Friday, November 30, 2018

Essential Tips for Studying Smarter, Not Harder

What advice do you have students as they prepare for final exams?

Exams may be just around the corner, so here are a few resources we've put together to help students organize, prioritize, and prepare for just about any assessment at any time throughout the year.

Essential Tips for Studying Smarter, Not Harder

Supercharge your Study Guide
It is just as important to think about HOW you study as it is to WHAT you study.

Don't Memorize - ORGANIZE!
Organized learners are more successful on exams. Being organized is the difference between knowing and understanding. Graphic organizers are a great way to make connections.

The Auditory Learner
Written notes have always been a valuable tool to learn, but voice typing and recording your voice are powerful ways to learn and review.
  • Voice typing in Google Docs is a quick way to add thoughts and essential concepts to your notes as you review activities or text.
  • You can also record and share your learning by using quick recording resources like Flipgrid, Screencastify Soundtrap or another recording resource.
The Visual Learner
The part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images. Sketchnotes and visual-notetaking are great ways to tap into how your brain processes visual information.

Digital Tools to Support Individual & Collaborative Review

Concept and Vocabulary Review - Quizlet
Start with flashcards, add diagrams, and engage in learning. Students can create their study sets, or choose from millions of flashcards sets created by others. You can use several study modes including multiple choice tests, flashcards, diagrams Quizlet learn, and more study games. Visit the Quizlet Blog, for more student study tips.

Collaboration - Google+ Communities and Padlet
You can create online study groups in Google+ Communities or by creating a collaborative Padlet.

Organization - Google Keep
Google Keep can be a powerful tool for organization and workflow. Create and share notes. Create checklists and reminders. You can organize study resources and create their own paths for learning. Google Keep is also integrated into Google Docs and Google Slides.

Video Connected to Content - Khan Academy and YouTube
Videos can be a powerful way to learn something new. Videos can also serve as great reviews to reinforce what you already know. YouTube has a wealth of channels connected to almost every subject.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Happy Friday Videos 2018 - 2019 Engage, Inspire, and Motivate

I sometimes struggled tremendously with the pace of the content in my Advanced Placement Environmental Science classes, so much so that I sometimes forget what is the most important thing in my classroom. My students and their growth as humans are so much more important than the content or the test we will all take. Don't get me wrong, I understand my responsibility to engage students in content, but I try to remember that it is not the only thing. This post is about remembering that content is not the most important part of my students' lives.

A few years ago I started a tradition of showing a funny, inspirational, or unique videos in class every Friday. While the videos were not always about being happy, we dubbed these our Happy Friday videos. I try to keep these short so we still have time for the Environment. I think the students looked forward to them almost as much as they did the weekend. I loved them because of the messages that were shared and discussed.

Last year without really thinking about it, I didn't show very many Happy Friday videos. I don't know why? I tried getting started a few times, but for reasons that I don't remember we never stuck with it. This is my list (Don't bother clicking on the link, not much is there.) from the 2017-18 School year.

When I reflected on the successes and failures of the 2017-18 school year, the lack of Happy Friday videos and discussions kept coming to the top of my failure list. I vowed that I would not let this happen again.

I am happy to say that I have remained committed and we have engaged in our Happy Friday Videos almost every Friday this school year. I am even planning a student takeover of the list to end the school year.

I wanted to share the list with everyone, maybe there is something here that you can use with your students? I will also continue to update this doc as we add videos this year.

Happy Friday Schedule 2018-19

If you have a video or list of videos that you love to share with students, would you consider sharing with us in the comments below?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Digital Shopping Resources for Educators

Every year I do more and more of my shopping online. The thrill of driving from store to store and fighting the crowds just isn't there for me anymore.

Each year I a share some Holiday shopping tips I’ve put together to help teachers, their families, and just about anyone save a little green this holiday season. I put this guide out once a year and we think there is something in this post that can help just about anyone regardless of your online shopping experience. Do you have additional online shopping tips or resources? Please share them in the comments below.

Online Cashback Websites

There are many sites that take advantage of online advertising to provide the consumer with coupons and cashback for major retailers when you shop online. They are free, secure, and incredibly easy to use. Combine these with rewards on a credit card and it the cashback can start to really add up. Mr. Rebates and Ebates are two great resources for online shopping.

Click here to explore Mr. Rebates - Cash Back Shopping

Click here to explore Ebates - Online Coupons and Cashback

Technology Purchases


iPad, iPod, Apple Watch, or Macbook? Apple typically runs their once a year sale on Black Friday online and in store. The MacRumors Site typically has the most updated details about Apple Store Sales.

Android and Chromebooks

Most major online retailers will run a variety of sales throughout the year. I would recommend starting your Chromebook search on Amazon Online when looking for the best prices on a new Chromebook.
Most mobile service providers will include deals on phones when you sign up for a contract, but smart shoppers can often find great deals online.

Amazon and eBay

Great places to shop for literally anything, especially Tech. You will frequently find the best prices for stuff here.  Remember that you are not always buying directly Amazon. Like eBay, Amazon has items for sale from other companies and independent sellers.  Both eBay and Amazon have incredible customer support. Mr. Rebates and Ebates also support Cashback for both sites.

Click here to explore Amazon’s Black Friday Deals

Learn more about Amazon Prime Membership to save on shipping.

Click here to explore eBay Deals

Learn more about the eBay Bucks to earn cashback on all of your eBay purchases.

Union Membership

Did you know that both the NEA and AFT posts some excellent deals for teachers? These deals include merchandise, restaurants, and travel. 

Click here to explore the NEA Member Benefits Site. 
Click here to explore the AFT Member Benefits Site.

Daily Deal Websites – Online and in Store

There are a variety of websites that compile information about sales and deals year round. My favorite is the Wise Bread site. I also love the deals on

Click here to explore the Wisebread Site - Living Large on a Small Budget. 
Click here to explore - Your Place to Save Every Day.

Online Coupon Sites

There are several online sites that collect and share retailer coupons and deals. These coupons are often both digital or printable. RetailMeNot is a current favorite.

Click here to explore RetailMeNot - Coupons and Promo Codes.
Click here to explore the Honey Chrome Extension

Protecting Your Credit Card Online

Most online stores/credit card companies do a great job taking care of credit card purchases, but a great way to pay from a lot of online purchases is to use PayPal. It’s free and provides an extra layer of security between your credit card and online shopping. Paypal also supports free returns for many purchases.

The Rest of the Story - Additional Online Shopping Resources

Monday, November 19, 2018

Digital Study Resources for Students

We've put together a resource document sharing tools and resources for independent and collaborative student-centered learning and review.

The goal of the guide is the help students use digital tools to be self-directed and collaborative learners as they learn new concepts and review for classroom assessments.

We need your help. If you have a moment to look over the guide and provide any additional resources or suggestions, we would appreciate it. Thanks in advance. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Reflecting on a Student Centered Learning Experience

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  - Xun Kuang

I am always looking for new ways shift the ownership of the learning experience away from me and towards my students. I have always believed that student engagement can be enhanced when students are encouraged to take ownership of not just the knowledge, but the process of learning itself.

I really enjoy creating and experimenting with different student-centered learning experiences. I am always looking for new ways to engage my students. Today I am reflecting on a new learning activity my students and I explored this week. 

On Monday, I introduced my students a new Time Design Challenge. The activity was designed to help students build a knowledge base connected to several essential concepts connected to life on Earth. 

Day 1 - Getting Started

We led off with a Pear Deck question and class discussion about the concept of time. I then introduced the activity to the class and asked students to start by exploring the different concepts in the document. 

When we are working through activities, I always ask my students to focus on concepts and ideas that they are less familiar with or don't know at all. They don't always do this well, but it is part of our process when we engage in student-centered learning. The plan was to help students explore what they already know and then start to plan how they can learn and share more about what they don't know. It is often too easy for students to just choose what they already know and share this, instead of figuring out how to share something they do not know. 

Near the end of the class, we paused and took a look at the design goals for the 2nd day. I emphasized that they would not have time to include every concept, so they should focus on what they don't know as they plan the design. Day 1 was just about planning, so none of the groups started on their designes the first day.

Day 2 - The Design
I have always believed that visual creation is a great way to engage students in new ideas and concepts. The goal for day 2 was for students to engaged in the content and create a visual to share the concepts they chose to focus on during day 1. 
We started the day with these design goals and then students moved to the creation phase. 
  • Everything should connect to time. 
  • Incorporate each of the essential topics into your design: Geologic Time Scale, Absolute Time, Relative Time, Rock Cycle, and Plate Tectonics
  • Demonstrate your understanding through good visual design.
  • Build an engaging visual to teach someone about time connected to evolution.
While the students were working, I was able to check in with different pairs periodically. I also had some time to reflect on what we had accomplished and where we might go next. The plan had always been for the students to share their creations with the class. I decided that we would do a Gallery Walk of sorts. I also wanted to students to evaluate the work of other groups. I decided that would create a short formative quiz on Day 4 that would help both the students and I gauge what we learned and what we didn't learn.

I shared my idea of the quiz and my students asked if they could use their designs as cheat sheets. We decided this would be ok and they went back to work until the end of the period.
I noticed a shift in the student's designs almost immediately after I announced the future quiz. The student focus seemed to shift and instead of focusing on and diving deeper into the new concepts they had been exploring, they began to try to add everything they could to these "cheat sheets". The thinking about how to create a good visual was set aside as students instead rushed to add more text to cover all the concepts for the quiz. One of the frequent requests was for more time. 

Day 3: Sharing and Touch Up Work

The plan for day 3 was to have students review the different designs and then go back and reflect on their own designs. I decided to break this into 3 steps.

Up first was a 7-minute gallery walk. Students were encouraged to explore how the different visuals connected to their essential concepts. I encouraged the students to take pictures of the visual components that they thought could enhance their own designs. 

I was surprised at how hard it was for many of the students to use the full 7 minutes. There were 14 different designs. but most just wanted to take a few pictures and thought they were done after about 2 minutes. When asked, many said that everything seemed the same so they didn't need all that time.

The students then went back to their designs to reflect and add additional visuals if they felt the need.
I think this was one of the most powerful learning moments we experienced. I watched with barely contained excitement as students began to use the images on their phones to add new visuals to their designs. The engagement at this point was more than I could have ever hoped for, Several students commented on the fact that they found some great images and ways of explaining the concepts that worked better than some of their original visuals.

The final step on day 3 was for students to use a Google Form to evaluate 5 different designs. Students completed the form in pairs. This became a great learning moment as students took closer looks at the designs of their classmates. There were some great conversations as students discussed how to evaluate the different designs.

Day 4: The Quiz

Designs were returned and it was time for a quiz. Most of our quizzes are open note, open internet, and we have even done 2 partner quizzes this year. I planned for this one to be a bit different. Students would share cheat sheets, but these would be the only resource they could access. I also told them they could "cheat" of their partner's answers as long as there was no talking. The students did well on some, but not as well as I hoped on the quiz overall. On the bright side, I now know the concepts we need to revisit before moving on.

What I would change in the future?
  • I don't like that the students shifted to trying to learning everything when I added the quiz on the second day. Maybe too much focus on having all the answers? Many of the students shared that they felt they were doing too much surface learning because they want a bit of everything on their "cheat sheets".  I don't think I would announce or maybe even do a quiz the next time. I will need to find a different way to formatively assess what was gained. 
  • I think I need to place a greater emphasis on having the students create new visuals and not just making copies of existing diagrams and images. While some groups created very original designs, there were too many that just recreated what already existed. 
  • Evaluating 5 different designs might have been too many for most groups. I think I might assign each group 3 so they go a bit deeper when they evaluate the designs. 
  • I also think I need to provide a few more guiding questions to help the students avoid getting lost in the volume of content.
  • I also think I would like to add a Flipgrid or Adobe Spark Video where students explain key concepts in their designs for the class. It never hurts to have one more Student Voice option. 
Overall, both my students and I enjoyed the experience. While the focus was on content, we explored the content while we were collaborating, creating, communicating, and thinking critically. While not perfect, I think this was a lesson design worth updating and bringing back in the future.

Interested in learning more about Visual Design? I have some resources and tools in this Blog Post

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Google Science Journal

Have you ever explored Google's Science Journal? 
"Science Journal is the free digital science notebook brought to you by Google. Whether you're a science educator or a hobbyist doing science at home, you can keep your notes, photos, and observations all in one convenient place. Use the sensors in your phone to measure and graph phenomena such as light, sound, and motion, or connect to external sensors via bluetooth to conduct experiments on the world around you."

Explore Science Journal
Google's also recently announced that Science Journal is integrating with Google Drive. Now, all experiments will be accessible through google accounts. 

Are you already using Science Journal? Please share your experiences in the comments below. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Critical Media Project Website - Engaging Students in Media Literacy and Culture

Recently I stumbled on an interesting site connected to media literacy, equity, culture, and empathy.
From the site:

Critical Media Project (CMP) is a free media literacy web resource for educators and students (ages 8-21) that enhances young people’s critical thinking and empathy, and builds on their capacities to advocate for change around questions of identity. CMP has a two-fold mission:
  • To raise critical awareness and provide the tools to decode media representations of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socio-economic class, religion, age, and disability, and develop an understanding as to how these identities intersect
  • To encourage and offer guidance for students to tell their own stories, create their own representations, and uphold their status as active and engaged participants in civic society.
cmp learning objectives
  • EXPLORE: To observe and become cognizant of messages about identity that surface in everyday media and culture
  • EXPAND: To understand and gain perspective on the historical, social, and political contexts of media representations of different identities
  • EXCAVATE & EXPLICATE: To critically decode and develop skills to analyze the meanings (and ideologies) behind various representations of identity across media genres and platforms
  • EXPRESS & ENGAGE: To develop and deploy strategies and skills to create one’s own representations, tell own stories, and create counter-narratives
I would love to know if or how you use these resources with your students?

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Classroom Screen Display Tool for Educators

Projectors and Flat Screens have become an integral tool in many teacher's classrooms. I use my projector and screen daily to display objectives and instructions. It also sometimes serves as a backchannel, a timer, or a focus point for students at different points during classroom activities. I have traditionally used Google Slides as my palette for everything I display in class, but recently I discovered a great tool with some incredible features.


ClassroomScreen includes some great features, including:

  • Language – Choose from a variety of languages. 
  • Background – You can use one of the incredible images on the site or upload your own. 
  • Random Name – Enter student names or upload a .txt file to create a quick random name picker. 
  • Sound Level – Let the class know if it is getting too loud. 
  • QR Code –  Share an url with a QR code. 
  • Drawing Tool and Upload Image – A Digital whiteboard. You can also upload an image an annotate it. 
  • Text – Insert a text box on your screen with basic word processing tools.
  • Work Symbols – Symbols to remind students if and how they should be collaborating: Silence, Whisper, Ask Neighbor, or Work Together.
  • Traffic Light – Red, Yellow or Green.
  • Timer – Countdown timer and stopwatch.
  • Clock and Calendar – A  clock that also shows the date.
  • Exit Poll – Quick poll to check student understanding. 

Looking for more EdTech and Google Tips? Explore the Archive of Past Tuesday Tips.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Google Forms - A Quiz You Can't Fail?

I've long been a huge fan of Google forms for exit slips, surveys, and formative assessments. For me, it is one of the easiest tools to efficiently engage my students in reflective learning and assessments. I've even dabbled with using Google forms as a HyperDoc. (I still prefer slides and docs, so I'm not ready to recommend forms as a resource to create HyperDocs.)

Another great feature of Google Forms is the ability direct learners to different sections of the form based on the answer chosen in a multiple choice question. This is a great way to support differentiated learning experiences. Students can be directed to a statement, video, website or other digital resource based on the answer they choose. 

If you want to see this in action, I've put together a quick formative assessment connected to Copyright and Fair Use. This is not perfect, but I think it is a good starting point to demonstrate how powerful branching in Google Forms can be. 

Copyright and Fair Use Formative Assessment

This is not a new idea, and I owe my exploration of this feature to some incredible educators. Several years ago Tom Mullaney wrote a great post about an "Impossible to Fail" Google Quiz. Alice Keeler as has a more recent post about these types of branching forms, "Creating a Branching Quiz". I highly recommend both of these posts if you are looking to learn a more about branching in Google Forms.

Here is a quick peek behind the curtain to see how this is done. Alice's and Tom's post go into a bit more detail if you need something more. 

The first step is to plan the sections you will need for each question. For the first question on the quiz, I needed to create 3 sections on the quiz. 

Section 1 is the first multiple choice question. The correct choice leads to section 3 and the incorrect choices all lead to a video about copyright protection. Each wrong answer could also be set to a different section based on the response. 

Section 2 is the check for understanding section that contains a video for students to review if they choose any of the incorrect responses.  You don't need the yes, no question, but I like this having this so students recognize that they should watch the video before moving on. When answers yes, they are brought back to section 1 to try the question again. Note that there is no way to force the student to watch the video, so they could just keep going back to the question until they guess right.  

Section 3 is reached when the correct answer is chosen and the student can then move to the next question.

The process then repeats for each question. As you can probably guess, this takes some time, but once you create one you can easily copy the form as a template for new branching quizzes. 

How could you use this with your students? Please share in the comments below.

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