Monday, June 1, 2015

Icebreakers and Discussion Starters with Nearpod and PollEverywhere

This week I am hosting some guest bloggers. This is a guest post from Pamela Levine. 

Using technology for ‘First Week of School’ activities serves multiple purposes: 1) conveying to students that their classroom is a place where learning will be engaging, 2) emphasizing the importance of expression and peer learning, and 3) providing safe, low-stakes opportunities to build skills and appropriate practices around our classroom technologies.

I’ve had many First Weeks of School: in elementary school classrooms (in Washington D.C.), in Massive Open Online Courses (at Stanford), and even in Tanzania (as a Peace Corps Volunteer). I currently teach rising educators at the Stanford Graduate School of Education to incorporate technology into their teaching in pedagogically-sound ways. Below are two First Week of School activities using Nearpod and PollEverywhere that can build classroom culture and help establish technology norms and routines.

“1+1=1” Icebreaker on Nearpod.
This icebreaker inspires creativity and collaboration while familiarizing students with Nearpod. 1+1=1 involves combining two objects to design and describe a new invention. Nearpod’s ‘Draw It’ tool is great for this activity: it gives students a canvas on which to draw and insert images, and enables me to collect and share their work in real-time. Students (and adults) get a kick out seeing each other’s 1+1=1 inventions projected on the screen. Alongside engaging with the activity, students learn processes for connecting to, interacting with, and submitting work on Neapod. I also use this time to establish device usage cues and norms (such as “screens up/screens down”). The 1+1=1 icebreaker is appropriate for students and adults of all ages. Give it a try here, and download a copy to use in your own class or presentation here.

Community Building Discussion Starters with PollEverywhere.
Student response systems like PollEverywhere can be a great way to create a safe environment for participation, provide teachers and students with instantaneous formative feedback, and catalyze discussion, debate, and peer learning.

During the first week of school, I familiarize students with PollEverywhere while probing for their expectations and concerns and crowdsourcing their ideas. PollEverywhere’s Word Cloud question type can reveal shared student perspectives on questions like “How can we make the classroom a safe space?” and “When have you felt particularly successful in school?” The Clickable Image question type can be used to collect responses to visual questions, like “Where along this continuum would you describe your communication style?” After surveying the students, I display and use their responses to facilitate dialogue by asking discussion questions like “What trends do you see?”, “What response(s) make you think about the question in a different way?”, or by having students explain and elaborate with a partner about their answer. I think the real educational value in deploying student response systems for teaching and learning comes from these active discussions that follow from using the technology.

There are a myriad of ways to use Nearpod and PollEverywhere for teaching and learning beyond the First Week of School. Using education technology for introductory activities like the ones above provide opportunities to communicate values, teach skills, and model behaviors so that students are prepared to participate with these tools during later lessons and tasks.

It’s been my pleasure to share on Free Technology for Teachers! I welcome your feedback and continued conversation @PossiblyPamela on Twitter and at Have a great First Week of School this Fall!

Big Tools for Little Kids - Little Kids Get in on the Learning With Android Apps

This week I am hosting some guest bloggers. This is a guest post from Amy Pietrowski.

When I started teaching with Google Apps several years back, I never envisioned that I would be using them with Kindergartners and first-graders. The logging in factor ( alone would be enough to send any five or six year old into hysterics. Many of my second graders struggle with this well into the school year. Enter Android Tablets into our district: The bad news was that I had to enter each child’s Google ID into the tablet. The good news was it that was a one-time only deal. From that day forward I could walk into any kindergarten or first grade classroom and have students creating products, sharing with me via Google Classroom, and saving to their Google Drives in seconds. So, how did I do it?

Skitch and Google Classroom:
Skitch is a simple mark-up program from Evernote. Students would create a fact family with real two-sided counters. Next they would take a picture with their tablet using the Skitch app. After using the writing tool to write the addition fact, it’s “turn around” fact, and, depending on skill level, corresponding subtraction facts, the student would then share their product. There are several sharing options in Skitch, but for this assignment we chose to use Google Classroom. I created an assignment ahead of time. Once they had used a one-time short code to get into my class, they only had to click on the assignment and attach their picture to it. Once “turned in,” I could view all of the creations in my classroom folder on Google Drive. In turn, I shared this folder with the classroom teacher, so she would have a copy of their artifacts.

Mindomo and Google Drive:
Teachers love graphic organizers, and using Mindomo is great way to save physical creations in a logical way. On this day, first graders were creating two digit numbers with base ten blocks. They captured two “numbers,” then put them together to create the number at the top. They labeled their boxes and used Mindomo’s connecting tools to show the relationship between the three pictures. What is remarkable about this activity is that Mindomo let the students save their graphic organizer to their Google Drive. Now, and in the future, when the students open their Google Drives, they will see the work they have created in first grade.

Thinglink and Google Drive: 
When the first grade teachers asked that I review parts of a plant with their students, I knew that Thinglink would be an awesome tool. My fifth graders used pictures from earlier in the year and made great creations about their Civil War studies. Thinglink allows you to “tag” a picture with other pictures, audio, and video. While the desktop app would be difficult for my first graders, the mobile app was perfect! Using their Google Accounts (already on their tablets), students logged in, snapped a picture of a plant, and proceeded to add tags. They labeled words they knew (stem, leaf, etc) and added video files to talk about what a plant needs to survive. Here is one from a student who combined both aspects well. As the students finished up their “scenes,” they saved them onto their thinglink accounts and into my group. They also used the save to Google Drive feature which creates a text file with a link to their scene.

All of these activities would have been nearly impossible without the combination of Google Apps, tablets, and a little bit of up-front work. I DID enter all of these students’ credentials into the tablets (just once). Also, if you would like to use a Google ID with your Thinglink EDU account, students must be added via on the computer. However, the up-front work was worth every artifact the students created, shared, and saved for the future.

Amy Pietrowski is an experienced classroom teacher who has taught at all grade levels and in many subject areas. Her passion for technology stems from an experience learning LOGO and BASIC at computer camp in the third grade, and she has since relished any opportunity technology has given her to create and share. Amy is currently an instructional technology specialist in Fayette County and an Instructor for the MAET Certificate program at Michigan State University. You can follow Amy on twitter @amylpie and read her blog here:

Encouraging Student Collaboration Through Twiddla

This week I am hosting some guest bloggers. This is a guest post from Mary Kate O'Meara.

If you have been searching for an online collaboration tool that is versatile and easy to use, then Twiddla may be what you are looking for. Twiddla is a real-time collaboration whiteboard that allows an unlimited number of people to come together at one time to share or edit documents, images or websites.

One of the things I like about Twiddla is a simplicity that makes collaboration a breeze. It’s so user friendly that my first, second and third grade students often use it throughout the day. This is one of the most hassle-free digital tools I have run across with its agnostic browser (Twiddla works with any browser- Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer on both Mac and PC), no plug-ins or downloads, and no firewalls to work around. Starting a meeting is as simple as going to and clicking on the green GO button. Invite others to join your session by sharing the collaboration url through the built in email. Simply by clicking on the shared url everyone joins the session. You can enter a session as many times as you like with no restrictions on time.

Best of all, Twiddla is free. There is no requirement to sign up for a paid subscription to create a meeting. If you are a teacher or a student Twiddla will provide you a free pro-account. Sign up for a free trial, then send them an email from a .edu or comparable address. Be sure to include your username. If you just want to check out the features Twiddla offers join a public session and play in their sandbox.

I was thrilled to find that Twiddla is not only user friendly, it also has more capabilities than typical online whiteboards. While Twiddla allows you to use the pen or shape template to write or draw on the plain white board, or on grid overlays, it also has the ability to upload documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF), Web pages, Ethernet documents and images. These become a collaborative canvas that can be marked up by highlighting, adding sticky notes, or inline text. My students capture their work with a snapshot of their Twiddla session and export the snapshot as an image which can be reloaded in another session for further tweaking. Saved images also allow them to keep track of work that is completed in each meeting and I can monitor group progress.

The most important feature of Twiddla is that it encourages creativity and collaboration. I’ve used Twiddla across the curriculum for everything from introducing my class to new websites by highlighting key features then saving those images as a visual guide for the site to exploring the features of landforms and maps, then uploading those sessions in a Google Doc as a study guide. Twiddla has also come in handy during reading mini lessons to annotate text, highlighting details that identify main idea or in character analysis. I have even saved our Twiddled Chalk Talk thinking routines to evaluate class thinking over time.

My little ones have become great collaborators, initiating their own Twiddla sessions to create concept maps for projects, outline ideas for writing, or construct graphs for math and diagrams for science. Twiddla has also allowed them to extend their learning beyond the classroom. Some of my students have created Twiddla meetings at home for planning a shared project or explaining math problems to friends who don’t understand a concept. Twiddla is one of my favorite tools because it allows students to build on each others ideas and deepen their learning.
Click image to view full size.

I am a teacher for the Grosse Pointe Public Schools in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. I have a multiage class of first through third grade students. I have written for ASCD, and been a presenter for The University of Virginia’s Summer Institute on Academic Diversity, presented at The Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference, been a lead presenter for the Virtual 4 T Conference hosted by The University of Michigan’s School of Education and School of Innovation, and I will be presenting at The Institute for Innovation in Education gathering in Ann Arbor, in June.

Student Created Videos: Google Slides and Screencasting

This week I am hosting some guest bloggers. This is a guest post from Jonathan Brubaker.

Right place at the right time. The place was Edcamp Palm Springs. The time was a session on video in the classroom led by Jessica Pack. This perfect moment pushed me to provide opportunities for students to use video in their projects.

Since my students have Chromebooks, I decided to use Google Slides to design content and screencasting extensions to record video. Google Slides is a very versatile image and text editing tool and I spent a lot of time throughout the year teaching my students how to use it effectively. In order to make our slide decks into video, I used screencasting tools for Google Chrome. The two best options are Screencastify or Snagit’s screen clipping app and extension. Both products have many of the same features, but Screencastify allows students to include their faces when creating video projects. Both of them work by clicking on the extension and then pressing the record button. Students can record a single tab or the whole screen.

One of the first projects my students completed was a screencast of a Google Slide presentation. Throughout the year my students worked in collaborative groups to create a slide deck to present to the class on a topic the class was studying. Unfortunately, this meant that students had to furiously take notes while the speakers presented. When we turned this assignment into a screen cast, the speakers could work on writing carefully worded scripts and the audience could pause and rewind the content as needed.

Next, I had my students create a Public Service Announcement after a unit on brain research. Students were required to come up with advice for fellow teenagers on how to use technology responsibly using the information my students had learned about the brain. Again, slides was an excellent resource for creating the visuals for the unit. While I usually tell students to stay away from animations in live presentations, many of the animations worked out well on a screencast. Students also had to think through how to create visuals to supplement what they had learned.

Finally, my 8th grade students had to create a children’s book for a performance task after completing a unit on Frederick Douglas. The book had to adapt an episode from his autobiography and turn it into a powerful narrative for fifth graders. After completing the books I wanted the students to share them with a wider audience and add a personal touch beyond the text. I decided to have them create an audio-visual book by screencasting themselves reading their book. Since the book was created in slides, all they had to do was record themselves reading the book while turning the pages. We could then share the links to the videos with one of our feeder elementary schools.

In the future, I would like students to create tutorials on how to use common web tools as a resource for other students. Screencasting can also be a great way to share Genius Hour projects with a wider audience. If it is on the screen, students can create a video project with it.

I am middle school teacher in Beaumont, CA. In 2014 I was the California League of Middle Schools State Educator of the Year. I have a passion for inspiring students to love reading, writing, discussing, and presenting. I do my best to incorporate technology into the classroom in a way that amplifies my instruction and engages students.