Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Leveraging Technology Tools to Improve Parent Communication

Communicating with parents can be a struggle. Between all the dial tones, scheduling headaches, and the PTA food coma resembling the hour after Thanksgiving feasts, there may be some missed opportunities during parent teacher conferences to deliver the information parents need to guide their child to academic success. If the mention of these problems is causing you to twitch a little, fear not. Teachers now have a plethora (love that word) of options to improve communication with parents without much extra time.

Here are 3 categories of communication and the digital tool I recommend for each.

1. Conferencing and Phone Calling

Google Hangouts- This app/chrome extension/website can be a great tool for sharing when a face to face is difficult. Teachers can start a basic chat with a parent or a video chat with Screen sharing to show student work either with the camera or viewing a digital student work. Teachers can even set up a Google Voice phone number to send calls from your school google account. The advantage of this is that parents will have the ability to voice mail or text you at a different number than your personal number, and you can manage the voicemails and texts can be filtered into your school email account (How cool is that? See here for more)

2. Sharing Student Results

Google Classroom Guardian Invite- This feature in Google Classrom, a free learning management system, sends parents a weekly or daily summary of what is due in class and what their child has/has not turned in. You can also email parents directly from Google Classroom and receive the response in your school gmail account. (Note: Parents will get one email for all of their classes, so your class information will be combined with the information from the student's other teachers. This keeps things simple for parents. (Note: Schoology has a similar feature for parents, for which they can learn about signing up here)

3. Communicating Due Dates and Events

Remind- This app is great for anonymous texting to and from parents and students. Parents and students can opt-in to receive class announcements and one-on-one chats (age 13 or older). Remind can be great for sending reminders of due dates, events, or sending information about changes to the plan for a particular class day ahead of time (teacher illness, pushing back an assignment, or requesting students bring something specific to class). Neither party has to share their phone number or email if they join the remind class using a code sent home by students. If the entire class has signed up, it can be a great communication tool. If you have less than 100%, it can still be an effective communication tool for students. They can ask for clarification of something that was said in class or they can ask for help with a homework assignment.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Using Google Forms for Assessments

Those moments in teaching when everything goes wrong can be haunting. I will never forget the first time I used Google Forms to make an activity for my class. There were so many factors that I never even considered. I just created the Form and away we went. By the end of the class, I was in the fetal position, cowering under my desk. Well, not really. I am just adding drama to the story, but I certainly felt like that would have been appropriate considering how it went.

It's easy to get discouraged when something doesn't go right, regardless of whether it is technology or...well, pretty much anything we do in life. If you have used Google Forms in cooperation with your Google Classroom and had a similar experience, maybe this brief guide to Google Forms will help you return to try it again. If you have not used Google Forms, maybe you can learn from my mistakes.

In order to use Google Forms correctly, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What type of assessment am I looking to create? 

The type of assessment you want to do will dictate what options you will select when you create your Form. If your assessment is going to be a quiz, you may select options that are more limiting for students with regard to access.

2. In what time frame do I expect ALL of my students to take this assessment?

If you are setting this quiz or activity up as something that is to be taken in class and there is even the slightest chance that the students will not be able to finish in that class period, your settings will need to reflect that.

3.  What information do I want to distribute to my students when they are done?

Google Forms offers several options and communication methods for distributing students their results, even including an opportunity to see how the entire class answered questions. Whether you want to distribute results after everyone has finished or immediately is also a factor which can be controlled in the Forms settings.

If you can answer these three questions without hesitation, you are ready to create a Google Forms assessment. Since you are ready, here is a breakdown of the General Settings found in Google Forms:

"Collect email address"

This is important if you plan on grading the assessment. Just as it sounds, the form will be submitted with an email address associated with that student when they log in. 

"Response Receipts"

 If you decide to collect email addresses, this gives you the option to also send a copy of their answers to their email address. It does not tell them correct or incorrect answers. You can also do this individually at a later time with the correct and incorrect responses built in.

"Restrict to _____"

This option when selected will ensure that the Form will not be seen or taken by any user outside the school network, even including personal email address accounts of your students. Contact your network administrator if this option is not seen in your district.

"Limit to 1 response"

This option is important if you select the "Edit after submit" box. This option will only allow each authorized username to take the assessment once. If this is not checked, Google Forms will create a new blank assessment every time it is opened by the student.

"Edit after submit"

If you select this box, a student will be able to edit any response after they submit it. This is not recommended for a quiz or summative assessment because there is a chance a student may do their own open book editing after class. If you select "Limit to 1 response", students will be able to open the form again with their saved answers. By selecting these two boxes, a student that re-opens a submitted form will be told that they have taken the assessment and be given an option to edit responses.

(Note: In setting up your quiz, do not make questions required if you plan on the assessment possibly taking longer than one class day. Likewise, make sure your students submit, even if they are not done. Otherwise, everything they have done will disappear.)

"See summary charts and text responses" 

By selecting this box, students will be able to see what the whole class selected for their answers to each question without divulging which student selected what and any grade information. This functionality is more helpful when using forms for survey purposes, but could be a good way to show the students if there answers are with the majority or in contrast to the majority. This information could be shown and debate from the class could help solidify the question with background support from the teacher. Do not select this option with "Edit after submit" if you want to ensure that students are not just editing their assessment to match the majority instead of answering on their own.

A couple other tips for Google Classroom integration:

  1. After you create your Form and all the settings are perfect, you can easily assign it in classroom, save it as a draft, or schedule it to be assigned right before class starts.
  2. I would recommend creating a different form for each class if you have multiple classes taking the same quiz or assessment, unless you want to see all of the data combined and do not care about separating by class for grading purposes. And give them different names associated with the section or class period number. (Update: You can also create a short answer question worth 0 points where the students enter their period or hour. This will help sort the data as it comes back.)
  3.  As soon as the student submits the form, it will be marked as done without the student having to click anything. 
  4. You will still need to grade the written responses from the form, but multiple choice questions with correct answers marked will automatically be graded.
  5. You can also select "View responses in Sheets" in Classroom from the grading page of your assignment, so that you can see how many students have completed their Form. If it's a multiple choice assessment, you will also see their results graded automatically.
  6. In forms, always make every assessment a quiz. Otherwise, you will not activate the automatic grading feature. (Both options found under Settings in the Quizzes tab) If you choose to release grades later, forms will automatically send email results to students if student email is allowed by your school network.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chromecart 2.0: No More Grayscale

In the world of 1's and 0's, sometimes aesthetics can take a back seat. While technology giants are always looking for a simple, sleak, and user-friendly design for their devices, the look and feel of the device cart is often overlooked. Not so at Champaign Central High School. Carol-Lynn Comparetto is an Art teacher at Central that took on the challenge of beautifying the rather monochromatic look of a Chromebook cart stored in an ESL classroom, and there is definitely excitement about the future. "I'd like to make more!", exclaimed Comparetto as she enthusiatically recalls the process for making this Chromecart 2.0 with her Central High School Art Club.

"It took 5 students about a month to complete," she explained. "It took our students a very long time, so it is going to take some convincing. It's really difficult to take a chrome cart out of use for that long, so it will be tricky figuring out how to balance this in the future."

While the project is rather time consuming, the cost is fairly minimal. Comparetto stated that "materials cost between $15 and $20 (per cart)," which may prove to be a positive moving forward should other teachers be interested.

While the first cart has an under the sea theme, Comparetto believes that other carts could potentially feature "different interests the Central High students have, and show the diversity of interests off."

If you are a Central High teacher with a Chromebook cart and would like more information on making a Chromecart 2.0, feel free to contact her and she can add you to the list.

For everyone else, maybe this will inspire you to speak to your art teachers. Either way, I think it's a lot more fun than the dreary metallic ones. Maybe you or your students will agree.    

Adapting School Newspaper to the Digital World

We have all seen the decline of the printed newspaper. The world is changing at such a rapid pace. Newspaper giants are seeing less value in a daily publication of news with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, blogs (like this one), and even their own online news apps updated multiple times daily and sent out instantly to our phones, tablets, and laptops.

"When I started we published a printed newspaper that was designed by hand," says Jennifer McQueen, English Teacher and the person in charge of The Centinal, a student driven publication of the daily goings-on of the Centennial High School student body.

And oh boy, have things changed since those days. The twelve-year veteran English Teacher McQueen recalls the changes in the process, from "being designed on computers and then, because of rising publication costs, (moving) to an online publication."
A behind the scenes look of the first broadcast being filmed this year for The Centinal. Pictured (Left to Right): Christen Hutchinson and Michael Pearson

The change has been well received by the students working on these projects, as The Centinal has been transitioning to a news show, with students writing scripts and taking charge of the design of the broadcast. "The most fun we had was making the Full House themed introduction," says McQueen, who has created a YouTube channel for her students' broadcasts (Subscribe to The Centinal YouTube Channel). "We hope to feature different events, sports, students and activities."

Many of these stories start at a news desk, created using a multi-use digital camera, a make-shift green screen, and a MacBook Pro with Final Cut software that the students use to create a backdrop for the newscasters of each episode. Production quality will continue to grow, as their equipment will be upgraded in the coming weeks with the use of a new iPad Mini and a Padcaster, which is a kit designed to enhance any iPad with professional lighting, microphones, tripods, and even using your phone as a teleprompter.

For any teachers that are interested in starting an online YouTube channel as part of a class project or school paper, McQueen suggests that teachers "be willing to experiment because you will make mistakes," and as always in a good 21st century learning environment, "let your students take the lead."

So yes, 24 hour news access has changed the expectations and raised the stakes for all news providers, but the students and staff involved in The Centinal are eager to change with the times to provide Centennial High School with a news show that is entertaining and informative for the entire student population.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Printing Bulk Emails from Gmail

Recently, I had a colleague that wanted to print a large number of emails to turn in parent communication records. To do that in Gmail is not easy to do. Finding a free way to do it was even more challenging. However, I did find a rather complicated way to achieve this printing without getting carpal tunnel in your index finger from the constant opening of one email at a time and then clicking print.

The solution is to set up a label in your Gmail, move all of the emails you want to print into that label, get a google sheets add-on called Add Emails and Attachments, download a chrome store web app called PDF Mergy, and magically without any effort at all (rolling eyes emoji), you have a bulk email pdf that you can print in the future with just one click after you open the file (and roughly 12-15 clicks to set up the merged pdf, but who's counting?).

Obviously, this is not ideal and there needs to be a better solution. But, even the pay version (Gmail All Print Pro, currently $1.99 on chrome store) has some similar setup requirements.

So with all of that said, here is a video explaining how to do that using a chrome browser.

One addition to the video: If you are accessing the PDF Mergy on a chrome browser on a mac or pc, the app button will appear in the top left corner, but if you are on a chromebook in Champaign Unit 4, the app will appear here   after clicking  in the bottom left corner of the screen. If you don't see it, just search for PDF Mergy once you get here.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

MySimpleShow: A Fun Presenting Tool for Students

MySimpleShow is a great tool for students to present in class. No matter what subject area you teach, this web-based presentation tool gives students an opportunity to get creative through writing a presentation script, adding images that represent key words or phrases, and putting it all together using either an electronic voice or a voice-over created by the student.

As the name suggests, there is nothing super fancy about this website. Signing on is simple, creating a script is simple, adding pictures or using pre-loaded images is simple, and adding the voice is simple. It even has a simple tutorial video for every step of the process. If you want your students to create a voice over, they will need to make sure that they allow the use of a microphone, but once they do, it is SIMPLE! (I'm sensing a theme here!)

So, if you are tired of giving students google slides or prezi as their presentation options, I would recommend giving MySimpleShow a try.

For teacher usage, the website also just recently added an option to convert your teacher PowerPoint presentations into a MySimpleShow, so if you have a PowerPoint that you want to convert, you can try that out too. It's simple!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Using YouTube as a Formative Assessment Tool

Recently, Champaign Unit 4 school teachers were given the power to allow YouTube videos for students to watch. If this is news to you, all you need to do is click the "Approve" button on the bar underneath any YouTube video that you want students to see for your class.

After you hit this button, wait 24 hours and you should see this underneath your videos instead.

This opens up a whole new world of information for our students, but with that information, many teachers may be wanting to know how to use it in a way that provides students with meaningful information and perhaps a way to ensure that they are learning what they need to from the video.

How can this be done, you ask? With awesome imbedded formative assessment tools!

That's right, I said the plural form of the word tool, meaning you have several options. So without further ado, here they are!


Vizia is an online tool that allows you to add all different kinds of questions to your video at different points in the viewing process, and then send the video out as a link to students through Google Classroom, Schoology, or any other LMS. When students click the link, you can make it so the video requires a name and email address. Unit 4 students can use their school email, even though it is disabled at this time, because there is nothing that gets sent to them that they need. You can use your LMS or grade book to share how they did.


  • Vizia allows you to create a Google Sheet or a CSV file of the results with 1 click
  • Takes the video out of the distracting YouTube format with ads and other videos that grab attention away from students (and let's be honest, all of us)
  • Has multiple question formats that would be great for all types of watching, including polls and  call to action options.
  • Teacher can easily sign in with a 1 click google sign in button instead of creating a username and password.


  • Students can skip to the questions and there is no way to force them to watch the material, which could be problematic, or an advantage, depending on how you view it.
  • With our email system not being activated for students yet, the useful email compiling you would get in Sheets or the CSV file is diminished unless you have students enter personal emails.


EdPuzzle is designed to function in the same way as Vizia. However, EdPuzzle has a few additional features that you may like. With EdPuzzle, you can type in the URL or the title of the YouTube video and you will instantly be connected with their database of already created EdPuzzles for that YouTube video. You can make a copy of one you like to edit and tweak, or you can start fresh with your own. You can also upload your own video content to create a completely original EdPuzzle. Once your EdPuzzle is done, you can directly assign it to one or all of your classes in Google Classroom. No hunting around for names or entering links. When students are done you can grade their short answers in a student by student or question by question format. Once all the grading is done, you can download a CSV file of your information and upload that to your grade book.

Another great feature is that you have the option of not allowing students to skip around. If they get to the question and they need to watch it again, they will still be able to do that. In addition, if this option is selected teachers can see how many times a student watches the video, to see if certain questions are harder or if certain students struggled with certain parts.

  • Place Questions Anywhere
  • No ads, distracting YouTube links
  • Some Google Classroom connectivity
  • Can upload grades to grade book
  •  More data about student usage
  • Can upload your own videos
  • Can copy other videos in the community and edit if needed
  • Can turn on/off student skipping within the video
  • Not completely connected to Google Classroom grading
  • Not connected to Schoology or other LMS's
  • Does not create a Sheets file of grades
  • Can only make short answer questions, multiple choice questions, or annotations

Lastly, PlayPosit is the Rolls Royce of the active video world. It has many (almost too many) bells and whistles, including all the option of the above tools plus even more connectivity to multiple LMS's, a live broadcast version with a student chat feature, and even a way to imbed links to extra resources for multiple choice questions that students don't understand. PlayPosit can even remember where students left off if they get disconnected or want to work on it a little at a time at home.

In PlayPosit, you can assign videos directly through Google Classroom and Schoology, and even EdModo.


  • More LMS Connectivity (Google Classroom, Schoology, etc.)
  • Tons of Features
  • Easy sign on for Teachers and Students

  • Confusing interface for replay
  • setup may take longer because of all the features to sift through