Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Leadership Journey: Which Way Does Your Arrow Point?

Which way does life's arrow point in your life? 

This is a question that I have been pondering in my own life. As many of you know, I set the ambitious goal of interviewing 50 leaders in a one year period. Today marks the ending of a one year journey.

Throughout my journey, I have seen many excellent and poor examples of leaders. I have sat across from leaders who kindly gave up hours of their time to share their experiences with a stranger. Many graciously bestowed their prized life stories, lessons, and resources without any expectation of repayment. Many were kind. Some were egotistical. Most were extremely helpful. Some were surly and curt. 

After interviewing 54 different people, I learned that all leaders have a compass for service. The arrow points in one of two directions, towards the leader or others.

The Arrow Towards Me

When the arrow points towards us, we expect others to serve our needs, expectations, and desires. I found this to be true in one leader, who told me in no uncertain terms that he expects his employees to make his preferences their top priority. Although this has helped him "get to the top," has it really?

We have to be careful, because there are other times when we "cloak" the arrow to appear one way, but it is just a disguise for personal gain. Unfortunately, this type of style creates an organization filled with confused and fearful subordinates, who are inefficient and unsure of expectations. This mentality creates fear that produces a cut-throat and power-hungry environment, where it is difficult to trust the actions of leaders within the organization. It is disappointing that leadership becomes a game to get ahead in this type of environment.

The Arrow Towards Others

When the arrow points away from us, we shift the focus from ourselves to others. I know this sounds a little cliche, but the most effective leaders find serving others. One leader that I spoke with talked about how she would visit every single employee every morning. She learned more about his employees' lives, motivations, interests, and abilities.

Travis Roy

One of the best examples of the arrow pointing towards others is in the life of Travis Roy. For the first 20 years of his life, Travis was an accomplished hockey player. All he wanted to be was a hockey player. Everything else fell secondary.

Travis received a scholarship to Division I hockey-powerhouse Boston University. In the first game of his freshman season, he received an opportunity to play. Within 11 seconds, his career and hockey career was over. Travis was the victim of a freak accident, leaving him paralyzed for the rest of his life.

It's hard to have your arrow point towards others, especially when you have such a life-changing injury. It's hard to not succumb to bitterness in the midst of such difficulties, but Travis had a desire to make more of an impact. He desired to be more than "just a hockey player." He wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.

With this passion in mind, he created the Travis Roy Foundation. The foundation is designed to change the lives of spinal-injury victims, through raising money for research and grants. The organization inspires, raises awareness, and gives hope to thousands of spinal-injury victims and their families.


Travis Roy is an example of the benefit of turning your arrow towards others. Each time we turn the arrow to serve others, we serve ourselves. We give ourselves life, hope, and meaning to live. Turning the arrow towards others is one of the most life-changing things that any person or leader can do.

See more about Travis' story below:

Friday, October 13, 2017

3 Alternatives to YouTube

As a secondary teacher, I used YouTube as a teaching tool on a regular basis. Although it has improved over time, questionable content sometimes appeared in the suggested videos section. Since my move into the elementary level as a Learning Technologies Specialist, I have began to search for alternatives to YouTube. Here are 3 alternatives to YouTube:

# 1 - NicerTube

I just came across NicerTube in searching for YouTube alternatives. It is very easy to use. You simply copy and paste the URL of a YouTube video, choose a creative background, and NicerTube creates your video.

Want to see an example? Check out my video tutorial from a previous post. I love the fact that this tool is free, easy-to-use, and allows you to make as many videos as you would like; however, it does contain advertisements.

# 2 - SafeShare.TV

is extremely easy to use and customize to the needs of your students. You simply copy and paste the URL of any YouTube or Vimeo video and SafeShare.TV generates a new URL. You can customize when your video starts, the title of your video, the description, or whether you want to hide buttons to control the video. Once your video generates a unique SafeShare.TV URL, your video is protected and students will no longer see previews to other videos.

What I don't like is that you have to have an account to create a video; however, you can easily use your Google or Facebook account to link to SafeShare.TV. The free version also limits you to 20 videos per month. Check out pricing information for more.

# 3 - Google Drive

If you are creating your own videos, you may want to consider using Google Drive as a place to house and share your videos too. If you are a G Suite school, then you realize that you have unlimited storage space. This strategy limits what students are exposed to because they will only see your video in a preview window.

How does this work? 

Simply upload your video to Google Drive, which may take a few minutes to upload and encode.

After your video is ready, click on the 3 vertical dots (right-side of your screen) and choose share.

Click on "Get Shareable Link" icon and select "Anyone with Link Can View."

Copy the URL and share away! 


Do you have other alternatives to YouTube? I would love to hear your ideas. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

5 Tips for Creating Your Own Assignment Tic Tac Toe Board

Choice is an important aspect of student engagement. If we know that it works, why do we sometimes limit the amount of choice that we give students? I know that it is not always appropriate or possible, but there are always ways to provide options.

With this in mind, I decided to combine the idea of a Tic Tac Toe board and choices. There are many great examples across the Internet of educators using this idea to create assignments. Here is an idea that I created:

Here are 5 tips for creating your own assignment Tic Tac Toe board:

1. State Your Goals 

If you notice, because humans are naturally goal-oriented, I provided the goal for each section. We need to understand "why" we are doing something; therefore, I stated it in clear terms (i.e. find a current event, summarize, share your opinion).

2. Clear Goals, Require Clear Assessments

Although it is important to share your goals, it is also important to have a rubric communicating specific behaviors and actions. Students should have access to your rubric. Avoid Likert scales 1 - 5 without any description of the behaviors!

3. Structured Options

Too many options creates the burden of choice. I have learned to provide students with a few structured choices. My Tic Tac Toe board provides students with the ability to construct (hand written or typed) or create (with audio or video).  In my experience, if students have too many options, they will sit there and do nothing.

4. Scaffolds and Supports

In any assignment, there are always high-probability barriers. It may be helpful to provide scaffolds, supports, and examples of what you are talking about. In the Tic Tac Toe board, I provided several different scaffolds and supports. For example, I suggested approximately 2 -3 tools they should consider when doing the project, such as Google Docs, QuickTime, etc.

I also placed arrows on the Tic Tac Toe board as examples of what diagonal or vertical mean. Why? This can be a difficult concept for some students.

5. Create an Electronic Version

If your students have access to technology, I would create an electronic version of your Tic Tac Toe board. Why? It provides students with visual difficulties with the opportunity to zoom in and out. Students can print out copies if they lost the copy you handed out. Hyperlinks provide an interactive component to take students to various resources.


Have you created your own Tic Tac Toe board? I would love to hear about it! Please share a comment below.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

New Grading Feature in Google Forms!

Google Forms is quickly becoming one of my favorite formative assessment tools. In the past, you used to have to limit self-grading questions on Google forms to multiple choice, checklists, and dropdown menus.

Google recently made an update to Forms, which allows users to create self-grading quizzes with short answers. How does it work?

Step 1: Choose the Settings Button (Gear Icon)

Choose the Settings button, select the Quizzes tab, and turn on the Make this a Quiz feature. Make sure that you save your progress!

Step 2: Create Your Question

Create your question on Google Forms. Type in your question and make sure that "Short Answer" is selected.

Step 3: Add Your Correct Answers

While you are still editing your question, select "Answer Key" and enter in all of your possible short answers. You will also want to select the box containing "Mark All Other Answers as Incorrect" and add a point value for your question.

NOTE: If you want students to type text or numbers a certain way, you can use the description and response validation features of Google Forms. Make sure that you are back in the editing feature of your question in order to access this.

  • The description section is useful for writing a helpful hint, such as "Capitalize the first letter!"
  • The response validation feature is useful for restricting responses to a certain type of answer. For example, you may want to limit responses to numbers and whole numbers. 

Help Create Student Engagement with ClassKick

Student engagement is a highly debated issue in education today. Brain research has revealed that we can engage students through recruiting interest, sustaining effort and persistence, and helping develop self-regulation skills (CAST, 2017).

Providing timely feedback is one way to create engagement and help sustain student effort and persistence. ClassKick is an excellent tool to provide students with engaging assignment, monitor progress, and provide timely feedback. ClassKick is free and is available for students to use on an iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or desktop.


There is a paid version of ClassKick; however, the free version offers many great tools and resources for both teachers and students in the classroom.

  • View "live" student work and write real-time feedback. You can watch your students as they progress through a lesson without any expensive monitoring software. 
  • Share content through text, written instructions, audio recordings, text, links, and images. 
  • Students can "raise their hand" if they have any questions. Teachers can see who has a question and offer timely help. 
  • Real-time feedback is enhanced with the ability to add teacher comments, pre-made feedback stickers, annotate student's work, and grade assignments. 
  • You can enable student helpers, who provide feedback to other students. 

Want to know more? Check out the ClassKick in 1 Minute video below:

How do I get started?

First, visit the ClassKick website or open the App to to create a free account. 

Next, you will want to create your first assignment. Add content in the form of text, audio, images, and recordings. 

Finally, open your assignment and share with your students by using the ClassKick App and entering your class code. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Easily Annotate and Share Webpages with Marker.To

Have you ever wanted to share highlighted information from a website with someone? How do you typically solve this dilemma? Do you print out the document and physically hand it to someone else? Not only is this practice time consuming, it is also quickly becoming obsolete.

The Chrome Extension gives you the ability to annotate and send your webpages to others. Simply highlight text on a webpage (using a yellow highlighter), click on the extension icon to highlight your text, and send the text to someone else via social media or a link. The other person does not need the extension installed or even use the Chrome browser to see what you highlighted!

How does it work? 

Watch my brief video below:


This is a great tool for students and teachers alike. Someone using this tool can find and highlight valuable information on the Internet without the need for special software, apps, or extensions!

I also like the fact that you can keep analytical information (the number of clicks) to your link. This is a great way to keep your students accountable - if you are sending them information and want them to check out a highlighted webpage that you created. You can do this by clicking on the My Markers link on the webpage.

Friday, October 6, 2017

4 Must-Have Writing Tools

Writing is an essential skill for students and even adults to master. There are dozens of tools on the Internet designed to help correct grammar, spelling, and improve your writing skills. Here are a few of my favorites!

1. Paper Rater 

Paper Rater is a free online tool to correct grammar and spelling errors. Simply upload or copy and paste your text in the site. Then answer a few questions about the type of paper you are writing and the education level at which you are writing.

Paper Rater will analyze your paper for common errors and suggest improvements to your writing. There is even a proofreading feature available on the Pro Version. I love the fact that you can use this tool online, it gives you a suggested "grade," and even provides resources for improving your writing.

2. Grammarly 

Grammarly is also a free tool available on your Chrome browser or for download on your Mac or PC. Grammarly is an excellent tool for correcting grammar and spelling errors. Although it does not have a "suggested grade," feature, it does provide you with a way to quickly check your documents, emails, and even form submissions for spelling and grammar errors. Not only does the tool provide you with spelling and grammar checking, it also provides a built tool for suggesting new words. I like the fact that Grammarly forces you to login to the application, so that you can save your work across different devices.

3. After the Deadline (Polish My Writing)

After the Deadline (previously known as Polish My Writing) is another free tool to enhance your writing abilities. I like the fact that this particular free tool is simplistic, yet very effective. Just like Paper Rater, you will copy and paste your writing into the website. The tool scans your document and color codes spelling errors (red), grammar suggestion (green), and style suggestion (blue). I like that this tool provides you with suggestions for your writing style. You can make corrections or get an explanation on how to improve the suggestion, simply by clicking on the underlined word.

4. BibMe 

If you or your students write papers, then you know that creating citations and references are extremely important. I have always loved Citation Machine, but I just found a new tool that I really like. It is called Bib Me. Although it has been around for some time, I recently found it. I like it for several reasons. First, it has a very simplistic interface, which makes creating a bibliography extremely useful.

For example, you can just copy and paste the URL, title, or ISBN of your resource and EasyBib can generate a bibliography. If you have more sources to add, you can keep adding to it and then download!