Tuesday, May 15, 2018

We Can All Breakout!

Elevated heartbeat, sweaty forehead, and the anxious anticipation of whether I will escape.  Yes, I am referring to the challenge of an escape room.  There's nothing like that feeling of anxiously working to uncover the clues and escape the room.  As a teacher, I liked to challenge my students to answer mentally puzzling questions or riddles.  My opening activity was always a riddle.  This served as a way to get them focused and ready to think critically.  Another activity that I enjoyed incorporating was a scavenger hunt that I'd create using whatever unit or lesson we were focusing on.  Much like scavenger hunts and escape rooms--Breakout boxes incorporate the same elements.  Students have to critically think about clues to uncover the answer and if they are working in teams they must use collaboration and communication skills to break open the box.
Breakout boxes have gained popularity this year.  As I have observed different classrooms at different schools around the Las Vegas valley, I have seen students breakout or at the very least attempt to breakout.  Students must uncover clues and work with each other to unlock the many locks on the breakout box.
BreakoutEDU.com has a plethora of ready-made breakouts for a fee, but  I have seen many Nevada Ready 21 digital coaches and teachers make their own customized breakouts for much less.  Units, lessons, and books from every content area can be customized into a breakout.
If you are interested n having a breakout happen in your classroom, do not feel like you must use the traditional box and locks.  There are digital breakouts that have the same effect and the best part is---they're free.

If you want to know more about Breakouts in the classroom, here are some resources to get you started.

Felicia Wilson
Las Vegas

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Take Note and Transform Note Taking in Your Classroom

Note taking is a skill prized by teachers and professors but the process is often disliked by students. After all, note taking is difficult work that requires active listening, the processing of information on-the-fly, and synthesizing shorter messages, sometimes involving symbols, that hopefully convey the spirit of the original, longer message. Setting our students up for success in this process is critical to their developing this skill over time. If teachers do it right, students will have a skill they can bring with them to college, their career, and beyond.

In this blog post, we will explore analog and digital note taking ideas teachers can use in their classrooms tomorrow.

Cornell Notes

The Cornell Note system has been around since the 1940s. The system was developed in response to observations a professor made of his students at Cornell University. He noticed students struggled with taking notes from scratch and studying from them. The Cornell Notes System was born!

Students are asked to draw a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left side of a notebook page and a horizontal line 2 inches up from the bottom, as shown in the image on the right.

The resulting two columns have specific roles. The column on the right is for notetaking and the column on the left is used for students to write higher-order thinking questions based on those notes. The idea is that when students study, they can cover up their notes and try to answer their questions. If they need a little extra help answering their questions, they can peek at their notes to find the answers.

The bottom section of the note page is reserved for writing a summary of the notes, which is helpful when studying but it also forces the students to go back through their notes and translate them into a shorter paragraph.

Some teachers reserve the larger column on the right for content other than notes. For example, a teacher might ask students to glue a reading passage or a list of vocabulary terms onto the page. If students create concept maps, they can draw them in this section, too.

Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes

One of the challenges teachers face when transitioning to a 1:1 classroom is what to do with student notes. Way back in 2016 BC (Before Chromebooks), teachers lectured from PowerPoint presentations as students quickly scribbled down notes into their notebooks. But in 2018 AD (After Device), some teachers found the notebook option lacking, especially with all of the things you can do with Google Docs.

The Cornell notes method of notetaking works great when students are using notebooks, pencils, and paper. Teachers working at 1:1 schools, however, may want to harness the power of Docs and transform notetaking with peer-reviewed digital notes.

Teachers can increase collaboration between students, which is one of the skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as important for today's students to master. To get students to collaborate with one another, pair students up and make both partners peer-reviewers. Students can share their notes with their collaborative peer reviewer and help one another come up with annotations, ideas for questions, and a review of summaries.

Like the Cornell Notes setup, the peer-reviewed digital notes use columns. There is a column for higher-order thinking questions students can write based on the content of the notes and a section to write a summary of the notes. But one of the biggest differences between the peer-reviewed digital notes and the Cornell Notes setup is that the teacher provides the notes to her students. The idea behind giving the notes to the student is that this frees the student up to synthesize their own notes in the third column. Students can use the power of Docs to define vocabulary terms they might not know, and to add images, links, and additional research to their notes.


Want to make the note taking process more visual and access your students’ creative side? Sketchnoting can do just that! Mike Rhode, author of The Sketchnote Handbook, says, “Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines.” Taken together, sketchnotes can convey the overall big ideas from a lecture or reading.

Why should teachers bring the sketchnoting practice into their classroom?

When students use sketchnoting to take class notes, students become active listeners as they translate the written and spoken word into a visual representation of the discussion. Students use their critical thinking skills to do this, which is one of the 21st century skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning as important for students to be successful in college and career. Studies have also shown that “longhand notetakers outperformed laptop notetakers on conceptual understanding and long-term recall” (source).

If a teacher wanted to integrate sketchnoting in their classroom, she should start small at first. Teachers are encouraged to take it slow with students at first and model the process as much as possible. One way to do this is through a “Think Aloud.” During this strategy, a teacher explains their thinking behind why they chose a specific image to draw, or placed an arrow, or wrote text, for example.
The image above is used with permission from Creative Commons and was created by Wesley Fryer.

Concept Mapping

Slides presentations are classroom staples used to transfer knowledge from the teacher to the student. This "sit-and-get" style of information input, however, can be very teacher-centered. Note taking doesn't have to be so one-sided! You can make note taking student-centered by having your students create concept maps as notes.

Concept maps help students organize their thinking, and are made up of a series of terms or concepts linked by connecting phrases. The concepts are enclosed within a rectangle, which are called nodes. Students draw arrows and create connecting phrases between the nodes.

Teach your students to build simple concept maps by imagining the two nodes and the connecting phrase are parts of a sentence. Node 1 is the beginning of the sentence and node 2 is the end of the sentence. The connecting phrase links the beginning with the end. Look at the green graphic for an example of a simple concept map. Note how the direction of the arrow tells the viewer which direction to read the concept map.

From there, students can begin to add more nodes and connecting phrases to their concept map. I tell my students to add interconnections between nodes so their concept map looks like a spider web rather than the spokes of a bicycle tire. Teachers can use the number of interconnections between nodes as a type of formative assessment. The more interconnections between nodes and the more web-like the concept map, the deeper the understanding of the content.

While concept mapping should be mastered first with pencil and paper, students can eventually transition to an online tool like Drawings or Lucidchart to create and share their concept maps.

Chris Justus
Las Vegas

Monday, May 7, 2018

Google Experiment Spotlight

Ever since 2009, computer programmers have pushed the limits of what you can do with Google and Chrome through the design of Google Experiments. These web-based apps can pack a big punch and supplement your digital-infused lessons. For example, art teachers can have students study color palettes from famous paintings using the the Art Palette Google Experiment from its Arts & Culture subdomain.

Users can upload or take a photo and find other art works with similar color palettes to the one you submitted. Take a look at the looping GIF below to see Art Palette in action! If you can't use this in your art classroom, maybe you can use it for your next interior redesign of your living room!

Another cool Google Experiment, Song Maker, can be harnassed by music teachers during a composition unit. Our students can easily make music in Chrome! Students can click on one of the boxes on Song Maker to place a note. Adding more notes can make a song! Students can change the tempo, the musical instrument they're using in their composition, and even the scale. There's a "Mic" option on Song Maker which I did not check out (trust me, I'm doing you a favor) but I'd love to hear from you what it does and how it works! The best part is that once the student saves their masterpiece, the system generates a link students can turn in to Google Classroom or your class's Canvas LMS.

Check out my attempt at writing the theme song to Jeopardy... It (kinda) sounds like it!

The last Google Experiment I'll spotlight in this blog post is, in my opinion, the COOLEST! You know how sometimes you write lessons that ask students to draw a picture? And every time, it seems, a few of the students say, "But Mister, I can't draw, I'm not an artist!"

Enter AutoDraw

AutoDraw takes the frustration out of drawing by using artifical intelligence to guess what your chicken scratch is supposed to represent. A professional clip art-style version of your drawing is then swapped out for your doodle.

For example, if you are attempting to draw a top hat, the system may guess that it is a top hat or a boat or a shirt or a hot dog or a building or a... you get the point. You choose which of those guesses you want to replace it with.

The cool part is now you have a pretty good drawing you or your students can use in a Slide show or in a Google Drawing. Take a look at the looping GIF below to see AutoDraw guess that the lobster I am trying to draw is, in fact, supposed to be a lobster!

-Chris Justus
Las Vegas

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Transform Your Lessons into 21st-Century Lessons

BoostEDU is a program that supports teachers in transforming their traditional lessons into 21st-century lessons through an inquiry-based self-assessment and guided lesson design process. It's like having your own EdTech Coach sitting right next to you!

Megan Kelly created BoostEDU as part of her Google Innovator project in order to create a solution to the traditional sit and get, one-size fits all, approach to professional development for educators. She wanted to develop a program that would personalize professional development for educators and allow them to reach higher levels of SAMR in their lessons, projects, and activities.

In 4 easy steps, Megan has created a process for teachers to be able to self-reflect on their current lessons and be able to see how incorporating purposeful technology doesn't have to be difficult.

Step 1:  The teacher takes a lesson, project, or activity that they would like to review (ideally it is one that they have already taught or created)

Step 2:  The teacher completes a self-assessment of an original lesson to determine their current level of SAMR/ISTE/4 C’s within their lesson.  During the survey, they will be able select suggestions and tech tools to “boost” their lesson. These results will then be emailed to them in an editable Google Doc.

Step 3:  The teacher will use an online, interactive form to transform their original lesson based on their results from the self-assessment.  The form will be interactive and offer suggestions for technology integration to assist him/her in building this boosted lesson.  When they submit the form, they will receive a digital copy of their lesson plan.

Step 4:  In this step, the teacher will have the opportunity to share their self-assessment results and “boosted” lesson on a Google Plus Community.  After their lesson is complete, they can share the lesson on the BoostEDU website for other teachers to access and use.

Monday, April 30, 2018

I’VE GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN MY HAND...(well, computer)

Alison H. Graettinger, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Missouri-Kansas City, KC, MO

We all live, for now, on Earth. That means understanding the planet using geography, environmental science, and geology is important for understanding our history and our future. The problem is, the planet is large and class sessions are only so long. As I study volcanoes, the places I want to talk about are far away, and frequently dangerous (eruptions, harsh weather etc.). Thankfully, technology has come a long way to help us bring the planet, in very tangible forms, into the classroom using one of my favorite tools, Google Earth.
Google Earth lets us, through the desktop application or web application, travel anywhere we want during a class session. This allows us, as teachers, to relate students’ own back yard, to anywhere else in the world, and back again, in a single lesson, or throughout the school year. Google Earth is a simple Geographical Information System (GIS) that is used in geography, geology, infromatics, public health, homeland security, wildlife and ecology studies, law enforcement, utilities, and political science. Knowing how to use GIS is a highly marketable skill for our students and the sooner we introduce them to it, the more than can apply it beyond the classroom. Even better, Google Earth is user friendly and only has the tools that are used most often, making it easy to introduce to students and have them using it within a single class session (30-50 minutes).

Additionally, numerous teachers have already developed lessons and exercises that are easily adapted to whatever topic you wish to incorporate (Sample LessonScavenger Hunt). The rest of this blog is about how I use Google Earth in my introductory and upper level class undergraduate courses and personal research, but I have also helped sixth graders incorporate Google Earth into their Earth Science projects and have had great success taking these same exercises and using them at science outreach events where much younger participants, with no preparation, benefit from the exposure to Google Earth.
I use Google Earth in all of my classes from Introductory Geology, Volcanology, and even the writing intensive senior seminars for Geography, Environmental Scientists and Geologists. We use Google Earth in class, with homework assignments, and in student presentations. The first step is always to introduce students to their own backyard. In Kansas City we have two large rivers that dominate the landscape, but many students have no idea how to recognize their hometown from a satellite image until we take the time to look. This is a great opportunity for students to practice observations skills. They can turn the concept of a long squiggly dark thing to a river, then figure out where school is, their favorite park, their house. Suddenly the complicated becomes familiar.

It is then an easy step to jump to what we were there to talk about, landscape and politics. Kansas City is split by the state line between Missouri and Kansas. The Kansas City Metropolitan area includes both sides of this border, with the larger portion in Missouri, annoying students on Geography quizzes since 1850. This border partially follows the Missouri River, easily noted on the satellite image, and then turns south in a wholly human construct.
Google Earth Image of Kansas City with 20 km scale bar. Using the landscape students are familiar with is a good way to introduce them to Google Earth and even discuss relevant topics.


This part of the border is delineated by State Line Road, but is not obvious from above. This is an important opportunity to discuss how borders are assigned and the challenges they pose socially, politically, and practically (snow removal). All we had to do to make this discussion happen was open Google Earth and navigate around with the mouse. The students are now warming up to the program and we are ready to dive into something more subject specific.

I then take students on a tour of some location that matches what we are discussing in class. We could find another river, in the US or half way around the world, to compare and contrast the locations. We can travel to various volcanoes and find examples where political boundaries dividing the volcano in half (a common occurrence)!

Tungurahua (toon gu rah wa) Volcano in Ecuador is divided by a political boundary between to provinces (similar to our US states). This is an easy way to get students to start thinking about how different places are similar to home, but get them to think about how each place is unique.

Now that we’ve started looking at volcanoes around the world the options are limitless. I frequently assign students their own volcano to babysit for the semester. That is, they check if the volcano had any activity by looking at monitoring websites, webcams, and the news, then report back to the class. When one erupts (as volcanoes erupt frequently even if they don’t make news in the US) we can go find out where it is and test out our observation and analysis skills by looking at the landscape. We sometimes are even lucky enough for Google Earth to capture and post images of the volcano in eruption!

Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua has lots of exciting features that we can see in Google Earth. Note how much closer this image is than the previous images. Google Earth is good at many scales!

In my research I use Google Earth because it is low cost and accessible. I can have students conduct research with minimal training, and they can work at home or at school. My particular interest is a type of small volcano that doesn’t build up a cone, like the volcanoes you think of normally. Instead they have lots of explosions before the magma reaches the surface of the Earth and produce small craters. I am interested in the size and shape of these craters as they preserve evidence of those explosions. We need more information on these past eruptions to be prepared for future eruptions. By using Google Earth imagery I’ve been able to study 250 of these volcanoes so far, mainly through student research projects, and am hoping to reach 500 in the next few years.

My research focuses on small volcanoes that don’t build cones, but rather make craters at ground level. They are smaller than caldera type volcanoes, like Yellowstone and Crater Lake. They look like unassuming lakes, but are the result of lots of explosions.  I study their shape, size and distribution all over the planet, and Google Earth is an excellent tool to do this. A) Oregon, B) Alaska, C) Saudi Arabia, D) Nicaragua, E) Australia, F) Ethiopia.

 If you are interested in general volcano teaching resources, my colleague Janine Krippner from Concord College and I have a catalog of resources on our blog and we add things as we learn about them! http://inthecompanyofvolcanoes.blogspot.com/2016/02/volcanology-teaching-resources.html

Monday, April 9, 2018


Sketchnoting is described as a method of note-taking incorporating images and text.  It is not a new concept by any means. People have been sketchnoting, doodling, visual-note-taking for quite some time the only difference now, is there is science that supports why it is beneficial. There are a few theories out there that support the “why” of sketchnoting.  One being, The Dual Coding Theory. Psychology professor Allan Paivio proposed that verbal and nonverbal processing were necessary for learning.  “In one experiment, participants saw pairs of items that differed in roundness (e.g., tomato, goblet), and were asked to indicate which member of the pair was rounder.  The objects were presented as words, pictures, or word-picture pairs. The response times were slowest for word-word pairs, intermediate for the picture-word pairs, and fastest for the picture-picture pairs.” Another theory is that of The Drawing Effect from Wammes, Meade, and Fernandes.  This theory believes "that drawing improves memory by encouraging a seamless integration of semantic, visual, and motor aspects of a memory trace." The connecting tissue for both theories is that sketchnoting is beneficial to our brain.  
So, what exactly goes into sketchnoting? There are a few elements that one must think about and incorporate into their sketchnote, i.e. structure, icons/images, connectors, and typography are just a few of the elements. Before you even get started it is important to know that sketchnoting is personal. The elements that you pick are based on what works for you and your ability. Often times, it is the self-critiques that keep people from sketchnoting, so always keep in mind that this process is about your ability to critically think about information, and use images that are symbolic to your processing of that information. Perfection is not a target to aim towards.

To get a visual of what sketchnotes could look like here are some examples from Sylvia Duckworth.

For all Southern Nevada Ready 21 educators, please come out and get some hands-on practice with Sketchnoting on April 10th or April 11th.

Clark and Paivio:Dual coding theory and education
Wammes, Meade, and Fernandes: The drawing effect

Felicia Wilson
Las Vegas

Monday, March 26, 2018

Case Study: Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes

One of the challenges teachers face when transitioning to a 1:1 classroom is what to do with student notes. Way back in 2016 BC (Before Chromebooks), teachers lectured from PowerPoint presentations as students quickly scribbled down notes into their notebooks. But in 2018 AD (After Device), some teachers found the notebook option lacking, especially with all of the things you can do with Google Docs!

Before I became a professional development strategist for Nevada Ready 21, I worked at an AVID school and had my students use the Cornell notes method for notetaking. 

In order to take Cornell notes, students setup their notebooks by drawing a vertical line about two inches in from the left side of the notebook page. The resulting two columns have specific roles. The column on the right is for notetaking and the column on the left is used for students to write higher-order thinking questions based on their notes. The idea is that when students study, they cover up their notes and try to answer their questions. If they need a little extra help answering their questions, they can peek at their notes to find the answers.

The Cornell notes method is awesome. But right about the time when my classroom received devices, I struggled with how exactly to transition from a paper-based Cornell notes method to an online one. 

I have found that it's easier to come up with ideas for Google Doc templates when I think of it in terms of the problem I am trying to solve and the resulting solution to the problem. In that spirit, I wrote a case study narrative of a problem a teacher named Mr. Ramirez sees in his history class and how he has figured out the solution to his problem.


Over the years Mr. Ramirez has developed a version of the Cornell method of notetaking that he loves teaching to his students in his history class. When Mr. Ramirez lectures from a Slides presentation, students take notes in their notebooks using the traditional two column Cornell note set-up. Every second or third slide, he stops lecturing so his students can review and revise their notes, highlight key ideas, and collaborate with each other by sharing ideas. He even has students write their own higher-order thinking questions based on the content from their notes. Mr. Ramirez's school recently became a 1:1 Chromebook school and now he wants to update his beloved style of notetaking for the digital age.


Mr. Ramirez created a Doc template he calls his Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes template. He made it in Docs and set it up using a series of tables. One of his gripes about online worksheets made in Docs is that all of them are made in the vertical orientation even though all computer screens are horizontal. He figured switching the page setup to landscape would take advantage of the conputer screen's real estate. He created separate columns in which students could take notes, type their higher-order thinking questions, and write their note summaries.

He noticed students just copied his notes verbatim from the slides so when he digitized his notetaking process, he left another column where he could copy and paste the words from his slides into the Doc. This way students can concentrate on writing their own notes. The awesome thing about giving his notes to his students is that they have to use their critical thinking skills to synthesize new information based on the initial notes he provides. He figured students could also add images they found online to their notes as he lectured.

Mr. Ramirez wanted to increase collaboration amongst his students, which is one of the skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as important for today's students to master. To get students to collaborate with one another, he paired students up and made them both peer-reviewers. Students were to share their notes with their collaborative peer reviewer and help one another come up with annotations, ideas for questions, and a review of summaries.

Download the Doc Template from this Case Study: Peer-Reviewed Digital Notes

Give the "eCornell notes method" a try and let me know how it goes!

-Chris Justus
Las Vegas