.  Remove old names and numbers and type in new ones.  Publish to the web.  Copy and paste your link.  Click on your new link to see a visual of the progress of your students.  I made one for my children so they could see their progress toward their summer learning goals.  I am not entirely sure how I would use the progress bar indicator in my high school classroom, but I am glad I know it's available when I think of a way!

Once you use one of these spreadsheet templates, the others are also very easy to use.  There are instructions and examples at  These would be great tools to use with students to review content and practice spreadsheet skills.  If you haven't checked them out, these are definitely worth your time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kahoot or Quizizz or Socrative: Which Should I Use?

In May I wrote a post comparing Nearpod, Peardeck, and The Answer Pad in response to a reader comment about which tool is the best.  I promised a similar post about Kahoot, Socrative, and Quizizz.  Here it is!

Below is a chart I made comparing many key features.  Please don't confuse YES and NO with an endorsement of a feature or lack thereof.  These are all three great tools that offer a lot of cool teacher options.  Which one you choose may come down to what you are trying to do and which one you personally like the best.

A few things worth mentioning:

I didn't know Kahoot had the option of scrambling questions and letting students move at their own pace, but according to their FAQs, they do.  I also didn't know why they have the questions and answers on two different screens, but when I read about why, it made a lot of sense.

I just recently looked again at Socrative and I was really impressed at the changes they have made.  The interface looks cleaner and more user-friendly now.  I love the exit ticket and instant question options.

At PD I delivered in May and June, many teachers responded positively to Quizizz.  This is the only one of the three you can try without an account and it has hilarious memes that are automatically delivered (if you select that as an option) when students get the right and wrong answers.  There is a pop-up for live chat with the developers or to give feedback.  That is a nice touch.

In short, try at least one of these with your students.  You'll be glad you did.