Category Archives: Distance Teaching and Learning

Mystery Number Skype Makes Learning Stick

One of the best parts of my day is when I get to see kids apply what they learn to a real problem. It’s even better when I can see the wheels turning in their brains- which is just what happened this afternoon in Ashley Lawrence’s class.

Ashley’s class did a Mystery Number Skype with a class outside of the United States (we can’t say where because they have a geography Skype in the works!) In a Mystery Number Skype each class chooses a number and keeps it secret. Students in each class ask yes/no questions to try to narrow down the choices until they hone in on the correct number.


There’s a lot more to it than just guessing numbers. Students come up with problem solving strategies while forming questions. Because one strategy is to guess which number is in each place, place value is one skill that is strengthened. From here, students need to remember what it means to be odd or even. They show understanding of the concepts of less than and more than. In some cases step counting is a skill that is necessary to solve the puzzle.

This fourth grade class decided to up their game and use their understanding of factoring by asking if the other class’s number was divisible by 5 (it wasn’t)- so they could eliminate both 0 and 5 in the ones place.

Imagine how you could expand this with students who can use multiplication and division skills, decimals, and fractions. The possibilities are endless.

The whole experience, start to finish, was about 15 minutes. Compare this experience with 15 minutes of worksheet practice. Which one do you think sticks better?

To find classes to connect with via Skype, see the Mystery Skype site or join Connected Classrooms Workshop  on Google +.


NoRedInk is worth a second look

Last year I wrote about NoRedInk, a tool that is very useful for helping students learn grammar. At that writing, NoRedInk had 3 categories to work with: apostrophes, subject/verb agreement, and commas, sentence fragments, and run-ons. Nine months later that have expanded their tool to include LOTS more.

ImageNoRedInk fits nicely with my workflow model (see previous post). It’s easy to use for the teacher- you create a class and decide what sorts of practice quizzes you want your students to use. You check the categories, the number of questions you want, the number of points the quiz is worth, and whether you want to make the quiz available right away or schedule it for later on.  You can assign the quiz to a whole class or individual students, making it perfect for student centered learning environments. NoRedInk creates the quizzes from a question bank and customizes them based on choices the student makes about characters from popular music, sports, movies, or names that the student puts in.

What’s of equal value is what you get back. You get an answer key for each quiz. You get a report that says who took it, how well they did, and what questions they missed.

student view of NoRedInk feedbackStudents get lots of feedback too. They get a message when they answer a question incorrectly as well as the opportunity to try it again. If they miss the second question, they are given a screen explaining WHY the answer was incorrect- and a button that takes them to a similar question to try again.  Students have the option of getting practice quizzes as well and can choose the topic they want to work on. There’s also a progress chart for students to use to see how well they are mastering each of the areas.

Give NoRedInk a look and see if it will work for you and your students.

Integrator Tip: Put Workflow FIRST

It’s a fact. We are barraged by tools. If you created a google alert for just about any sort of online tool your inbox would be full within hours. The next thing since sliced bread is always right at hand. And it’s often what trips us up.

As integrators we naturally see possibilities. Because of our problem solving skills and our propensity for tech savvy, we sometimes overlook the moat while leaping across to the castle. It’s a fatal mistake that often finds us swimming quickly away from angry crocodiles.

Teachers exist on a different plane from us. They have an unrelenting schedule, parents and principals at bay (sometimes with swords drawn), and students who are in varying states of armor. They need tools that just WORK. These tools need to seamlessly integrate into their world and require no time for password retrieval or versions that are not compatible.

In one of my earliest posts I suggested 10 Tips for New Integrators. I danced around the subject but here’s the truth- in order for a tool to be worthwhile, it has to have a large “valued added” component. This means that it can’t be an impediment to progress. It has to provide traction for learning. If it just does the same thing as what you’ve been doing but in a different way, let it float past.

How do you vet a tool through this lens? Simple. Start with these two elements:

1. The login. At our school, students have a multitude of logins. They have to remember their Educate (our CMS system), Discovery Ed, GoogleDocs, Edmodo, Apple ID, and logins for any number of other tools that they use. These kids are KIDS! Sometimes they forget to brush their teeth- and we want them to remember another login? There are a plethora of tools that allow you to use a student’s google login to access a tool. Students that use GoogleDocs as a part of their daily learning rarely forget their login- which means that the tools that are connected to GoogleDocs also will be easy to access. Look for tools that allow a student to combine accounts – but use the opportunity as a teachable moment for password safety and digital footprint issues. Single login systems have their drawbacks security-wise. You should also be sure you know what information the tool takes from their google account. This is a perfect example of the “no free lunch” theory.

2. Password safety– I can’t tell you how many hours each week I spend either retrieving or changing passwords for students. It’s not the best use of my time or talents. To that end, I’ve found a solution. I have to credit my colleague Dan Tompkins with this idea. Like most of us, he vets many tools each month. He’s come up with a good password convention that’s worth passing on to students. When he creates an account for a tool, he uses a common  username- often with a “junk” email address in case the relationship doesn’t work out. The password always begins with the name of the tool- for example, “Evernote” followed by an underscore and the password. It might look like this:  Evernote_1234, Edmodo_1234, Socrative_1234. Again, it’s important to talk about strong passwords at this point. Once someone knows your strategy, your security could be compromised.

3. Find the tools where they congregate.  One good place to look  is the Chrome Web Store. If you aren’t familiar with it, get acquainted. It’s a treasure trove of tools. The link gives you an easy to follow tutorial to get you started.

Your google docs account also has a way to link you to many other tools. From your google drive, click CREATE. You’ll see “more apps” at the bottom of the menu. This will lead you to tools that integrate with GoogleDocs and will, once installed, create an easy way to access them.

There. Ready? Get to it- vet the tools your students need. Or better yet, ask THEM to do it. Evaluate the workflow and determine their usability through the eyes of your students and colleages. Share what you learn- and move forward.

The “Digital Hail Mary Pass”

Last week my tech coordinator and I were talking. He said, “We have about 30 days of school left, and we need to come up with some way of using technology to help our students finish up their learning targets.”

Some students are scrambling because their pace throughout the year has been, well, “casual.” Others have struggled to understand portions of the material. A good portion of the kids could use a couple more weeks in June than we allotted  them. Unfortunately, budgets being what they are, we may be unable to offer summer school. September and completion of these learning targets is a long way off.

I took my tech coordinator’s thoughts to heart and wondered what a student might need to help get them get caught up in a student directed environment. All of our students have googledocs accounts and use them often. Our CMS for grades includes tools that teachers can use to provide assignments, resources and feedback. It’s all in place…so long as you can get the content from the resources the teacher provides.

Sometimes students need to hear or see things a different way than we do. The “Digital Hail Mary” site is a growing collection of resources that students (and teachers and parents) can use to provide content in another way for students. It’s designed to showcase very easy to use tools/resources- nothing complicated or unwieldy.

There are more resources out there- please feel free to add your favorites to the comments section. I’ll add them as they come in.

Edmodo: 12 weeks later

In the infancy of this blog, I wrote a post about Edmodo. I was looking for a platform upon which to build my 7th and 8th grade class sites. The post describes the pros and the cons of using Edmodo and is still a good place to start learning about it.

I didn’t ultimately use Edmodo. I had just discovered GoogleDocs and decided to put my efforts into learning how to use Sites. Not a bad tool…but this year my needs changed and I gave Edmodo a try. The rest of this post is a synopsis of my trimester.

ImageIn a nutshell, Edmodo is a self contained classroom that looks like Facebook. There really is no learning curve for students- they get it right away. It’s easy to introduce and the workflow for students is simple- log in, check the progress pane to see where you are, and get to work.

From a teacher’s viewpoint, the advantages to Edmodo are many:

1. Notifications: Students and parents (yes, there is a parent login) can receive updates from you via text message or email. The text option has proven to be quite popular with both parents and students. I even have my notifications set so I get a text whenever someone posts something. This helps kids stay within the classroom rules that we set about what the Edmodo wall is for.

2. The Library/Backpack/Activity Stream: I often find extra resources that I’d like students to have access to outside of class. The Backpack allows me to share folders in my library that show up in the student’s backpack. The activity stream shows me who is accessing them so I can tell which ones are most readily used.

3. Differentiation Tools: You can easily create small groups within Edmodo. Have kids that need remediation? Create a group, add members, and assign work to just these students. Need more complex assignments for your students who are ahead? The same process works for them as well.

4. Progress Page: Students and parents can easily see progess. The progress page has visuals as well as links to assignments and the status of each. No more wondering if a teacher has graded an assignment and not put it into the grading software. Teachers can grade work as they review it, comment on it, link to resources etc., cutting down on the time it takes for feedback to reach students. Students can also ask questions about the assignments without having to wait to see the teacher or hoping he or she gets an email.

5. Connections to other communities: As teachers living with non-existent budgets, professional development can be hard to come by. Edmodo has subscriptions to communitites to help you bridge the gaps that budgets create. I subscribe to a smartboard group (Teq). By following a community, you get updates on YOUR page without having it show on your students’ pages. Of course, they could follow the community as well if it enhances what you do in your class. Communities and resources are well categorized which is a good thing because there are SO many of them!

6. Badges: Think of badges like virtual stickers. Even 8th graders like to collect them! They can be customized as you wish and assigned for anything- academics, work ethic, or anything else you celebrate in your classroom. Just be prepared to stay on top of it once you start doling them out!

7. Tech support: This probably should be in the number one place. Edmodo’s tech support is unsurpassed. First of all it’s done by live people in real time. I almost always get an answer to my questions within an hour of asking them- and frequently its much quicker.

Prezi. Just Plain Good for Content

Prezi samples

The Prezi sample window

I’ve been messing around with Prezi for the better part of a year now, and I like what I see. If you aren’t familiar with Prezi, it’s that very popular presentation software that allows the presenter to easily zoom in, flip things around, and play videos with relative ease.  I like it for a whole host of other reasons.

First and foremost, I’m not a big fan of student created powerpoints. Far too often the bulk of their efforts are put into the animations and transitions with little thought to the way these detract from the content. Students read from slides without having a good grasp of the information they are trying to present, and the audience is numbed into silence when it comes time to ask questions. They are just glad it’s over.

Here are the advantages of Prezi as I see them:

Formatting: Prezi limits “glitz” options significantly. It has about 8 backgrounds to choose from, and each has pre-programmed fonts and colors that can’t be changed. No more getting lost in the color picker or the font window.

Text: It’s easy to put in small amounts of text and more difficult to enlarge the boxes to add “too much” text. This encourages students to use bullets rather than paragraphs.

Images: Images can be added and users can use frames to zoom in to a particular portion of a photo. For example, you can have the program zoom to a portion of the photo- ask prediction questions- then have the program zoom out to show the entire scene. You can also easily focus in on a detail that might be lost when viewed as part of the whole photo.

Video: Embedding video doesn’t get much easier than Prezi, especially if you are taking it from YouTube. Prezi also lets you upload a wide variety of file formats for images and videos, but limits the file size to 50 MB for the free version.

Sharing: This is a new feature in Prezi, and a pretty significant one. You can share presentations with up to 10 viewers and allow them to edit-making collaborative work a breeze. Users can sign up for accounts easily.

Prezis embed easily into most webpages and can be used as standalone teaching aids with some creativity in the design of the presentation. Links to public prezis can be posted or emailed- making student work easy to share with family and the world.

Differentiation: The biggest difference between Prezi and traditional slideshow programs is the layout. Picture a large, flat pallette upon which you lay the different elements of your presentation. They can be in any arrangement you choose, unlike the linear display of a PowerPoint. Creators use a path to connect the elements, and this path allows users to move easily from one element to another and back again. This layout is great for kids who need to brainstorm, move things around, figure out the order, move it again, and have flexibility in their design.

Wheel Reinvention: It just may be that the presentation you are wanting to create for your class already exists, at least in a semi-useable form. Many users post their prezis and allow others to copy them, edit them, and use them for their own purposes. What a great time saver!

Online study is way of life at Crescent High School |

Interesting article about an “all-digital” curriculum in Oklahoma

Online study is way of life at Crescent High School |