Tool Time!

4fingersLooking to add some new tools to your teaching toolbox? This week’s Friday 4 will highlight a few relatively new technology related tools that are fairly easy to learn and use that have the potential to significantly change the teaching and learning that is going on in and out of your classroom. I encourage you to take the plunge and try using one or more of these tools in your classroom in the next couple of weeks.

  • Socrative is a web-based student response system that is similar to “clickers” in functionality that can be used on a computer, a tablet or a smart-phone. “Through the use of real time questioning, instant result aggregation and visualization, teachers can gauge the whole class’ current level of understanding.”  A Complete Guide for Teachers on How to Use Socrative is a great place to start if you have never seen or used Socrative.
  • If you are a user of Google forms in class, there was some big news recently having to do with the release of new add-ons for Google forms that add some really neat functionality to forms. If you are a user of Google forms, check out this post from the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning website that describes a few of the add-ons that educators will find useful.
  • Ever wish you could easily create an interactive multimedia collage for a topic you are teaching, or better yet, have your students demonstrate their understanding by creating a dynamic presentation? Well, now you can! Check out this post from the Free Technology for Teachers website that is run by Richard Byrne @rmbyrne.
  • My personal favorite new tool that I have added to my teaching toolbox has to be Edpuzzle (@EDpuzzle). With Edpuzzle, you can take any video (your own or one from YouTube or several other sites) and make it your lesson by trimming it, annotating it or embedding questions that the student have to answer right into the video. As a flipped classroom teacher, it has been awesome to be able to add questions that allow the students to check for their own understanding right into the videos at the exact moment that I want. Here is a wonderful blog post by a fellow teacher that explain how to get started. Even if you do not use a flipped classroom, this tool could turn some of the videos you like to show into richer lessons.


Spring has sprung….well, not quite.


4fingersDespite the weather of late, the spring term has officially begun and the race to June is in full swing. While it is not time to revamp an entire curriculum, it is a good time to try a few new things in the classroom and shake things up a bit. Here are a few items that may inspire you to try something new in your classroom this spring.

  • Pedagogy Postcards is a series of short blog posts by Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) that I ran across on Twitter that cover a range of teaching topics. Tom describes the posts as “A series of short posts about specific elements of teaching practice that I think are effective and make life interesting.”
  • As most of you know, I teach in a “flipped classroom” and have found that the practice has changed the learning dynamic in my classroom. We are beginning to see some research come out on the benefits and drawbacks of the flipped classroom now that it has become more widespread in use. Here is a news story from that includes a link so some of the recent research. For more info on the flipped classroom, here is a great piece 4 Pillars & 11 Indicators Of Flipped Learning from the website.
  • Looking for creative ways to use Google forms? Here is a great list of tons of uses for Google forms that may spark your interest.
  • Tips for Writing Good Multiple-Choice Questions is a nice piece from the website that contains practical advice for designing MC questions.


Final Friday 4 for February



February may be the shortest month of the year as far as calendar days are concerned, but this year, with respect to the weather in New England, February has been one of the longest on record. As one frigidly cold blustery day blends into yet another sub-zero polar vortex of a night, I anxiously await spring and the first baseball practice outside when I do not have to wear my thermal socks. What better way to spend yet another day cooped up indoors than to consume one last Friday 4 missive. With no further ado, here you go…

  • Several colleagues mentioned in a recent survey on the Kravis Center that they would like some help effectively incorporating technology into their classrooms. Google forms is a powerful tool that can be used in a whole host of ways. There happens to be a Classroom 2.0 live show on Google forms on Saturday, March 1 at noon EST. You can join in here live or listen to the presentation at a later time.
  • Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) recently wrote a piece on his Free Technology for Teachers blog about How to Add Voice Comments to Your Google Documents that can take your feedback on student writing to the next level.
  • 7 Things Smart Learners Do Differently is a nice little piece that might be nice to share with your students and serves as a good reminder as we develop lesson plans.
  • Peter Gow (@pgow) recently wrote a piece on his blog titled “Why Twitter Beats February” that describes how he uses his Twitter PLN to make the days of February bearable. Seemed appropriate as I watch the weather forecast predicting yet another snow “event” in the coming days.
  • Examining Your Multiple-Choice Questions is a piece I ran across on the Faculty Focus website that begins an exploration of how to craft better multiple choice questions.
  • My final nugget is completely unrelated to teaching and learning, but given that the Loomis Chaffee mascot is a pelican, I could not resist! Get an up-close, face-to-face view of a rescued pelican learning to fly.

Technology in the classroom – The why and a few hows.

Friday Four – Feb 22

Of all the “issues” that teachers have to deal with, effective and appropriate use of technology in the classroom is probably the one that elicits the most fear and anxiety. Part of the anxiety comes from the fact that technology changes so rapidly and it is impossible to be the master of all of it. This anxiety or fear cannot prevent us from actively seeking out and learning how to use new technologies in our classrooms.

  • This week’s first piece is actually a series of three posts written by Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann), the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy. Chris is well known for his belief that “Technology must be ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” He addresses each of his claims in the series of posts that can be found here
  • Now for a few of the “hows.” Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) is an IT teacher from Australia that I follow on Twitter who recently wrote a blog post “Office vs Drive: Some thoughts” that makes a good case for switching from “old school” to “new school” when it comes to word processing, spreadsheets or presentations.
  • If you are already a Google Drive user or are intrigued after reading the previous piece, this post from Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) will walk you through how to use Drive on your iPad.
  • If you are really ambitious and want to seriously add to your technology toolbox, check out this page 100+ Google Tricks for Teachers.

I hope you enjoy these finds from the week and that you add a few new arrows to your teaching quiver. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.

Belated Friday 4 – Google Goodies and more

 Friday Four – Jan 27

The end of the week snuck up on me, as it sometimes does, and prevented me from posting my weekly Friday 4 on Friday. I guess I will have to ask for an extension and hope for some leniency! I am pretty sure that the your life went on just fine in the absence of the Friday 4, but I did not want to completely let you down, so here is my somewhat belated Friday 4 for the week that will in all likelihood end before I finish typing this post.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am a big fan and user of Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) in the classroom and with my students. I ran across 2 great resources this past week having to do with Google Drive that I wanted to pass along.

  • The first is a post from Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne), who writes the FreeTech4Teachers blog, titled “Five Essential Google Drive Skills For Teachers.” If you are a new user of Google Drive, this is the post for you. If you are already a user of Drive, you may still be able to pick up a tip or two from this post.
  • The second Drive-related item is a short video explaining how you can use a neat Chrome plugin called WeVideo with your Google Drive to create, edit and share videos all for FREE.

The last two items for the week are more reflective in nature.

  • Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) wrote a post recently “Building a professional learning network on Twitter” that explains how educators can harness the power of Twitter for their own ongoing professional development. If you are new to Twitter and have not yet “found” Tom, I would strongly recommend that you add him to your “follow” list.
  • Marc Seigel (@DaretoChem) is another person I follow on Twitter who is a fellow flipped-classroom teacher. He recently wrote a blog post that resonated with me that I hope you will find interesting.

Enjoy and have a wonderful final week of January!

Friday 4 – Nuts, bolts and more for your classroom


Friday 4 – November 9

A recent request that came my way was a desire to see a Friday 4 focused on more practical items that could be immediately employed by teachers or their students in the classroom. I do not think that I have focused an entire Friday 4 on “in the trenches” items before so…here you go!

  • The single best source for me for practical technology-based tools/ideas/resources has to be the blog Freetech4teachers written by Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne). I have included items from Richard before in the Friday 4 and would encourage any and all teachers to add his blog to their google reader. He averages over 100 posts a month covering anything and everything tech related….all for FREE!
  • One of the coolest site I have come across recently (thanks to Richard Byrne!) is the Google Cultural Institute. “The Google Cultural Institute helps preserve and promote culture online. With a team of dedicated engineers, Google is building tools that make it simple to tell the stories of our diverse cultural heritage and make them accessible worldwide.” The site includes video, images and audio files about just about any cultural event since 1850 that you can imagine, from the 1913 Land Act to D-Day to the 1972 GOP convention in Chicago to the Human Genome Project. Whether you are a classroom teachers looking for a way to spark interest in a topic or just want to learn something new, this site is worth checking out.
  • Another fabulous resource for tools and lesson plans is the edtechteacher website. They have a great page at the site dedicated to Technology Tools For Teaching & Learning that will point you to resources to do all sorts of things with your students. A couple of examples from the site include:
  • If you are a frequent reader of the Friday 4, you know that I am a big fan and user of many Google products including Google reader, Drive and G+. What you may not know is that Google has a massive library of free lesson plans for teachers. There was a recent article on the Edudemic website that describes and links to the Google in education site. The site is searchable by discipline, product type and age range.

I hope that this week’s items lead to a new idea, tool or project for your classroom. There is a wealth of information out there to be certain. If you run across a particularly good item, please share your findings in the comments section or send me an e-mail. I want to hear from you!

Friday 4 – Technology: Friend or Foe?

Friday Four – November 2

The theme for this week’s missive comes out of my involvement with a group of colleagues looking at the issue of online learning, my passion for technology and a blog post that came across my Google reader yesterday. The path to this post was certainly not a linear one so you will have to bear with me a little at the outset.

I first read a blog post from Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham) that led me to an article that appeared in the NYT yesterday which then led me back to explore several of the links included in Willingham’s post. The timing was perfect since I had already been thinking about a few items that I wanted to include in a technology related Friday 4. Rather than have you retrace my circuitous path, I will try and consolidate my journey into a cogent set of interesting finds/reads. Additionally, I have included two specific technology related items which, when used appropriately and effectively, can be powerful teaching tools.

  • NYT article from 11/1 “Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say.” This article reports on two recent surveys (NOT the same as a scientific study) that explored the “belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks.”
  • Daniel Willingham posted a nice piece on his blog the same day as the NYT article that was titled “Is Technology Changing how Students Learn?” I really like Willingham’s writing, appreciate his reliance on “good” research and know from interacting with him over Twitter that he is genuinely concerned with getting the research-based information about brain research and learning into the hands of educators.
  • One of the links in Willingham’s post is to an extended piece he wrote for The American Educator, a journal of the American Federation of Teachers in the summer of 2010 on the same topic.
  • If you have some serious time and want to explore the thoughts of an array of world-class scientists, artists, and creative thinkers on the topic of “HOW IS THE INTERNET CHANGING THE WAY YOU THINK?” I would encourage you to check out this link from the The edge’s tagline is “To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”

The final two links for this week’s Friday 4 (I mean 6!) are two technology related resources for teachers.

  • Here is an awesome 40 page guide Google Docs for Teachers written by Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) who runs the website Google Docs (and Google Drive) has to be the single best technology related teaching tool I have incorporated in the classroom in the past several years. A game changer!
  • Prezi is “a communication tool that helps you organize, present, and share your ideas” that I have found to be invaluable whenever I need to create a presentation for a class or a PD session. They recently went through a major upgrade and have made the user interface easier to navigate and use. If you have never seen or created a Prezi, I encourage you to check out some of their publicly available presentations and give it a try. (P.S. It’s free!)

As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and ideas. Enjoy!

Friday Four 5/18

Cool Tools for Teachers

As I scanned the list of interesting items that I have run across this week in preparation for this week’s missive, I quickly noticed that quite a few of them included some neat “tools” that people might not know about. Hopefully, you will take the time to try one or all of these and find something that you can use.

The first few items are from one of my favorite bloggers, Richard Byrne, who writes the Free Technology for Teachers blog. I subscribe to his blog in my Google Reader and follow him on Twitter (@rmbyrne) so I run across his gems frequently. If you are not a reader of his blog, I strongly encourage you to check it out.

  • Seven great note-taking tools for teachers is a recent post of Richard’s that describes his favorites.
  • Did you know that you can do a Google search from right within your Google Docs? You can even include a citation or image with the click of your mouse. For students working on papers, this is a fantastic tool that I plan on showing my students right away.
  • Have you ever wanted to have a video conference with a group of students or wanted to invite a guest into your classroom? Sure you could use Skype of create a Google+ hangout, but both require all users to have a Skype account or a Google account. With, you can create a “meeting room” and simple share the URL with up to 5 people who can join your video conference without having to have an account.
  • I ran across a new app for the iPad called Nearpod that might be of interest to those of you who want to incorporate interactive multimedia into your lessons. I have downloaded the app (free) and will be field testing it soon. I will post my thoughts on its use as soon as I get a chance to kick the tires a bit. If I am lucky, I will get my capital request for a set of classroom iPads approved so that some of the Loomis Chaffee teachers can try it out next fall.
I have a few additional blog posts that I found interesting that I will include this week even though it will put me in violation of my self-imposed rule of only sharing four items in any one Friday 4 post.
  • One of the people in my PLN that I enjoy engaging with on Twitter is Brian Bennett (@bennettscience). He is a science teacher who uses a flipped-classroom model and is a leader among the online community of teachers using a flipped classroom. He recently wrote about Redesigning Learning in a Flipped Classroom. His thoughts and the comments on his blog post are a great read for those of you interested in the concept.
  • Here is a link to an article that I liked about the Joy of Not Knowing. What better way to model life long learning than to admit you do not know something and then engage in the process of discovery of new knowledge.

Friday Four for May 4


The business of the spring term got the better of me lately and led me to miss the last two Friday posts…sorry to those who sit on the edge of their keyboards waiting for my end-of-the-week missive. While I did not post my regular piece, I have been accumulating a bunch of links to interesting items I have run across that I wanted to share. Here are a few of the items that are piling up in my Google Reader and Diigo account that you may find useful/interesting. Enjoy!

  • Crocodoc is a website that allows you to add comments, highlights, drawings, and other markups to documents and images. You can also invite others to collaborate in real-time or embed documents on your website or blog. For those of you looking for a way to correct/edit student work electronically, this may be the tool for you.
  • The second item this week is a FREE web-based plug-in for Chrome that allows users to create and edit videos right from their Google account. The plugin in called WeVideo. I am a Camtasia user and have not played around with WeVido yet, but do plan on giving it a test drive soon. For those looking to try out creating a video for a flipped classroom lesson, this may be an easy and cheap way to give it a go.
  • Recent piece from Daniel Willingham that looks at some commonly used reading comprehension strategies and their effectiveness/ineffectiveness. Their is a link to a more extensive piece he wrote on the topic that is worth a look as well.
  • Great TedxBozeman talk from Paul Anderson. He explains how he is using elements of game design to improve learning in his AP Biology classroom. If you have 10:56 to spare, I recommend watching this inspirational talk from a fellow educator.

Flipping Feedback

A colleague and I have been flipping our Microbiology and Molecular Biology courses at the Loomis Chaffee School for the past two years and cannot imagine going back to a more “traditional” model. There have certainly been challenges along the way and adjustments that we have had to make, but by and large, the “experiment” has been a successful one. We spent a good deal of time on the front end explaining the rationale and pedagogical implications of the flipped model to our students and seek their feedback quite regularly about their learning and the learning environment we have created. I have written previously about specific aspects in our flipped classroom, posts of which can be found herehere and here.

I suggested/volunteered my colleague (she would say I volunteered her!) to do a presentation at an upcoming faculty in-service day about the flipped classroom in an effort to get the word out to our colleagues. I will be busy doing presentations on the use of Google docs, the use of clickers and Twitter for teachers so I “encouraged” her to lead the session on the flipped classroom. She wanted to include some data from the current students as well as some comments from them in the presentations so we created a google docs survey to get some feedback from the students. We use video lectures as our main content delivery method and try and limit our videos to 15 minutes in length. You can find most of them at our YouTube channel LC Microbiology. We are on spring break now so not all of the students have filled out the form but here are the “highlights” and a link to the entire survey in case you are interested in the results so far.

  • The majority of students spend about 30 minutes watching and taking notes on a 15 minute video lesson.
  • About one-half of the students will watch the video more than once before coming to class.
  • Approximately 70% of the students will re-watch a video lecture prior to an in class assessment as review.
Here are a couple of the comments that students wrote in response to “what are the pros/advantages of the flipped classroom?”

“We are able to focus more on the lab work because of the flipped classroom and I believe it is a huge advantage for our bio class.”

“I can listen to one section of the lesson over and over. For example, I struggled with the buffer lessons at the beginning of the term, and I must have watched the video lesson in that section 8 times. Before long though, I understood buffers, and I never fell behind in the class.”

“Simple: I get to do more fun stuff in class.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. My experience with science textbooks (and even textbooks in general) is that they are A) physically cumbersome and B) contain a few elements of pertinent information buried beneath clutter that, while interesting, has little to do with the course and dilutes the information that I actually need to know. Not only that, but teachers often find ways of teaching material that is more effective than the textbook, which means that the textbook is of little use as a resource because I learned the material in a different manner.”

Here are a few responses to what are the cons/disadvantages of the flipped classroom?”

“The con is that the homework is always important, so I can’t just skip it. I’m definately one of those kids that doesn’t do the homework if I don’t have to, but the video lessons are vital to the class the next day and I can never blow them off.”

“Sometimes, there is not enough time in class/too many things on the agenda to answer all of the questions/go through the video lecture thoroughly enough.”

“When I watch the videos outside of class, I write down questions and highlight confusing ideas, but learning the material off a computer is much different then learning material in class. I often struggle to know what I don’t know.” 

The students made some suggestions for ways in which we could improve the model mainly focused on making sure we dedicate some time in class to going over material that was confusing from the video lectures. We have not been as good at reviewing content from the videos as we could be as we try and squeeze every possible minute out of our schedule either having the students working in the lab or wrestling with problems related to the topic at hand. The feedback has been valuable to us as teachers and will hopefully encourage out colleagues to learn more about the flipped classroom and perhaps even give it a try.

I will post a follow-up with thoughts and feedback from the faculty in-service day. Please do not hesitate to add your comments, thoughts or suggestions to the discussion.