Symbaloo to the Rescue!

Rememer that WVIZ Tech and Learning Conference post I wrote a couple weeks ago? (It was as much/more for myself than it was for you. Every conference I go to, there are way too many things that grab my attention than I can actually deal with in a day!) One of the new-to-me apps has already proven useful. Woo-hoo!

Our district tech committee decided that we wanted to provide an “Apps Warehouse” and training on how to find and evaluate apps. I started it off by creating a document that had apps we were using. Although the document had district specific information, and was organized by UDL categories (Engagement, Representation, Action and Expression), it was simply unappealing–ugly and not user-friendly. Plus, it was taking a lot of time to compile. We knew we needed to change course. We needed something that would be eye-catching, applicable to everyone, and easier to make. I had a vague idea that one of the websites I heard about at WVIZ might work…Symbaloo to the rescue!

Symbaloo allows users to create and share collections of bookmarks in a visually appealing way. Here’s their official Welcome To Symbaloo video.

I went on Symbaloo and found a whole bunch of webmixes, screenshot them, and made this slideshow with links to each.

It looks better and has way more content. It will be easier for teachers to navigate than the document.

In a recent survey at Cardinal Middle School, teachers cited Time as their biggest barrier to using new technology. A majority (77%) said they would use an “Apps Warehouse” to find new apps, and just over half said they would like a rubric or checklist to use when evaluating. So, we are planning on giving them time at an upcoming staff meeting or early release day, a rubric and the slides. I hope that everyone (including you!) finds at least one app that will help their students.

Symbaloo seems like a pretty sweet way to organize your own bookmarks. I haven’t done it yet, but I bet it’s simple. If, like me, you just want to find what other people have already spent time collecting, here’s a video (from Symbaloo) on how to do that.

Up Your Vid Game with eduCanon

My friend and colleague Shaun Spence shared eduCanon with our staff at the beginning of this school year, and I was immediately excited about it. It’s a website where you can find and create “Video Bulbs”–videos with questions built in at particular times. Their tag-line is “Deeply engage learners and accountably measure understanding”.

Here’s a 3 minute Video Bulb of Kid President that you can watch to see the possibilities. With a free account, you can add multiple choice questions, free response, and reflective pauses. If you upgrade to a paid account at $89/year, you add in Check all that apply, Skip Segment, Website and Fill in blank. eduCanon question types

The free options are just fine for my purposes. I’ve used eduCanon to have some of my 2nd quarter students watch and think about a video called “Why You Need to Fail” by Derek Sivers. If you’re curious about that, you can check it out below. (In the first quarter, I had them watch that video and take notes using It shows a video on the left and has a time-stamped note-taking feature on the right. But when I found out about eduCanon, I thought it would work better for the assignment). 

As they watched and answered in eduCanon, I was able to use the Monitor tool to see their progress, and grade the extended responses. Multiple choice are graded automatically. As you can probably guess, green=correct, pink=incorrect, and grey=not finished yet. Orange means they answered, but I haven’t graded. The whole grading process took much less time than I expected, because I was able to focus on one question at a time, instead of grading one kid’s entire assignment. Plus, I didn’t have to wait for them to be done with the whole video. So, I finished grading everything just after the last kid finished answering! I also caught one girl who was skipping the extended responses by typing a space, and was able to redirect her to go back and change those non-answers. With a traditional grading system, I wouldn’t have been able to correct that issue as quickly.eduCanon Monitor

You can also reset the bulb for individual students, that way, they can try again if they do poorly the first time around, or if they just enjoyed it that much and want to re-watch and answer. I had a couple of students take this option, and I love that it fits in with what the video is trying to teach them.

Setting up my class lists was simple, because eduCanon and Google Classroom work well together. Other friendly entities include Schoology, Edmodo, Moodle, Blackboard and more. Students can use single sign-on with Google or Clever, or sign up with a class code. If none of those work for you, upload a spreadsheet roster instead.

One way to use this that I haven’t tried yet is to take one of my own videos (created with Screencastify) and eduCanon-ify it. The level of relevance of content created for my students in that way could be swoon-worthy! But remember, you can start slowly, by assigning Video Bulbs that are already created. There are some really wonderful bulbs out there.

I feel like this is one of those things where you might think, “Cool, I’ll have to look into that when I have time.” And I totally understand that feeling. But carve out even just 10 minutes to play around with eduCanon. It’s really fun! More importantly, it’s a way to get your students engaged with the content.



Extreme understatement: Meetings can be improved

In a recent staff meeting, we were asked to sort ourselves into 4 basic orientations: action, emotion, details, or big picture. Our staff is a healthy mix of all 4, but my people are the let’s-get-going types. Make a plan, and immediately start taking steps to implement it. Sometimes my attitude makes me feel impatient, so, I volunteered to be the recorder for our District Leadership Team, or DLT. Another reason I wanted that position is because I already had some ideas on how to make our meetings efficient and collaborative. Char Shryock, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Bay Village, had written an article on eAgendas in NEOTIE‘s first magazine that I read before our first meeting, and it has a lot of great advice.

If you feel that meetings can be run in a more efficient and collaborative way, here are some steps you can take to get on track. (If you do not feel that way, there is a 99.9% chance that you’re wrong. Fun fact: Another personality trait is not being 100% sure about anything).

  1. Set up (or have your IT people set up) an email group that includes all members. This enables easier communication. For example, for the DLT, there are around 20 people. I would never be able to remember all of them, and it would take too much time to type all of their email addresses in every time, even with the auto-finish feature on our Gmail. And continuing to reply all to the first email sent out to a group is messy. So, was born and has proven useful to many already.
  2. Set up a shared folder in Google Drive. You can share the folder through your new group email! Then, everyone can access and add documents as needed. Save the trees and stop making copies. Post it all in there.
  3. Put the Google Document agenda in that folder.
  4. Create a process for using the eAgenda. Ours is thiscollaborative agenda process Google Docs
  5. Share and follow the process

Some additional notes:

  • Having one document that includes all agendas (in reverse chronological order, so that the newest is at the top, and the oldest is available by scrolling) makes continuity easier to achieve. You won’t have to open 5 documents to see what you talked about the past few times.
  • Making the last column Next Steps, or Actionable Items, or Homework is a good way to make certain that the group (or part of it) has something to actually accomplish before the next meeting. Being action-oriented, coming out of meetings where there is no clear goal to achieve feels like a waste of time. Hardly anything frustrates me more than an all talk-no action situation. We all have a lot to do, so whiling away the hours in poorly run meetings is not what’s best for kids. On the other hand, a meeting in which important progress is made is well-worth the time. I highlight the Next Steps in our agenda. (See below).
  • Using the Email Collaborators option in Google Docs is an easy way to re-send the agenda as needed. A couple of days before and immediately after the meeting keeps everyone in the loop. It gives all members a chance to think about and comment on the agenda. This is where I remind people of the Next Steps.
  • Using the chat feature is something we haven’t tried yet. But, I want to bring it up soon as an option for back-channel chatter. Instead of side conversation between a few, a temporary chat log appears on the agenda so that people don’t forget what they want to bring up next, or counterpoints.
  • Adding hyperlinks is something I do as a recorder to make the agenda more useful. Again, instead of needing to find many documents, just opening the agenda gives access to all the relevant information. Here’s what our linked agenda looked like today. Cardinal DLT Agendas Google Docs

Please take any or all of the ideas presented here to make meetings more effective and collaborative. If this post has sparked more ideas, share them in the comments! There’s always room for improvement.

Clone Yourself with Screencastify

If you are a teacher, then you are a person who has to repeat yourself many times. If you have to repeat yourself many times, then you will get frustrated. If you don’t like being frustrated, get Screencastify! It is a Chrome extension that  allows you to record your entire desktop or just one tab. You can also use your webcam to record a video of yourself. In honor of my 50th recording this week, Screencastify’s recent cosmetic update, and my NEOTIE speech last Saturday, I wanted to provide a walkthrough on how to use it with your students or colleagues.

I estimate that using Screencastify has saved me at least an hour a week. This frees up time to help students who are struggling with the content rather than spending many minutes reminding those who can’t quite remember what to do next. Creating multi-step assignments with multiple video instructions allows every kid to work at their own pace. Critically, it allows my daily supply of patience to dwindle at a much reduced rate. It’s a win-win!

First, you will need to open Google Chrome and get the extension. Sign in with your Google Account and allow it to access whatever it’s asking for. You should get a little filmstrip icon next to your address bar. It’ll look like this: screencastify icon

When you click on the icon, you have 3 choices.

  1. Record a Tab. This allows you to choose one tab and record all that you do in that tab. It also has extra tools to show or hide your mouse, draw, erase, or clear your drawings. The drawback of this option is that if there are popup windows or other tabs that you need to show, you must manually switch the view so your recording jumps over to the new tab or window.Screencastify tab tools notification

    Screencastify tools
    The tools available with Tab recording
  2. Record your Desktop. This is my go-to choice. If you choose this one, you don’t have to remember to switch the focus from tab to tab. It will record whatever you are looking at. The drawback on this option is that you can’t use the drawing tools. In both Tab and Desktop you can choose to have a small square video of yourself. If you want that, make sure the checkbox is clicked next to Embed webcam. Then click to choose which corner you want to show up in.Screencastify Embed Webcam
  3. Record with your Cam. This just makes a video using your webcam. I never pick this one, because I think it best to have the visual of the written instructions or the webpage showing, plus the audio of my voice. And often, I embed the small corner cam view (with tab or desktop recording) so my students can feel a personal connection. But, maybe you have a good use for just using the Cam! Consider your options and choose what works for each case.

Normally, I prepare before I record by opening any webpages or creating documents I need to show my students. Then I click the Screencastify icon and choose Desktop, decide if I want a to embed my webcam view or not, and hit the orange Start Recording button at the bottom.

Choose Screencastify Desktop

Then I choose if I want to show my ENTIRE desktop (including my taskbar) or just my current window. My students don’t usually need to see my taskbar, so I choose the option on the right, and click Share.

Desktop choice

Here are some clues to look for to make sure it’s working properly.

Screencastify Recording On

Next, record your instructions. It’s important to articulate words and speak a bit slower than normal. Create a quiet environment to ensure good audio. Turn off fans or AC if possible. Circle your mouse around things before you click. Make sure you don’t click through things too quickly or without saying what to click on.  Underline words with your mouse as you say them to emphasize them.

There are 3 ways to stop recording

A new tab will open so that you can review your recording. If it turned out to your liking, make sure you rename it. You can then choose to download or share. The crop video option is a paid option. Trash poor recordings.After recording

You can choose to Share on your Google Drive, or YouTube. Here are what those screens look like, and their privacy options.

Share on drive


Share to YouTube

I always upload to YouTube, but I choose the privacy based on the content. A lot of times, I will just leave it on Public so parents and students can both find my videos easily. Also, some of my videos are helpful to anyone trying to learn about technology.

My penultimate step is to copy the link to my video from the side panel.

SCreencastify Copy Share Link

Clicking that chain link icon copies the URL, and then, finally, I put the hyperlink wherever it belongs. Oftentimes, that is in a Google document that includes the instructions for the assignment.

The process of creating a video and posting the link into my directions takes just minutes and saves hours. It only takes longer when I have to re-shoot my videos because of stumbling over my words or someone walking into my office to talk to me while I’m recording. Even with mistakes and interruptions, I can get video instructions done in 10 minutes or less, every time. With a little practice, you’ll be able to as well.

Please let me know if you have any questions about Screencastify! I will create a personal video to answer you. 🙂

#NEOTIE Ignite Session

A few weeks ago, I got asked to give an ignite speech at NEOTIE, an awesome local ed tech conference. I was surprised and honored to be chosen to speak alongside some of the best women around: Sarah Rivera (@PHS_STEM), Amy Roediger ( and Ann Radefeld (@AnnRad21).

Here’s what I said. Thanks to my dad for shooting this video!

And, if you want to see some pictures, here’s a beautiful slideshow by Ken Veon (@BeachwoodTech).

See New Changes

The past 7 days comprise my best week ever.

  1. I got engaged!
  2. I got asked to be an ignite speaker at NEOTIE!
  3. Google Docs added a See New Changes feature on the precise day when it was useful to me!

Although #3 is in dead last considering the excitement factor, it is still pretty sweet and also the most useful to you, so that’s what I’ll write about tonight.

Last week, I opened my students’ partially finished assignments through Google Classroom to give them feedback. The next day, when I opened those same assignments to check on their progress, I noticed this:

See new changes blue

And in a couple seconds it changed to this:

See new changes grey

I was intrigued so I clicked. There I found something similar to the See Revision History option that is in the File menu. The new changes that the student had made since I last viewed the document were clearly marked. All of the new words were denoted by green text, and green lines struck through what had been deleted. There were options to see the full history and a counter of how many edits had been made. This saved me a lot of time, because I could focus in on exactly what was different from the last time I’d evaluated their work. It also made me feel like I had superhuman memory. Some academics are worried about the long term effects of humans using computers like external memory banks, but there’s no way I could have memorized all the assignments like this.

changes history

Knowing that this feature is a part of my toolbox makes me more likely to spend time giving feedback on partially finished work because I know I can pick up where I left off in an instant.  This will benefit my students and enhance the learning process for them. I hope that you will be able to use this feature to be a better teacher for your students too.

And I very sincerely hope this week is as good for you as last week was for me.

Let’s Hangout


Last Thursday, I did something that was a little nerve-wracking. Using Google Hangouts on Air, I broadcast an hour-long, professional development session on Google Docs to a group of teachers I’d never met before. For those of you who haven’t done a Google Hangout, it’s like Skype or Facetime, but in addition to the live audio/video component, there’s also a screenshare feature.

If you’d rather not read about my experience, and just want to know how you can use it, scroll down to the How You Can Use It section.

Since I was worried about seeming like a disembodied voice talking over a feed of my screen, I made sure to switch between the screenshare and myself fairly often. If I wasn’t actively showing information or how to do something, I set the Hangout to show my face. Another great feature of a Hangout is that when another participant starts talking, the feed switches to show them. So, when the principal was relaying a question from the audience, Hangouts automatically put the video of him as the focus.

One thing that was limiting was that I couldn’t feel out the crowd. They had set up the venue so that there were 2 big screens of me being projected, but all I could see was the wall and the principal. That could have been worked around by facing the laptop out toward the teachers, or by having 10 teachers join the Hangout on air as participants. (10 is the max). I relied on the principal to let me know about questions and how long the teachers needed for completing the practice activities.

Overall, the feedback has been positive. 100% of the respondents to my feedback survey said the pace was “Just right” and then there’s this:  VCS Learn Google Docs Communication PD   Google Forms


As you can see, there were only 6 people who responded to the feedback survey. This was disappointing, but also, very much my fault. I didn’t think to have the survey ready for immediately after the PD was over. If I had, they could have used the rest of the session time to complete it. Instead, I had the principal email it out for me a few hours later. Since the teachers were about to start their new school year, I can 1000% understand why checking this survey off the list was not a priority. Next time, I am going to make sure that the opportunity to give me feedback is immediately available.

After the session was complete, I stopped the Hangout broadcast and waited for it to upload to my YouTube channel. Once there, I added timestamps so that those teachers, and anyone else who wants to learn about using the communication features in Google Docs, can jump to the different sections without having to sit and watch the entire thing. Go watch it on YouTube if you want that ability to skip around.

I really love helping other teachers get a better handle on using technology to make their students’ learning experience better. This experience was very positive for me, and I think for the other school as well.

If you are thinking of doing a Google Hangout on Air, and want to practice, contact me! I’ll be happy to chat with you and help you figure out the controls. Before I did this PD, I asked for help from my friend Andreas, who graciously got me started with that first practice session at Panera.  I also “hungout” with the principal I was doing this for, at least 3 times. By then, I was comfortable, and I think you’d be too.

How You Can Use It

You could use Google’s Hangouts on Air to:

  • Broadcast your lessons. Direct absent students to your YouTube page to catch up.
  • Create instructional videos
  • Have students record themselves
    • reading original stories
    • acting out a skit
    • explaining their thought process

If you don’t need the recording, and just want the live conversation or screensharing, just use a regular Hangout to:

  • Check in with another teacher during the day when you can’t leave your classroom
  • Talk with a colleague in another building
  • Have an absent student participate during class time, from home
  • Have a busy, or geographically distant parent attend a meeting
  • Connect with people all over

How will you use Hangouts this year to enhance what you’re doing as an educator?

Kaizena Voice Comments

There have been many times I have been evaluating my students’ work during my planning period and thought, “Ugh, I wish they were just sitting next to me right now so I could talk to them rather than typing out this comment.” An add-on for Google Docs called Kaizena allows for recording and receiving audio comments! I definitely plan on trying it this year.

In my newest video series, you can learn how to get Kaizena, how to leave a voice comment, and how to listen to a voice comment. The whole series is 299 seconds, or just shy of 5 minutes. Watch this instead of cat videos today!


Google Drive Video Series

I created this video series to help teachers understand the basics and some of the more advanced features of Google Drive. Since I created it as a playlist, you can skip around to just watch the unfamiliar topics. I hope you can learn at least one tidbit that will save you time and hassle so that you have more time and energy for your students this school year.