Digital Learning Day…Aren’t we beyond this in 2018?

Today marks the seventh year the folks at Digital Learning Day are celebrating digital learning. As I wrote about this day four years ago, isn’t the term itself redundant, considering the Digital Age we live in where pretty much anything you want to know or learn can be found on the Internet? And when I consider all the effective ways my colleagues in Madison leverage technology to make our students’ learning experiences richer, more personalized, more authentic, at this point I have to wonder, Can we even afford to take the digital out of learning? 

To me, pretty much every day is digital learning day. But in the spirit of the occasion, I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight a digital tool that you may not be familiar with. It’s a powerful collaboration tool called Padlet, which is essentially a virtual bulletin board. It’s free, easy to use, and makes students’ thinking visible. So how does it work? Take, for example, the way Polson Health teacher Susan Quinn is using it in part of her 7th grade Drug Unit. In order to encourage her students to make healthy choices about drug and alcohol use, it was important for her to not just give her students information about drugs, but to get them to reflect on the basic human needs that drive all of our choices and the ways we can meet these needs in positive and negative ways. After teaching students about the emotional needs of Love & Belonging, Freedom, Fun, and Power, she’s having them use Padlet to brainstorm in groups the negative ways teens try to meet their emotional needs through drug and alcohol use, as well as all the positive alternatives through which they can meet their needs. For love & belonging, it could look something like this…

The thing I love about this tool is how it makes all students’ thinking visible, allowing the teacher to quickly address any misconceptions a student may have. To learn more about Padlet and how it get started with it, go to, sign in with your MPS Google account, and check out the video below. Happy digital learning!


8th Grade English Students Show Off Their Creative Chops on Google Sites with The Polson Press

After I touted the potential of the new Google Sites in a recent post, the 8th grade Language Arts teachers at Polson have done some pretty awesome things with its implementation. Martha Curran, Mary Rothfuss, Kristen Cinque, and Crystal Procaccini came to me at the start of their creative writing unit with the idea of publishing students’ finished works in a digital format. Blogger and Sites both came to mind, but they settled on Sites. The results are fantastic. Every student across the grade chose the piece they were most proud of for publication in what they dubbed The Polson Press, be it short story, vignette, poetry collection, or chapter 1 of a potential novel. While browsing the site, it doesn’t take long to realize how personally invested students were in their work. As a former English teacher, I was impressed by the quality of the work, but I can’t say I was surprised. On workshop days, I witnessed students’ focus as they went about their business on Chromebooks in the 8th grade commons area, situated just outside the 8th grade LA classrooms. It made me wonder if raising the stakes with the imminent publication of their work was the incentive needed to encourage students to produce their best work.

Due to privacy concerns, Google Sites created by Madison teachers and students are only accessible to other account users. But parents can enjoy seeing their kids’ work by simply asking them to sign in to Google when they visit the site. Go check out the results at the link above, but be sure to have your Google sign-in credentials on-hand. And if you’re interested in doing anything with Google Sites in your classrooms, don’t hesitate to reach out! It’s a great platform for students that can feature not just their more creative endeavors, but any intellectual pursuit you guide them through.

Explore Perspectives and Limit Biases with These News Source Tools

Since the dawn of 24/7 cable news some 30 years ago, the lines between fact and opinion in our news reporting have become increasingly blurred. The dawn of the Internet has amplified this effect, bringing with it many different perspectives across the political spectrum through which we digest our news. This can be a good thing as it has given previously marginalized voices a platform, but it has also facilitated the spread of “news reporting” that not only contains obvious biases, but outright falsehoods and flimsy conspiracy theories–actual fake news. Now that we have a president that has weaponized the term fake news for his own political gain, the very concept of reality can seem to be up for grabs. It’s no wonder the public’s faith in the news media is at an all-time low.

So how can we and our students better navigate the media landscape to detect bias and determine fact from fiction from opinion? Two news source tools that I’ve come across recently that are up to the task are and Read Across the Aisle. The former is a website that presents every news story with three articles: one that slants right, one that slants left, and one from the center. This is similar to KCRW’s excellent Left, Right, & Center podcast. Read Across the Aisle is a mobile app that aggregates current news articles from over 20 news sources across the political spectrum, ranging from HuffPo to FOX News, and it comes with a handy reading habits meter that tells how balanced your media diet is. As you can see at the bottom of the image to the right, I’m doing pretty well staying in the middle. The other cool thing about this app is that embedded in all of its articles is the research-backed BeeLine Reader the that displays color gradients that wrap from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. This, according to the app’s website, facilitates visual tracking and enables the reader to focus on other aspects of reading, such as decoding and comprehension. Another great tool that Polson Library Media Specialist Dawn Fiorelli discovered recently is Factitious, a fun, interactive game designed a to test users’ ability to detect fake news from real.

If we’re to succeed in our collective goal of producing well informed media-literate citizens who will someday chart the course of our nation, these tools are vital. For every standard-bearing “rock-solid” piece of reporting, there is a revisionist counterpoint article that seeks to invalidate its claims, calling into question what is real. Even the sober-minded fact-checking sites we sometimes direct our students to, like FactCheck, Politifact, Snopes, and many more, have come under attack for being biased. The result can leave one feeling unmoored, head spinning, out of touch with objective truth. Who do I believe?! Or worse, we end up feeding our own confirmation biases by retreating to our respective media silos. To co-opt a term from our Tweeter-in-Chief, Sad! Hopefully, with some carefully designed learning activities that leverage some of the tools linked above, we, as educators, can reverse this unsettling trend and foster in our students a balanced media diet. Let me know if you’d like to explore the possibilities together. You know how to reach me.

Replacing Those Research Papers and PowerPoint Presentations with Websites

In working with teachers and students at Polson Middle School and Hand High School, I’ve seen students demonstrate their understanding in a variety of ways, especially as more and more teachers give students choice as to how they present their findings. One platform students have been increasingly using to great effect is a website. Last spring I worked with some 8th grade social studies teachers who forwent traditional thesis papers or PowerPoint presentations about the state of American democracy throughout the 20th century in favor of student-created websites. As with a traditional research paper, their final products had to have a clear well-supported thesis with ample evidence. In this case students needed to answer the course-long question of “Have we made progress?” in terms of how we, as a society, have (or have not) been living up to the Constitutional promises at the heart of our Nation’s founding.

I believe that what makes a website a powerful platform for students is the way it lends itself to organizing information in a way that reflects how we often chunk related pieces of information in our minds. For many students, the linear nature of a traditional paper (introduction, body, conclusion…in that order), or PowerPoint presentation, doesn’t reflect the way they process information or mentally organize related concepts. Often our thinking is grouped into concepts and sub-concepts that are best represented visually as a sort of mind-map. While websites and visual mind-maps are not the same thing, the organizational options and features of websites do allow for a similar kind of chunking of interdependent ideas. Look at the following examples. The first was created by an 8th grader whose thematic focus was an assessment of the progress made by African Americans during the 20th century up until today, and whether or not the America they experienced lived up to the promise of the US Constitution.

The previous site was created with Google Sites, the preferred platform if you’re going to have students create websites. The next example was not created with Google Sites, but with Weebly. Note: Weebly is not in compliance with CT student privacy laws, but because this student had already established her account before those laws went into effect, she was able to use this platform. This student was part of the Independent Study course at DHHS, and she chose to explore food safety while taking a close look at government promoted diets vs. science-based diets.

In both examples, the students leveraged the organizational and multimedia features of websites to clearly convey their ideas and support their thesis statements.

If the same depth of knowledge is presented, why not give students the option of presenting their findings on a website? For many it’s a platform that better reflects the way they process information. Moreover, when students document their learning in a way that is easily shared digitally, there is no need to have students walk their classmates through presentation after presentation, which, depending on the length of the presentations, often amounts to a waste of class time. Instead, teachers can create their own Google Site to serve as a repository for all student websites. The teacher can post links to all student work, then assign 1 or 2 websites to each student to view and analyze before providing personalized feedback to their peers.

If you are new to creating or assessing student websites, but are interested in giving students this option, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be happy to help you design your next assessment. Or, if you’ve had success with student created websites, share your story with a comment below.

Fostering Student Reflection with Google Forms

Because it’s one of my teacher evaluation goals this year, Reflection is the capacity I’ve been thinking about a lot and helping other teachers with. So far this year, I’ve seen teachers make some great headway in fostering student reflection through the use of Google Forms. For those of you who have never used Forms, it is essentially a survey creator that has become more than just a survey tool, thanks to the way Google keeps updating it to provide functionality that goes beyond asking simple questions. For instance, you can embed images, ask a variety of different types of questions–from paragraph responses, to multiple choice and likert scale responses–and Forms now has a quiz mode.

So how does Google Forms become a student reflection tool? It’s pretty simple: Teachers tailor their questions on Forms around the self-assessment of student learning goals and specific criteria to meet them. One of the most powerful uses I’ve seen is when DHHS Special Education teacher Danielle Fragoso showed me how she uses it, not only to collect feedback from regular ed teachers on how well her students are meeting IEP goals and objectives, but to get her Special Education students involved by reflecting on their goals and objectives and the specific strategies they might use to better meet them. Another great use comes from other DHHS teachers who use Forms to prepare for student-teacher conferences around writing. See the template below that I helped develop for English and Social Studies teachers to foster the kind of reflection required of students to make writing conferences more purposeful. And keep in mind that this kind of reflection tool would work with any kind of project, not just writing intensive ones. Just today World Language teacher Sasha Gauley showed me how she was using Forms to get students to reflect on their growth as Spanish speakers.


When it comes to collecting responses, that’s where Google Forms really shines. You can collect them in two ways: You can view responses by question or by person within the Forms interface, which includes neat looking graphs. Or, you could view responses in a Google Sheet that gets automatically added to your Google Drive. The nice thing about viewing responses in Sheets is that you can then sort responses however you’d like and run formulas to collect aggregate data on the different questions.

If you’d like to explore Google Forms, one place to start might be the G Suite Learning Center. Here’s a cheat sheet I downloaded from there. And, of course, never ever hesitate to ask me for any support you need in using this or any digital tool.

Already using Forms to promote reflection? Please leave a comment below, describing how.

Google Keep: A powerful note-taking app that keeps getting better


As we challenge our students with more performance-based assessments that require a process of taking the necessary steps to reach learning goals, have you noticed that a lot of our students struggle with determining what those steps are and staying on course? The kind of self-direction required to stay with a challenging problem, or build new knowledge and skills, doesn’t come naturally to us. As humans, we’re prone to distraction and instant gratification…especially in our adolescent years. This is where we need strategies and tools to keep us on track, and often a good note-taking application is just the tool we need. Google Keep is one of many digital note-taking apps out there (along with iOS Notes, Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Simplenote, etc.) that started off pretty small, but has gotten more powerful with each update. Notes in Keep look like virtual sticky notes with all the usual features you see in most note-taking apps, such as bullets, to-do lists, color options, etc., but because it’s part of G Suite’s core suite of apps for education, we can rest assured that students’ privacy is protected. And like all G Suite apps, collaboration on Keep notes is a snap. In other words, it’s a great tool for pairs or groups of students (or teachers) to collect notes collaboratively for any project. Additionally, the app now features tight integration with Google Docs, so you can import items right from your notes directly into a Google Doc by dragging and dropping.

To access Google Keep on a laptop or desktop computer, you can launch it from the Google app launcher , or go to

And like all G Suite products, it has an easy-to-use mobile app and is could-based, meaning your notes are synced across all of your devices on Google’s servers.

If you’re looking for a third-party endorsement, here’s what DHHS Library Media Specialist J’aime Ottaviano and DHHS Tech Para Jake Siciliano both had to say about Keep when I asked them if they used it: “Oh, yeah…Google Keep is amazing.”

Here’s a quick rundown of how Google Keep works. Check it out…


Google Classroom Will Change the Way You Collect Digital Work From Students

As most of you know, last year we conducted a pilot, involving close to 50 teachers, for the use of Google Classroom to see if it had the potential to replace Finalsite as a teacher’s web presence. Once the pilot was in full swing, the MITT committee surveyed teachers, students, and parents to see how they viewed Classroom. The big takeaways from these surveys: Teachers loved the way Classroom streamlined the workflow of collecting digital work, and many came to rely heavily on Classroom for everything and no longer had a need for Finalsite; students found turning in digital work to be much easier with Classroom but did not like having some teachers on one platform and some on the other. They asked that the district please choose one — Finalsite or Google Classroom. Some parents were frustrated that they were not able to log into Google Classroom without their child’s credentials and found the weekly email updates to be insufficient and/or difficult to set up. Many were not able to receive Classroom updates because they did not have Google accounts. However, since the survey was conducted, parents can now subscribe to email updates with any email address, thereby greatly increasing parent-teacher communication.

With these takeaways in mind, the MITT committee decided that Google Classroom was not ready to become a replacement for Finalsite. Instead, MITT recommended a plan, which the BOE eventually approved, that would allow all teachers to use Classroom as another G Suite app but still list homework assignment descriptions where all parents have easy access—Finalsite.

While continuing to post homework to Finalsite may seem redundant and enough of a deterrent to keep you from exploring Google Classroom, consider all the time you spend sorting through your Google Drive’s Shared with me folder to find and organize student work. It’s never fun. Here is where Classroom really shines. Instead of submitting work by sharing it with you through the Google Drive interface, students submit their work through Google Classroom assignments. This is much better for teachers as Classroom organizes student work for you, allowing you to view, comment on, and return student work without ever having to look at your Google Drive.

If you’ve never used Google Classroom and you’d like to learn more, I’d be happy to help you set your classes up and show you how to navigate it. I’m also doing a 4-part series on Classroom as part of Polson’s 20 Minute Monday after-school workshops, which all can attend (2:50-3:10). In the meantime, if you’d like to explore more on your own, here’s a YouTube playlist that covers the in’s and out’s of Classroom, or to get started, you may want to view the following presentation I’ve been using during PD activities.

Managing Digital Distractions in School

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How do we build habits in our classrooms around digital devices so that they don’t become distractions that get in the way of teaching and learning? The easy solution is to ban them, but that takes a powerful learning tool out of your students’ hands. According to Edutopia’s “Digital Tools and Distraction in School,” it’s important for teachers to teach students how to manage their attention with their devices and explain what multitasking is doing to their ability to effectively complete their work. I’ve conducted assemblies at Polson where I’ve addressed self-management in these terms, offering tips to keep distractions at bay, and I plan on continuing to address this issue. But I need your help in getting this message to resonate with kids. Check out the article above, and feel free to comment below on how you’re setting the tone at the start of the new school year to limit digital distractions in your classroom, without banning devices altogether.

Teaching for an Automated Future

tabletop assistant

The challenge we face as educators to prepare our students for uncertain futures and an ever-changing workforce isn’t anything new. That’s a big reason the district vision was reshaped years ago to put key 21st century capacities at the center of recent curriculum revisions. Multiple studies have shown that large numbers of jobs are at risk as programmed devices and automated systems continue to seep into the workplace. With workplace automation on the rise, the question of how we educate people for an automated world becomes even more pressing.

A recent NYTimes article “How to Prepare for an Automated Future” is a great read that affirms much of what we’re currently doing in our classrooms. The article touches on all of our 21st Century Capacities, making the claim that schools will need to teach the traits and skills that machines cannot easily reproduce–creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, self-direction, and collaboration. It’s a short read, and I highly recommend reading it in its entiry, but the quote that stood out to me the most was this:

People still need to learn skills, the respondents said, but they will do that continuously over their careers. In school, the most important thing they can learn is how to learn.

This quote reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a good friend who does not work in education, but as a marketing & communications director. He was explaining to me how more than ever his job demands adaptability and new learning. As industries constantly evolve and the foundations of our economy remain somewhat shaky, he can’t rely on the stability of one or two jobs that span his entire career. In the ten years that I’ve known him, he’s had successful jobs for three different architecture firms and, as of two weeks ago, a construction company. As he splits his time between an architecture firm and the construction company, he must now, on his own, “up-skill” by teaching himself key aspects of the construction industry. This means knowing which questions to ask and involves a great deal of online research. In short, it means knowing how to learn.

Is my friend complaining? Not at all. And it’s because he’s positioned himself to work in a field that cannot be easily automated or outsourced, and he’s honed his skills and his capacity to learn (often leveraging technology) in a way that allows him be more efficient with his time and resources. This increased efficiency has expanded his opportunities for more work and income, yet not at the expense of time away from his family and personal interests.

I think it’s worth mentioning that my friend is also one of the most creative people I know. His creativity and passion for the arts have allowed him to write and record some highly regarded music, and I doubt he’d be a successful songwriter or marketing & communications director if he didn’t come from a community and educational system that fostered creativity and supported the arts, as well as the core subject areas.


For some insights on how communities need to come together to shape and thrive in future economies, this piece by Thomas Friedman in the NYTimes is essential reading.