Four Awesome Tools to Get Started with Your SMART Board

My district has brand new SMART Boards (model M600) this year. My principal asked me to show teachers what this hardware can do. Because SMART Boards can do so much, it can be overwhelming for teachers to know how to get started. Here are four tools I recommend to begin incorporating SMART Boards into instruction.

Let’s Start with that Floating Toolbar

Some teachers do not like having this constantly on their screen:

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That is the SMART Floating Toolbar which is actually very useful. First, you need to easily customize it to make it a great resource. Follow these three simple steps:

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Now you can start playing with some great SMART tools.

Tool 1: The Screen Shade

This tool essentially acts as a curtain to hide and unveil areas on the screen. It can cover any rectangular area on the screen.

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Tool 2: The Spotlight

Our second tool works like a spotlight does: it highlights one area on the screen and excludes everything else. You can manipulate its shape and size too.

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Tool 3: The Magic Pen

For this tool to work, you have to be working with a SMART Notebook file. PowerPoint presentations can easily be converted into SMART Notebook files by using File—>Upload in SMART Notebook. The magic pen has two uses. As a regular pen it works as disappearing ink. What you write disappears in about three seconds. If you draw a rectangle with it, the magic pen becomes a rectangular magnifying glass. I enjoy using it to highlight something and discuss it with students.

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Tool 4: Gallery Essentials

Here is a truly killer app from SMART: a database full of images and activities organized by subject area. To access gallery essentials while in SMART Notebook:

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Once inside take a look at your subject area. There are so many great resources. Many of them involve interactivity with the SMART Board which can make a great center activity.

Enjoy these four tools. I hope they make your instruction more engaging. Send me a tweet to let me know how it’s going or ask me a question.

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Why This Teacher Loves Chromebooks

Remember when consumers and schools had two computer choices: PCs and Macs? Both came with significant negatives. For PCs, it was computers that frequently crashed or froze. For Macs, is was price. Many schools now use the iPad for 1:1 classrooms. It still has a high cost and lacks a good keyboard. At last, a new solution is here.

The Chromebook outdoes PCs for affordability while being sleek and stylish like a Mac. Like the Mac I had at a previous teaching job, my Chromebook performs very well and does not crash. My students and I are loving our Chromebooks.

My district is using Chromebooks with eighth and ninth grade students this year as a pilot program. I am so fortunate two-thirds of my classes are with eighth and ninth grade. I hope the district makes the entire middle and high schools 1:1 with Chromebooks next school year.

How Chromebooks are Different for the User

Here are two slides I have used to explain the unique features of Chromebooks to my colleagues.  These are not the most beautiful slides; I used them to go over this topic quickly before a longer discussion on 1:1 classroom management.

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Why My Students and I Love Them

Let me list the reasons:

  • The quick boot-up time. Please, Google, do not change this. Please do not switch to Android. The Chrome OS has no applications save for the Chrome browser, a calculator, and a camera. I often have students close their Chromebooks for class discussion. Students are right back where they left off upon re-opening them.
  • Automatic log-in to Google Apps for Education. Using a COW or a computer lab meant that students would boot up the computer, log in to the computer and then log in to Google Apps for Education. All this took some time. Chromebooks change this process to one essentially instant step. Once a student has logged in, they can click icons for GMail, Google Drive, Google Classroom and Google Calendar and arrive instantly.
  • Great battery life. I have been using a school-issued HP Chromebook since July. During the summer I worked with it all day. By the end of the day there was a good deal of battery life remaining. This included a lot of use of video and music too. Students at my school leave their Chromebooks on chargers in their homerooms overnight. Battery life has not been an issue for them.
  • The keyboard. My school-issued HP Chromebook has a nice keyboard. I much prefer my students use it than type on an iPad or an iPad add-on keyboard.
  • The screen! My school-issued HP Chromebook has a beautiful wide HD screen. YouTube HD videos look stunning.

My One Concern

As you can tell, I love the Chromebook. There is one concern I have with it: the touchpad. The touchpad requires two fingers next to each other to right click. I have been doing this since July and have not mastered it. I plug a mouse into the Chromebook to be as productive as possible. If you have students with motor issues, I highly recommend pairing mice with their Chromebooks.

The Chromebook touchpad is also very sensitive. When they started using Chromebooks in the classroom, some of my students would inadvertently click “submit” on Google Forms I used for assessment when they did not mean to. My work-around for that has been to make every question in my forms a required question.

Set each Google Form question to required and sensitive touchpads won't be a problem.

Set each Google Form question to required so sensitive touchpads won’t be a problem.

The Ideal 1:1 Solution

That issue aside, Chromebooks are the ideal solution for 1:1 classrooms. They are more affordable than iPads and PCs without the crashes and clunky-ness of  PCs. They are cheaper than iPads with a better keyboard and seamless integration with Google Apps for Education. The Chromebook is an efficient, powerful machine. I have a feeling it will become a big part of education, personal and business computing in the next few years.

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My Guest Post on Teachers as Technology Trailblazers

I am so honored Kristen Swanson asked me to write a guest post on her blog, Teachers as Technology Trailblazers. My post is about how I use John Green’s Crash Course to review content with my students.

Kristen’s blog is an invaluable resource to teachers looking to innovate in their classrooms.

While you’re here, take a look at my posts about Google Classroom, using TEDEd to add accountability and engagement to YouTube videos, digitizing print documents with Google Docs, using SMART Response XE clickers for formative assessment and the Brown University Choices Program.

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We Can Digitize That: A Visual Guide to Using Google Docs to Digitize Print Documents

Google Classroom is a great tool for moving towards a paperless classroom. But what happens when curricular materials are in print with no Google Docs or Microsoft Word copies available? Don’t worry, we can digitize that!

You will need a scanner to turn your print document into a PDF. I am fortunate to work at a district that uses some nice Canon copiers that scan and e-mail PDFs. This tutorial is based on how I digitize print documents with Canon photocopiers.

Start by selecting “Scan and Send” on your copier’s display.

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I then choose “New Destination.” This allows me to send the PDF to any e-mail address in the world. I could send it directly to an absent student if I wanted to.

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Once you have inserted your e-mail and pressed OK, all you need to do is press the Start button.

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Check your e-mail to see that your PDF has arrived.

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This is what it will look like in the body of the e-mail:

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You have two options for the attached PDF:

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To successfully digitize the document as quickly as possible, save it to Google Drive. You can place it any Google Drive folder you wish.

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You can now go to the same Google Drive icon and, rather than allow you to save it in Google Drive, it will take you to the folder where the PDF is saved. Please note that the file is named with a number. You have to change that:

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Now it is time to digitize and manipulate the file.

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You will then see this in a new tab that has opened in your browser:

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I love seeing that processing screen. It means I am seconds from having a document digitized. The result is a Google Docs file that has both the text of the original document and images of each page of the print copy you scanned. You often need to play with the format to make the Google Docs file look like the original copy. Sometimes you don’t. Either way, I like having the images there as a reference and they can easily be deleted. The transition to digital is not always perfect because of formats and some letters can get changed. The letter “O” is sometimes changed to a zero. Proofread the Google Docs file and make necessary changes.

Now the file is not only ready for Google Classroom, but you can edit and improve materials you were locked into when they existed only on paper. The possibilities to make them more engaging for students (add writing prompts, images, maps, links, etc.) are endless!

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Thoughts on Google Classroom a Month into Using it and Training Colleagues

This summer I waited not so patiently for the arrival of Google Classroom. After watching this video in June, how couldn’t I be excited?

The video is a very good preview of what Classroom is an does. I also like Alice Keeler’s list of 20 things Google Classroom can do.

I have used Google Classroom for my classes since the start of this school year on September 2nd. I have also trained teachers in my district. The consensus among my colleagues is that Google Classroom is a game-changing tool that can be improved. I agree.

How Google Classroom Makes My Practice More Sustainable

Before I discuss how I would improve Classroom, here are my two cents about why it is so useful to teachers. I dislike replying on photocopiers and bringing home stacks of paper assignments to grade. Classroom changes that. As long as you have your assignment ready as a Google Drive file, it can be used to make a paperless assignment. This is through the magic of a wonderful setting called “make a copy for each student.”

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This creates a copy for each student they manipulate independent of other students’ copies and your original assignment file. Each student’s assignment automatically goes into a folder that is easy to access.

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Clicking “FOLDER” brings you to a Google Drive folder with every student’s assignment. You don’t have to wait until assignments are submitted to look at student work. You can click on any assignment in the folder and look at your students’ work in progress. What a great tool this is! Comment on work and let students know how they are doing before it is due. This reminds me of the scene in Spaceballs where they watch the movie as it is being made:

Room for Improvement

Here are some ideas for how Google Classroom can be improved so it can further enhance the teacher and student experience.

Delayed Posts
I would love the ability to set a post to be added to the Google Classroom feed at a specific time. This would be similar to setting specific times for tweets in HootSuite. I like to have students with 1-to-1 computers start the class with an assignment placed in Classroom. If I post the assignment too far ahead of the start of class, students can get confused and think it is an assignment they have to complete ASAP. They might work on it before class if they have some free time. I would prefer to put the assignment in Classroom in the night before and have it appear in the students’ feed precisely when class starts.

Unit Buckets
Before Google Classroom, I used a combination of Moodle and Wikispaces. I prefer to use Classroom but I do miss Moodle’s unit buckets. At present, Classroom is like Facebook or Twitter in that the students see one long continuous feed. I would like to compartmentalize content into different buckets. This would make review and finding things (such as unit projects and unit anchor activities) easier for students.

Differentiation/Group Work
One aspect of Google Classroom needing improvement is it’s inability to differentiate. There are no tools to have different components of an assignment assigned to different students in the class. Teachers can work around and get creative but this really should be built in. I had pairs working on a presentation and only the presentation owner could submit the assignment. The partner who shared the Google Slides presentation could not attach it to submit the assignment. To these students it appears they have an overdue assignment.

When I helped a teacher in my school’s learning support department, we discovered that two teachers can not teach the same class in Classroom. This is unfriendly to team-teaching inclusion settings.

I am certain Google will address this sooner rather than later but they have not as of yet.

Google Calendar Does Not Talk to Google Classroom
When you create an assignment, you can set a due date and time to the minute. This is nice but it is not synced with Google Calendar. I have to create a Google Calendar for each of my classes. Each calendar is independent of Classroom. How nice would it be if every time I created an assignment in Classroom it automatically appeared on Calendar? My current workaround is putting a link to the class Google Calendar in the “About” section of Google Classroom.

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This puts my calendar on Classroom but I still have to create the assignment in Classroom and separately create it as an event on Calendar. These two steps should be combined into one. The one benefit to this situation is that while my calendar with due dates is public to the world, Classroom, with my curricular materials, requires a log-in.

Google Classroom Does Not Talk to Blogger
An English Language Arts teacher asked me how she could use Google Classroom to have students maintain blogs. I investigated and besides the “publish to the web” function in Google Docs, which is not really a blog, there is no way to make this happen in Classroom. Google has Blogger but it does not talk to any Google Apps for Education. I hope that Google integrates Blogger into both Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom.

A Great Tool with Room for Growth
Do not let these needs prevent you from trying Google Classroom. If your district has it, play with it. Do you like all those trips to the photocopier and those stacks of paper needing grading? Do you want to work with students on a digital platform that matches their life experiences much better than antiquated pen-and-paper do? If you answered “no” and “yes” to those questions, give Google Classroom a try.

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SMART Clickers: Tech Driven Formative Assessment in the Classroom

This Spring my school purchased classroom sets of SMART Response XE clickers. I was honored to be trusted to experiment with one of the sets and incorporate it in into my formative assessment. John Hattie researched 138 influences on student learning and found that formative assessment was the third most effective of all of them. SMART Response XE clickers give teachers and students formative assessment in a format that students are comfortable with while producing data teachers can use with ease.

The Equipment

An actual SMART Board is not necessary to use this tool. As long as you have a projector, you can use it. A classroom set has 32 clickers. The closest mobile device I can compare it to is a Blackberry.

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Each clicker talks to your computer through a receiver that attaches through a USB port.

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Set-Up

To use the clickers and have them track student data you have a little set-up to do. If you want to just get a feel of how the class as a whole is understanding material, you can use anonymous mode which requires no set-up.

To create a class you have to assign each student a number and enter it. I used the student numbers they use to access their school e-mail and lunch account. They use this unique number in other contexts in the building.

 Assessment

 The SMART Response clickers are great for multiple choice summative assessment such as exit tickets. All assessments are created in the SMART Notebook program. You start the class and the assessment. Students join the class:

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You can project the question or questions using either the SMART Notebook program, Google Docs or Microsoft Word.

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If you are interested in having students take actual multiple choice tests using the clicker they can. You can create the assessment in SMART Notebook and print a copy for each student. Students would then answer on their clickers and you could review the results as they answer the questions.

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I like to go over the answers to summative assessments with the students after they are complete. SMART Notebook generates pie charts of how the class answered each question.

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The clicker has a full QWERTY keyboard and calculator functions. You can use them for short answer questions and math problems. You could ask for adjectives to describe something. The software will produce word clouds for short answer questions so you can see which answers were used the most and least.

 To conclude

 To be sure, there are many tools on the Internet that do what SMART Response XE clickers do. Letsgeddit and Socrative are two good examples. I especially like the way Socrative gives you student data for each assessment. The reasons you want to work with the clickers are 1) they show the class instantly how the whole class did on a given question – this sparks great class discussion about why answers are right and wrong and 2) they cross the digital divide in non 1-to-1 classrooms. I hate relying on student smart phones for Letsgeddit, Socrative or TodaysMeet and having a few students not have them. School provided clickers put all students on a level playing field.

 A tool that incorporates technology into assessment and looks similar to the devices that dominate students’  lives is an asset for any teacher. For schools not quite ready to take the 1-to-1 plunge Smart Response XE clickers can serve as a nice intermediate step to incorporate technology into assessment.

I owe a big thank you to Kristen Swanson, Ed.D, whose feedback for this post was invaluable.

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Use Brown University’s Choices Program to Engage Students

Do you struggle to use textbooks as an effective educational tool? If you do, I want you to think about your students. Imagine you are a teenager. You go home from school with a textbook assignment to read. At the same time you are surrounded by screens calling your name. Your SmartPhone buzzes with texts and notifications from Vine and Twitter. Your laptop is the source of endless amusement from videos to the endless content of the Internet to social media. Your television has a new episode of the latest ABC Family drama. Your PS4 has a great new game. And that textbook, how excited are you to read that?

Teachers need to bridge the content gap from textbook disengagement.  They need a source of text that is well-written, informative and visually stimulating with pictures, charts and graphs. A source that clearly explains content with brevity.  It would be great if this text asked students to explore a perspective about a historic issue.

Meet the Brown University Choices Program. The program comes in different units for American History, World History and Current Issues. Each unit provides readings and assessment questions. I prefer to have students work on these in class rather than at home. I like to make Expert Jigsaw groups and divide the reading into chunks for each group. Each group answers questions I make for their assigned section and then shares with other groups. The assessment questions in the Choices Program unit then provide a great exit assessment to ensure students understand the reading.

The readings themselves are great but what makes the Choices Program special is the simulations it provides. The simulation starts with reading for all students involved. Then students weigh four options for a critical situation in history. Groups are tasked with arguing for a specific option. Each group member receives a specific role. Students read the assigned reading for their group and present their option. You can have students conduct further research on the Internet. There is a fifth group that develops questions for the option groups, listens to their arguments and chooses one of the options.

I have used the Choices Program to have students evaluate colonists’ response to struggles with Great Britain, senate ratification of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, JFK’s response to nuclear missiles in Cuba, the United States’ response to 9/11 and other interesting historical issues.  Engagement is increased because rather than simply memorizing facts, students are considering perspective and building an argument.

Debating historical issues can be very controversial. The Choices Program ensures students are never asked to take a stand that would be considered morally repugnant by today’s standards. For example, the Choices Program unit on the Civil Rights Movement goes in-depth about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and its struggle to be seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The unit consciously avoids asking students to argue that the MFDP should not be seated.

The Choices Program supplements your text and provides in-class activities that teach students through role-play and perspective. Is there a catch? There is. Cost. The curriculum units are not free but the price is very manageable. A PDF version of a single unit is $30. I like to order the PDF versions so that the images in the unit print clearly. The units have great images. I have printed large versions of the images and captions in the Civil Rights unit for display in the classroom. I have used PTA grants, my school district’s curriculum funds and my own wallet to pay for units depending on what was most convenient at the time. Colleagues at my school have some printed units (available for $35) but I prefer the PDF so that the copy quality is better.

Free Choices Program Resources

If you want to try some Choices Program materials for free, there are some on their site for free. Give them a try:

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