Friday, May 18, 2018

Whoa. Amazing, amazing tools.

I've written quite a bit about using digital tools to enhance student reports, projects and publications. While an exciting visual element is always important, I especially like it when digital tools help a student tell the story more effectively.

Knightlab is Northwestern University's community of designers, students, and teachers who collaborate finding new,  dynamic ways to tell stories. Though meant for journalists, Knightlab's tools are exceptionally useful in the classroom.

The Juxtapose tool creates compare and contrast images with a slider feature. Soundcite embeds audio into text. Storymap creates a power visual story and my favorite, Timeline creates impressive looking interactive time lines.
Juxtapose, Soundcite, StoryMap and Timeline comprise Knightlab's main tools

Here's an example of StoryMap, my favorite of these four tools. Students can use Storymap to create their own story or to show understanding of a book they've read or historical era they've studied. Here's a sample storyMap made about Game of Thrones. It's stunning. 

Soundcite is another nice tool. Imagine teaching a music class and being able to do this:

" The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army is a relatively new song but this riff is so memorable and immediate that it became an instant classic. It is hard to find anybody who hasn’t heard this famous melody, who has been translated into so many things, from dance floor anthem to football stadium chants."
 However, as nice as the feature is, it seems much easier to just link to the audio. So I'm not convinced there is a significant value-add, at least not comparable to the other three tools. That said, I still like it.

Timeline is becoming a standard tool in the news industry. You can use the exact same tool in your classroom that prominent news outlets use in their electronic publications. Below is an example from Time Magazine about the life of Nelson Mandela. Any history teacher should see immediate use for this tool. I also like that it leverages Google Spreadsheets to make the timelines. This means that Timeline is a collaborative tool. An entire class can build one timeline using a shared spreadsheet. Here's a look.

The final tool, Juxtapose, has a wow factor. I have a colleague who teaches an architecture history class. This would be a useful tool for him. Here's a decent one I made of Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It would be better if I found images that were taken from the exact same spot. 

I am very excited to try these tools, particularly TimeLine and StoryMap with my students.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


The folks at Ed Tech Team have a winner with the CheckMark Extension. 

I hope this extension will make your workflow easier and your feedback on student writing more robust. Remember that Chrome extensions are little programs that add functionality to your chrome browser.

We get tired. We also get frustrated of seeing the same mistake for the 20th time. Perhaps we also just get annoyed by writing the same corrections over and over.  Studies show that papers graded first earn higher marks than papers from the bottom of the pile. Perhaps this is why.
To get Checkmark, click this link.
You’ll now see in your menu bar a little checkbox icon.
I have already opened a google doc. (If you already had a google doc open, refresh it.) Now go up to the checkmark icon and enable it.
You’ll notice that there are common errors already listed and note you can add your own.
Once enabled, it couldn’t be easier to use . I warn you that the very first time you use it there may be a lag time which won’t continue to be a problem.
Just highlight a section you wish to correct and click the abbreviation above, you’ll see your correction appear as a comment. Here's a clip of me using on a google doc version of this post.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

"Covering" MacBeth

Years ago I came across this assignment asking students to examine Lolita's book covers through time, from the early 50s through today. But we certainly aren't reading Lolita in high school. I stored this away as an interesting activity and today while perusing my bookmarks I cam across it again. I immediately thought of doing this same assignment with MacBeth, the next book 9th graders at my school are going to study.

So I googled MacBeth book covers and came across a wide assortment and thought of sharing this idea with the English teachers with whom I work.

Using Keeler's Drive Slides, I made a little slide deck showing a dozen out of hundreds of MacBeth covers.

One of these images took me to this fantastic lesson  which asked students to design their own covers. Brilliant. A natural next step. Kudos to teacher Sarah Small.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Mindset Doesn't Beat Structure

Ed-Tech's promise is overstated. I deeply appreciate AJ Juliani and George Couros and other ed-tech gurus. These guys are terrific and I especially love everything by AJ. Will Richardson is a thoughtful, deeply curious social critic and I find him most convincing on a many number of topics. But I'm afraid the former two have too narrow a focus, or more precisely ignore too many broader societal trends that affect the field of education.  Will Richardson himself seems far less sanguine about the possibility for positive change in education and in larger society.

Currently, I'm consulting with a poor, racially and ethnically diverse school district in Michigan. And while I'm convinced that drill and skill teaching model coupled with high stakes testing has led to a school day bereft of learning, I also know that an answer to these problems is more complicated than ed tech/ progressive ed types like me make it out to be. I've been thinking this way for awhile because I'm more convinced than ever that one size fits all teaching isn't the answer, and thus there isn't a one size fits all solution.

I do have some core beliefs about teaching.  Here are some of them:
  1. Students should have real choice in the classroom.
  2. Students should play the role of expert as much as possible.
  3. Active learners are better learners.
  4. Understanding schema and importance of scaffolding knowledge is essential.
  5. Some facts are necessary. See point #4. One can't build schema without knowing things.
  6. Grades work as a short term motivator and long term inhibitor to learning.
  7. If not careful, a teacher's default is to talk too much.
  8. Tests are only one form of good summative assessment. 
  9. Many tests are poor instruments for summative assessment and do little to make learning stick beyond about three weeks.
  10. Formative assessment, including student curation via portfolios, should play a prominent role in student assessment.
  11. Schools are hampered by a education model that is little changed since the 1890's.
I dearly hold all of these beliefs. I'm also the first to admit that one of the very best teachers I've ever known lectures almost exclusively. He should never change; his lectures are that engaging. His deep kindness and warmth also earn him unwavering student devotion. One size fits all prescriptions for effective teaching are self-evidently not true.

This is also true, most ed-tech gurus I follow are white and a majority are men- (shout out to Alice Keeler, she's terrific and I read her regularly). These white men say very little about teaching in a multicultural society. Before I embraced ed-tech, I was deeply involved in diversity work and served on the executive board of the Philadelphia Multi Cultural Resource Center. These two passions of mine, what we call 21st century ed and multicultural education barely overlap. They should and could but don't.

Edward Albee famously told us to write to find out what we're thinking about. It's a reason why I write these blog posts as on average only about 40-60 people will read posts such as this. Similarly reading and listening help me clarify my thinking and sometimes I find someone who is so amazingly smart, I have a moment of clarity in which my thoughts are simultaneously bot reinforced and reshuffled. This incredible podcast by Benjamin Doxdator caused one such moment for me. He elucidates my struggle in such a deeper and wiser way than I'm capable of saying.  He doesn't offer answers. He asks a whole lot of great questions and offers some deep thinking on difficult issues.

Here's a segment that especially popped in a pointed way:
We also need to talk about how systemic racism and intergenerational poverty – not lack of passions – force too many people to ‘keep getting by’. Mindset doesn’t beat structure. More importantly, the entrepreneurs who ‘write their own rules’ are the very people who have destroyed the economy, increasing the precarity that everyone else faces. -Benjamin Doxdator. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Interactive Google Slides

Stand and deliver presentations remain a primary/ the primary way teachers transmit information. Many teachers use PowerPoint, Google Slides and other slidedeck tools to support these lectures and presentations. A little bit of know how with Google Slides will let a presenter make a more dynamic/ interactive presentation.

Here are 5 of my main tips:
1) Backchannel. Use the Peardeck add on or the Presenter View to allow quieter students to ask questions and more fully participate in the class. I was speaking with one of my students today about a report a teacher wrote saying she wished this student spoke more. I teach at a place which prides itself on its kindness. Many students share their opinions freely. Teachers pride themselves for fostering dynamic conversation in their classroom. Yet this girl just doesn't feel comfortable speaking in that class.

2) Formative Assessment- See above. After all, how do we know what students are thinking and knowing. Peardeck and Presenter View are both terrific for this as well.

3) Don't clutter slides with words. Slidedecks should support the presentation, not be the presentation. Pictures, large graphics and keywords should comprise the bulk of the visual presentation. Bullet points upon bullet points of information is a recipe for boring and does little to supplement or enhance the presentation.

4) DriveSlides by Alice Keeler is a great new(ish) extension by Alice Keeler that I use to share student work back with kids. I use DriveSlides in conjunction with Google Classroom. Remember that Google Classroom creates a Classroom folder in Drive. Now imagine you have students share screenshots of their artwork. math homework, etc... A sub-folder containing this work will exist in Drive. A quick click of the DriveSlides extension will make a Slides presentation with its own url. It's a super easy way to receive and share out student work.

5) Google Keep/ Slides Integration: Archive pictures with Google Keep. Using the Keep Notepad in the Tools menu, you can easily pull in these pictures and other work.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Omnibar" Tricks in Chrome Browser

Hipster Chrome
Want to be "hip" with your Chrome browser? Learn what the omnibar can do. The Google omnibar is useful for so much more than searching with Google or typing in a url address. (For beginners, the omnibox is where the address to this website is at the top of this screen.)

 Here are some of my favorite "tricks". Check 'em out.

1) There are some little shortcuts. For instance, don't know a word? Highlight this word "hippopatumus" and drag it to the omnibox. You can also drag and drop an image to do the same thing. 

2) Now try this: Type "timer 30 seconds". It takes you to an instant timer and stopwatch.

3) Type "Roll dice". 

4) Type y=3x+4, viola instant graph and type 300*400, instant calculator. It does some trigonometry as well, try "(x+y)sin(1/x)sin(1/y)". Lovely, no? 

5) Type  "gm" and immediately it will have you begin to search your gmail account. 

6) The omnibar converts all types of measurements. Type "One mile in feet?" or "milliliters in gallon". Nifty, right?

7) Type "Flip a coin" 

8) This tip is for hipsters wi

8) Type "What does the cow say?" and you'll be amused by the result. 
9) Type "metronome"

10) Finally, for fun, try "barrel roll". 

Google calls these boxes that pop up as the result of these searches, "cards". These cards are more than search results. They are powerful interactive tools. Some have real utility in the classroom.

Though it does many, many more things, I think this is a nice sampling of the things one can do with the Omnimar. YouTube is full of videos on the omnibar. Here's a little playlist of some useful ones. 

Monday, April 9, 2018


I'm old enough to remember when MicroSoft Publisher came out. I thought it was so cool. I took students to the computer lab to make old-fashioned looking newspapers about the Great Depression. We were so proud of ourselves. It was the first time I found easily accessible software that blended text, layouts and images.

I don't use anything made by microsoft these days as I live pretty exclusively in the ChromeOS and IOS platforms. But a quick google of Publisher's cost shows it ain't cheap. I'm sure more than a few schools still pay for the licensing. But the cost likely means that the Publisher skills learned at school won't be used beyond school. This brings me to Canva. I love it. And it's free! With it, I create posters, headings, infographics, and simple graphics for my blog posts. I use it all the time.
   Try it out!  Canva even has its own design lessons.
   It's easy, it's collaborative, it looks really good and it is cloud-based. So use this free tool and show it to your students.
   Here's an example.

Why Sharks? by Alex McDonnell

for more uses in the classroom, check out

Featured Post

Whoa. Amazing, amazing tools.

I've written quite a bit about using digital tools to enhance student reports, projects and publications. While an exciting visual...