Tag Archives: teaching

Exit Tweet Form

Exit tickets are a terrific way to close a lesson. Of course, if your students have devices, there are tons of ways to collect exit tickets digitally. But if you’re an old-timer like me who still appreciates the occasional old-school teaching method, you might give my paper Exit Tweet form a try.

Of course, I couldn’t just hand a blank 3 x 5 card to my little digital natives; that would be way too 20th Century! Instead, I created this 140-character Exit Tweet template, which you are welcome to download, modify, and use in your classroom.

My template is in PDF format, and I’m not ashamed of that, because PDF is the preferred format of my local paper copy service. Feel free to download, modify, and use this template to your heart’s content.

Click to Download PDF: Exit_Tweet_Form

PowToon: Power Up Your Slide Shows

I show a lot of slide shows. And I mean a lot. Sometimes PowerPoint and Google Slides can get a little dull. Why not surprise your students or colleagues with an engaging video clip? I recently started tinkering with PowToon, a snazzy app from the business world that allows you to turn slideshow content into an engaging video with animations and a soundtrack.

My first effort at making a one-minute PowToon is here:

I was nervous about trying to create a video, because I have almost no experience with video editing. PowToon is extremely user-friendly, even for newbies like me. I imagine it would be even easier for my students!

For starters, you can select a pre-made template video their library. You can replace their text and graphics with your own, or choose from a bank of royalty-free images. A lot of the pre-made videos are business-related, but there is a growing collection of videos for teachers on their education portal. You can use their pre-made soundtrack music, or record your own voiceover track with a microphone. For those of you with a little more ambition, you can make your own custom videos from scratch.

The PowToon editing interface in Custom Mode.


Creating a PowToon account couldn’t be easier, as PowToon automatically links to your Google Plus, LinkedIn, or Facebook account.  There is a free account option that limits video quality to 480p, adds a watermark in the bottom-right corner of the video, and locks away some of the premium options after a 48-hour trial period. Premium accounts are pricey, but have a host of cool features including 1080p HD-quality video. There are also special discounts for teachers, including a basic teacher plan currently priced at $4.99 per month, and a deluxe package at $8/month that includes license for up to 60 students.

Videos are super-easy to download and share. PowToon videos can be uploaded directly to YouTube, Vimeo, or Wistia. If you pay for the premium account, you can also download your videos in .mp4 format.

Mr. Wise Featured in Modesto Bee Article

I am grateful to reporter Nan Austin and the Modesto Bee for featuring my students in a recent article about 1:1 student device use.

As I told Ms. Austin when she interviewed me for this article, I believe student devices (in our case, Chromebooks) are part of the biggest change in education since I started teaching two decades ago. Although I am happy to be saving some trees, we must be clear that we teachers are doing much more than replacing paper assignments with electronic ones.

We are changing the nature of the questions we ask our students. We are expecting students to learn more, and to express their understanding of deeper concepts than before. In the past, we felt we had done our jobs well if our students could arrive at the correct answers.

Now, thanks to the Internet, the “correct” answers are usually just a few clicks away. Our students need to pick the best information to solve problems. We want them to assess which sources of information are appropriate and reliable, which ones aren’t, and which ones are flat-out bogus.

We want them to express their ideas in many ways, from traditional academic writing to videos, blogs, and other means of communication that we probably haven’t even imagined yet. And, most importantly, we are asking them the kinds of questions that have more than one right answer.

Here is a link to the Modesto Bee article:


New Google Forms Preview

Google has announced that it will be revamping several Google Apps later this month, and one of the biggest changes will be to Google Forms. If you’re like me, your inner nerd probably got a little excited last week when Google changed the Forms icons from green to purple. Well, if you liked that little change, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Google has promised to roll out the revamped Google Forms during the week of September 21-25, 2015. Google promises that the new Forms will include:

  • A new interface that is much more mobile-friendly
  • A wider selection of themes, including the ability to customize a theme with your own graphics
  • New buttons that allow you to easily insert pictures and videos
  • The ability to view responses from the Form file itself, rather than opening the separate Responses spreadsheet

But you don’t have to take my word for it–you can take the new Forms for a spin right now:


NOTE: The above link will work ONLY if your Google domain administrator has allowed it. If your admin is like mine and hasn’t quite gotten around to enabling the preview yet, you will see a page that looks something like this:


This is not the preview!

This is a generic page that encourages you to “try again in a few weeks.” Fear not, fellow Googlers! Just log on using a private gmail account. When I did that, I immediately got to see the new Forms preview in all its purple splendor:


And don’t worry if you want to switch back to the “old” (current) Google Forms: see that little stick-figure person running off the page in the lower-left corner? Simply click on him/her to exit the preview. Once you do that, you’ll be sent back to the old Google Forms that you already know and love. (Although there will be a little purple stripe at the top with a button inviting you to look at the preview again, just in case.)

The mind starts to wander … How will the Flubaroo plug-in work with the new Forms? Stay tuned…


Gamifying My 9th Grade Biology Class

Hi. I’m Brian, and I teach high school science.
Recently, I decided to gamify my classroom management system for my freshman biology class. (Read more about gamifying your classroom at EduRealms here.) Our school mascot is the Hawks, and I admire the grassroots world of Minecraft, so I have dubbed my classroom “World of Hawkcraft.”
Game Console, a simple Google Site whose URL is posted to the About tab in Google Classroom for all the students to see.
I created this game dashboard using Google Sites. My campus has 1:1 Chromebooks with Google Classroom, so I simply dropped a link to this Google Site into my “About” tab for each class. I created the titles using the free 8-bit style and text editor at textcraft.net.
The entire class period earns an “Egg Point” if the class has, overall, a good day. These Egg Points are indicated by the egg icons on the right; Minecraft players will recognize where I stole the graphic from. To earn an Egg, all or most of the students in the class must meet three expectations:
  1. Ready To Learn: All or most of the class is on time, ready to work with writing utensil, notebook, charged Chromebook, and no visible cell phone. Students shouldn’t ask to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water unless they really need to (and yes, after 19 years working in high schools, I can tell when they really need to).
  2. Act Like A Hawk: All or most of the class shows common courtesy, polite language, and our district’s learning norms (waiting for cues to speak, not blurting answers, using response whiteboards appropriately, , etc. Nothing is thrown.
  3. Keep The Nest Clean: No litter is left behind, no trash is thrown into the recycling bins, no furniture is written on, no plumbing or gas fixtures are messed with, etc.

Classes earn privileges based on what “Level” they have earned. Once a class has earned a level, they cannot lose it, with one exception*** (see below).

Class Levels
Each class period begins the game at Level 0
Level 0 = “Noobs.” No privileges. Sorry, kids, I start the year tough and loosen up later.
Level 1 = “Robins.” Feeding Behavior (food allowed, as long as the nest is kept clean)
Level 2 = “Jays.” Singing Hawk (listen to music with headphones when done with work)
Level 3 = “Hummingbirds.” Thermal (use notebook for 1 min during exam); Updraft (teacher provides 1 clue on one exam question)
Level 4 = “Hawks.” Invisibility (go to restroom ~3 min once per week w/o consequence); Shared Bounty (teacher brings snacks for class)
***Special Rule: At teacher’s Discretion, regardless of Class Level, there may be a “Coyote Attack,” which temporarily removes all class privileges back to Level 0. Class must earn Hawk Point for 2 consecutive days to regain their previous Level.
Individual HP and XP
Individual students earn Health Points (HP) each day. The class level is separate from the student’s HP count, but the two are related. Students earn a daily base level of HP for showing up, and that level increases slightly as the Class Level increases. As the Class “Levels Up,” more privileges get added to the students’ menus. Students must spend some HP every time they use a privilege. (They also lose HP for being tardy, using the restroom, being caught off-task, etc.) On the other hand, with a little luck and effort, students can earn extra HP by making good effort when they are called on during class discussion. I keep track of each student’s HP using ClassDojo, which I update in real time with my iPad as I walk about the classroom while teaching.
Students, lab groups, and classes also have the opportunity to earn bonus HP with special badges. Most are awarded at the end of the week, although some can be awarded “on the spot.” I may create additional badges as the year progresses. I got the original idea for badges from Alice Keeler’s blog. I designed this spreadsheet myself using her template as an example.
Cell Phone Samurai — phone was not visible for the entire week +5HP
Toilet master — returns back promptly from all restroom breaks. +3 HP
Time Lord- effective use of time. Entire week withat no absences, no tardies, no missed deadlines, and no restroom breaks. +5 HP
Dragon Tamer– special badge everyone in class period earns if 80% of students pass an assessment with min score 3 out of 4. +7 HP
Lab Jedi– special badge everyone in a lab group earns if everyone in the lab group earns mininum score of 3 on lab report. +8 HP
Lab Safety — returned class policies; no horseplay; keeps goggles on; reports accidents or spills to teacher promptly +3 HP

Streamline Your Grading with Google Classroom

The new Google Classroom update has a snazzy interface for grading your student’s assignments.



From this screen, you can click to open each student’s assignment, make comments, and enter a grade. Then you can ¨return¨ the assignments, either one at a time, or all at once when you have finished grading them.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful interface. All of my students can receive prompt, specific, personalized feedback, and they can get it when I am at home in my pajamas drinking coffee. Best of all, no trees had to die for this assignment.

But let’s be honest: Opening each assignment separately can be time consuming. Especially if you have over 150 students or your network connection isn’t very fast. As teachers, we all know the importance of prompt, specific feedback on student work. But sometimes we just need to scan the assignment and give credit for completion. Or maybe we don’t even need to grade the assignment at all.

There is a quick and easy way to view your students’ assignments. Before I tell you about it, I have to warn you. You will be traveling into the ¨Forbidden Land¨ (or, for you fellow Trekkies, the ¨Neutral Zone¨) of Google Classroom: The Classroom folder itself, located in My Drive. (If you want to unlock more secrets of this mysterious ¨Classroom¨ folder, I recommend reading Alice Keeler’s Blog.)


20150906cxFirst, locate the Classroom folder on My Drive. Ordinarily, you don’t really want to poke in here unless you know what you’re doing, because this folder contains all of the inner workings of your Google Classroom account. But don’t be afraid, as long as you don’t delete, rename, move, or edit any files in this folder, you should be fine.

Open the folder that contains your class. (This might be tricky if you have ever changed your class’s name, because the folder will still have the original name you used when you first created the class at the beginning of the year.

Inside, you should find a tidy set of shared folders, one folder for each assignment you have pushed out to your students. Find the folder for the assignment you want to look at, and open it.

Select all of the assignments you want to look at. Right-click (two-finger click on a Chromebook), and choose ¨Preview.¨


A dark Preview window should appear. You can now look at each student’s assignment. Use the small pointer buttons on the left and right sides of the window to switch between assignments. Remember, you’ll only be able to view your students’ work. From this window, you can neither add comments nor assign a grade.


To Retake Or Not To Retake–That Is the Question

News Flash! Students don’t always give every assignment or test their best effort. So, as a teacher, what do you do when students fail a test or other important assignment? Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a lot of my colleagues (all of whom are terrific teachers) have surprisingly different, even conflicting, philosophies on makeup work.


One of my teacher friends recently asked me, if I allow my students to make up tests easily, what lesson am I teaching my them? Good question! It’s all-too-tempting, especially for teachers like me (a confessed Bleeding-Heart), to allow unlimited makeup opportunities.

But we all know what happens when we allow too many unlimited retake opportunities. Who wants to be the teacher who has a crowd of students spilling into the hallway after school on the last day of the semester, because the students were allowed to make up every assignment all the way to the bitter end? (Yeah, I admit that was me, once upon a time.)

On the other hand, no teacher wants to be the tightwad who never offers makeup work. If you can tell a student two months into the semester that s/he has absolutely no chance of passing the course, then we have a problem. A big problem. And I’m not just talking about the student’s problem of signing up for summer school. I’m talking about your problem: this now-unmotivated student, who might become bored and seek attention, will continue to show up–every single day–for the rest of the semester. Can you really call yourself an effective teacher if you never give your students second chances?

I don’t think our focus has been quite right. Maybe we’ve been too worried about having one, perfect makeup policy for all students. Why? We should aim to teach our students that learning is important enough to keep trying. This may look different in different types of classrooms, depending on the age and achievement level of your students. If you have a room full of advanced students, then by all means make them work hard, because they care about their grades and will search for every angle they can get.

But when you have a lot of the at-risk students I affectionately call my “Sweathogs,” second chances should come with the territory. If you offer makeup tests, consider using some of these strategies to help make the work meaningful.

  • Remediate: Consider creating a remedial assignment that students must complete prior to taking a makeup test. Think short, fill-in-the-blank questions that cover the most important concepts on the test. This can be a very useful assignment for the students, especially if they have to re-process the concepts in a new way (possibly by reading a short article or analyzing something visual like a picture, chart, or graph). You might want to encourage students to use their notes or textbooks to find the answers to the questions. Some teachers also set a minimum delay period (say, a week) before a makeup test may be taken.
  • Show Me The Notes: Students often fail a test because they weren’t paying attention in class. If this is the case, why not use this opportunity to reinforce your expectations about taking notes? If students are expected to take notes during lectures and class discussions, you could require them to show you their notes prior to taking a makeup test. If students don’t have any notes to show you, then you can require them to recopy from another student or (if you have one) a master set.
  • Timing Is Everything: Many teachers use office hours either at lunch or after school for makeups. If you keep regular office hours, consider scheduling your makeup tests at another time or in another room. It can be awkward explaining the Pythagorean Theorem to one student, while another student 5 feet away is taking a makeup test on the same Pythagorean Theorem.
    However, if your students are like mine, they won’t all flock to spend their spare time in your classroom. Consider carving out some time within the class day for makeup tests. You can even schedule a “Makeup Day” with an entire hour dedicated to nothing but remediation assignments and makeup tests. If you have students who have already passed all of their tests, you can give them a self-directed enrichment assignment during the same time.
  • To Penalize or Not To Penalize, That Is the Question: Because many of my students are at-risk, I usually make all of my makeup tests worth full credit. I make my students work to earn their makeup opportunities, so I don’t mind giving them a little incentive. But you might want to consider taking a point penalty for makeup tests. Half credit, 75% maximum, and one-letter-grade limits are all options. Remember, you’re the teacher. If students don’t like your makeup policies, you could always gently remind them that you’re not required by law to give them a makeup in the first place!
  • Have another strategy or thought to share? Feel free to add a comment below.

Bottom line: The right grading policy, and the right way to implement it, should be responsive to the needs of the students in your classroom. Collaborating with colleagues definitely helps–maybe the teacher next door, or down the hall, or across town has ideas and experiences that will help you make a better policy. If you have one or more partners who teach a similar class or grade level, why not split up the work and share the same makeup assignments, remedial reviews, and office hour time?