Thursday, August 30, 2018

UPDATES to Google Classroom

This summer BIG changes were announced to Google Classroom.  Here are a few of NR21's favorite updates as well as links to experts demonstrating these new features.
  • NEW Classroom tab: We asked and Google heard us.  While topics was a useful way to sort assignments and posts, this option was not as user-friendly as it could be.  With the creation of the Classroom tab, teachers can create modules to sort assignments into. Users also have the ability to move these assignments up or down the stream.  While not perfect, this is an improvement.
  • NEW Grading Features: If you are like us, grading written responses and essays in Classroom was a bit of a chore.  Each document had to be opened within Classroom to be annotated, but there was no location to input scoring.  Classroom now allows users to shift between assignments without closing each document. Teachers can create a bank of responses to include as annotations and quickly insert using the # symbol.   
  • Ability to Create Forms within Classroom - This is an important change COMING SOON. Forms have been a resource to educators for a number of years as a means of formative and summative assessment. There will no longer a need to venture outside Classroom. Simply create right within Classroom. Keep an eye out for this change.

Warning: These new Google Classroom features will only appear in NEW Classrooms created after August 7.  Existing Classrooms will retain the older features.  At least for now. 

Be sure to make some time to explore the new features of this amazing tool!  Or, take a virtual tour of the NEW Google Classroom.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Project-Based Learning

What exactly is Project-Based Learning aka PBL?  The Buck Institute for Education defines PBL as
"students work on a project over an extended period of time--from a week up to a semester--that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question". Dr. Sylvia Chard, a professor at the University of Albert and founder of Project Approach, states "one of the major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life.  It's an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children's attention and effort".  So, if the purpose of PBL connects the real world to school, what are some other benefits of why teachers should do it?  The answers are as follows:

  • Promotes personal and social responsibility
  • Planning, critical thinking, reasoning, creativity, and collaboration are presented
  • Harnesses communication skills (interpersonal and presentation needs)
  • Enables visualizing and decision making
  • Stimulates cross-cultural understanding
  • Allows for students to assess how and when to use technology and to choose the most appropriate tool for the task.
If you are considering creating or using an already-made PBL for your classroom, consider Edutopia's four rules for authenticity.

  1. The project meets a real need in the world beyond that classroom, or the products that students create are used by real people.
  2. The project focuses on a problem, issue or topic that is relevant to students' lives or on a problem/issue that is being faced by adults.
  3. The project sets up a scenario or simulation that is realistic, even if it is fictitious.
  4. The project involves tools, tasks, or processes used by adults in real settings and by professionals in the workplace.
If you are interested in learning more about PBL, here are some resources to get you started.
PBL Project Search
PBL University
A Step-by-Step Guide to the Best Projects
PBL History

Felicia Wilson
Las Vegas

Monday, June 4, 2018

AVID Strategies for STEAM

Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID for short, provides a framework educators can use to “shift to a more equitable, student-centered approach” to teaching (source).

The foundation of an AVID lesson is “WICOR,” which stands for Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading. The idea is that a teacher can support AVID students by incorporating WICOR into their everyday lessons. For example, a teacher can plan opportunities for students to write, use inquiry and critical thinking, collaborate with other students, use a system to organize their work, and read. When teachers use WICOR in their plans, they help AVID students achieve their academic goals and will ultimately set these students up for success in college.

Integrating WICOR into lessons works great in STEAM Academies, too, since students are using the science and engineering practices as they learn. The following list includes AVID strategies that will support STEAM teachers.

Strategy: Cornell Notes

How it Works

Students divide their notebook page into something that looks like this. Students fill out the topic and the essential question. Students write their class notes in the notes section. The notes can be informed by a reading passage that aligns with the lesson objectives. Afterwards, the teacher asks the students help each other come up with higher-order questions based on the content of their notes. Students are also asked to synthesize a summary of what they learned in the summary section.

  • Students write their own notes, questions, and summaries. 
  • Students use inquiry to come up with higher-order questions. 
  • Students collaborate with other students as they write their questions. 
  • Students use the Cornell notes structure to organize their work. 
  • Students read from the provided passage.

Tech Infusion

Have students create a Cornell notes template in Google Docs.

Strategy: LENSES Graph Analysis

How it Works

LENSES” is an acronym students can use to navigate their way through a graph. This process works great in small groups, as it gives a chance for students to collaborate with each other. When students see a graph in a textbook, test, or handout, they should Label and List the essential components of the graph like the graph’s title, independent variable (including units), dependent variable (including units), and the high and low data points into a graphic organizer. Students then find the Equation of the graph and determine if the line is showing a direct, indirect, linear, or exponential relationship between the variables. Students then ask themselves, “What do I Notice about the graph?” Specifically, what is the story the graph is trying to tell? Students then Speculate on what may happen to the dependent variable if the independent variable increases or decreases. They can extrapolate the next data point and predict what that value might be. They are asked to make inferences about the graph. Students then Explain their predictions and inferences by writing a paragraph. Finally, students Summarize what they have learned from the graph.

  • Students write throughout this process. 
  • Students use inquiry skills to predict and infer. 
  • Students collaborate with each other in a small group. 
  • Students use a graphic organizer to organize their thoughts. 
  • Students read all parts of the graph.

Tech Infusion

Have students make their graphic organizers in Google Docs.

Strategy: One-Pager

How it Works

A One-Pager is a creative response to a student’s learning experience. It allows students to use their imagination as they make connections between vocabulary words and ideas from a curricular unit and it creates an opportunity for students to share their work and use it collaboratively to study. Students are asked to use unlined, white paper to create their one-pager and follow these specific instructions: Title the one-pager to reflect its topic. Students may use pencils, markers, and colored pencils and are encouraged to fill up the entire page. Tell students to be purposeful about how they organize their one-pager and have a reason why a certain color is used or for placing an object in a certain place, for example. Have students include two quotes from their notes, draw three visual images, place five essential vocabulary terms around the images, and write a main idea from one of their readings. Have students write two of their higher-order questions from their Cornell notes onto the one-pager and answer them. Finally, students are asked to draw a symbolic border around the edges of the page.

  • Students write throughout this process.
  • Students use inquiry skills to translate their thoughts and notes from one medium to another.
  • Students collaborate with each other by sharing their work and using the one-pagers to study. Think of using cooperative learning structures from Kagan or do a gallery walk.
  • Students are encouraged to be purposeful in how they organize their one-pager.
  • Students synthesize a main idea from one of their class readings. They also will read and interpret other students’ one-pagers.

Tech Infusion

Have students create their one-pager in Google Drawings.

Chris Justus
Las Vegas

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

End of Year Google Classroom and Google Drive Clean Up

The end of the school year is a time when many teachers find themselves cleaning up their classrooms and files and beginning to organize things for the next school year. While it is often more obvious that the physical classroom needs to be organized at the end of the school year, so do our digital classrooms and storage spaces.

Now, is a great time to clean up and organize your Google Classroom(s) and Google Drive.

The following tips will help you clean up your digital classroom and files as you close out one school year and prepare for the next.

Tip #1:  Remember to return all student work

When students submit their work through Google Classroom, Google automatically changes the permissions of the file(s) that were submitted making the teacher the owner and reducing the student's right to "view only." While this is helpful when having assignment deadlines and grading students' work you don't want to leave it this way.

After you have graded assignments you want to make sure to return the work back to the students so that the ownership and access permissions of these files revert back to the students as well. This is critical to remember when you are cleaning up your Google Drive folders and files. If you do not return the assignments back to the students and you delete these files from your Drive you are really deleting the file. However, if you return the work to the students and they resume ownership of the files when you delete them all it does is remove the file from your Drive.

Tip #2:  Un-enroll students who have left your class during the year

If you prefer not to have students accessing content, assignments, information, etc. from your class you can un-enroll them and remove them from your Google Classroom.

Tip #3:  Archive old classes

When you are done with a digital class you can archive the class so that your Google Classroom current class list is cleaned up.

Archiving a Google Class not only removes the class from the list on your main Classroom homepage, it also freezes the class so that no new changes can be made and allows you to still reuse posts and assignments in new Google Classrooms.

Tip #4:  Move old class folders in your Google Drive

Many teachers don't realize that as they use Google Classroom, Google automates the workflow and organization by creating class folders and assignment folders in your Google Drive as you use Google Classroom throughout the year.

Every time you create a class in Google Classroom a folder is created for that class where all the assignment documents and other files are stored. It is important to know that you are able to move class folders in your Google Drive to a new location so that only the current class folders and files are easily visible.

I recommend that you locate your "Classroom" folder in your Google Drive. Within that folder, you can create a new folder and name it "Archived." Now you can simply drag and drop the old (archived) class folders into the new folder you just created.

Moving Google Classroom folders doesn't change anything in your Google Classroom or with file permissions. It just allows you to more quickly and easily find your current Classroom folders and files.

Tip #5:  Remove old Google Classroom calendars

Not only does Google create folders in your Google Drive to organize your digital class it also creates a Google Calendar when you create assignments with due dates. The calendar is a great way for students and teachers to see upcoming due dates for class assignments and projects during the school year.

When the school year is done you don't need the calendars from your Google classes cluttering up your calendar list. You can prevent this by either hiding these calendars or deleting them from your calendar list.

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. 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