Extension Spotlight: OneTab for Google Chrome

Does your web browser seem to slow down the more tabs you have open? Well, that’s because having multiple web pages open at once uses up your computer’s memory resources. I often find myself with open tabs in the double digits, not because I’m lazy and don’t feel like closing them, but because they’re all relevant to the work I’m doing that day. But that comes with a memory cost. However, thanks to a pro tip from one of our district tech gurus, Jake Siciliano, I no longer have to sacrifice speed for the convenience of having lots of tabs at my fingertips. His solution: the OneTab Chrome extension. Learn all about it in the video below.

Flipgrid Fever…Catch It!

Flipgrid is a video discussion platform that is made for today’s iGen students — digital natives who know YouTube celebrities by name and snap selfies without a second’s thought. While at first I had my doubts about a digital tool that seemed to encourage a sort of narcissism that Gen X-ers like me are quick to criticize in younger generations, I see it now as a great formative assessment tool that fosters verbal communication skills. With the right teacher supports, it promotes reflection in the same way that teachers’ videotaping their own lessons does. So how does it work? In short, students use the app to respond to their teacher’s prompt, taking short video selfies that get uploaded to their teachers “grid” or collection of submitted videos.

I had been hearing a lot about Flipgrid over the past year or so and had played around with it on my own, but I had yet to find a teacher here in Madison who had found a use for it in the classroom, until last week. When eighth grade social studies teacher Robyn McManus contacted me to make sure Flipgrid was compliant with Connecticut’s student data privacy law (it is!), I jumped at the opportunity to see the app in action.  She had the excellent idea to use it with her students as a formative activity in preparation for presentations they will be delivering at the end of their current unit. Creating these short 30-60 second videos allowed students to reflect on their speaking mannerisms…by counting how many times they said “like” or “um,” or did they “uptalk” too much? But it was also a formative teaching tool for Robyn, as her prompt was designed to show how well students understood and could reflect on the previous week’s readings.

As you can see to the right, students can use Flipgrid on a Chromebook or laptop equipped with a webcam (these students chose to create their video as a trio), or it can also be used with a smartphone or tablet’s front-facing camera.

I was impressed with how well students engaged in the task at hand. While some students chose to complete their videos in the hallway where it was more quiet, the majority who stayed in the classroom had no problems tuning each other out while they recorded their reflections. Many, on their own, chose to use the app’s virtual stickies to plan out what they wanted to say and use them as cue cards, and they all had fun applying various playful stickers to their videos in appropriate ways.

There are so many ways teachers can use of Flipgrid in the classroom, across all grade levels and content areas. I’d love to sit down with you to discuss the possibilities in your classroom. In the meantime, check out the ways this teacher infuses #FlipGridFever in her classroom. Then check out this educator’s guide to the in’s and out’s of managing Flipgrid. Note: Teachers should, and students must, log in to Flipgrid with their MPS Google accounts.

A Closer Look at New Feedback Features in Google Classroom

At the start of the year, I shared some new updates to Google Classroom, and they were all nice improvements. However, I wanted to take a closer look at one feature in particular that I believe can have the most impact on the way teachers assess student work. Now, in Classroom’s new Classwork page, when teachers view student submissions, it appears in a new grading and feedback shell that allows teachers to do a couple things more efficiently. 1) Teachers can now quickly cycle through student submissions without having to open and close new tabs. 2) Teachers can create a comment bank of frequently used feedback phrases and provide this feedback to students with just a few keystrokes. Check it out in the brief video below.

And in related, but different news, I recently received a great tip from Music teacher Scott Ferguson. He sent me a link, announcing that Google had just created some new shortcuts that allow users to quickly start new projects right from your web browser.  You can type doc.new, docs.new, or document.new in your web browser to make a new Google Doc, just like you would type a website address. Use sheet.new, sheets.new, or spreadsheet.new for new Google Sheets. Forms.new or form.new will open a new Google Form. You can also make new Slides with slide.new, slides.new, or presentation.new.  Want a new Google site? Try site.new, sites.new, or website.new.

New Features in Google Sites

The new school year always brings new updates to different G Suite apps, so today I wanted to let you know about some changes to Google Sites. Sites are a great way to have students share new learning and important findings. If you’ve never considered having students create their own websites, you may want to check out this post first.

The main enhancement to Sites involves new section layout options, which make it quicker and easier to design professional-looking web pages. There are six pre-built section layout options, which you can find in Sites’ right-hand Insert menu. To use them, just drag the layout onto the page. A new section will be added to your site and auto-populated with placeholder content matching the layout. You can then customize the layout by adding your own content.


Google is also making it easy for users to add buttons to their websites. Buttons are a great way to direct people to important content on a site, as users tend to click on buttons more frequently than textual hyperlinks. Buttons will automatically match the site’s color scheme and are easy to resize.

While these changes aren’t ground-breaking, it’s nice to see Google continue to respond to users’ requests and make improvements. As always, let me know if you need any support using any of Google’s tools with your classes.

Meet the New Google Classroom

While many of you have always loved Google Classroom for its ability to streamline digital work from students, some have complained that it falls short when it comes to organizing class resources and materials. Google has just announced some improvements that have the potential to satisfy everyone’s needs and concerns. With these improvements come:

  • a dedicated Classwork page, making it easier for students and teachers to find posts containing assignments
  • a new grading tool designed to allow teachers to give better, faster feedback
  • an improved tool to copy and reuse classwork from previous classes
  • customizable notification settings

Plus, there are more improvements on the horizon, such as:

  • organized materials (resources) on the new Classwork page
  • Classwork pages for pre-existing classes
  • creating online quizzes in locked mode

Read all about these enhancements in more detail here. If you haven’t yet explored Classroom to manage part of your web presence, now’s the time.

Help Students Evaluate Online Sources with eLink

Let’s face it…setting students loose on the Internet to find good sources for any research-based learning activity can be messy. It’s much easier to point them to the sources we’ve selected for them. But by doing that, we’re not giving them the opportunity to learn how to find and evaluate their own sources independently–a skill that is more important than ever, given the sea of spurious, misleading, and heavily biased information that exists on the Web. Our district’s Library Media Specialists to an excellent job showing students how to evaluate and cite sources, yet the transfer of these skills isn’t always visible in the work students do outside of the Library Media Center. So what can teachers do to reinforce these skills?

I recently came across a great content curation tool called eLink that has some interesting potential in helping students curate web content more carefully, and in helping teachers assess the way students evaluate sources. Like all good digital tools, it’s simple. As students find sources they believe are credible and will help them with their research, they add them to their eLink pages, which are essentially web pages with a slick, modern-looking visual representation of all their hyperlinked sources. The example below might be something students create in a Health class.


Because eLink pages are so visually appealing and professional looking, I suspect that students will choose their sources more carefully, knowing that they are “honoring” these sources by including them on their eLink page. The eLink layout also makes it easier for teachers to assess their students’ sources. Rather than having to copy URLs from a Works Cited page and paste them into a web browser (ugh), teachers can just visit their students’ eLink pages without that hassle. Moreover, this user-friendly interface allows teachers to quickly see what sources students are synthesizing as they develop their own findings.

This wouldn’t mean that students are off the hook for a properly formatted Works Cited page. I envision eLink as a formative assessment tool. Rather than see that students have used less than credible sources after they’ve turned in their work, teachers can have students submit eLinks in the early stages of their research. Student submissions might indicate that teachers need to revisit how to evaluate sources with certain students, correcting bad research before it’s too late. But that’s just one idea. How can you see students using eLink? Leave a comment below.

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 Padlet.com, 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 madisonps.org 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 AllSides.com 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. If you’d like to jump right in, this step-by-step guide is very helpful.