Sunday, March 22, 2015

What PERCENTAGE is your class?

What PERCENTAGE is your class? No, I'm not talking about what ability level your class ranks in relation to your school, district, or the nation. I'm talking about what PERCENTAGE of your class is engaged in learning.

I've heard, along my way somewhere, a question that really struck  me. I believe it was at a Kagan training, so I'll give it my credit. :)

At any point in time, take a status check on the children in your classroom. What percent of your kiddos are engaged? 

Wow. What a statement. I love the way it simplifies the goal of active versus passive learning. Think about it- every student watching a movie? Maybe they are interested, but 0% engaged. Listening to a lecture? Maybe taking notes, but are they actively engaged? Nope. Completing a dictionary scavenger hunt with partners? NOW we have a 100% engaged!

What I've found is difficult to accommodate percentage wise is presenting students with new information. Engagement is easy to design with exploratory and skill building activities. However, taking notes or 'sit and get' do not encourage that. How can we, as educators, do this?

I asked myself this question as my kiddos and I were doing a SmartBoard activity. We had just learned about dictionary skills, and this was the second lesson. Questions were geared toward sorting words under guide words, alphabetizing, etc. As I had students come up to the board to answer the questions, I asked myself the question, "What percent of my class is engaged right now?" Sadly, it was about a kid every minute (to come up and answer a question). So about 5%. I asked myself, "How can I make my percentage higher?"

"Okay y'all! I want everyone to take out their iPads. Open up any whiteboard app (Educreations, ShowMe, even PicCollage)."

As each question came up, students input their answer on their own iPad. I walked around the room to check for comprehension. As an added bonus, I was able to have mini conferences with students to discuss a wrong answer and how to get to the correct one. I found my kiddos were also excited to design the page.. some even went to the Internet to find 'fancy' forms of letters to answer the questions. I would have never thought of that in a thousand years. I suppose that is part of the beauty of giving kiddos freedom in showing their understanding. :)

With this small tweak, having each kiddo individually answer questions on their iPads instead of one kiddo coming up to answer questions on the SmartBoard, my percentage was upped by 95%. I will continue strive to up that percentage in my classroom.

How about y'all? What do you do to encourage active learning in the classroom? I'd love to hear some ideas! :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nearpod: A "How To"

Hi there!

This guide will teach you how to create and use Nearpod as an effective tool in the classroom. I am not a certified Nearpod expert, however I've created quite a few presentations, used it in my classroom, and done my research. :) Here we go!


First, create the 'bones' of your presentation in Google Slides/Presentation. By bones, I mean the information you want to teach your students (definitions, formulas, concepts, etc.). This serves 2 purposes: it is more user friendly than the Nearpod creation slides, and, due to the limited Nearpod storage, you will always have the 'bones' saved in Google should you need to delete a Nearpod presentation.

After you have the presentation completed, go ahead and save the presentation as a PDF. This keeps the integrity of the file by saving the spacing, pictures, fonts, etc. when transferring it to another program. To do so: File > Download as > PDF document.

Now, it is time to open up Nearpod on your computer! You'll need to set up an account first. Afterwards, sign in. 

Once you are logged in, click 'Create' and then click '+ New Presentation.'

Once you are at that screen, you can see how it says 'draw your files here!' I opened my finder to locate the saved PDF, then dragged it over to the new presentation. The slides automatically upload!

Now is the fun part. Go ahead and delete those first and last 'Nearpod' slides, and add the engaging content. This is what Nearpod is all about! Click 'Add Slide' and select 'Activity.'

You can see here there are 4 free options of activities to add. The activities are very user friendly to create. Your options are: 

1. an open ended question

2. a poll-- This is my favorite to use at the end of a Nearpod presentation to gage how students feel about the concept using a 1-5 scale. It would also be great as a 'hook' at the beginning.

3. A quiz--results show up real time on your iPad or laptop that you are running the Nearpod from. Is everyone missing question 2? Good idea to go back and review that one! After the quiz is submitted, students also see a circle map of their correct percentage and can review the questions, with both their responses and the correct responses shown. You can also add an image to the question to have kiddos respond to that!

4. And finally, my favorite feature, 'Draw It.' This is the most flexible feature as it allows students to highlight, draw and otherwise show their work on either an image or a blank canvas. There are SO MANY options for this! I've included a couple. As students submit their drawings, you can see it real time on your own device. And one of my favorite aspects? You can then share a stellar student example to everyone by sharing it on everyone's screen! 

You can also input YouTube videos! In my experience, the videos lagged due to the strain on the wifi. I found it best to play the video whole group, then go back to the Nearpod presentation afterwards.


Now that you know how to create a stellar Nearpod presentation, you need to know how to use it in the classroom. 

Nearpod can be used on iPads (free app named Nearpod), on laptops ( or even on phones ( Another great benefit is that students do NOT need to create an account to use! The log in for students is similar to Kahoot. Once you start the presentation on your own device, it will generate a 5 letter code. I simply write the code on the board, and the students type the code in the 'Join Session' box. 

When students first sign in, the first slide pops up. Once you slide to the second slide on your device (therefore doing the same on all the other devices), a screen will appear for students to put their names in. This is great because, as you are presenting, you can check on the status of your students by clicking the person button on the upper left hand corner. If Bob's name shows up as red, he is off task and not in Nearpod. I've only had to call out a student once for not being in, after that everyone made sure to stay on task! They were astounded that I knew he wasn't on task. Now, they believe Nearpod gives me 'magic powers.' ;)

As a presenter, the information you gain from the activity slides is great! You see a everyone's responses as they submit the allotted activity. You can also share responses with the whole class by clicking 'Share' when looking at a certain student's response. This is great positive reinforcement, as it keeps kiddos working hard in hopes that their work will be the one to be showcased!! 

Here is the cherry on top of all Nearpod activities. Once the presentation is over, the website saves all the student data for you to see at a later time. It has a group circle map to see the class as a whole, and it also has data for each individual student. To access this information, log in on the website and select reports.

Of course, with any product there will be drawbacks. There are two to speak of for Nearpod. My main complaint is the free version has a limited storage amount (50MB). I've had 4 presentations at one time, but that seems to be the limit. To accommodate for more, I've had to delete older presentations. This is why, at the beginning, I advised you to create the 'bones' of the content in Google Slides. Next year, you'll just have to upload the slides then redo the activities. The second drawback is that, with any free product, there are limitations on what the free account will do. There are a lot of neat aspects of Nearpod (like inserting a Twitter feed) that are only available to premium members. For the time being, I cannot stomach paying $12 a month (or $10 a month billed annually) for the gold membership. There are options for school licenses, however that has to be done through contacting Nearpod.

And there you have it! Hopefully after reading this post, you feel prepared to tackle Nearpod! I'll leave you with some comments my students gave me when I asked for feedback regarding the program:

"I feel like I really learned it."
"We got to do cool stuff with it. We didn't just write stuff down."
"Can we do another one tomorrow?"

Please let me know if there are any aspects of creating or using Nearpod that I neglected to include! I'd be happy to update this post so it is more helpful! :)

With Love from Texas,

How Nearpod Will Change Your Classroom

I've heard of Nearpod for about 2 years now. However, with all the other wonderful technology tools out there, there was not a reason for me to dedicate my (very precious) classroom time in experimenting with another. No one I knew had used it, and it wasn't making a huge buzz within the community (to my knowledge). If something was THAT significant a teaching tool, wouldn't everyone be using it?

A Nearpod session at the TCEA conference in Austin showed me that I couldn't have been more wrong. 

Essentially, Nearpod is a way to relay information to your students. That doesn't sound very revolutionary, does it? But THERE'S MORE. Nearpod digs deeper into content by allowing students the voice in answering questions, polls and even create drawings through the means of an engaging iPad, phone, or laptop.

Nearpod allows you to control a presentation (similar to Powerpoint) on every child's screen. As you move through the presentation on your iPad or laptop, the screen will change on your students' devices as well. No moving too fast or falling behind!

As you create the presentation for your students, you can insert other slides to assess your students' knowledge and keep that engagement up. Possible activities to include are: open ended questions, MC quizzes, a poll, and (my favorite) draw it which an option for students to highlight, draw and otherwise demonstrate what they learned on a picture.

Traditionally, to teach a new concept, I'll have students take notes. Is it effective? Yes. But does it really excite my students about learning that new concept? I think y'all know the answer to that one.

The first time I used Nearpod in my classroom, my kids were enamored with it. I was introducing the concept of Nonfiction Text Features. Typically, this isn't the subject that has my kiddos begging for more. However, my students were disappointed when the lesson ended. Not only did my students learn important vocabulary terms such as 'topic sentence' and 'subheading,' they were able to highlight them on a paragraph and submit it to me. Not only did my kids discover the difference between a glossary and an index, they answered vocabulary questions which then sent me a real time report so I knew what terms they were still having trouble with. Not only did my kids know why text features are important, they answered a poll at the end to indicate to me how comfortable they were with the new concept.

One final note, Nearpod does not have to be done whole class. Our 4th and 5th grades are 1:1, so I have used it with all my students. However, I spoke with teachers of younger grades. They were excited about the possibilities of Nearpod in guided reading groups, as well as stations. Students can even share a device to work together on a Nearpod. It also works on computers as well as iPads!

This tool works. It has the bones, and it has the technology piece to entice all learners. Take it from a doubter, you want to use this.

Do you want to know how to create and use Nearpod? Click this link to access my post-- a comprehensive guide for Nearpod beginners: Nearpod: A 'How To'

With Love from Texas,

Monday, March 2, 2015

Famous Texans, with a 21st century twist!

Open House and Spring Break and STAAR Writing, OH MY! I don't have to to remind y'all that this is a crazy time of year. 4th grade at our school always does a special something for Open House called the Famous Texan Wax Museum. This year, we wanted to spice things up a bit.

My FABULOUS ELA partner teacher and I were speaking with our principal a couple weeks back. We were discussing how to revamp our very traditional Famous Texan project. If we need to rewind a bit... 4th grade social studies in Texas focuses on SUCH a neat subject- Texas history! In order to give students an ownership in their learning (as well as tie in with biographical reading and research skills), our grade level has a Famous Texan project! The students select a Texan who they would like to "be," from Ann Richards to Willie Nelson. Students then create a poster including a photograph and 10 important facts about that person. Students also dress up as their Texan and present a speech in 1st person from the viewpoint of their Texan. Students present the speeches in class, then later on that week in Open House as a "Wax Museum." It is a BIG 4th grade tradition!

Back to our conversation, all 3 of us love the bones of the Famous Texan project. My principal started throwing out ideas of how to incorporate newly learned technology into showcasing our students' work. She tossed out ideas from ThingLink to Canva to sharing via Google Drive and MORE. We are blessed with a principal who is an idea person. She sees the big picture, and we take it from there and put a plan to the idea. It was, like all successful things, a great group effort. :)

I was hooked on ThingLink. In case you are interested, this is a free app where students can interact with images through comments, links, and videos. (Learn more by clicking here.) Instead of having a Word Doc printed alongside a picture of a Famous Texan, why not make that Famous Texan picture interactive? It is more exciting for the creators as well as the audience.

Sidenote: I strongly believe that the curriculum should drive the classroom and integrate technology as you go. The integrity of this project was always centered on the research and biography aspect. :)

Next came an obstacle, how can I allow students to show-off a digital project in a traditional school hallway setting? My answer- the ever effective, ever lifesaving QR code, posted alongside a picture of the Famous Texan. I don't know how I lived before those things. :) My favorite QR code generator site can be found here.

We split up the project into two days of instruction- one day focused on creating the interactive image on Thinglink, and the other day focused on creating the poster which would be in the hallway.


Students uploaded a picture of their Famous Texan onto the app Thinglink. The app is extremely user friendly, and the kiddos took to it quickly. One they uploaded the image, students added their 10 facts (they had already researched their Famous Texan in conjunction with the library and social studies the week before) by simply clicking on different areas on the picture. Once students typed in all their facts, they saved the Thinglink, opened it in Safari, then copied the link and sent it to me through a Google Form. Later, I created QR codes from the links shared with me.

*I found a neat trick- If kiddos want to edit their Thinglinks, they can update it within their app, save it again, and no new QR code needs to be created!




Students created a Google Doc on their iPads, including their Famous Texan's name and A.K.A. Their Name underneath. Unfortunately, kiddos aren't able to input photos into Google Docs on their iPads. So, they also shared with me the photo of their Famous Texan they used for the project. I compiled the two together using my laptop. The results were so fun and personal!

**Click on the posters above to be directed to the ThinkLink image!**


Students created a poster using the Google Doc print out and their QR codes on scrapbook paper. They presented, dressed in full attire, the next week. Students provided feedback for each peer by submitting a compliment on a Google Form after each presentation. At the end of the day, I provided each kiddo with the compliments that their peers wrote about them. So fun!! This Thursday, at Open House, students will again have the opportunity to present in costume to their family and friends.

How about y'all? What do you do for a research project? Any ideas or apps to share? :)