Changing Classroom Culture with Chat

Setting the tone for a digital classroom culture can be difficult. Students have one set of behaviors that they use at home (or on their personal devices) and one that they use, hopefully, on their school devices. For some students the boundaries are one and the same- they use technology appropriately no matter where they go. Others straddle the line…or don’t see it at all. With a conscious effort we can help them change the culture.

A great place to start is by using Todaysmeet in class. This backchannel tool is easy to set up, easy for students to access, and provides a good way for students to practice social networking in a “teachable” venue.

Here’s how I used it:

I went to a sixth grade classroom to help with logins for their LMS. Rather than go from desk to desk asking kids who needed help, I had them go to the TodaysMeet room. They were instructed to put their name in the nickname box and the message “I need help” in the message box.

The result was a list of kids that needed help with their logins. These are sixth graders and they are used to towing the line, so we had no inappropriate responses. The task for the tool was specific and the students could clearly see the purpose.

That said, in time it could be a great way to begin the conversation about how you present yourself online.

Today's meet How? From a gradual release of responsibility. My next step from here would be to use this as a way for students to reflect on their learning. A teacher could set up a room that was called “I wonder” and provide a place for students to provide questions about their learning.

It could also be used as a way to provide an exit ticket for students.

At some point someone will go off-course with their response. This is not a discipline issue! It’s a the perfect opportunity to address appropriate online behavior – and a way to begin the creation of an SOP for online discussions. Once this behavior has been agreed upon and practiced, the sky is the limit. Your class will be ready for tweeting, blogging, google+ communities, participating in global projects and all other manner of social media interaction with the intent to improve learning.


Distracted by Tech? Address the Problem, Not the Symptom

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to block a site. Truthfully, I’d charge people that want me to block all games from the internet a little more.  It would  fund my retirement nicely. It’s a problem that occurs everywhere- the complaint that games and social media distract students and make it difficult if not impossible for them to do the learning they need to do.

Lately the complaints have ramped up from teachers frustrated by students who are running out of time to complete work before the end of the year. They ask me to look through the students’ laptops and find out what they are doing instead of work. It’s tedious but it is part of my job so I do it.

Students have never been at a loss for ways to avoid work. This year I am seeing some old tools like Stealthy paired with newer ones like PanicButton. These are extensions from the Chrome Webstore that allow students to get around our filters (Stealthy) and hide webpages that they don’t want you to see (PanicButton).


The extensions will show up (unless they are hidden) to the right of the address bar in Chrome as shown in the photo above. I suggest you start looking for them.

ImageThe Stealthy button is a red square with an arrow in it. When it’s red, it’s off and the school’s filter is in place. When it’s green, it’s on and the student is using a proxy server to get around the filter. This will allow them to go anywhere they want. There’s no free lunch here- there are risks. You can read about them here.

ImageThe Panic Button is a red circle with either a target in it or an exclamation point. Both do the same thing- they hide the pages the student doesn’t want you to see, and replaces them with a more school appropriate page. Students can set the page they want you to see.

We CANNOT control the use of these tools. We can’t block them. We can make the students remove them. They are easily re-added as soon as we turn our backs. It’s less of a discipline issue than it is a sign that the student has become disconnected from the learning.

I’ll challenge you to think of these tools not as the problem itself but as a symptom of a bigger issue. Not completing work is not a new problem. It is not caused by laptops, phones, or iPads. Technology has certainly made procrastination easier but it didn’t invent it. All these tools are a big fat arrow pointing at the real problem- the student is stuck.

So why did I bother to point these things out? Because they are a visual that leads you to conversations with your students. When you see that students have installed these kinds of tools it’s kind of like noticing they have a rash. It certainly provides an opening to begin a discussion. I had the opportunity to chat with two young men this week about their use of both of these tools. I asked what educational purpose they served, and as you could expect they had a hard time coming up with one.

Both students are athletes. I asked them if they would ever consider working hard in practice when the coach was watching, and slacking off and doing something else when the coach had their back turned. They thought this was ridiculous! Why would they do that? How would they ever get better? Neither wanted to sit the bench, and they acknowledged that that kind of behavior would be counterproductive.

This made things too easy. I asked how they thought using the PanicButton was going to help them if it only made them look like they were learning. Neither could come up with an answer.

Here’s where the door opens for you as a teacher. Distraction, procrastination, defiance- they are all symptoms of the same problem. Disengagement. It might be disengagement from a particular assignment or it might be disengagement from school as a whole.  It’s our job as teachers to figure out WHY. It’s not about “who’s fault” it is. It’s about finding solutions. Forward motion is the goal.

I’m not a social worker so I can’t fix the big problems- but here are some suggestions you might try for the smaller ones. Keep in mind that this does not have to be done for an entire class- apply these as you identify students who could use them.

Reading issues:

  • Print articles students need to read. When reading gets tough and Facebook is on another tab, the temptation is to turn to the easier task.
  • Use summarizing tools like Skimzee, SummarizeThis and TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). Some work better than others but most work better than not reading at all.
  • Remove ads from pages by using Clearly in Chrome or Reader in Safari.

Distraction Issues:

  • Not all work is best done on the laptop. Decide if closing the lid will be beneficial for students.
  • Sometimes GoogleDocs provides too many notifications about new email, chat requests, etc. Have students write in Pages. Pages files can be uploaded for storage, or they can paste their work into a GoogleDoc when they are done. They can also use WriteSpace, a tool that provides a black screen with a cursor for distraction free writing.
  • Have students turn their airports off if they don’t need the internet.
  • Seating. If you know a child has a hard time focusing, do not let them sit in the hallway or with their back against the wall. Give them a seat where their screen is visible and keep an eye on what they are doing.
  • Ask students to use tools like IAMSTUDYING or Website Blocker. These allow the students to customize a filter that will block the sites they need to stay off of as well as the times they’d like them blocked. Helping students learn to self monitor can be crucial.


  • Exit tickets are a great way to hold students accountable for what they have done in class. Some teachers start with a daily goal and ask students to evaluate how they have done. They don’t leave class without handing in the ticket.
  • Ask them to email a copy of their daily work to you. It will only take a minute for you to evaluate what they have done and know how well they are using their time. This is especially effective when you are doing a whole class video. gives you an easy way to do this.

If you’ve been in the classroom any time at all, you already have a hefty toolbox of strategies to help students. When you look at the behavior with technology as a symptom it makes it easier to put together a set of strategies to get your students moving ahead.



Tech Integrator Tip: Align and Conquer

If there was a standing job description for a tech integrator, it might include the following: “Ability to work with little supervision. Strong diagnostic and psychological skills. Able to shift focus quickly, easily and often. Must possess good sense of humor. Sales experience helpful.”

Tech integrators make their own schedules and are left to make decisions on a myriad of classrooms k-12. Sometimes it feels like we have no boss and sometimes it feels like we ARE the boss. Of course we have bosses but they are often stretched way beyond thin and self sufficiency is appreciated. Sometimes we operate like Tinkerbelle, spreading pixie-dust and performing magic to fix holes in teaching and learning with technology. What we seldom do is teach and train in a systematic method that is carefully planned and implemented building or district wide.

I’ve been an integrator for a very long time and always thought I did a pretty good job. I was busy, the teachers liked what I was doing in the classrooms, the kids were competent and engaged. Then things changed.

We’ve moved as a district to a student centered model of teaching and learning. Our teachers are tightly focused on student success. They spend hours working on strategies to help support the many levels of learners that are present in their heterogenously grouped classrooms. This tight focus has proved problematic for me.

In the past, I’d go into classrooms and do whole class lessons on digital citizenship, search strategies, or presentation skills (see the post on Dodging Presentation Fatigue). I shared weekly Tech Goodies via our conference email. I chatted teachers up in the hallways. Business was good.

Now it’s tough to get into classrooms. Students are working on a variety of things so whole class instruction is no longer appropriate. No problem- I’ll offer small group support in the areas I think they are most in need of. Off I go to organize the modules, send out the emails, chat in the hallways, and wait for the requests to come pouring in.

Except they aren’t. I’ve spent more time at my desk than ever before and it’s lonely there. It does, however, give me time to reflect on what’s going wrong and how to fix it.

Here’s what I realized. I am going about this all wrong. I am standing on the outside like a consultant. Change is happening all around me and I am still working in the same old “sage on the stage” environment, assuming I know what others need to know and just waiting for a way to tell them.

My district has spent a great deal of money sending me to graduate school to get a degree in Instructional Design. I originally pursued this because my grasp on content organization is weak, having gotten a degree in Equine Studies upon which to place my endorsement (another story for another post). I started looking at my job through the eyes of an instructional designer and quickly realized that I was working at the wrong end of the problem.

Most districts have a district technology plan. It’s usually a state requirement. It speaks to budgets and infrastructure and staffing and vaguely to student implementation. What they don’t have is a Technology Integration Plan. A district technology integration plan is a way to create a system of integration that gets to the heart of what we want to do with the technology that we are provided, district wide, in a formalized fashion.

Without getting deeply into instructional design pedagogy, it works like this:

Begin with a needs analysis. Both the district and your buildings begin each year with goals. Some of these will deal with technology or can be supported with technology. Have face to face conversations or submit surveys to the organizational leaders in your district. Find out where teachers feel they need help- or where they see the biggest gaps for their students. Ask students as well. This will help you eliminate assumptions that you will be bringing to the table. It will also help you develop goals for your plan.

Goals. Most of us have to write them and we do. Then we tuck them away and don’t think of them again, but they are essential to the success of your plan. Think of them as objectives for learning. Create them based on the results of your needs surveys, not based on your assumptions of what’s needed.

Once your goals are created, you can begin to brainstorm the problems and opportunities that will arise as you develop your training. This will help tease out the issues that can be solved by training and those that can’t. For example, if one of the goals is to bring more equity to the equipment distribution across your district, the problem may be that your budget won’t allow the purchase of more equipment. Solutions could include redistributing equipment and allowing teachers flexibility in their schedules to allow for sharing a well-equipped space. You’ll find that not everything is a training problem.

From here you can begin developing a system of training on the topics that will be most advantageous to your organization. You’ll find that it is beginning to look suspiciously like creating a lesson plan- and you are right. The tough thing can be finding time to present the training; however, since you are aligning your training with building and district goals, the buy-in may be considerably higher than what you have had in the past. You’ll have a good argument for sliding into inservice days.

Each district is different in how they handle their integrationists- but what is often universal is our ability to change how we work. We can be influential in how our buildings do business with technology. I’m working on this plan even as we speak, and have great hope that this will turn into a big win-win for everyone. Stay tuned.


Using Video for Critical Thinking

Today a colleague asked me to resend a link for a site that offers free documentaries. He was talking about DocumentaryTube, a well organized site offering free documentaries on demand. He might also have meant YouTube’s Documentary section, with a mixture of free and low priced videos available. I’ll also toss Snagfilms in there, and of course I’ll send him to my go-to guy Richard Byrne and his FreeTech4Teachers entry on the Best Free Documentary Websites.

I won’t stop there, however, because it’s important to reinforce the importance of guiding students when using video. Just turning it on and tuning out as you grade papers is a poor strategy- because it is exactly what students will want to do (ok, without the papers, but you get the idea). Using video in the classroom is a GREAT way to help students practice their critical thinking skills, but only if you give them a framework within which to work.

How many times have you chosen a video for class and thought “This will be a great piece to use as the center of discussions about a,b, and c?” You show the video and ask what the students thought about a,b, and c…and nada. Not a peep, except maybe from your top student.  It’s not that the video wasn’t relevant or your students slept through it- perhaps is just is too long from critical thought to discussion.

You can improve this by using some simple tools. All involve giving students prompts to think about or find examples of in the video. Then-

  • Create a twitter hashtag for students to use to respond to the prompts while the video is on. This allows students to quickly post ideas while they are thinking of them. Of course, all students would have to have a twitter account. You can create a classroom account for students to use if you wish- this comes with a caveat to also talk about acceptable digital behavior.
  • Use a backchannel chat tool like TodaysMeet to let students make points or ask questions as they watch.
  • If the idea of a chat makes you nervous, use a shared bulletin board like Padlet
  • Create a viewing guide to be printed or shared on GoogleDocs to help students formalize their thoughts or take notes

When students have their thoughts in print it makes it easier to go back and have the conversations you originally planned. The Twitter, backchannel chat and bulletin board tools have the added advantage of giving you the ability to monitor questions as the video goes along. You can stop the video and let discussions come up as they bubble into existence and thoughts about the topic are fresh.

TEDEd-The Simplest Flipped Classroom Yet

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 10.53.25 AM

I’m always so appreciative to work in a district with such smart colleagues. Dan Tompkins, Tech Integrator in Richmond, sent this along to me and it’s a goldmine.

I’ve always been a fan of TedTalks. They are often relevant to what we teach but finding them and then figuring out the best way to use them can be time consuming. Not anymore! offers the ability to “build a lesson around any TED-Ed Original, TED Talk or YouTube Video” – or use one that someone else has shared.

Each lesson has questions, resources for deeper learning, and discussion questions that can be answered online in a forum environment. By logging in and creating a class you can create a classroom of your own using some of the “too many to count” TedEd resources, or you can make your own with your flipped videos that are posted on YouTube.

Some intriguing titles I found:

This tour site is well worth the time to visit.



If we’re being honest, all of us have had evil thoughts during a presentation at some point in our lives. Presentation software is one of the most poorly used tools available- but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are a teacher who wants to tune up your direct instruction delivery or a student who needs to nail that next presentation,   these 10 easy tips to creating a presentation will make your audience sit up and listen. Here goes…

1. Be passionate about your topic. Or pretend to be.  Sometimes this will be simple. If the topic is assigned it can be a little more difficult- until you connect the topic with something that matters to you. Look at your topic from a variety of angles. If your topic is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, imagine skateboarding without it. If your topic is the War of 1812, you might imagine how the military might look without the improvements to officer training that that war brought about. These things may not be on the assessment rubric, but they are important to help draw your audience in.

All of these things answer the “Why do we need to learn this” question. When you know why it’s important to know something, it’s easier to learn and talk about it.

 2. Connect with your audience. Be yourself (or better). Your personality should come through into your presentation. Your audience needs to connect with YOU, not your PowerPoint. In fact, consider making the PowerPoint the LEAST important part of your presentation. You should be the center of attention. Let some of your personality come through. Be who you are and assume that the audience wants to hear what you have to say.

One way to do this is to begin the presentation with a story about why this topic is important to you. Let your audience view a bit of your love for the topic from the human side. Open with a personal anecdote that leads to the bulk of the presentation content.

 3. TALK to your audience. Nobody likes a lecture. Pay attention to how you talk to people when you are NOT presenting. Study your body language. Do you stand still and just talk when you are with your friends? Of course not! You move- you gesture- you modulate your voice. Figure out what body language you “speak” and use it in addition to the words you give your audience.

4. Eye contact is essential.  You MUST become comfortable looking at people in your audience. If you are in a large room, shift your focus around the different areas in the room. In a small room, try to make eye contact with each person randomly at some point in the presentation.

Why is eye contact so important? It sets a very important tone right from the beginning. Eye contact conveys confidence and honesty about you. Looking at your audience members’ faces also gives you an idea of how they are receiving your message. Are their heads drooping? Time to change things up and get some energy going (see step 8).

 5. Make your presentation a conversation.   Everyone loves to hear a good story. Let  your audience know how you have connected with the content- or why they should. Any topic can be part of a story about why it’s important. If you don’t have a personal connection with the topic, scour the news to find out how the audience might find the topic relevant.

A conversation has a number of points but it’s not just a list of facts. In order to create a conversation you have to have good knowledge of what you are talking about. This means you have to…

 6. Know enough about the topic to speak without notes. This means you can answer questions from the audience about your topic. If you are just transferring information from a webpage to a slide, you are doomed to bore your audience to death or beyond. LEARN YOUR CONTENT! Start by creating an outline of what points you REALLY think the audience needs to know. These are the beginnings of your presentation. Often times they are the END of a presentation- because speakers don’t find the relevant information to use to expand on the slide bullets. For each point ask yourself the following:

  • What’s the main point that the audience needs to know?
  • What are the points that make this relevant to the whole presentation?
  • How can I make this information relevant for the listener?

 7. Humans have emotions. Use yours.  There is a reason that many of us don’t like to use the text to speech function on our computers- the voice is monotonous and machine-like. Unfortunately, so are many of our voices when we are presenting. You can create energy by being energetic. (See “being passionate about your topic”). Small things like changing your position, raising your voice level… pausing and speaking quietly…stand up… ask a question… share a story. Laugh. Take pauses to allow the audience a reaction. Show them your reactions to the content. They will take cues from you and act accordingly.

9. Use Public Speaking Strategies  Public speaking is not rocket science, but it requires practice. So do it. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in the car. Record yourself on your phone. Practice in front of your family. Practice until you really know your presentation. It is REALLY evident when you don’t. You cannot “wing” a quality presentation.

Start by looking at the audience, taking a breath, and then beginning to speak. Some of us rely on “uhm” or some other thinking word. If you need time to think, inhale. Then start to speak again.

Move away from the podium. It will help you to interact with the audience if you are able to move around your presentation space. People will tune in when you move closer to them.  Be sure to use body language and facial expressions that you’d normally use (go back and read #3.)

It’s ok to use notes but don’t read to your audience. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m talking about” like someone stumbling through a written script that they copied and pasted.

10: About the Visuals   Presenters rely on visuals. Sometimes they rely too MUCH on visuals. Your visuals need to have a purpose, but if the purpose is to fill time or space, rethink things. You can increase the impact of your images by making sure they are used for one (or more) of the following:

  • illustrating an idea
  • helping to maintain interest ( but don’t rely on this!)
  • clarifying a key point
  • providing an illustrative example
  • clarifying or simplifying a model
  • summarizing data
  • entertaining the audience
  • providing impact
  • comparing/contrasting ideas
  • showing progress along time spans

A word about video…

Videos can be a powerful part of a presentation but ONLY if they are serving a purpose that can’t be done without them. Be sure to tell your audience what the purpose of the video is before you show it. Some reasons to use video can include:

  •  tell a story from a first person point of view
  • evoke a feeling or set a tone
  • show something you can’t show in person
  • inspire your viewers
  • create interest in what information will follow from you

Some guidelines for using video:

Make sure your video is crisp and clear- both audio and video. Nothing gets the audience to tune out more quickly than a hard to watch clip. Keep your video to 2-3 minutes. Much longer than this and your audience will forget you are there. Having said this, you can use longer clips IF you stop and connect with the audience as appropriate.

Don’t let the video do your work for you- it is there to enhance and support you, not replace you. Spend the time necessary to edit your videos to reach this goal. As with still images, your video needs a job to do. Make sure it has one.

( Picture Roles Guide v1.4.pdf)

 11. Bonus! Consider alternatives   

You’ll notice that at no time does this guide mention how to use software like Keynote or PowerPoint. That’s because if you follow this guide, it won’t matter what you use- or if you use anything at all. Consider some low tech options:

Artifacts (visuals that can be held by audience members)
Photographic Displays

The medium you use for your presentation will depend on your content and your intent. Audience participation? Don’t dim the lights and turn on the projector. Think of the best way to get where you want to go- then use the tools to get you there.

Integrator’s Tip: Action Mapping Gives a New View of Presentations

Tech integration is an interesting job. It’s equal parts psychology, tech expertise, and marketing. Right now business is light and I’m in that marketing phase, trying to find ways to get back into classrooms. When I’m in this mode I try to focus on something that I know teachers do regularly and give it a little twist.

Right now I’m marketing presentations. Not because I necessarily think they are a great learning tool- more because they have become a staple of student evidence of learning.  In my prep work I uncovered an organizational model called Action Mapping. It’s from a blog by Cathy Moore and in a nutshell it focuses on what people need to be able to DO with the knowledge they are learning rather than just WHAT they have to learn. It’s given me an interesting way to look at an old standby.

Here’s how it works:

You identify the learning goal
You identify what skills your students need to reach it
You identify why students most often fail to reach the goal (lack of knowledge, lack of skills, lack of motivation, environment)
You design learning activities that are realistic and relevant to the learning goal
You identify what your students need to know and do to successfully complete the activities.

It’s a lot like what teachers already do to create lessons, but the emphasis is more on the “doing” than on the “knowing.” I applied it to creating presentations and all of a sudden I got a completely different integration road map.

Learning goal: Show understanding of a topic or question through a particular lens provided by the teacher (or better yet, created by the student! But I digress…) in presentation form.

Skills Needed: Strategies to find appropriate information on the topic. Knowledge of connections between the information found and the essential question. Ability to read digital text. Method of taking and saving notes. Means of organizing found information. Ability to find and appropriately cite images.

Students most often fail at presentations because:  They lack content knowledge because they copied and pasted information onto slides, they lack  correct information (or enough information) because they have poor search skills, they lack skills in finding sources at the appropriate reading level,  they lack understanding of how to correctly cite sources, and/or they lack  skills in how to present information in a presentation setting.

Identify learning activities that are relevant to the goal:  Develop search strategies to find accurate sources of information, decipher text to glean needed information, organize information so that it makes sense in a presentation, use notes to supplement text on slide, use graphics to supplement information, show understanding of copyright laws by correctly citing all sources of information

What do students need to know to be able to complete the activities: effective search strategies, strategies for reading digital text, digital note-taking, information organization tools,  how to find bibliography resources, how to use public speaking tools like speaker notes.

Action mapping suggests that you do a graphic organizer to help with the planning. This, I think, is a crucial step, as it points out the many areas where integration can take place:

Click to see larger image

Click to see larger image

All of a sudden I have many more opportunities to bring technology into the classroom in a useful way. You’ll notice that there is NOTHING in there on how to use Prezi, Keynote, HaikuDeck or any of the other presentation tools available to students. Action mapping helps tease out what students REALLY need to be able to do to create a good presentation- and font size and animations don’t make the list.