Monday, February 20, 2012

UMBC Webinar Follow-up

This afternoon I had the great pleasure of presenting a webinar on behalf of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (disclosure, they advertise on my blog). One of the questions from the webinar audience was about alternatives to YouTube. To that question I responded with this list of 47 Alternatives to YouTube as well as the suggestion to visit Watch Know Learn. And as I usually do after a webinar or workshop, I have embedded the slides from the webinar below.

Vacation Reminder - Temporary Comment Moderation Policy

Just a quick note to remind folks that I am on a mostly Internet-free vacation until Thursday morning. I have some great guest bloggers filling-in for me all week. As awesome as the guest bloggers are, they do not have administrator privileges on the blog. Therefore, all comments that contain links will be held until Thursday morning. Likewise, my Tweets until Thursday morning are being handled by Hootsuite scheduling so if you send me a message, I won't see it until Thursday morning. I promise to get all comments moderated and messages returned as soon as possible on Thursday.

If you're also on vacation this week, as many New England schools are this week, I hope you enjoy some good rest and relaxation away from school.

Making Cell Phones Work for Good With Poll Everywhere - Guest Post has become one of my favorite classroom tools.  It’s free, and easy to use.  All you need is a computer, a data projector, and decent cell phone service in your classroom.  After fighting a daily battle with students to put their phones away, I decided to take away the power of their phones as a distraction by using them for educational purposes.  Here’s how I’ve made cell phones work for me with the help of

Establish Clear Boundaries and Rules

I introduce to students by first doing a quick low tech survey (by asking the students to raise their hands – you can do this seven-up style where students put their heads down so it’s anonymous) to see which students have a cell, and out of those students which ones have a plan that allows them unlimited text messaging.  If more than half the class has met these qualifications I will proceed and allow students to partner with a peer who has a cell phone if they do not.  I will then go over rules and expectations for participating – cell phones may be out and visible during the polling, but once we are done with the polling I will announce that cell phones need to be put away, and within 30 seconds I should no longer see a phone.  If I have issues with phone usage we will not use cell phone polling in class for a week (or an established period of time).  Since students enjoy this activity I haven’t experienced difficulty with them following the rules.

I only use the multiple choice option for polls.  There is an open response option where students could type out a response that would appear on the screen.  Since this option is anonymous a student could conceivably write whatever they want, and it could appear in front of the entire class.  I prefer not to take this risk and stick with multiple choice options only.

The number students text their response to is linked to your account (but in no way linked to your actual cell phone number).  Students can store this number in their cell as one of their contacts so they don’t need to type it in every time they want to participate in a poll.

Predictions and Opinions

Polls are a great way to get students excited about the new unit, to begin thinking about the material, make predictions, and share their opinions.  Allowing them to respond anonymously leads to more students participating, instead of the usual three hands that will always go up.  Seeing the responses come in can lead to a great discussion as well.  This can also be used to check-in on students’ prior knowledge on a subject.  I recently used a poll to ask students what qualities they thought made a good leader prior to begin my dictators unit, this led to an excellent discussion on historical leaders, politicians in general, and the Republican primaries.

Do – Nows and Exit Tickets

Polls are a great way to have students engaged from the minute they walk in the door.  You can have a poll projected up on the board for students to respond to instantly, or you can just write the information (question, response options and numbers) up on the board if you need to use the computer for attendance, or want to wait until later to reveal the responses.  Polls also can serve as an excellent exit ticket to keep students active until the bell rings or to fill in those last couple minutes when there’s not enough time to start a new activity.  At the beginning of the week I always create a few extra polls that I can turn use to keep students engaged and focused.

Review and Feedback

I frequently use polls to review for tests (this can easily be turned into a competition between class periods too).  While this review is good for the students, it’s also good for me to see weaknesses in content knowledge, and catch it before we move onto the new unit.  This information allows me the opportunity to re-teach anything students may have missed or review information they’re unclear on.  Students also have an opportunity to see where their weaknesses are.  When I ask my students if they have any questions or need to go over any material again I get blank stares and shrugs.  Conducting polls makes gaps in knowledge apparent to both the teacher and the students.  I know what I need to cover in more detail, and they know what they need to study to prepare for the test.

About the Guest Blogger
Lisa Herzl teaches freshmen world history at a public school in Massachusetts.  You can find her on her class wiki, on twitter @lisa_herzl, and blogging at

Flipping Your Classroom With Free Web Tools - Guest Post

The Flipped Classroom is gaining steam in schools across the world. Flipped classes focus on student interaction and engagement in class and a major component is the technology that can be used to create, deliver, and collaborate. Richard has posted on many of these tools, so I’ll be sharing how I use a combination of tools in a typical unit.

GoogleDocs has been a lifesaver for me. I’m always moving between machines, so I rarely store data locally. All of my written material is done with Google. I use Docs and Presentations to create and share the content with students. I also use GoogleDocs for students to write collaborative lab reports or research presentations  to cut down on paper used in class. Last year, my AP Chemistry class wrote and edited a lab manual using only GoogleDocs.

A Flipped Classroom uses screencasting or podcasting to deliver direct instruction when appropriate. After I’ve decided what to record, I write up some notes and then make a video. There are tools available for purchase, but when money is short, there are plenty of free options available on the web. While you can record for free, many have a time limit, which is a good thing. The best videos are less than 10 minutes long.

Screencast-o-matic and Screenr are probably the best two web apps available. Screencast-o-matic has a Pro account that will host your files, while a normal Screenr account will do the same. Educreations is another, newer screen recording site that gives you a blank canvas in a browser window. You can annotate and record in one place for free. All give an option to download the videos.

Jing is a free download and runs locally on your machine rather than as a web app. With your account, TechSmith hosts all your videos on With YouTube blocked in many districts, this is a good alternative.

For Inspiration Only, Flickr CC
Typically, screencasts are composed of a PowerPoint or PDF file being annotated and narrated by the teacher as they would in class. If your school is already equipped with Promethean or SMART products, you can record and annotate using their software. If you don’t, I would recommend searching on Craigslist or eBay for a used pen tablet, similar to the ones produced by Wacom. They usually retail for $80 - $100, but I found mine on Craigslist for $30. Many teachers don’t annotate, and simply record a presentation, so a tablet isn’t vital.

To annotate a PDF for a recording, I use a program called Jarnal. It is a free download running through Java on your machine that allows you to write on top of PDF files. You can then save and export an annotated PDF for archive, printing, or sharing to the web. FormulatePro is similar to Jarnal, but runs as a standalone application on your computer.

After everything is recorded, I share my content. I use Wordpress to run my class website. Others use GoogleSites or Moodle through their school. The important thing is to use what you already have to distribute content. A web space is important because it allows for 24/7 access by students.

Student creation is another very important part of a flipped class. Students make their own podcasts, create presentations, or even make websites with what they’ve learned. They can then share their work with people around the world. Ownership and relevance are accentuated and engagement rises. The appropriate use of technology in a flipped classroom is much more powerful than the technology alone. 

About the Guest Blogger
Brian E. Bennett is a science teacher living in Evansville, IN. He uses a Flipped Classroom with biology and chemistry students to expand their technology skills and to build global connections. He currently blogs on Educator, Learner about science, technology, education policy, and teaching. You can catch him on Twitter, @bennettscience or on Google+.

Live Blogging the Wizard of Oz

Movies are wonderful resources in education, but they are usually associated with passive learning. To keep students (grades 9-12) active and engaged during movies, we have used a free live-blogging software program called G-snap.

G-snap is a free website that allows anyone to set up a live blogging event; access to the event can be posted by a link or directly embedded on a webpage. There is no registration required, comments can be saved, and the event can run for several days. During the event, questions can be posted and most importantly, participant responses can be moderated before they are shared publicly.
The most recent success was with MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz which was used as an introduction to a 9th grade unit centered on the universal elements of stories. The students at Wamogo High School in Northwest Connecticut are fortunate enough to have the use of net books in class or they may bring their own digital device in order to access the materials used in class. Students were engaged in the film from the opening soundtrack; several students joined Dorothy in singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  When Almeria Gulch appeared to take Toto away in her bicycle basket, and despite my best efforts to keep everyone quiet, the comments began:
“I was so scared of her on her bike!”
“I can’t watch her change into the witch…I just can’t watch!”
The tornado scene that followed kept them speechless. When the house landed, there was an audible “oh!” from Dorothy. Students flinched as well; they had arrived in OZ.
The lesson’s objective was to have students identify a character’s weaknesses or strengths. We wanted students to recognize the qualities that a character thinks he or she lacks is exactly the unrecognized quality the character possesses. Of course, Frank Baum’s story is all about motivation and character qualities.

Using the G-snap software, I posed a series of questions at critical moments in the film
What motivates Glinda to place the ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet? Is this in Dorothy’s best interest?
What happens when one strays off the path of The Yellow Brick Road?
What qualities does the Scarecrow exhibit? How is this connected to his motivation?
I also wanted them also to reflect on the motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West and the intensity of her dialogue.  For example: “those slippers will never come off . . . as long as you're alive!” or “The last to go will see the first three go before her.”
I posted:  Is this film appropriate for children? Is the film too scary?
Their responses were mixed.  Many felt the film was fine for children, but some students  considered that the dialogue was really much more frightening then they had remembered:
"I think I was about 5 years old and I remember hiding under a blanket when the flying monkeys came on TV."
“There are many violent movies that children shouldn’t see but this movie is classic."
"I saw this film when I was a little kid, and I was frightened for days, I had nightmares about this horrible witch, so I think it might be a little extreme for little kids."
"I saw it when was like 4 and no its not that bad, they will get over it. It’s not like a death threat, well it kinda is but never mind. I don't think it’s that bad."
The use of live blogging allowed students to stay focused character motivation in the film.  Their responses included:
“The Tinman does have a heart. He is the most ‘emo’ character of them all!”
“Scarecrow has a brain and when Dorothy says she will miss him the most she means being smart is what people should look for in friends.”
“The companions represent different things: Lion-Courage, Tin Man-Heart/Love. So it shows that even though you don't think you have it you still do because the Lion still stood up for himself. And Tin Man loved his friends, so they just thought they did not have them when they really did."
The power of live blogging with G-snap made watching the The Wizard of Oz an active and engaging lesson, and character motivation is only one of the lessons that can be learned. We have since used the software to live blog the film Gallipoli as comparison to the message in All Quiet on the Western Front, and I have posted questions about dramatic irony during the film Othello. At every grade level, students enjoyed live-blogging and reading each other’s comments.
G-snap removes the stigma of passive learning from movies and allows students the opportunity to “talk” during the movie without hearing a teacher “shhhhh!”

About the Guest Blogger
Colette Marie Bennett is the English and Social Studies Department Chair at Wamogo High School, a combined college prep and vocational agriculture school (Regional School District #6) in the Northwest corner of Connecticut.  Bennett has 20 years of experience teaching in parochial and public school systems from grades 6-12. She has presented how technology is incorporated in her English classroom at the Connecticut Educators Computer Association Conference (2010), the National Council of Teachers Annual Conference (2010), and the Advanced Placement Annual Conference (2011). She blogs about how she has increased her classroom libraries and what she does with these used books at  She tweets at Twitter@Teachcmb56