Monday, June 28, 2021

Teachers, you know this scenario: You've found a technology tool that you are excited to use with your students. You have a well crafted lesson plan and are ready to go. However, when you start introducing the tech tool, things go bad. Some students are lost and can't catch up, some students are over confident and are giving bad advice to others, the class is so interested in the tech that they are not hearing a word you say, and you get asked the same question over and over again.

To avoid this dilemma, you will want to follow my top 3 tips for introducing technology to students. This short video tells you everything you need to know so that your class will be smooth sailing when you introduce new tech tips.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

With school across the world forced into remote learning, many teachers have found themselves recording videos to provide instruction to their students. Teachers might be asking themselves many questions about the videos they create for their students. Do my videos look professional enough? Are my videos as good as other teachers’ videos? How can I make my videos more entertaining? Are students engaged with my videos? Do students watch my videos all the way to the end?

Let’s be honest, most teachers are not comfortable publishing videos where they do not look or sound their very best. It’s so easy to get lost into the rabbit hole that is video editing. You might be thinking, “Maybe adding that background or that transition will be the difference that makes my next video that much better?” Or you might find yourself on the 17th take of your recording because you keep messing up the delivery of your opening sentence. Your simple two-minute video has now turned into a four-hour project.

Trying to create the “best videos” possible for our students can easily turn into trying to create the “most entertaining videos” possible for our students. After all, we have to keep our kids engaged, right?

You know what? It really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if your video is perfect. It doesn’t matter if your video contains mistakes. It doesn’t matter if your video is boring. Teachers are now forced to compete in one of the most highly competitive markets of our time, videos on social media. This is a battle we cannot win. After all, it's not your instructional video that's the most important, it's the student learning experience after the video that's most important.


“Edutainment” is the idea of combining entertainment and education. The term may have been used as early as 1954 by Walt Disney. I'm all for sprinkling in some entertainment to help make learning fun, however I feel many teachers are feeling the need to be full-on “edutainers” in a remote learning setting. Feeling like they need to entertain their students online to keep student engagement high. Feeling like they need to compete with the other media that their students are consuming outside the classroom. My stance is for educators to focus on the education part. Don’t worry about trying to entertain kids online as well.

The learning process is often the opposite of the instant gratification provided by popular media outlets like TikTok or YouTube. Our students visit these online video platforms and are instantly entertained in minutes, or even seconds. That’s not how learning works. Learning takes time. Learning isn’t always fun. Learning can be hard and frustrating. Learning can be a slow, challenging process. We don't want to condition our students that learning is always enjoyable, easy, and fun. Part of our job as educators is to provide students with the understanding that learning isn't always a walk in the park, but it is worth it to persevere through the challenging times. Let’s let the entertainers focus on getting millions views and likes and let educators focus on creating that meaningful and relevant student experience.


Remote learning has teachers competing with the most popular social media stars in the world. Teachers don’t stand a chance putting their videos up against this level of competition. How often do you hear parents telling their kids to put their phone down and stop binge watching those direct instruction educational videos? Now, compare that to how many school age kids you see completely captivated by consuming as many TikTok or YouTube videos as possible on their device. The videos teachers make are simply not going to compete with the most popular social media videos. It’s not going to happen. Here’s a video from the YouTube channel Dude Perfect, which has over 51 million subscribers at the time of this writing.

Ask yourself, “If I was a kid, which video would I rather watch? The Dude Perfect guys doing bottle flips, or my teacher's new video on double digit subtraction strategies?” That's OK. Dude Perfect is in the business of getting million of views to entertain. Teachers are in the business of getting a small number of views to educate.

Here’s one of the most popular TikTok stars, Charli D’Amelio. She is a 16 year-old that currently has over 55 million followers. This video is only 7 seconds long and it was viewed over 9 million times in the first 12 hours after it was posted.

@charlidamelio @heididamelio @marcdamelio
♬ original sound - _samantha.nicole_

I don’t want to start a debate on how meaningful or how important these videos are to our society or the greater good. It doesn’t matter. This is what our students are watching, this is where they are at.  I’m simply pointing out two things, 1 - teachers cannot compete for views or likes with social media stars, 2 - it's not the teacher's first priority to entertain, so don't spend half your day trying to make the perfect video.


We know that for our students to create, they also need to consume. I’m asking teachers to think about how much of their lesson planning time is spent on student consumption and how much of their lesson planning time is spent on student creation. Don’t worry about spending countless hours making those videos perfect for your students (consumption). Keep creating your instructional videos, just go with the theme that your videos are “good enough”.

Although recorded videos are only only part of your student’s learning experience, making these videos might be taking up the majority of your time spent on lesson planning. Don’t obsess on the student experience from the consumption side. Make a quick video. Provide a few additional resources and move on. Spend the majority of your lesson planning time on designing the student experience from the creation side. Design creative options for students to demonstrate their understanding. Find ways to provide student voice and choice in the work that they submit.


One thing we can do to enrich the student experience is to provide more student voice and choice to our lessons. I thought about creating a list of guiding questions to help you plan & include student voice & choice in your lessons, however I’m sure John Spencer does a far better job than I could with his “4 Ways to Craft Choice Menus in Distance Learning Classes”. Please note that Spencer states, “... too much choice can be a problem. Students can feel overwhelmed when things are too loose. Children need expectations, which is why agency and compliance still have a place.”

Another way to use student choice & voice is to make the shift from engaging students to empowering students. As John Spencer explains in this video, “It’s a shift from making the subject interesting, to tapping into student interests.”

So, that’s my take. What are your thoughts? How can teachers design their remote lessons to focus on creative or relevant options for students to demonstrate their understanding? Or, perhaps you disagree with this entire blog post, That's OK too. Leave a comment below.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Looking to find a way to give your students feedback in a remote learning environment? Look no further than FlipGrid. FlipGrid is a video based discussion platform that is 100% free for all educators and their students. FlipGrid works on any device and has a low friction interface that is easy for students to start using.

I know, I know, in one of my previous posts I talked about remote teaching like a minimalist. The idea was to use the technology tools that you and your students already had experience using in a face-to-face setting. However, I did also mention that you could add 1-2 new technology tools per semester and it would be ideal if these new tech tools served more than one purpose. FlipGrid can be used to increase student voice and it is an excellent tool for teacher/student feedback as well as student/student feedback. So, if you are looking to add that one new tech tool to your teaching toolbox, I suggest you look into FlipGrid and see if it would be a fit for your classroom.


FlipGrid allows teachers to pose a topic or question to their students and the students then respond by recording a short video. The teacher has the option to have the student videos private so only the teacher can see them, or public so that other students in the class can view the videos. The teacher also has the option to allow student/student replies to classmate videos if they wish.

The asynchronous nature of FlipGrid is perhaps it’s most powerful feature. In a live setting, students usually have limited time to answer questions on the spot, without much “think time” before responding. FlipGrid gives the students time to process their thoughts before recording their video response. Many students have a hard time expressing their thoughts in writing, and many students get frustrated with the amount of time it takes to type their thoughts on a keyboard. FlipGrid avoids these common barriers by having the students use a format they are familiar with to explain their thoughts … video.

Imagine trying to run a whole class live video session and asking students to respond to a question. The teacher would only have a few minutes to call on a few kids. Most students would not have an opportunity to speak. FlipGrid increases student voice by allowing ALL students to answer each question.

From the teacher perspective, FlipGrid automatically archives each conversation. Every student video is saved, and the teacher can review responses as needed. In a face-to-face setting, it would be nearly impossible to record and archive every pair-share or small group student conversation. These archived videos can show student growth over time.

The teacher can provide feedback in a variety of ways with FlipGrid. The teacher can create rubrics to score video responses, reply with text feedback, or reply with a video response. The video replies from the teacher can help recreate the conversations that are missing with remote learning. The student does not need to remember exactly what the teacher said days later. Each student can easily watch & re-watch customized, private teacher feedback at any time.


Like any tool, FlipGrid will only be as good as the intent behind its use. Be very careful to have a purpose when assigning a FlipGrid topic to your students. It can be all too easy to fall into using a tech tool just because it is new & shiny. Hearing other educators say, “Kids love it!” is not enough. Kids also love sugar and unlimited screen time. It’s our job as educators to use FlipGrid with a purpose. Just making fun or cute videos is not good enough. The novelty of FlipGrid will wear off quickly and student engagement will drop if there isn’t a bigger “Why” behind your FlipGrid topics. Perhaps you want to challenge your students’ misconceptions, have the students clearly explain their thinking, or better yet have the students push each other’s thinking. The students will produce the level of thinking that you ask them to do. Research shows that only 20% of all questions teachers ask require students to think. 60% of questions simply ask students to recall facts while the other 20% of questions are procedural in nature (P. E. Blosser. 1975).


What kind of questions can we ask to make our kids think? How can we create online conversations instead of factual recall responses in video form? Ask your students “open questions”. Open questions can promote discussion and student interaction. Different types of open questions can include: probing questions, divergent questions, and higher order questions. You can find some excellent examples of all of these types of questions HERE from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Yes, of course you can ask some factual or recall questions ( who, what, when, where, etc.) with FlipGrid, however, keep these questions to a minimum. They don’t lead to conversation and teachers and students will not find much value in watching 30 video clips of each student reciting the same one word answer.


Teachers can now use these recorded videos as actual evidence to support student learning. These small conversations reflect where each student is at with their thinking. The teacher can then adjust their instruction to match the level of understanding. FlipGrid will allow you to have more conversations with your students than you could have in your traditional classroom.

Use the video reply to respond to your students. Ask clarifying questions. Continue the conversation. Don’t use these conversations as grades to enter in your gradebook. Instead, use these video replies to push each other’s thinking. One of the most powerful things that teachers can do is build relationships with their students. FlipGrid provides us with those opportunities. As Rita Pierson explains, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like.

Better yet, teach your students how to provide peer feedback in FlipGrid. You would need to be very direct at the start and model for the students what peer feedback might look like. The more clear guidelines you provide the better. FlipGrid was built for student/student interactions. This is where the power lies. Connect our students and have them discuss the “open questions” mentioned above. Increase student voice. Increase conversations. Provide meaningful feedback. Give it a try with FlipGrid.

Friday, May 1, 2020

This post is all about different ways students can receive feedback in Google Classroom. Yes, there are many great third party tech tools other than Google Classroom that specialize in providing student feedback, however, today’s post is going to focus on ways that we can maximize effectiveness with Google Classroom without the complications of adding third party tools.

Students without access to Gmail

In our school district, students younger than 5th grade do not have access to Gmail. These students will not be able to receive any Gmail notifications that there is feedback waiting for them to review in Google Classroom. A teacher might have left some actionable feedback for the student to read and respond to, however, the student will not receive any notifications that the feedback was left for them. Therefore, we will need to create some specific systems or procedures for our younger students so that they know the teacher left them feedback and they know how to access that feedback.

This is a combination of private comments & Google Meet. This option works well for all students and it is especially effective for students that do not have access to Gmail. With this option, the teacher could first leave private comments for their students in Google Classroom. Next, the teacher would arrange a small group or individual Google Meet. In this video chat, the teacher could guide their student(s) to track down specific private comments in Google Classroom. For example, the teacher might say, “I left some private comments for you, let’s talk about how you can find them! Go ahead and open Google Classroom in a new tab while we are chatting. Next, open up the “water cycle” assignment. Now, can you see the private comments I left for you?”

The teacher could ask the student if they understand what the private comments are asking and also if the actionable steps the teacher is suggesting make sense. This is a great opportunity for the student to talk through these private comments with the teacher before the student makes any edits to their work. Also, the private comments are in writing, so the student can always come back to review the private comments after the Google Meet is concluded.

This option creates norms and routines to have students follow a self-directed pattern to find teacher feedback and then respond to teacher feedback. This option must first start with option #1 from above. The teacher would have to host a few small group or individual Google Meets to discuss the step-by-step procedures that the students should follow. These remote routines are no different than setting up those daily or weekly routines in your physical classroom. One example might look like this:

  1. The teacher leaves private comments for each student on Wednesday of every week
  2. Students should check for private comments on the current week’s assignments by the end of the day on Thursday
  3. Students respond to the private comments and make any suggested edits to their work by Monday afternoon
Again, the teacher would have to model & explain this routine a few times in a Google Meet before it becomes automatic on the student end. Once the routine is in place, then the teacher & students can focus more on the feedback loop itself and less on memorizing the routine.

Use Private Comments to start a conversation

Private comments in Google Classroom can be a great way for teachers and students to have text based conversations. These conversations are private so that only the individual student sees the text, the class cannot see the teacher/student conversation. Another benefit of conversations through private comments is the built in “think time”. Some students need more time to process information before responding back to the teacher. Live Google Meets require very fast processing while private comments allow the students to take the time they need to think about their response before they reply.

Alice Keeler proposes you create a separate assignment for your students where the students do not turn in any work. Instead, the goal of this assignment is for the student and teacher to have a conversation about the work via private comments. You can view Alice Keeler’s 1-minute YouTube video on this workflow HERE.

Tie Your Comments to Specific Student Work

Private comments are great, however, what if the teacher has a question that is tied to a specific sentence in a student’s Google Doc? What if a teacher has a suggestion on how to improve how a student cited their sources in one of their Google Slides. For these examples, teachers will want to use the Add a Comment feature. The add a comment feature works in Google Docs, Sheets, & Slides. Highlight some text, click the “Add a Comment” button, and leave some feedback for your student. Click HERE to see how easy it is to add a comment to student work.

NOTIFY YOUR STUDENTS - You can also ensure that the student receives an email notification that you left a comment for them by adding a “+” sign and then their email address in your comment (simply type a “+” and then start tying the students name or the beginning of their email address and their name should appear on a list).

COMMENTS MAKE FEEDBACK MORE EFFICIENT - Comments tied to specific text in documents can give your students a visual glimpse on addressing the changes or improvements you are suggesting. The student does not have to toggle back and forth between an email or private comments to see the teacher’s comments, it’s all right there on the doc. Also, the students can reply back to the teacher in each comment and let the teacher know they have made the changes or they have a follow up question. Students can use the comments as a quick checklist of all of the edits they might need to make to their work before resubmitting.

COMMENTS ALLOW MORE THAN JUST TEXT - Teachers can add a lot more than just text in a comment. Maybe you want to add a link to a website that shows the student proper MLA citation, perhaps you want to include a link to a YouTube video that pushes student thinking, or maybe you want to provide a link to your rubric. You can add any link to any comment.

Formative Assessment with Google Forms

You can create a quick Google Form as a way for students to self assess their progress or understanding on a recent project or assignment. Make sure to post the self assessment at the beginning or middle of the project so that you can use the data to adjust your instruction before the project is completed. Here is a link to a blog post on The Power of Self Assessment and Google Forms.

You can also create a self grading quiz in Google Forms. I highly recommend that you use the self grading quizzes for formative assessment rather than summative assessment. Fight the temptation to create a self grading quiz to put that grade in the gradebook. I challenge you to use the responses from the quiz in a formative manner to see which parts of the lesson you need to reteach, or which small groups of students need to revisit certain concepts. Check out Eric Curt’s excellent video on how to create a self grading quiz in Google Forms.

Do you have any tips or tricks on how teachers can provide feedback to students in Google Classroom? If so, add a comment below.

Monday, April 27, 2020

When using Google Classroom, the student experience on a mobile device is vastly different than the student experience on a computer, especially when working with assignments. Check out the video below for a detailed comparison between "student view" on a computer compared to an iPad.

In short, Google Classroom on mobile devices is best for students to consume and Google Classroom on computers is best for students to create.

If you are a teacher, chances are you are being bombarded with countless ways to use technology with your remote teaching. Your inbox is filling up with promises from edtech companies that their product will transform online learning. Your social media feeds contain endless links to technology tips and tricks that every educator MUST know. Colleagues are sharing technology ideas that you have never heard about and you are worried that you might look bad as a teacher if you don’t figure out a way to do the same things as your peers.

All of this noise can be overwhelming. There are so many tools and ideas being thrown round that teachers might not know where to start. Not only is this overwhelming for teachers, but it can also be too much to handle for our students and their parents. How can teachers know what tools are best for remote learning? When should teachers introduce new tools to their students? How many new tools should teachers introduce to their students during periods of remote learning?

Work With What You Got

If you and your students find yourselves in a remote learning setting then teach like a minimalist. Simply use the technology tools that you have already used in your face-to-face setting. Keep it simple, less is more. Now is not the time to introduce ten more tech tools to your students. Instead of introducing a new tool to your students each week, try maximizing your current tools. If you and your students used Seesaw or Google Classroom before remote learning, then work with those tools and get as much out of those tools as possible. Teachers, students, and their families might already be overwhelmed with at home learning. Let’s try to make this experience as simple as possible for all involved.

Sticking with a limited set of tech tools might be extremely difficult, especially if you know other teachers who are using, or introducing, the next great technologies with their students often. If you feel the need to introduce a new tool to your students because it will enhance the student experience in a way your current tools cannot provide then keep reading.

How Many is Too Many?

Once again, I encourage you to only use the tech tools that you and your students have previous experience with before the remote learning started. However, if you feel that the tools you and your students have prior experience with is simply not enough, then add only 1-2 tech tools per semester. That’s it. Anything more than that is too much.

Make sure to think about everyone involved when introducing a new tech tool. As a teacher, you will have to learn the ins and outs of this new tool. Your students will have to learn about this tool from the student perspective. You will have to find a way to train your students how to use this tool on the ifferent devices that they have access to at home. Also, don’t forget about the parents. Ask yourself if this new tool will require any time or guidance from the parents. Training people how to use a new technology is extremely difficult in person and it is exponentially more difficult to train in an online setting.

The Why Before the What

So, your students have prior experience with GSuite & Google Classroom before remote learning began. You feel strongly that you need to introduce an additional 1-2 tech tools to your students. If so, make sure you start with the “why” and not with the “what”. Identify the needs first, then select the tech tool that can help address your needs. Do not select the tech tool first and find cool ways to use that tool. Instead of grabbing that new flashy tech tool that everyone is talking about online ask yourself the following:

  • What “big picture” areas do my students need more interaction with?
    (Feedback, assessment, student voice, interaction, collaboration, problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, etc.)
  • Is there a tool that can help my students with the big picture area I have identified?
    (Talk to a trusted educator. Tell them your needs and ask if they know of a tech tool that can address your needs)
  • Can this tech tool address more than one need?
    (Perhaps one tool can address feedback, student-student collaboration & critical thinking)
  • How difficult will it be for me to learn this tech tool? How much work will it be for my students and their parents to learn how to use this new tool?

Add a comment below to let us know what questions you might ask yourself when adopting a new technology tool.

Friday, April 24, 2020

This post is a departure from the usual “tech tips” theme. If you are looking for a post on my usual theme of educational technology you might want to skip this one. I wanted to mix things up a bit and write on a new topic today. If you are up for a change of pace keep reading, if not I’ll see you in my next edtech related post. So, here goes … I am now working from home and my amount of daily screen time has greatly increased. And it’s because of this increase in my screen time that I feel compelled to share this blog post. I felt out of balance when I first started working from home. Way out of balance. Feeling like I was too connected to work, as my work computer was now always within reach compared to before when I went home for the day and my work computer stayed in my office at school. There was a big shift in my daily schedule and I needed to make adjustments in my life to find a balance in this “new normal”. 

Because of the worldwide impact COVID-19 has had, many of us find ourselves living in a state much different than a short time ago. You might have been recently laid off from work and now suddenly have more time at home than ever before. You might be remotely working from home and find yourself spending the majority of your day on a computer. Either way, chances are your situation has drastically changed, and therefore you might be out of balance.

I am very fortunate in that I am still employed at this time. I am grateful to still have the opportunity to work from home. That being said, it doesn't matter if you feel overwhelmed from working at home or if you are struggling with having too much free time and being trapped in your home during a shelter-in-place. The common theme is that we all need to adjust our sense of balance.

How can you find peace and be the best version of yourself each and every day during a pandemic? How can you find contentment, have the ability to remain focused on tasks, and avoid undue restlessness and frustrations when this new normal is very different from your old normal? ….. You need to find your daily balance.


To find peace in times that might not feel peaceful you need to look inside and ask yourself what are the top 3-5 activities that you must include in your daily routine to find balance. Once you identify these 3-5 activities, find a way to integrate them into each and every day. Once you fulfill these daily activities you will feel relaxed and rejuvenated. Your spirits can even be lifted just knowing that you will be doing one of these activities later in the day. Having something to look forward to each day can keep you going even in the hardest of times.  On the other hand, if you do not complete these activities each day, peace might be very elusive. You could find yourself frustrated, irritable, or depressed.


To start this process, you must first identify the activities that will bring your contentment if completed each and every day. Chances are, you could be floating through these current times in a fog if you haven’t taken the time to think about what it is that you really need to get yourself through each day. Start by making a list. Write down all of the activities that you like to do. Make sure to only list activities that are available to you at this time. For instance, driving to the beach, going to the gym, or visiting a friend’s house is not possible right now. What are activities that are under your control at this point in time. Your list might be long and that’s a great place to start.


Personally, I can think of 50 different things that I would like to do each day, however, you might be restricted by work, responsibilities to family, or just needing to keep your home running. It’s time to prioritize your list and narrow it down to the 3-5 activities that would bring you the most contentment. What activities give you the most bang for the buck? Which activities can you realistically fit into your day? How can you modify activities so that they can fit within your daily schedule? Ask yourself, “Looking at all the activities I listed, which 3-5 daily activities can I not live without?” Also ask, “Which of these activities do I have to include in my daily routine to keep my sanity?”


Now that you have your top 3-5 activities identified it's time to make a plan. Are you the type of person that needs to create a structured schedule for yourself so you know that at 7:30am each day you will do ‘Activity A’? Or, are you the type of person who needs flexibility so that you can go with the flow and do your activities at different times as needed? Don’t beat yourself up if you get to the end of the day and you realize that you missed a couple of your daily activities. That just means that you might need a more structured schedule. After all, you have identified these needs as essential to your daily life, make sure to honor this commitment to yourself.


This is what works for me right now. Some things have changed prior to how my plan looks right now and I’m sure some things will change again over time. Your list might look very different in mind. No one else can tell you what’s most important to you. Take pride in knowing yourself and what you need to find balance. These are my top 5 activities that I need to include as part of each day:

  • EXERCISE - I love running, however, I fight the urge to run everyday. Instead, I try to find some way to exercise at some point during the day. Maybe my body is not feeling up for another run, so I could do a walk, or any kind of physical exercise. One thing I do know is that I need to find a way to move my body each and every day.
  • BE PRODUCTIVE - It doesn’t matter if it’s a work project or a project at home, but it is important for me to have a sense of accomplishment each day. I might need to complete writing a blog post, finish that portion of the spreadsheet, or do a really good job of vacuuming the house. Simply finishing the task is not enough, I need to make sure I do my best at whatever the task is. Take pride in your work. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.
  • TIME WITH MY WIFE - I need some alone time with my wife. We don’t have time for us to spend hours alone together everyday with both of us working from home and four kids in the house, but we do find time to take a short walk together every day. Just us.
  • TIME WITH MY KIDS - Making time to be with my kids is a must. It doesn’t have to be hours, but I do need to make sure I interact with my kids at some point in the day. It can be playing a card game, watching a movie, or going for a walk. I can sleep well at night knowing that I spent some quality time with kids during the day.
  • TIME TO MYSELF - This can often be paired up with my first activity (exercise). At some point in the day, I need to have at least 30 minutes to myself. Maybe it’s a run or maybe it’s meditating. All I know is that I can get irritable quickly if I don’t create a small chunk of time for myself each day.

At the end of the day, if I can check all of these things off my list, then I feel good. I feel relaxed, and I’m ready to start it all over again the next day. However, some days I feel irritable, small things frustrate me, and I get short with my kids or wife. If I reflect on the days when I am not my best, chances are I missed doing one or more activities from my list.

So, make your list, narrow it down, create a plan, hold yourself accountable, and find your daily balance.

Add a comment below and let me know if you would like to see more off topic posts like this, or if you would like me to stick to writing about all things educational technology.

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