Category Archives: Technology

The Great Thanksgiving Listen

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching; it’s my personal fave because it celebrates reflection…and food, of course! At Thanksgiving, I’m reminded to reflect on the year that has passed and remember all of the things for which I am thankful. At this point in my life, most of those things have to do with the exceptional relationships I am fortunate enough to have. Yet, it can also a difficult holiday, particularly for some of our students who may be dealing with trauma in their lives. Still, we hope we can support all members of our school family and help them connect to someone of significance.


So, when I came across The Great Thanksgiving Listen (TGTL), it seemed there would be something for everyone. Sponsored by StoryCorps, “…this is a national education project that empowers…students to connect with an elder [neighbor, friend, loved one] over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and record an interview, [which can] be entered into the StoryCorps archive in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.”

Although TGTL officially targets high school students, I noticed in samples of interviews taken from the StoryCorps Podcast (after the inaugural TGTL of 2015), interviewers ages ranged as young as 13. Participants download the StoryCorps App for free on iTunes (iPhone) or Google Play (Android) and register as a user. They will use the app to record and potentially upload the interview.

A Teacher Toolkit outlining the project, its guidelines, Common Core aligned lesson plans (intended for grades 9-12) and more is available on the website. The toolkit also includes variations for students under 13 who may not be granted permission to use the app or for those who may not have access to a smartphone.

The whole process, downloading and getting comfortable with the app, choosing questions (a bank is available) and practicing interview skills can be done in or out of Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 9.51.04 PM.pngclass (or a hybrid) in a matter of days, and the interview itself can range from 5-40 minutes. If it doesn’t happen for Thanksgiving, no biggie. Nothing says it has to. Interviews can occur any time. TGTL just happens to be a community effort.

All in all, the idea behind The Great Thanksgiving Listen is brilliant! We are ever the consumers of information, but we tend to think only experts in the field (whatever that is) have the right to contribute information. What a great opportunity to provide an authentic audience for students and to encourage their contributions to the vast internet bank of knowledge we all access on a regular basis.


Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):


As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.


Plickers: An Engaging Formative Assessment Tool

I was at a Digital Technology workshop earlier in the week, and I was pleased to hear the presenter talk about technology as a vehicle through which to engage students and support learning, not as a learning outcome itself. In fact, a mantra we heard frequently throughout the morning really hit home for me: It’s not about tech; it’s about learning.”

It's not about the tech; it's about the learning.

It’s not about the tech; it’s about the learning.

I can’t remember the first time I was introduced to Plickers, but I do remember the first time I actively used it; that was just a few weeks ago, as we were introducing Professional Learning Teams to three of our middle school staffs that would be collaborating across school sites. Plickers is a formative assessment tech tool. Using Plickers to pose questions and record live responses would both engage our “students” and support their learning, just what we’d hope could be replicated by teachers in their own classes. The tech tool simply enhanced what we might have done with paper and pencil. But, the more opportunities we have to purposefully and effectively integrate technology for students, the more opportunities we have for buy-in from various stakeholders.

This tool is free, easy to prep, and effective. It can be used in any content area to “take the temperature” of a class on their understanding of a concept, their perception of a theory, or their progress on a task, for example. It has its limits; you can’t ask a constructed response question with it and have a means for quick feedback, but it has a place in the assessment toolbox.

Click on the video below to get a feel for what Plickers is and how it works, then try it for yourself! After you do, drop us a note in the “Leave a Reply” box below this post, so we can all benefit from your pilot!

Professional Learning Opportunities

Greetings and Happy Fall! We attended a great 1/2-day session with Penny Plavala, MESD Literacy Specialist last week on Designing High Quality Professional Development. One of the things that resounded with me, the gist of which was the term professional development has garnered a somewhat negative connotation. The word “develop” suggests that negativity, as if someone needs to be developed. It might just be semantics, but Professional Learning has a much more positive connotation–we’re all in this together, collaborating and deepening our collective knowledge and understanding. Fall is a great time for Professional Learning opportunities, and without further adieu, here’s a short list of those coming our way:


This Friday, October 9th is the State Inservice Day, and ODE has several listings on their website. These range from Digital Filmmaking for K-12 Teachers to OMSI’s Teacher Pub Offering: a presentation by Astronaut Don Pettit.

In addition on Friday, Octorber 9, the IOC October 2015: “Inquiry Outside the Cube Conference” will be happening at La Grande Middle School. Sessions will be offered by grade band as well as general interest.  Topics will be best practices, STEM, CCSS, SBAC and more.

The following weekend, October 16-18, the OSTA: 55th Annual Fall Conference on Science Education at Central Oregon Community College. Strands for STEM, NGSS, Technology integration and more are on tap!

Looking for an affordable International Adventure? The 54th Annual Northwest Math Conference: Scaling New Heights takes shape in Whistler, BC., Canada October 22-24.

Friday, November 6th is the date for Oregon Reading Association’s Fall Institute with heavy literacy hitter, Carol Jago presenting on the topic of classroom rigor in Middle and High School.

Talk about real professional learning, Saturday, November 7th is the date of Wordstock’s relaunch through Literary Arts. Centralized at the Portland Art Museum this year, Wordstock is billed as the biggest 1-day book festival in the city.

I know it’s still a ways away, but for those of you with a penchant for or curious interest in storytelling, The Moth, that iconic storytelling venue of stage and radio is offering MothShop, a storytelling workshop for Teachers December 15-18. This unique opportunity is limited to just 12 participants. At last check (today), six spots remain.


In addition to live and in person professional learning opportunities, there are a wealth of online Webinar (archived and live) and video options for teachers to peruse on your own time. Here are a few that offer freebies we’ve found useful:

ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) – A wide variety of topics from Brain Research to Designing Lessons for Deepening Understanding.

Big Marker: Global Math Department Conferences Every Tuesday at 6:00pm: These are hour-long participatory conferences are hosted by teacher leaders. Goal: math teachers who share what we’ve learned, cause we don’t want our classes to suck the energy from students! – upcoming topics include: Integrating Primary Documents into Teaching & Learning (10/7), Literacy in Social Studies and Science for ELLs (10/26), and Giving Effective Feedback (10/28).

Education Week – Both live and archived, these webinars cross the gamut of topics and levels.

Illustrative Mathematics – Task Talks are virtual conversations for teachers and teacher leaders around a specific task. They convene weekly, Tuesday evenings at 5pm.

Nix the Tricks – Free ebook filled with alternatives to the shortcuts so prevalent in mathematics education and explains exactly why the tricks are so bad for understanding math.

PBSLearning – Bring PBS into your classroom with the myriad resources PBS offers.

Whatever your choice, live or living room, large group or individual, taking time for our own professional learning translates positively in the classroom.

Digital Tools for the Classroom

Well, we’re in the full swing of Maypril, that two month stretch with one PD day and one 3-day weekend. June and the end of the school year looms, but it is illusory. I’m prone to putting my head down and just plowing forth, but I realize it might also be a good time to stretch a little and get out of my comfort zone. I had the opportunity to do that by participating in a Webinar this week. Being a part of a Webinar wasn’t so new, but the content, “Digital Tools in the Social Studies Classroom” did have some new-to-me tools I thought I’d share. First, note that the title, in part, is tailored to application “…in the Social Studies Classroom;” however, many of these tools cut across content areas.

To share this information, I thought I’d use a tool that’s not new to me: Evernote. I’ve taken to using this tool for electronic notes that I can keep in a virtual notebook. I have it on my computer, iPad, and iPhone; notes sync across platforms, so I can access them anywhere. That isn’t always the case when I take physical notes in a journal then don’t think to bring it home, where invariably, a Homer Simpson moment occurs:

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 8.10.04 AM


Don’t get me wrong! I’m still a big fan of physical note taking, especially for students in the classroom just learning note taking skills. Evernote works well for me on the fly, particularly when I know I’m going to have my laptop or tablet with me anyway. It does have some pretty cool bells and whistles (I’m still learning), like sharing my digital tools list with you, straight from my Notebook (no account necessary)!

As far as my list is concerned, some are familiar, some are new; some are hot-linked, some are not; all are web-based, and many have tablet/smartphone apps. If you’re interested in the full-length Webinar, it is archived at You do have to join (free) their online community, Exploring eBooks for K-12, to access it. So, take a gander at the list or the Webinar! If something catches your eye, check it out and see how you might apply it to your classroom, Social Studies or not.

Providing Feedback: Saving Time in the Classroom

Blogging awhile back, I revealed I am not an early adopter of much, but I’m not stupid either. If someone introduces me to a tool that can make my professional life a little easier, I’m all ears! In several posts this year, we’ve been talking about Feedback. As we’ve shared, the most effective feedback (that which helps students make the most significant academic gains) is specific, corrective, and timely. A word on that last part: timely.

We all know giving effective feedback can be time consuming, particularly on formal assignments involving writing. With the overcrowded classrooms we are currently faced with, the hope of timely feedback for such products is even more fleeting. I’m not gonna lie; the tools I am about to share with you take time to set up, but in the long run, they will save you time.

Enter Doctopus (a Google Apps for Educators add-on) and Goobric (a Google Apps for Educators extension).


Colleague Dan Mangan, Clear Creek Team Phoenix & ELA Lead brought both of these tools (which work in tandem) to my attention, so I asked if I could sit down with him for a little tutorial, and happily, he agreed. Our 1:1 happened last week, and while it’s mostly fresh in my mind, I’m going to try to synthesize my learning for you.

Let’s start with a Screencast showing you how to capture these two tools:

  • Once installed, go back to that Spreadsheet you created in Google Drive. This will be the basis of your class assignment.
  • Click on the “Add-Ons” tab again.
  • Scroll to Doctopus and click on “Launch,” which will bring up step-by-step instructions in the right margin.
  • Some of you reading this may be savvy enough to follow these written instructions and go for it; if so, carry on!
  • Dan also recommended these tutorial videos for both Doctopus and Goobric. They do a better job visually walking you through the steps than I could  in writing.
    • Scroll down the page to find them on the website.

To help fill in a few holes in my understanding, I asked Dan to clarify. Here are a few “helpful hints”:

Rosters. The first step in Doctopus is to create one with first and last name, as well as the email address for each student. Dan noted there is no easy way build a roster as of yet, although once created, you can select any roster for all future assignments. Other than typing the information for every student by hand, Dan had a couple of ideas.

  1. Go to Synergy; if you choose this route but you’re unfamiliar with the process, contact your building Synergy trainer.
  2. If you have or can gain access to student login information for your school, you can make a copy of that spreadsheet, sort it for the information you need, and copy-paste that into the Doctopus spreadsheet fields.

A bit further into the Doctopus set-up, you’ll be asked to select an Assignment Template, which you create for your students, providing them instructions and a place to do their work. A template may be as simple as a “blank sheet” document with a heading and assignment name on it, to something much more complex. You’ll create your assignment in Google Drive as a Document, Sheet, or other compatible file type. This template will then be copied through Doctopus and distributed to your selected roster of students who will open their individual copy, work on it, and resubmit it.   Here is a sample Dan created for his 6th grade Narrative Writing Assignment.

When you’ve completed the Doctopus set-up, you’ll have some options to choose from, including to Add a Goobric. When you click on this button in the right margin, you’ll be taken through the process of adding a rubric of your design or to copy-paste a rubric (like the State Writing Scoring Guide) into the fields. Because Goobric and Doctopus work in tandem, once the Goobric is made, you can attach it to the assignment you developed, score and/or comment on student work, and return it to them–all electronically! Here’s Dan’s Narrative Essay Rubric as an example.

Doctopus and Goobric no doubt take set-up time. For those of us new to Google Add-Ons and Extensions, it’s a lot to take in, but as The Little Engine that Could reminds us: I think I can, I think I can; I know if I can, you can, too! If you’re looking for support, please contact us to help you through the process. Ultimately, the goal of sharing these tools is to help you save time without compromising quality feedback.

Graphing Math Stories – Video Style

I think it is fair to assume that analyzing the relationship between variables on a graph is an important math skill.  Making sense of the enormous amount of data coming at us and needing to make a decision based on the data necessitates a way to organize and understand it.   Graphing helps with that need.

The Common Core standards support this. Analyzing the relationship between variables on a graph is included in a priority standard in every math course (Geometry excluded) from 6th grade to high school.

  • Sixth graders are asked to Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables….
  • Seventh graders must Explain what a point on the graph…means in terms of the situation….
  • Eighth graders must Describe…the relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph….
  • Algebra 1 students must Relate the domain of a function to its graph and to the quantitative relationship it describes….
  • Algebra 2 students continue their work with linear and quadratic functions, and begin their work with exponential and piecewise functions.  They are asked to Construct and compare linear, quadratic, and exponential models….

Engaging students in the process of analyzing the relationships between variables through the use of stories via video is a way to get even the least motivated student interested.  Many such videos already exist and are available as a free resource.

An early set of videos were created by Dan Meyer and are found in a 2007 blog post.  In the post, Meyer shares ten videos he created to introduce a linear unit to his Algebra 1 class.  The scaffolded videos are engaging, and allow entry into the skill. Below is an example taken from this set.

The second set of videos were created when Meyer teamed with the BuzzMath Website and created “Graphing Stories: Fifteen seconds at a time.” These videos have been created in the same format that Meyer used in his original videos, however they were crafted by an assortment of people.  Each video is tagged with the type of relationship being highlighted: linear, piecewise, parabolic, increasing, or decreasing. Graphing Stories: Fifteen seconds at a time is good for all levels as the purpose is to help students conceptualize the relationships between the variables.

Other teachers, inspired by Dan Meyers, created their own videos and shared them on You Tube.  They include: Figaro, Biking, Dunk Tank, The Slide, Hill, and Canoe Distance.  A couple of folks even made videos to graph systems of equations.  Take a look at Man and Girl and Running.

As we’ve observed by attending data team meetings this fall, all staffs are emphasizing common instructional strategies.  Peppering your lessons with sporadic video clips or providing them for homework support is a means to deliver non-linguistic representation two-fold, through the activity of graphing and video.  In the end, you’re targeting a priority standard with a high-yield instructional strategy.  In the immortal words of Matthew McConaughey in his Academy Award acceptance speech: “Alright, Alright, Alright!”