8+ Tools for Developing Learner Profiles

Mike Mohammad joined me in episode 28 of the Educational Duct Tape Podcast to discuss 2 questions that an educator might have.  One of the topics that we discussed was learner profiles.  Mike posed the question, “How can students create a profile of themselves as a learner to share with an audience beyond the classroom?

Tools for Learner Profiles Title Image

While Mike and I did not discuss the it during the show, I want to quickly compare and contrast the terms learner profile and digital portfolio.  While there are similarities (both are typically curated by the student, both showcase the students work in school and both are often done digitally) there are also some differences (typically, digital portfolios are a showcase of academic work and growth while learner profiles also often focus on the students’ capabilities, characteristics and aptitudes as a learner).

Regardless of which end result you’re looking to cultivate in your school (learner profile, digital portfolio or a blend of both), there are plenty of tools that you can leverage.

A week after the episode in which Mike and I discusssed this aired, I hosted a Twitter chat about the questions from our talk.

Here are some of the participants’ responses to the question about learner profiles:

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SCRATCHing the Surface: Trying Out Scratch

Scratch is a block-based programming tool from the MIT Media Lab that gets pigeon-holed as a tool for introducing students to coding & programming.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great tool for that, but it’s oooohhhh sooo much more!  In my mind–and in the minds of many students who have used it–Scratch is a place with infinite possibilities for creation.

That creation can be, well… just about anything. And that anything could relate to games or music or jokes or…. science, math, social studies, language arts, world languages…. you get the picture.  ANYTHING.  It could be a great classroom tool.  Especially when put in the hands of students.

So, let me give you a little intro to Scratch.  Let’s SCRATCH the Surface.

I’ll update this post periodically, adding a few new #EduGIFs at a time.  If you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll know when new #EduGIFs are added.

First Steps

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15+ Tools for Student Voice

In episode 28 of the Educational Duct Tape PodcastMike Mohammad joined me for a chit-chat.  One of the topics that we discussed was student voice.  I posed the question, “How can educators provide opportunities for student voice?

Mike promptly made the distinction between student voice and student choice.  While both are powerful things to leverage in the classroom, they are very different (though we often lump them together, as Mike pointed out).

I think that educators’ definitions for the term student voice are inconsistent – some seem to believe that it simply means
– hearing each student’s answer or thinking
– while others believe that it means empowering the students to have a voice in some (or all!) aspects of their education.

Mike made it clear in his response that he subscribes to the 2nd “definition” of student voice.  His response fits with the description that Edutopia usesstudent voice involves letting “students’ input and expertise … help shape their classroom, their school, and ultimately their own learning and growth.”

I definitely believe that that is the type of student voice that we want to strive for.  In a recent #EduDuctTape chat, educators shared their favorite tool for empowering student voice.  It’s important to note that simply using the tool doesn’t provide opportunity for or empowerment of student voice.  It’s all about how you use it.

Here are some of their responses:

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SketchUp on Chromebooks!

When my friend Dave Ternent and I started teaching a middle school STEM course back in 2012, one of the first tools that we selected for the course was SketchUp.

SketchUp is a free 3D modeling computer program made by Trimble and, for a while, owned by Google.  It was the perfect introduction to 3D-modeling, architecture and engineering for middle schoolers: powerful, but relatively easy to learn.

After seeing the awesome Matt England present at a local tech conference about his use of SketchUp with middle schoolers we even had information from someone who had used it about how to best introduce it.  Matt was kind enough to share his resources during the session.

Based on Matt’s information, we had our students make shapes with certain dimensions as they learned to use it (see image).  After that, they moved up to creating a 3-hole putt-putt (mini-golf) course that fit within a certain area (see image).  They got very creative with those courses, which is great, but you could also extend this to tons of curriculum standards!  Surface area, Roman architecture, volume, locations from literature, measurement, earthquake-resistant houses, perimeter, developing cities . . . I could go on and on.  But I stopped using SketchUp.  Why?  It didn’t work on Chromebooks.

Until recently! SketchUp is now available on the web, which means that you can use it on Chromebooks!  Check out the animated GIF below showing me using SketchUp.  Imagine the possibilities for students!

SketchUp Shapes
In this activity, students had to create certain shapes based on provided descriptions. i.e., Create a right triangle with a 5-foot hypotenuse.
Another student’s 3-hole putt-putt course, complete with a small shed for the employee & storage
SketchUp on Chromebooks Animation



Nupedia was a revolutionary idea. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so; because I had never heard of it either. It was started by Jimmy Wales, who later started . . . Wikipedia.  I bet you’ve heard of that one. So, what led to Jimmy’s switch from Nupedia to Wikipedia?

Well, it’s something that educators can learn a lot from.  So listen up.

Jimmy started Nupedia, “the free encyclopedia”, in 2000.  But, after a year, it only had 21 articles on it.  Why, when there are now millions of articles on Wikipedia, were there so few on its predecessor after 1 year?  According to Jimmy on this episode of the How I Built This Podcast, he made the decision to do something that all educators should take note of.  He realized “I just need to go through this process myself to see what’s wrong with it or how can we [sic] improve it.”  I’ll let you listen to the podcast to find out what he discovered, but for us educators, the important lesson is this:

That was really the moment when I said, ‘Okay, look this isn’t going to work. This isn’t fun’ . . . So that was a really crucial moment, the moment when I tried to get something through the system.

The lesson for educators? Always, always, try it out before asking your students to do it.  If it feels tedious, boring, torturous or needlessly difficult to you, imagine how it will feel to a kid. Do you feel empowered when you try out your lesson or activity?  Do you feel engaged when you complete that assignment?

You don’t necessarily need to take a full walkthrough of an activity – and if you differentiate well, it might not be possible for you to do a full trial run of every activity or assignment – but you should be putting yourself in the shoes of your students with everything that you ask them to do.

In the world of design, this is referred to as User Experience (UX) Design. Simply put, this means that when you create something (an app, a website, a device, a classroom activity) you focus on the experience that your user will have.  Always, always, keep your students’ experience in mind when designing your instruction!

Posting Homework via Google Slides

I’m not a big fan of homework, but I am a big fan of making sure that communication between teachers, co-teachers, students and parents is as convenient and efficient as possible without detracting from the learning experience.  For many educators, their learning management system (LMS) or online gradebook already offer a platform for this.  However, for those that may need an alternative solution – or just a differentiated form of communication – this idea for communicating homework (and/or details about what was done during class) is a good one!  I heard it on Episode 39 of the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast, shared by Karen McKenna.

In Karen’s idea, teachers can use a Google Slides presentation and add a slide for each day of class. On that slide, they can include any important details from class that day, including the day’s homework.  Putting the newest slide at the beginning of the slideshow would make it easiest – saving the viewers from needing to scroll to the end of the slideshow to get the most recent details.

I love this idea for its simplicity and flexibility.  Need to email a parent what their kiddo missed when out sick? Send a link to the slides.  Have a Google Site for your class?  Embed the slides.  Work with intervention specialists, tutors and gifted educators who need to know what you did in your class?  Have them bookmark the slides.  Check out this animation to see how you can set it up:

Homework in Google Slides Animation

Top 5 Posts of 2017

Happy New Year! Before we look forward to all of the awesome learning that 2018 holds for us, I’m going to get all nostalgic for a quick sec…. here are my 5 most viewed posts from 2017:

  1. Adding Captions to Images in Google Docs
  2. Recreating Pop Hits as Content-Related Lyrics Videos 
  3. Change Your Default Font in Google Docs 
  4. Screencastify to FlipGrid 
  5. Adding Audio in Google Slides (hack)

Screencastify for Feedback

I’ve done a number of posts about Screencastify, but recently I was reading a blog post that presented an idea that I had not previously thought of.  In it, the author talks about using a screencasting tool to give both visual and auditory feedback on a student’s work.  It seems to me that this would be so much more useful for a student than just comments on the doc.  Plus they’d be more likely to view it.

Add in the ease of use with Screencastify – quickly sharing in Google Drive – and you’ve got a win-win.  Below is a GIF I made to share the process.  In the GIF, I am giving (fake) feedback on a Google Doc, but it could be anything.  I could even show how it falls on a rubric within the video!

You could even have students give each other feedback this way!

One last note – if you start doing this regularly, you could create one folder in your Drive for each of your students and then drag the videos into those folders for the students to view.

Screencastify for Feedback Animation

Captain Doofus & the Traffic Circle

We all have our irrational pet peeves.  Our things that are “small potatoes” but make us want to gouge someone’s eyeballs out.

One of mine is people who don’t know how to drive in a traffic circle.  You know the guy.  That doofus that stays on the outside of the circle even though they’re going 75% of the way around the darn thing.  Everyone sits waiting in suspense at the entrances to the circle, wondering “Will this be the lucky street that this fantastic driver turns on?”  No one can tell.  It literally could be any exit.  And we all have to stay out of Captain Doofus’ way because you just… don’t… know.

“Hey Kids, Big Ben! Parliament!” – GIF from giphy.com, originally from the 1985 movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation

Anyhow, I digress.  One day I was entering a traffic circle and there he was.  Captain Doofus.  I started to mutter driving instructions for him.  “Stay to the inside until you near your exit, dude!”  At one point, while starting to yell out, “How do you not know how a traffic circle works, doofus!?” I realized . . . a lot of people do it wrong.  And if that many people don’t follow the same process that I follow in a traffic circle, are they wrong . . . or is the traffic circle itself wrong?

If like 25% of users can’t use something correctly, the design itself needs to be reevaluated.  This reminded me of education (as things tend to do).  I can remember grading tests and groaning “ugh, they all got this question wrong!”  After further reflection, I’d often realize that either the question was unintentionally confusing or my instruction had led them astray.

That’s an oft-forgotten reason that we do formative assessment.  Not just to assess our learners, but to assess our instruction and content.  If a large portion of our learners are confused, we need to re-think our strategies, design and assessment.

Unsurprisingly, there are a few recently built traffic circles in my area that have signs, lanes and arrows painted in the lanes.  If the drivers were using the traffic circle wrong, you’ve got to change the traffic circle . . . because you can’t change all of the drivers!  And these newer circles changed to accommodate the users.

The moral of the story – Captain Doofus may not be a doofus.  You may have just designed a really confusing traffic circle.  Or he may have attended a crumby driving school.  But your best move is to design a more doofus-friendly traffic circle.

Schoology – Requiring Assessment Mastery Before Moving on

In Sal Khan’s phenomenal TED Talk Let’s Teach for Mastery – Not Test Scores, he illustrates the lack of focus on mastery in most classrooms with this metaphor:

To appreciate how absurd [teaching based on a pacing guide, not mastery] is, imagine if we did other things in our life that way. Say, home-building.

So we bring in the contractor and say, “We were told we have two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can.”

So they do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up. And two weeks later, the inspector comes, looks around, says, “OK, the concrete is still wet right over there, that part’s not quite up to code … I’ll give it an 80 percent.”

You say, “Great! That’s a C. Let’s build the first floor.”

He continues with this great metaphor, but I’ll stop there because the point is clear: it’s silly to have students move to the next topic or skill before they’ve mastered the one they’re on.  With technology, we have tons of ways to ensure this mastery.

In Schoology, you can require students exceed a minimum assessment score prior to moving on to the upcoming content.  And, if they don’t do well enough?  Have them learn from their mistakes, get better, re-take the assessment and then move on.

Here’s how to do it, first in GIF form and then in step-by-step form.

Requiring Test Mastery in Schoology Animation

  1. Go to the Materials Page for your course.
  2. Click Add Materials > Assessment.
  3. Create your Assessment.
  4. Include in the instructions a note about the minimum score and their ability to retake the assessment.
  5. Go to “Settings” inside of the assessment.
  6. Change the Attempt Limit to Unlimited (or some other greater than 1 option)
  7. Decide how you’d like it to be graded.  I go with “highest score.”
  8. Turn on Submissions (if you’re ready)
  9. Go back to your materials page.
  10. Click on Options > Student Completion.
  11. Set up Student Completion for your pages and assignments.
  12. For the Assessment, Select “Member must score at least” and enter the minimum score you’d like students to obtain.