Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Actively Learn - Find & Create Engaging Reading Assignments and More

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post that I wrote for a new supporter of 

A few years ago I stumbled upon Actively Learn while walking through the ISTE conference. I was immediately impressed by what they were developing. At that time it was just getting started as a new platform through which teachers can create, distribute, and assess ELA activities. Since then Actively Learn has expanded to offer a catalog of thousands of free assignments with embedded media, standards-aligned questions, scaffolding notes, and teaching ideas for science, ELA, and social studies.

There are three key elements of Actively Learn that I really appreciate. First, it’s easy to locate interesting and engaging articles, videos, and simulations to share with your students. You can locate resources in the Actively Learn catalog by searching according to subject, topic, grade level, standard, or Lexile level. Second, unlike some other services, Actively Learn doesn’t limit you using their pre-made questions. You can easily add your own questions to the materials that you distribute to your students as assignments. Third, Actively Learn can save you time by automatically grading any multiple choice questions that you include in your assignments.

Here’s an example of how you could use Actively Learn in a science class. Open the Actively Learn catalog and find the Cells Topic page, which includes a variety of assignments related to cells. Some of the assignments are based on excerpts from textbooks, high-interest news or journal articles, videos, and PhET simulations. All of the assignments and articles have notes in the margins to describe concepts that may be challenging to students and standards-aligned embedded questions. Additionally, you can add your own notes into the margins for your students.

You can distribute an assignment to your students through Actively Learn’s classroom environment or distribute it through Google Classroom or Canvas. Throughout the assigned reading there are questions that your students should answer. You can edit or remove the pre-made questions. You can also add your own questions for students to answer. Take a look at the screenshot below to see the students’ view of an article. Watch this video for an overview of what a student sees in Actively Learn.

One of the options that I appreciate about Actively Learn’s online assignments is that students can flag sections of an article with "I don't understand" comments.

Actively Learn offers free and paid plans. The free plan includes all of the core features of Actively Learn including:

  • Locate materials according to subject, grade, standard, or Lexile level.
  • Customization of any of the instruction in Actively Learn (edit questions or notes).
  • Upload any Google doc, website, video, or PDF and turn it into an interactive assignment with your own embedded questions and notes.
  • Give feedback to students as they read and get real-time data on student reading progress.
  • Automatic grading of multiple choice questions.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Practical Ed Tech Podcast - Episode #15 Featuring Mike Tholfsen

This afternoon I had the opportunity to talk with Mike Tholfsen from Microsoft. Mike is a Product Manager on the Microsoft EDU team. In the podcast we talked about Immersive Reader, digital ink in OneNote, Microsoft Translator, and some of the ways that those tools can be used by teachers and students. You can find the podcast here on Anchor or on any major podcast platform including Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

You can listen to all episodes of the podcast here or find them on the following podcast networks:

A New, Free Online Conference for Teachers

I've decided to try something new to end 2019. That new thing is organizing a free online conference for teachers. I'm calling it the Practical Ed Tech Creativity Conference. It will be held over the course of three afternoons/ evenings in December (10-12). But I can't do it alone. So I'm looking for people who would like to share a creative classroom project.

Call for Proposals
If you have a creative project that you think other teachers would benefit from learning about in the course of a 30-45 webinar, please fill out the proposal form here. If you've never presented in a webinar format before, I'll give you some training in advance.

Presentation Ideas
A few examples of creative projects that would be great fits for this online conference include a digital storytelling project with third graders, a video production with seventh graders, and an app development project with tenth graders. But don’t overthink it, any project that ends in students producing something that they’re excited about could be a good fit for this conference.
  • Telling stories with digital comics.
  • Multimedia mapping.
  • Arduino or Raspberry Pi projects.
  • Interesting ways to use augmented reality.
  • Creative uses of virtual reality.
  • Student podcasts.
  • Hour of Code projects.
  • Something that I’m sure I haven’t thought about.
Register to Attend
  • It's Free! Register here and you’ll be registered for all live sessions (it will be recorded for those who cannot attend the live broadcasts).
    • December 10th at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm ET.
    • December 11th at 8pm, 9pm, and 10pm ET.
    • December 12th at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm ET.

Interested in sponsoring the event? Send me an email at richard (at) and let's talk. 

Fall Back! - Lessons on the End of Daylight Saving Time

Fall is full of great things like colorful leaves, fresh apple pies, and Halloween candy! But there is one thing that I don't like about fall in Maine. That is the lack of sunlight in the morning. As I write this at 6:37am it is still dark outside and I have to leave for school in 20 minutes. I'm a morning person so at this time of year I look forward to turning the clocks back. That will happen in about 12 days from now.

You may have some students who, like me, like turning the clocks back. More likely you have students who complain about turning the clocks back (except for the extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning). Either way, here are a few videos about Daylight Saving Time and timezones.

The following videos offer concise explanations of Daylight Saving Time.

Although it's not about daylight saving time, this TED-Ed lesson about the standardization of timezones is worth watching.

A Halloween Writing Contest for Middle School Students

A couple of weeks ago I shared a selection of Halloween-themed ELA articles available through ReadWorks. As Halloween gets closer, it's only nine days away, consider having your students participate in a Halloween writing contest that ReadWorks is hosting in collaboration with Quill.

How the Run Should End is a writing contest for middle school students. The contest asks students to write their own endings to the zombie cliffhanger series The Run. The Run is comprised of seven connected short stories. Like all stories on ReadWorks, students can read or listen to The Run. A list of key vocabulary words and reading comprehension questions are included with the stories.

To enter the contest students need to write an alternate ending for The Run. The ending should be less than 800 words. The winning entry will be published on ReadWorks. The contest is open to students in fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Submissions are due by November 1st.

Quill and ReadWorks have published some helpful reading and writing tips along with the complete contest details right here.