Monday, May 11, 2020

Interactive Padlet Activity for Google Meets/Zoom

Like many of you, I've been trying to figure out how to make my Google Meets interactive and fun. We've done digital breakouts, Kahoot, Quizziz, Legends of Learning, scavenger hunts, and the like, but most of these have still lacked the conversation piece that I crave. Half the time it feels like I'm sitting in front of a one-way conversation, and while there are some conversations in the chat, I am mostly holding a soliloquy while students are working through those activities.

This week I am going to try something a little different, and am excited about the possibilities. Taking inspiration from NASA's Image of the day and the Change My Mind meme that keeps popping up in several of my Social Media feeds, I created the column Padlet where I placed three images and ask the students to respond to each without naming the content of the image. The way I envision this is that students will be able to do a reverse image search, find out what the picture is showing and open up an article/webpage with some information that they can read and share as a comment.  The "Change My Mind" column is an addition that I envision working much the same way, where students can do a quick search on the topic (or use their background knowledge) and write a sentence or two backed up with facts/graphs to support their claim.

If you are interested in doing something like this, good places to search for those images to share with students include:

Earth Observatory Image of the Day
NASA's Image of the day
What's going on in this Picture - New Your Times
Electron Microscope Photography - Twisted Sifter and Getty Images
Smithsonian Magazine Photo of the Day

Let me know what you think. What other interactive activities are you doing during your GoogleMeets/Zoom calls?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Reporting "completion" grades - use IF statements

Much like other districts around the U.S., mine has opted to forgo grades and simply report work as completed/not completed during this time of emergency remote learning. While I agree with this practice for now, it dawned on me that I would be looking at papers or digital submissions twice as many times as before since. Not only do I need to read and provide feedback to students (oftentimes grading it still), I also need to contemplate whether a submission counts as completed or not. I am not averse to doing the former, but the idea of then manually"transforming" that into complete/not complete in order to report it in my LMS, especially when students are all working at different paces, is a real pain. Trying to ease that pain I started thinking of all those skills I've gained from my gamified leaderboards and came up with a relatively easy workflow that for all intents and purposes semi-automates the process.

It all starts with reporting all feedback grading uniformly. I am using Google classroom as my feedback grade book for students, whether manually grading there or importing into it the feedback grading from GoFormative, EdPuzzle, etc., the trick is to make everything worth the same number of points. Once you are ready to report the C/NC grades you will need to download the complete grade book you want to transform as a CSV. In Google classroom, this means going into any of your assignments and clicking on the cog you see on the top right.

Once you have your grade spreadsheet, it is simply a matter of adding an IF statement that references the cell you'd like to change into C/NC. The formula is

=IF(E6>6,"C", IF(E6<=6, "NC"))

Where E6 is the cell that has the grade, and 6 is the points threshold that I decided on as the lower limit of "completeness". C and NC can be whatever you want it to report out.

Once you have that formula in place, it is simply a matter of dragging it down and across to copy it. Both Google sheets or Excell will automatically change the cell references.

Once that is done, your spreadsheet is ready to be uploaded to whichever LMS you are using. While you will have to do it again any time you update your grades, it will at least save you some time and keystrokes.

Have you found any other shortcuts to deal with this new normal? I'd love to hear about them.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Distance learning made "easy" with Formative

A while back I shared 8 Reasons to Love GoFormative. All of what I mentioned back then still holds true, but in this new era of remote teaching, GoFormative has become the most powerful tool in my teaching arsenal. Let me share why.
It is important to note that some of the awesome things I'll be sharing are available to premium/partner users. However also important to state that GoFormative is offering access to their premium features for those facing school closures and that any premium features you use during this time remain active in your Formatives even if later you downgrade to a free plan.

GoFormative and Google Classroom

 GoFormative "talks" to Google Classroom. There is nothing worse than trying to introduce a new tool to students. That initial walk-through of setting up student accounts, having students remember passwords, etc is a pain even in the best of times. GoFormative allows you to import your classes, assign work and pass back scores to Google classroom. Students do not have to do anything other than click on the assignment in their Google classroom, log in to GoFormative using their Google credentials and get to the actual work at hand.

Everything in One Place

This is the best part. GoFormative allows you to embed practically anything directly into your formative assignment. What this means is that you can have a full lesson on Formative that starts with a screencast or video, then a simulation, followed by a slideshow and a Quizziz, all in one place. No need for students to open up new tabs or get lost while trying to remember where to go.

Last week I was tasked to give a PD on using GoFormative for distance learning and created this slideshow walking you through what I consider the best things to embed for distance learning.

And just to be clear, embedding is not a premium feature. It is always available as a stand-alone embed, though as a premium partner you can embed directly into a question type.

And while we are on the subject of embedding, if you embed a Google document using the "second way" mentioned above, and give editing rights to the document to your students, you can effectively transform that document into a discussion board that the students can type into while still in GoFormative!
Of course, if you want to close the "discussion board" you simply change the permissions of the document back to anyone with the link can view.

Real-Time feedback

Once students are working in your Formative, you can give feedback in real-time or asynchronously.  This GoFormative article shows you how. Now, while in a Google meet (or Zoom), you can also choose to display the student answers, hiding their names (which is an actual feature in GoFrmative) and have a full discussion about their answers.

Formative Library

If you don't know where to start or just want to find something quickly, GoFormative also has a library of teacher-created Formatives shared by teachers that can help pave the way to your use of GoFormative during this time.

Some more information about the use of GoFormative during school closures, including a recording of a webinar that walks you through setting everything up can be found in their article "COVID-19 Virtual Classroom Action Plan"

This is how GoFormative has made my transition to remote teaching easy. How about you, what tools are you using and found especially powerful during these times?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Covid-19: Where am I during school closures?

It has been 3 weeks since my school site closed, and a week since we got the news that our schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. As many of you, I have been scrambling to get things in place so that my students can continue learning. I have now had Google meet check-ins with my middle schoolers, and developed a slew of online lessons and experiences, and I've had to redifine what this school closure means for me and my students several times over. As I was working through this I came across a graphic posted by @CarolLRead that helped me focus and recognize my feelings over the situation and in some ways gave me a path forward. So, I set about re-creating it for use with students as a way to help them recognize that:

1. Their feelings are valid, and their reactions are completely normal.
2. They can move from one "zone" to another at any given time.
3. There are ways to change their outlook and use this time in meaningful ways.

I don't know where we will all land when this is over, but I am hopeful that we will all come out of this a little bit stronger.

If you'd like a copy of the graphic to share with your students, you can create your own by clicking here

Monday, March 16, 2020

Biogeochemical Cycles Digital Dice Games

During my career as a middle school teacher, I've made use of a number of biogeochemical cycle dice games that are readily available in several variations on the internet. A couple of days ago, as I was bringing the illustrated dice I had for the water cycle, I thought that this would be the last year I could use that particular set - they were a little crumpled from handling and the pictures had faded. While creating the dice is not hard, I was a little unmotivated to do it and wondered whether there was another way to still use the activity but save me the work of recreating the dice every so often.

It has now been several days, but I did it! A digital version of the water cycle dice game.

Now, of course, this would not be the way to show it to students, so I posted it up for actual use on a Google site, with a link to a record sheet -

Biogeochemical Cycles Dice Games

Not being able to stop myself at just the water cycle, I then went ahead and created a page and "game" for all other cycle games I use. 

I purposely re-used the illustrations to give students an idea of the similar reservoirs for matter as it cycles through on Earth and to allow for easy comparison between the cycles.

After playing any of the games, you could have students write stories or draw cartoons with the information they gathered or discuss how difficult/easy it is for a molecule to leave a specific reservoir. If they play more than one, they can also compare their journeys in both (which reservoirs are present in two or more, which processes are similar, etc.)

I would love to hear more ideas about what you could do with them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Plate Tectonics Google Map

For several years I have been teaching Plate Tectonics to students and we have done several paper-pencil activities that have to do with plotting earthquakes, volcanos and landforms on maps. Over those years, I've searched far and wide for a Google map that included the outlines of the plates in the hopes of turning those activities into a digital product. I've only ever found Google Earth maps with this feature and while cool, the idea of navigating Google Earth with students has always been daunting. This year I had some time and decided to create my own Plate Tectonics Google map.

The link to the map, which you can see above and can use to make a copy is If you decide to use it, I only ask that you share it forward, freely, to any teacher who may also be looking for it.

The project I use it for, which includes not only the link but also a Google slide deck with instructions on how to make a copy of the map, add markers and share it (see below), can be obtained for free from my TpT store at

If you do download it, consider leaving a review. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Plate Tectonics - a digital escape room and how to create one

Escape rooms have been in vogue in education for a couple of years. The proponents, such as Breakout EDU, tout them as a fun way to engage the students, and I can totally see the appeal. However, the mere idea of purchasing all those locks and boxes, making all those copies and "transforming" my classroom for a class period gives me nightmares. I also knew that there was a digital version of escape rooms, which house everything on the cloud and for my situation seemed more manageable, but again I had not really thought about actually running one.

As I was prepping for my classes a couple of weeks ago, I came to that awful realization that sometimes happens. I would finish a unit a day before a break. Not a good time to start something new but a great time to review. Usually, my fall back would be to create a Quizziz or Kahoot and call it a day, but as I was thinking about this and scrolling down on my Edmodo stream I saw a post talking about digital escape rooms and thought, what if I just take the plunge and create one. From my Boss Battles and some of the other stuff I've done with gamification, I knew some of the mechanics that I could use, and while visiting BreakoutEdu's sandbox I saw there were several sites housed on Google sites. I visited those in the hopes of getting some inspiration and was not disappointed. From there I gathered that I needed some kind of narrative (why are the students attempting to break out?), a set of tasks (the questions that will need to be answered in order to break out), a conditionally formatted Google form (where students will input "the codes"), some sort of linked image (to make the game "interactive"), and a set of "decoders". Before I proceed, let me show you what the end product looks like:

Plate Tectonics Escape Room

Creating a digital escape room

The tasks: 

Research has shown that educators should begin with the end in mind. For this particular escape room, I needed review questions, which I already had. However, if you are inspired to create your own, this would be the time to think about what you'd like the students to interact with/do. Since I knew that I would be creating linked hotspots on an image I housed each set of questions on individual Google slides and spent some time making them pretty.

The decoders:

For the escape room that I was creating students would need to answer the questions correctly, and I needed some way to also not make it a straightforward "abcd" selection. A Google search of escape room decoders gave me some ideas and the magic of Google draw made them possible.
Though I did not use it for this game, LearningApps would also be a great way to do it since you can create the task and add messages at the beginning and end, much like what you see here:

The main image:

This is where you will house all of the clues and tasks you have created. For me, this is a Google Drawing that uses a cluttered image as the background. Think "Where's Waldo", "I Spy"  or any room image that has lots of smaller images where you can "hide" things. The messier the image the better. Once I selected a background image I liked, I added transparent shapes to it and linked them to the 6 tasks I had created. If you are unsure about how to do this, visit @mpilakow's blog post "Hiding Easter Eggs in a Google Drawing"

The Decoys: 

Although you do not have to do this, while hiding Easter Eggs in previous classroom activities, I learned that my tech-savvy students quickly figured out a way to "find" them all by creating copies and using the select all option on their own copy. Since this would defeat the purpose of searching for clues, I decided to create decoys also hidden within the main image. These are one-page, published to the web Google slides, that also open, but are irrelevant to "escaping" the room and sometimes have some sort of commentary.

Below you see the image that I chose, with all the tasks and decoys before they are hidden:

The narrative:

This is where you get to be a little creative. Students need a reason to escape or look for clues, and while it needs to offer the incentive to engage with the tasks, it does not have to be long or convoluted. In the case of the Plate Tectonics escape room I created it simply reads:

"It is the year 2050, and a group of scientists has been sent out to explore the center of the Earth in a newly developed “dig-pod”. Unfortunately, the secretive lead scientist forgot all of his instruments in the office, and the team is now stranded without any tools. As an intern, you are now tasked with finding all the tools he left behind in his office and bring them to the dig site before they leave. Look around the office, and answer all the questions, which will allow you to collect the different instruments. If you get there in time, you will be able to join the expedition. Good Luck!"

The Lock Sheet: 

How will you know that your students completed the tasks and decoded each one correctly? While I do give my students a worksheet of sorts so that they can keep track of their work, I used the magic of Google Forms to collect their responses and auto-correct their progress. This Google form also allows me to determine who escaped first and even assign points directly into our leaderboard (using the Vlookup formula explained in "Assign XP automatically"), so I do not even have to look at the sheets they fill in to know who did what.

Putting it all together - a Google Site:

This is where everything I created for this escape room came together. Although there are several platforms to choose from to house the escape room, for me a Google Site was the easiest choice so I would not have to worry about whether the students could open any of the different things I had created. 

I resized the font on the page title to the smallest available and copy/pasted my narrative. Then I used insert from Drive to place the room with hidden clues and decoys and finally inserted my form, again from Drive. Clicked on publish and DONE!

So there you have it. It does take some time and patience, but your students will thank you for developing new experiences for them. If you've tried out digital escape rooms and would like to share with us, leave a comment.