Learning From One Another

MMS Librarian Jess Bock sharing Twitter with her colleagues.
Ben_flipped classroom
MASH Math teacher Ben Motter shares how he flips his classroom to provide more time to interact with students face-to-face.

Last Friday afternoon, while our elementary teachers were digging into data to get a broader picture of their students’ strengths and needs, our middle school and high school teachers were digging into their own digital learning. Each building organized sessions, facilitated by teachers who volunteered to share ways they use digital tools and resources to enhance learning. Session titles ranged from “Twitter for Professional Development”, to “Digital Collaborative Writing with Google Docs and Google Classroom”, to “Flipping the Classroom (with WeVideo)”. Teachers had the opportunity to learn from colleagues about how they use tools such as Kahoot!, Edmodo, Turnitin, Symbaloo, Chrome extensions, Diigo, Google Classroom (and many other Google Apps), Moodle, Twitter, Kidblog, Portableapps, PollEverywhere, Socrative, and more to support learning and help students develop important literacy skills. I was fortunate to be able to visit many of these sessions to see the collaboration and sharing that took place. In every session I visited, the focus was on how these tools can help students to think critically, to communicate and collaborate, and to create products to demonstrate understanding. Kudos to all who facilitated and helped to organize these events, and to everyone who took part in the conversations throughout the afternoon!

If you participated in any of these sessions, either as a facilitator or a learner, please leave a comment below to share something you learned or to provide your thoughts about the experience. Learning from one another is such a powerful form of professional growth. Your input will help to inform future learning opportunities across the district. Together we all know more!


Voice Dictation in Google Docs

This week Google announced some new features to Drive and Google Classroom. You can find out about all the updates here, but today I want to share one that could be really useful for students and teachers alike. Google Docs now has a speech-to-text feature called “Voice Typing” available when using Docs in Chrome. Open a Google Doc and under the “Tools” menu, choose “Voice Typing”.

voice typing Simply click the microphone icon and start speaking. While I haven’t tested it in anything but English, Google says it supports 40 different languages. Maybe some of you can test that out and comment on how it works! Here’s a brief demo I recorded:

This feature could be helpful for students who have difficulty transferring their thoughts into writing. Voice Typing could do the “heavy lifting”, allowing the student to go back to do the editing after the majority of the text has been recorded. It could also be an adaptation for students who struggle with keyboarding efficiently.

How could you and your students use Voice Typing?

Stop the Unwanted Ads

This is one of those non-instructional resources that can be really helpful in the classroom…and elsewhere.


One of the great things about the Internet is all the free resources. However, many of the sites that offer their services for free support themselves through the use of ads on their pages. I’m not opposed to these web publishers making a living – and I definitely appreciate being able to access their sites without having to pay for them – but many of the ads are not the kind of thing I want to appear on the screen in front of a classroom full of students. Until we can convince advertisers to use only school-friendly ads, I highly recommend the use of an ad blocker.

There have been quite a few articles in the press lately about the use of ad blockers, such as Should ad blockers be legal? With Ad Blocking Use on the Rise, What Happens to Online Publishers?, and Why Ad Blockers Won’t Destroy Online Advertising…YetThey cite the pros of ad blocking as getting rid of annoying pop-ups and autoplay videos, as well as avoiding the numerous unseen scripts that work behind those ads to collect information. The negative side of ad blocking seems to focus mostly on the fact that if online publishers can’t make money through advertising, they might have to start charging for their services. I’ll let you read the articles and make your own decisions. None of these articles addressed my reason for using an ad blocker however, and that is the ability to screen out ads that might not be suitable for viewing in school.

Chrome is my “go-to” browser and for over a year now I’ve used the Ad Block Chrome extension. It takes seconds to install Ad Block and then it silently works in the background as you go about your online business. I’ve been using it for so long, I didn’t even realize how much it was helping until the other day. A colleague was getting ready to use Answer Garden (the word cloud app we used during the opening session of our digital learning session on August 5th) and asked me how to get rid of the annoying, not very school-friendly ads at the bottom of the page. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had never seen ads on Answer Garden – because Ad Block had always caught them first.


As it’s working, the Ad Block icon shows me how many ads it has blocked on a particular page.



There are some sites that use software to detect ad blockers and occasionally I’ll get a message telling me I can’t proceed until I disable Ad Block. Depending on the situation, I can click on the Ad Block icon on my toolbar and allow the ads to come through or I can choose to use a different site.


There are other ad blockers available for Chrome, and if you prefer other browsers, you can try Ad Block Plus for Internet Explorer, or the Ad Block Plus add-on for Firefox.

If you regularly project online content for students to see, I highly recommend checking into an ad blocker. If you need help finding or installing one, please let me know.


Summer Learning Challenge

Image by Nic Adler on flickr.

It’s the last day of school, so I’ll keep this short. Summer is our “down time”; our chance to unwind and take a break from the constancy of the school year. But, just as we tell the kids, that doesn’t mean our learning has to stop. Once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, I’d like to offer a small challenge. This summer, try one new thing related to technology or digital learning. Here are a few ideas…

Pick one that’s new to you…or come up with your own idea. Then come back and leave a comment and share what you’ve learned. Have a great summer, everyone…and Happy Learning!


It’s a Chromebook. How Do I…?

Over the past year or so, Chromebooks have been popping up in schools across the district. Many of the learning activities students engage in involve the use of web-based resources, and Chromebooks allow them to access the Internet quickly and efficiently – and at a much lower price than most conventional laptops. This allows us to put more devices into the hands of students, but there are a few things that work a little differently than the Mac or Windows laptops you might be used to. Most of you know I’m a devoted Mac user, but I’ve been using a Chromebook on and off this year to get more comfortable. In fact, this post has been written and published using a Chromebook! Read on for a few of the very basic things I’ve learned along the way.

Logging In  For our elementary students who don’t have their own Google accounts, the Chromebooks are set to automatically login to a guest account. From there, students have the same Internet access they would have from any other district computer.

At the middle and high schools, students and teachers can login to the Chromebooks with their own Google accounts. This gives you access to your Google Drives and also creates a profile on that machine so any files you download will be available any time you login on that device (without allowing other users to see them).

Downloading Files  While most of the work you do on a Chromebook will be stored “in the cloud” through your Google account, you do have the ability to store some files locally. For instance, if you’re looking for an image to insert into a project, you can save the file to the Chromebook’s downloads folder and then browse to insert the picture.

Right Click   To bring up the “right click” menu on a Chromebook, tap the trackpad with two fingers at the same time OR hold down the Alt key and tap the trackpad with a single finger.

Screenshots  Need to take a screenshot of your whole Chromebook screen? Press the Control key (ctrl) and the “Window Switcher” key at the same time. To capture just a portion of the screen, hold down Ctrl and Shift and press the “Window Switcher” key. Then drag the crosshairs around the portion of the screen you wish to capture.

window switcher key

For more information, check out my Diigo list about Chromebooks. I continually add to this list as I find resources related to Chromebooks, so it’s always growing. If you’ve discovered your own helpful tips and tricks for using Chromebooks, please share them in the comments below.


Have You Ever Wondered…?

Special thanks to Mary Lehman and Monica Shirey for bringing this one to my attention! wonder quote pic The Habits of Mind shared by Costa and Kallick have played a major role in our curriculum work over the past two years. For most of the sixteen habits, it’s been easy to see their place in our work with students. Persisting? Creating, Imagining and Innovating? Thinking About Thinking? No problem. But one habit has stopped us in our tracks more than once – Responding with Wonderment and Awe. Where does that fit into our curriculum? And how in the world do we teach it?

These questions have led to some rich conversations about learning and the role of wondering. If we want students to learn how to learn, we have to encourage them to ask questions and to be curious about the world around them. Walk into a Kindergarten class and you’ll see this happening everywhere. We can’t let it stop there.

Wonderopolis is an amazing resource from The National Center for Families Learning for helping students to get their wonder back. Each day it features a new “Wonder of the Day”, complete with a short video intro and an informational article about the topic. Words that might be unfamiliar are underlined and the definition pops up when you hover your cursor over them. There’s also a “Listen” button at the start of each article that plays an audio recording of the article, with each word highlighted as it’s read. At the end of each article there’s a short quiz, in case you want to see how much you learned. You can even leave a comment for the Wonderopolis folks, who make it a point to reply to every single one. They also encourage visitors to suggest new wonders and vote on wonders suggested by others. It’s truly a community of wonder-ers!

Students can explore Wonderopolis to learn about things of interest to them. The informational texts would make great shared reading opportunities about curricular topics. I can also see this site acting as a springboard for students to act on their own wonderings. After exploring a few wonders in Wonderopolis, students could come up with their own wonders and then do the research to find some answers. They could then create their own “Wonderopolis”-style presentations to share what they’ve learned. These wonders could be completely student-driven or could be related to curricular topics. This would be a great way to connect learning and literacy across the content areas.

I encourage you to visit Wonderopolis and watch the video on their “About” page. Then start exploring the wonders. Here are a few to get you started:

Enjoy exploring the wonders of Wonderopolis! Just be careful…you might get lost in your wondering. I know I did.

Make Your Own Digital Refrigerator Magnet Activities

I realize there’s only a day left in National Poetry Month, but better late than never, right? I just found this awesome idea from Shake Up Learning for Collaborative Magnetic Poetry with Google Drawings.

magnetic poetry

You can click on the link in the blog to make a copy of a Google Drawing template. From there, you can rename the document and share it with whomever you’d like. Students can work independently or work together to build collaborative poems. Don’t see the words you want? Create a text box and add your own! Here’s a quick example I made…

lsr fridge

You don’t need to stop at poetry, either. Copy the template and add text boxes with content vocabulary and let students use the words to build meaningful sentences. Math teachers could add numbers and symbols and let students create equations. Here’s a picture of a quick sample I made. Click on it and make your own copy to modify as you wish.


Think about all the things you might do with magnets on a refrigerator! You don’t even need to start with the template…or a refrigerator! Open a Google Drawing and import your own background picture that matches the theme of your poem. This would be a creative way for students to publish original poems.

Check out Collaborative Magnetic Poetry with Google Drawings and give it a try in your classroom. Then come back and share some examples in the comments so we can all enjoy your students’ creativity!