My new favorite tool! IFTTT

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Teaching Online and Blended Courses: Tips, Tools, and Resources

I have highlighted Canvas as the learning management system (LMS) in this post; however, most LMS providers offer similar tools.

Here are some tips, tools, and resources for designing and teaching quality online and blended courses.

  1. Create a welcome message for your students. Include a photo and some personal information. This will help your students feel more comfortable in your course. 
  2. Call home and introduce yourself to the parents also. Allow them to ask questions and let them know how to contact you.
  3. Create a Google Form survey to collect student and parent emails and phone numbers. Ask about the preferred method of communication. 
  4. Include an icebreaker activity to help build community. This resource provides some examples. Don’t see one you like? Google it! You’ll find many more!
  5. Provide an overview of your course that includes:
    1. Objectives
    2. Expectations, including academic integrity
    3. Grading policies
    4. Contact information, including virtual office hours
    5. Course syllabus
  6. Organize the course by modules and units. Each unit should include:
    1. Unit overview including objectives, key understandings, and what students should be able to do by the end of the unit
    2. Checklist for student assignments and due dates
    3. Consider using prerequisites in your Canvas Modules. You can require that students move through items sequentially, score “at least” values, etc.
    4. Incorporate practice activities if applicable. You can utilize Complete/ Incomplete or Ungraded Assignments to allow for student practice. Practice quizzes can be set for multiple attempts.
  7. Course assignments should include:
    1. Clear instructions
    2. Assessment guidelines (ex. rubrics)
    3. Due dates
    4. Opportunities for student-student interaction and collaboration (ex. group assignments, peer reviews, etc.) Think about using Points of View from NC Wise Owl. (Pro/ Con arguments).
    5. Opportunities for student-instructor interaction (ex. discussions)
  8. Instructional resources should be provided in a variety of formats. (ex. text, video, images, weblinks, etc.) Consider using screencasting tools like Jing or Screencast-O-Matic to provide short instructional videos for students.
  9. Assessment considerations:
    1. Incorporate a variety of assessment methods.
    2. Be sure to provide resources for remediation and enrichment as needed. Providing additional resources to students using the Comment feature in SpeedGrader is an easy way to meet individual student needs.
    3. Provide students with timely feedback. Use voice comments, Kaizena, Google Drive commenting and editing, and Canvas Speedgrader annotation tools to help students recognize areas of strengths and opportunities for growth.
    4. Communicate performance issues as soon as you realize there is a problem. It is imperative that you notify parents in a timely manner. Keep a digital communication journal for all parent interactions. Google Spreadsheets are easy to use for this type of documentation.
  10. Utilize Canvas Analytics to monitor student activity. You can get a quick snapshot of all students or by viewing individual student analytics you can see the number of page views and number of participations for each student daily.
  11. Use the “Close for Comments” feature to end Discussions. This will prevent the need to monitor old conversations.
  12. Log in to the class each day. Return emails and Canvas inbox messages daily.
  13. Post daily or weekly announcements to remind students of upcoming due dates and useful resources. Consider using tools like Smore or Tackk to quickly create attractive newsletters and bulletins.
  14. Use announcements to answer FAQs.
  15. Utilize Canvas Conferences to hold live class meetings.

You may find this resource helpful also. The iNACOL National Standards for Quality Online Courses contains rubrics for evaluating the quality of online courses. The rubric begins on page 8 and could serve as a checklist for you as you design your course.

My Five Things: #makeschooldifferent


In response to Scott McLeod’s blog post challenge, these are the five things I think we must stop pretending in order to #makeschooldifferent. My ideas are not new and some echo those posted by others.

I believe we must …

  1. stop pretending that we have to teach children facts. – In a world of Google, Siri, and Wolfram Alpha, children must be taught how to find, evaluate, and apply information.
  2. stop pretending that assessing for memorization is acceptable. – Memorization does not equal learning or intelligence. We should be using student portfolios and competency-based grading systems aligned to performance assessments and mastery learning.
  3. stop pretending that essential knowledge and skills have not changed.  – What is the purpose of K-12 education? Just as good instructional planning begins with essential questions and objectives, we must redefine and prioritize the intended learning outcomes of a public education. I believe the P21 Framework could help to inform this process.
  4. stop pretending that subjects should be taught in isolation. – The age-old question of “When am I ever going to use this in the real-world?” could easily be eliminated if academic concepts were taught along with an application. ELA concepts can be easily woven into research and writing across all content areas. Mathematical practices are much easier to understand within the context of automechanics, engineering, and science. Finland has begun this process of trading subject-specific lessons for topic-based instruction.
  5. stop pretending that teachers can design engaging, effective, technology-enhanced, personalized, collaborative instructional units, analyze assessment data, and provide individualized, thoughtful feedack to students without proper planning time. – Teachers should be 12 month employees. Period. (I would also throw in the school calendar if I had more than 5 things I could talk about!)

What are the 5 things you think we must stop pretending to #makeschooldifferent?

Image available at: Accessed April 16, 2015

My Digital Teaching & Learning Journey: Seeing is Believing

I began teaching 9 1/2 years ago in a small private school. I had very few resources and no opportunities for collaboration. I was a lateral entry teacher without student teaching experience to prepare me.

I needed help!

Luckily I found FLTeach, a listserv for world lanaguage teachers. By joining this group I gained both ideas and support. The computer became my lifesaver. I also found that I hated gradebooks and overhead transparencies. Technology became the solution for both.

After a couple of years I decided to make a change and found myself in a public school with two computer labs. I stalked the media coordinator and battled the other departments in order to sign up for lab time for my kids. I built a class website, and began to incorporate multimedia projects as assessments for each unit of instruction. I also started requiring my students to work in small groups or pairs to create instructional materials for their peers.

These activities taught me the following about the majority of my students:

  • they enjoyed using technology,
  • they learned concepts more easily on our “lab” weeks,
  • and they were more engaged in projects and collaborative activities.

I also learned that when given the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in new ways, students who were not typically successful on traditional assessments gained confidence, but students who generally performed well on paper-pencil tests did not like having to put forth the effort to complete these projects.

I saw the benefits of student collaboration, peer assessment, self-reflection, and choice. I was amazed by my students’ creativity as they exceeded my expectations time and time again. Quiet students became stars on camera. Tech experts gained confidence as they shared their knowledge with their teams (and me!). Students reported a deeper understanding of the concepts we were studying.

I became a believer in the power of technology to transform teaching and learning.

Fast forward to the present and I am now a coordinator for media and technology and an online Spanish instructor. As I think about my journey I realize that no one convinced me to use technology in my classroom. I discovered the benefits on my own. That is why I am so passionate about the potential for educational transformation fueled by technology.

One major factor that contributed to my discovery was freedom. I was not in a tested subject. I had the freedom to experiment. I would even say that I had the freedom to fail, but in those conditions, there was really no definition of failure. I was trusted to do what was best for my students. And I did.

I recently read a story on Linda Clark, superintendent of the West Ada school system in Idaho. She was selected as one of Education Week’s Leaders to Learn From. One quote from the article that stands out to me is, ““She believes innovation happens only when teachers feel empowered to make changes in their classrooms.”

In our current climate of school report cards and increased emphasis on test scores, do teachers feel empowered to be innovative? Do school leaders feel empowered to encourage that innovation? What happens when we let go of fear and take a risk?

Those are questions I plan to continue asking and helping to answer.

Connection Requests: The list is still growing


I was recently fortunate enough to be a part of a small group at ISTE chatting with Alan November, November Learning. He is also coming to speak to all of our district administrators during our annual principals’ retreat in August. One of the things he suggested that we do is connect all of our classes and students to a global audience.

Now, I actually have a bit of experience in this arena, but not on the scale that he was suggesting. And I definitely felt a slight bit of panic alongside an enormous sense of excitement.

Last Thursday, I was not at all surprised when I received the first phone call from a principal in our district asking how he could make this happen.  In anticipation of more calls, I had already been brainstorming but I really didn’t have a solution.

I quickly created a Google Form asking teachers to give me information about their classes and collaboration interests. I have received 11 responses so far and I know this is just a start. The majority of our county won’t get to hear Alan’s message until mid-August.

So, I’m asking for help. Here is the link to a copy of the responses: Global Collaboration Requests. The list is still growing (I have added one response while typing this post.)

If you are interested in partnering with any of these teachers, or know someone who might be, please contact me. I would love to chat.

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9-12 Digital Citizenship Discussion Prompt 5

Please watch this video, Sharing Information:  A Day in Your Life, consider the questions that follow, and post your reactions.

  1. Have you seen anything online that you would consider an invasion of privacy?
  2. What are some benefits of sites that reveal personal information for a fee?
  3. Why is it important for people to consider the personal information collected, shared, and available online?

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