Sunday, January 29, 2012

Google Docs for Pre-assessment

Data, data, seems that is all we hear about in staff meetings, team meetings, etc. Most of this standardized data is not available in a timely manner and not in a usable format. Teacher created assessments provide teachers with the knowledge they seek in order to tailor instruction to student weaknesses, strengths, and/or interests. The creation of these assessments and the analysis of the results can be time consuming, making them not feasible for most teachers.

Fortunately, teachers can take advantage of Google Docs to create assessments and organize the assessment data. Being free and easy to use, Google Docs is a great resource for pre-assessment. Let's walk through two examples of how Google Docs can be used in this manner.

Example 1 - KWL

I think every teacher has used a KWL chart (or some form of one) in their teaching. It is a good way to preassess student knowledge and interests before a unit. Many times, we do this as a whole class on a whiteboard, interactive whiteboard, or on chart paper. In this traditional method, you are getting the whole class's input but not individual student input. What if we did the same thing on a Google Doc?

In this example, the teacher creates a form within Google Docs and posts the link to their website. Now, individual students can fill out the form. As a teacher, you can customize this form however you wish. Only have a few computers in your room? Then you can incorporate this form into a center activity that takes place throughout the week. In the end, you just want students to get a chance to show their knowledge and interests. By utilizing the Google Doc, you also make it easier to analyze and organize the information.

All of the information is now part a spreadsheet that can be sorted, analyzed, and utilized to create lessons that meet the needs of your students. This data is easy to attain and easy to use unlike standardized test data. 

Example 2 - Pretest

Google Docs can also be utilized for pretesting. I remember giving pretests in math and the time it took to grade the tests and then begin to analyzed the data from these paper tests. Utilizing a Google Doc makes this process much faster for the teacher and the data is ready to instantly be analyzed. Let's take a look at an example of a math pretest.

In this example, the teacher types out the questions of the pretest and has the students answer them directly in the Google Doc. A teacher could also have the students work from a paper copy and have them input just the answers into a generic form (ex - Q1, Q2, etc.). If you don't have many computers in your room, I might suggest the second method because students would take the paper assessment and then go to the computer to enter their answers into the form. Once inputted, the power of the Google Doc really shows itself.

All of the data is now in a spreadsheet just waiting for some quick analysis. In the example above, I have setup some conditional formatting to show the correct answers in green. I now know how the whole class scored on each question and I can see individual results as well. You will want to have the first question on the form ask for the student's name. That way, the data can be tied to them since the form is not tied to a user. With the information in this spreadsheet, the teacher can make quick decisions for differentiation of instruction. To do this manually, it would just take too much time.

Want to learn more about creating forms in Google Docs, please watch the video below. (my apologies for the poor video quality...I am working on that.)

This is technology that actually works!

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Friday, January 20, 2012

CPS Clickers and First Grade

Primary classrooms are often thought of as a place to dumb the old technology. I often hear how primary students cannot do everything with technology, so it is not a priority for these teachers to use technology in their teaching. Well...I am glad I have primary teachers who use technology effectively everyday!

I had the opportunity to work in a first grade classroom that was using CPS clickers for the first time. Their teacher wanted to get instant feedback from her students, so clickers were the perfect option. The great thing about the CPS clickers is that the teacher had minimum prep. We were using the "verbal mode" so no questions had to be prepared ahead of time. With 5 minutes of prep to setup classes, the teacher could use the clickers with any preexisting material. In this case, she was using Brain Pop Jr. At the end of the Brain Pop video, the students always take the 5 question quiz. Instead of one person coming up to the board to answer the question, every student was able to answer and participate. The engagement for the students was fantastic. Every student was excited and so wanted to get the answer right!

The lesson went well and the students really enjoyed it. The teacher gained some usable data from the activity. Using the CPS software, she was able to see how her students performed on this formative assessment. From there, she was able to make some instructional decisions and could do some reteaching for those who struggled.

Overall, I think it was a great learning activity for the teacher and the students. I hope this teacher will use this positive experience and utilize the clickers again. It is also my hope that others on the team will do the same. All it takes is one spark to start a fire!

This is technology that actually works!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Get Published! Part 2: Online and Physical Publishing

As part of a district technology webinar this Wednesday, I will be talking about a variety of web tools that can be used for student publishing of writing. Today, I want to focus on two resources that can be used online and physical publishing. Actually being able to hold a published book is thrilling for a student and is totally possible with a little help from the web. For this webinar, I am going to discuss Storybird and Story Jumper.


Storybird is a favorite website of mine for a variety of reasons, and it is a great tool to enhance the writing of students. The feature that sets Storybird apart from other similar resources is the quality of the illustrations. Students can choose from a variety of high quality pictures to add to their stories. By starting with the pictures, students have to think through how they would fit together and in what order they should appear. These high quality images also level the playing field for writers who are not good me! The interface is easy to use and it is easy to swap out illustrations. 

The great thing about Storybird is that you have publishing choices once you are finished. You can post your story to the web and embed it to your website, blog, etc. Besides online publishing, you have the option to publish a physical version of your book and purchase it. I think students would be really excited about having a book that they wrote on their bookshelf at home...I think parents would love this too! And as a bonus for teachers, there is a fundraising option where a portion of the book sales goes towards money for your classroom!

Teachers, this site has a great student management features. With a free teacher account, teachers can setup usernames and passwords for their students. You can monitor the stories they are writing and can even setup assignments for them to complete. 

Reasons to love Storybird:
- high quality illustrations
- easy integration into language arts curriculum
- student accounts with no email required
- great publishing options.

Story Jumper

Story Jumper is another solid web resource to use in your language arts classroom. It has an assortment of quality images to use as backgrounds for your story. It also has a big collection of props that you can use to truly customize your story. A great advantage of Story Jumper is the ability to use your own images. By being able to upload your own images, you can create a greater variety of stories since you have fewer limits on the images that can be used. Story Jumper also gives you the option to start from scratch or to complete a story that has already been created. This allows for differentiation in the writing process and builds in more structure for those students who need it. 

Story Jumper is also very easy for students to access and use. Each class has a 4 digit code that gives them access to choose their class and their name. This visual navigation is a great help for younger students. Teachers setup these usernames and passwords when setting up the class. Usernames and passwords can be set for anything which is great in our world of countless usernames and passwords. 

Publishing student stories is simple. Links to student stories can be posted to the web or a paper copy of the book can be ordered. Students have publishing options and that is great!

Reasons to Love Story Jumper
- easy to use interface for students
- no student email address needed to accounts
- ability to use your own images as well as images from the Story Jumper library.
- multiple publishing options

These two resources can provide you with some excellent options for integrating technology into the language arts curriculum. If you want to learn more, please join me for a 20 minute webinar on Wednesday, January 11th at 8:10, 10:20, 11:50, or 3:30 central time at the following address:

This is technology that actually works!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Get Published! - PART 1: Online Publishing

As the new year begins, I feel invigorated to start blogging again and to produce more webinars for my school district. I am big believer in online learning as part of a professional development model. So next Wednesday, I will be doing a 20 minute webinar titled "Get Published". I will be doing this webinar 4 times on that day (8:10, 10:20, 11:50, and 3:30 central time). To prepare for the webinar, I decided to blog about each section of my presentation. Blogging allows me to refine my thinking and to truly get mentally prepared to deliver quality professional development!

When students write, they want an authentic audience. Writing for the teacher is just not that authentic and is not motivating for students. When I was a student, I hated to write because there did not seem like much of a point to it...besides the grade. There are several web technologies that can provide students with an authentic audience for which to write. As teachers, we can still teach writing traits and structure and utilize online resources for that final draft product. These online resources can provide the spark that ignites our students' creativity and passion for writing. Lets look at a couple resources that can be easily integrated into your writing instruction.


Flipsnack is a great tool for creating online books. The great thing about using Flipsnack is that the students never use the site at all, so there is no need for student accounts. Only the teacher needs to setup an account. Teachers can use a Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Yahoo account to sign in if they already have one. This just saves us from having to remember one more username and password. You can create your own Flipsnack login if you wish though. Flipsnack converts PDF files into online, interactive books like my example here. The teacher only needs to load the final writing products into their Flipsnack account. From there, the books can be shared via a link or can be embedded onto a website, blog, etc. For students, they can write their stories in Word, PowerPoint, or any other authoring program. Once students are finished, they save their product as a PDF. This PDF is loaded to Flipsnack and now that student's work is published for the world to see. 

Reasons I like Flipsnack:
- no new software for students to learn
- one login for the teacher
- link or embed option
- utilizes programs for writing that students are already familiar with using
- free to use

Little Bird Tales

Little Bird Tales provides a different online publishing experience. Students will do all of their writing and illustrating within Little Bird Tales. Teachers can setup a free classroom account. Once in that account, they can setup their classes and create the student ids and passwords. I like that the teacher can customize this however they want. Teachers can also review their students' stories from within the management interface. That is a plus! Students log in with a classroom 4 digit code and their unique username and password. Once logged in, students can begin creating their stories. Students upload images (artwork) that they wish to use for their backgrounds. Students also have the ability to create their own illustrations. The illustration tools are pretty basic, but they get the job done. Students can then add text and the optional voice recording for each page. These features make Little Bird Tales stand out from other similar storytelling resources. Check out my Little Bird Tale Example. Final products can be shared with a link or can be embedded onto a website, blog, etc. 

Reasons I like Little Bird Tales
- simple setup and good management tools for the teacher
- simple to use interface for students
- create illustrations or use images from multiple sources
- voice recording option
- free

These tools are just two that I will be talking about next week. Technology can be a great motivator and can provide the authentic audience that students crave. Integration of these tools is not time consuming. If you want to learn more about these tools, please come to my webinar on Wednesday

This is technology that actually works!