Monday, December 3, 2018


Get your VR goggles ready!


Image result for virtual reality

OK so I'll admit, I lost a few years of my life in college to a massive online multiplayer video game called World of Warcraft. I used to be rather proud of my ability to get 6-10 glorious hours of gaming in without needing food or drink or respite (my record was 13 hours, don't tell my parents). While I spent many a night, alone and attached to my computer, I was actually being quite social. I interacted with my guild mates through the game-play, and communicated with dozens of people through my headset. I actually got to "know" some of these guys closely, and became "friends."

Now in hindsight, I would probably tell college me to STAY AWAY from it all, but I am still amazed at the complexities and allure of virtual reality. Because at a basic level, that's what video gaming is: direct interactions with a virtual world. So the hierarchy of VR goes something like this:

  • Non-Immersive - computer screens and video games
  • Augmented Reality (AR) - graphics on top of the real world
  • Immersive System - VR Goggles and simulators
Believe it or not educational researchers have considered VR to be just another natural evolution of computer-assisted instruction and training, and have been studying its benefits since the early 60's (Pantelidis). The US Military is one of the first institutions to utilize VR through its immersive flight simulators to train their fighter pilots. So how do we use it in our classrooms?


Bring your students on a virtual field trip to places that would be otherwise inaccessible. Thinglink, Roundme, YouTube VR, and Google Expeditions are some excellent resources filled with virtual tours and destinations for your students. Many of the world's most prized museums like The Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have created interactive virtual tours. Thousands of historic landmarks, cities, and even historical events have been recreated virtually. 

Simulate Experiences

Like the fighter pilots and their flight simulators, teachers could use VR to give students "hands on" experiences with real life processes. Labster is a firm that has developed virtual lab experiences for chemistry, biology, ecology and more. While a bit down the line, medical schools and hospitals have begun utilizing VR for training, surgery, and patient therapy.

5 Ways Medical Virtual Reality Is Already Changing Healthcare


Most educators (85%) believe that VR technology could benefit their students, but only 2% of teachers are actually using it in their classrooms. A whopping 28% of educators polled believe that VR technologies will never catch on in their school or district. A think a lot of educators are worried about access to the technologies and programs available. Fortunately, Google et al have really paved the way for educators by developing enough free programs and curriculum in educational VR. Their relatively cheap ($15) Google Cardboard relies about the power of our own cell phones to bring our classrooms into the virtual world. 

Interested in using VR in your classroom? Need some support? Comment below!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Make It Accessible With Closed Captioning For Google Slides.

I am always thinking about access for our students. One of the main ideas behind Universal Design for Learning is removing barriers for students to maximize learning. Those barriers can come in many forms and some are easier to spot than others. For example, finding what motivates a student to keep at a task even when faced with negative results can be extremely challenging. Students who struggle with reading because of a learning disability or a language barrier can also be tricky because our system of learning is language based. I'm excited about today's free tech tool because this simple tool can help many students in different ways. 

Many of our teachers use a lecture format of teaching. They project a presentation on the board and they talk. This can be problematic for students who have hearing impairments,struggle to understand oral language,  struggle to pay attention, or just to keep up. 

In an ongoing effort to make Google products more accessible to greater numbers of users, there is now a feature in the present mode of Google slides that will generate closed captioning while you are speaking. 

Here's how it works:
1. Open a google slides presentation
2. Click Present in the upper right corner
3. The present tools will open at the bottom of your screen, click Captions

A bar will open on your screen and will begin typing what you say!

But wait, you can take it one step further...
Give your presentation with the closed captioning on and screencast it using Loom. Now you have a video recording of your presentation with closed captioning built in!

This could be valuable for our students who benefit from multiple input modalities. They can see your images, hear you talking, and see the text on the screen all at once. Use of this tool can potentially remove barriers for many of our students.

Here is a 90 second video showing you how this works:

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Two things are coming (besides Winter): final exams and my first child. In anticipation of my wife and I basically becoming shut-ins with no professional communications to the outside world, we better cover some end-of-the-semester Schoology tips before the last push!

Make sure your final exam/project/paper exists in your gradebook

So the first thing to do is to find out if you've created a final exam grading period. If your final exam exists outside of your running "semester grade," you'll have to create a grading period. So for example, my semester grade is made up of "class work" and "papers and projects." These two categories make up 80% of the final grade, while my final makes up the remaining 20%. If none of that makes sense, take a look at the breakdown below:

To do this:

  • Click on the “Gradebook” tab and create an assignment that’ll be designated as your final.
  • Change the grading period to “Final/Midterm Material Grades”
  • Click on the Plus Sign at the top right, and click on “Add Grade Column.” 
  • Name your final and set the points.
  • Then click on the "Gradebook Setup" tab to change the percentage weights.
  • You can change the S1-DHS/HPHS from 100 to accommodate for the final

Final Grade Scales

Schoology's scale system isn't immediately intuitive so we'll have to make a distinction between assignment scales, and final grade scales. In the gradebook setup page, scales show up twice. The scale choice on the top right is for individual assignments. The scale choices under "Final Grade Settings" will be where you decide to round final grades or choose a pass/fail scale. 

The distinction between "THSD 113 Rounded .5" and Schoology's "Round Period/Final Grades" is important:
  • THSD 113 Rounded .5 will round scores up to the nearest percentage. So an 89.6 will stay an 89.6, but it will count as an A-.
  • Round Period Grades will turn an 89.6 into a 90.0.
  • Teachers will also have the option to assign final grade values into Infinite Campus at the end of the grading period. 
Also important: Do not use the gradebook scale, "Numeric" as it will cause issues when the grades sync over to Infinite Campus. Failing grades will be relabeled from an "F" to the much scarier "H."

Course Override Column

Enabling the course override column gives you the ability to manually override all student scores. It will you give unilateral control over what percentage your students receives in your course, regardless of the calculated score. This can be useful for manually curving final scores. 

Have any other end-of-the-semester questions or concerns? Comment below!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

It's All About The Video!

I had the most incredible experience about 2 weeks ago. My husband and I fixed my oven. Let me repeat that. My. Husband. And. I. Fixed. My. Oven. We actually looked up what was going on, found the part, found a place that would allow us to order the part, and then we fixed it. How were we able to fix my fancy shmancy oven without scheduling a service call and spending hundreds of dollars?
One word: Video
Yep, we looked it up on YouTube. (special thanks to Appliance Part Pros)  This will probably not surprise many of you. There are lots of stories of people watching YouTube videos as a means to learn something new. So why not bring some of this video magic to the classroom? Video recording and screencasting can be time consuming and complicated if you don't have the right equipment or know what you're doing, right? Actually, there are some very good and very easy to use tools available to you right now that can help you create fantastic screen-casted lessons in no time.

Today I'm happy to introduce you to Loom. This is a free screen recorder that gives you options. Don't want to see yourself in the video? No problem, you can just record what is on your screen and your voice. There is no watermark, like on some other screen recorders, and there are several easy options for sharing your video. You can download it, email it, get a link, or push it to social media.

Hold on, are you thinking that you would love your students to make their own videos? Brilliant! Loom is chromebook friendly and your students sign in with their Google account.

Loom has a chrome extension so all you need to do is grab it from the Chrome Webstore and you will be ready to start recording.

Step 1: Install the Loom extension from the chrome web store.
Step 2: Click the extension and click Start Recording.
Step 3: Choose which window you want to screencast.
Step 4: Record and click the green checkmark when you are done.
Step 5: Share via the link, email, twitter, or embed using html code.

Image from Gyazo

Whether you are flipping a lesson, creating a review, recording a tutorial, having your students give feedback, or create a video to demonstrate their level of mastery, Loom is going to be one of your new go-to tools in your toolbox.

How else do you use video in the classroom? Post below.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

11/5 - Improving Student Communications with Google Products

Improving Student Communications with Google Products


As mentioned earlier this year in a blog post about the SAMR model, its creator, Dr. Ruben Puentedura, is the real deal when it comes to innovation and wisdom in instructional technology and education. He's identified some complex challenges impeding the adoption of educational technology, and one such challenge is the ability to scale teaching innovations. Here's what I mean by scaling innovation:

Amazon has these wonderfully active factory floors where giant, roomba-like robots zip and zoom in perfect robotic harmony to move about hundreds of thousands of our impulse Amazon Prime purchases. While some jobs were unfortunately made obsolete, the efficiency of this system is crucial to support both the staggering growth of the Amazon empire, and our obsessive need to have [insert random household item here] delivered to our doors in two days for free! 

These efficient little machines are innovations that can be easily scaled. What works for one Amazon factory works for ALL Amazon factories. Unfortunately our classroom innovations do not always scale. Beneficial apps or digital resources that work for one class may not work for another class for various reasons like student age, course content, ability, instructor, and unfortunately financial support. 

This is what creates such value in tools like Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and other G Suite applications. These (relatively) free tech tools offer so much diverse utility to help establish digital equity and scale teaching innovations. (Disclaimer: I do not work for Google, nor do I get paid to advertise their products...but I am willing to. Call me Sundar!)

So on to the stuff! Heavily inspired by Vernon Hills High School's tech coaches, here are some simple ways to develop student communication with Google:

Student to Parents - Weekly E-mails

Encourage students to keep parents in the loop with a simple weekly/bi-weekly message. "Feedback Fridays" can be a quick 5 minute routine built into your curriculum. 

Student to Student - Class Backchannel

Create a Google Doc where students can communicate with each other during an activity in a non-intrusive or disruptive way.

Student to Teacher - FAQ Page

Ask students to contribute to a Frequently Asked Question doc or form. For individual projects or papers, create a Google Doc where students can add important questions. Students can initial questions they would like to be answered. 

Have other ideas for developing student communication skills? Post below!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Help Your Students Help Themselves- 

3 Accessibility and Differentiation Tools In Schoology


When you have a class of students, you will inevitably have a wide range of learners on many levels. You will have students who are strong readers and students who struggle. You will have students who are masters at physically organizing their materials, and students who can't hang on to a pencil for more than 5 minutes. You will have kids who are riveted by your class, and those who can barely pay attention long enough to hear the instructions. You get the point, regardless of if your class is labeled "honors" or "regular" or "survey", you are going to have variation and this requires constant differentiation. No two learners are exactly the same and that is part of what makes teaching so challenging and so satisfying at the same time.  When I first began teaching in special education, I can remember trying to give each of my students a version of what they need with old school paper, pencils, and books. It nearly caused me to quit. Once technology became infused with education, I saw that not only was it easier for me to give my students what they need, but I could actually help them access tools on their own. This gave them a sense of independence as learners that I knew would transfer to their other classes and life beyond high school. 
The good news is that with our lms, Schoology, there are built in features that can make both differentiation and accessibility much easier.  

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Tool Tip

Why? This feature is incredibly helpful for students who struggle with language, need clarification of directions, or might just need some additional information. 

What? Basically, this allows you to add information that will show up when the students hover over a certain piece of text. 

Where? You can add a tool tip to a page, assignment or a test/quiz question. 

1. Create your page or assignment. 
2. Highlight a section of text and then click the insert content icon. 
3. Select tool tip and write in the definition, hint, or additional information that will show up. 
4. Click the green arrow to confirm. 

2. Grading Groups

Why? Sometimes you may want to give one assignment to a group of students, and a different assignment to another group.

What? This creates groups of students within your course. You can choose to assign to a specific group to differentiate.

Where? You create the grading group in the Members tab on the left menu of your course. You can then assign to a group within an assignment.

1. Click on Members
2. Click where it says Organize Members Into Grading Groups
3. Name the group and choose the students to be in that group (the students will not see this)
4. In your assignment, click the Individually Assign icon and then type in the name of your group.

3. Attach An Audio/Video File

Why? There are students who benefit from seeing or hearing instructions or information in addition to reading it.

What? You can record an audio or video to attach to your materials. 

Where? On the materials page in an assignment or a new page OR the updates page. 

1. Create a new assignment or new update. 
2. Click on the microphone icon.
3. Choose audio or video (hint, the first time you do this you will need to click "allow" so Schoology can access your microphone and/or webcam. You may also need to update flash. 
4. Record and save.

There are so many incredible tools that can help our various learners. What are some of your favorites?  Want to learn how to use some of these? Feel free to make an appointment or join me for a lunch and learn.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

10/23 Schoology Tips and Tricks 2.0
Another Round of Schoology Tips and Tricks


It's week 10 and with some real, concrete Schoology experience under our belts, this seems like a good time to learn some new tips and tricks! The following items are solutions to some commonly asked questions and useful features that we've found so far. As always, we really appreciate everyone's patience and enthusiasm as we learn Schoology!

1. How to find grades for students who drop/transfer out of my class?

Course changes happen all the time, and if it happens days, weeks, or even months into the semester, the recipient teacher will need that student's grades. Here's how:

Instructions for the original teacher
  • On your Schoology page, click on "Members" on the left-hand side
  • Then to the right of, "Add Members" click on "Inactive"
  • This will give you a list of all of your students who have been removed from your course
  • To the right of the student's name, there are three colored bars. Click that and it will show their grades

  • You can print the grades the usual way by pressing “Ctrl + P” or you can save it as a PDF. To save it as a PDF, click “Ctrl + P” and change the destination from your actual printer to the “Save as PDF” option.

2. Adding other staff or senior teachers to your Schoology Page

Luckily I still get to teach 1 section of political science, and Lisa Allen and Amy Skonberg round out the rest of the poli sci team. I wanted Lisa and Amy to be able to see my course, calendar, and assignments that I posted. If I had a senior teacher, I would’ve added them as well. Here’s how:

  • On your Schoology page, click on “Members” on the left hand side
  • Once you click, "Add members" a box full of names will appear. Switch from "Township High School District 113" to your building
  • Then type in the name of the teacher or student you would like to add. You can add multiple people at the same time

  • Once added, click on the gear wheel to the right of their name. Then click, "Make Admin"
  • Once you give them admin privileges, go back to the same gear wheel to the right of their name and click on, "Set Section-level role"
  • This gives you the option to give your added teacher/senior access to your class, but controlled access. You obviously wouldn't want senior teachers seeing student grades
Below are the section-level role options. "No grades/ View Materials" would probably be the best option for most cases. That means the added person cannot see or edit any student grades, but they can view your Schoology assignments/discussions/posts.

3. Control what notifications you receive from Schoology.

This can be a daily double for students and staff. The number of e-mails we receive can get overwhelming. Some fun facts: as of March 2018, over 125 billion daily e-mails are sent around the world, and the average worker is responsible for 120 of them. Schoology mercifully gives us complete, granular control over this.

  • At the top right hand corner of your page, click on your name and avatar
  • Clicking on "Settings" will bring you to your main account page.
  • Now click on, "notification." Go down the list and decide for yourself what you think warrants an e-mail notification.

4. Organize your gradebook by categories

It's important to take a holistic look at a student's performance and one way to do that is to organize grading by categories. The all category summary shows you how a student is doing in each grading category . It might be helpful to see how students are doing in formative assessments only relative to their summative ones.

  • In your gradebook, change over from "All materials" to "All category summaries" which will differentiate the grade.
  • The same tab will list your categories and will only show gradebook entries from those specific groups.

Have any other Schoology tips and tricks? Or have any other questions? Leave comments below!