Edmodo's Electronic Backpack

Yesterday I was strolling around my room to check how students were doing on a project and I noticed one of my students doing something rather unique in Edmodo. I had asked my students to find a current event article for an assignment in class. They had to save the link in their favorites folder on their computer or simply copy and paste it into a Word document. This severely limited their ability to access material outside of their computer in the classroom or outside of the school network. UDL is all about providing flexible tools for students to use to benefit their learning experience.

One student was using Edmodo to do this assignment. I was curious, so I asked him about what he was doing. I've been using Edmodo for about 2 years now and I never knew about the Electronic Backpack feature available for students. My student explained to me that he's been using this tool for quite awhile. Boy did I feel dumb!

The Backpack feature is a way for students to save links in Edmodo's Library Tab, giving them the opportunity to organize their links by category, subject area, or interest. There is also a feature for sharing library contents with students. With social bookmarking sites like Delicious struggling to keep inappropriate content out of its site, this may be a great alternative. It also prevents you from needing to use multiple sites to create content, submit assignments, and share links. I even wrote last week about its new Quiz feature!

Creating expert learners requires taking the time to develop a student's ability to plan, develop, and organize information. When our students can access their links from anywhere at anytime, it can provide ways for our students to learn more efficiently and effectively. Why? Because their time isn't being wasted searching for that link from earlier today and they can access it anytime and anywhere.

A Search Engine for your Students!

Imagine that you have a research project for your students. You would love to just use regular books and encyclopedias. However, you realize that in the digital age this is starting to become tougher. So you reluctantly turn to the Internet and have your students perform "Google" searches. When they do this, they will be bombarded with irrelevent material from Wikipedia and other non-productive sites.

With SweetSearch, you may become an alternative to the Googles, Yahoos, and Bings of the world. It only searches a database of over 35,000 sites that have been evaluated and approved by teachers, librarians and administrators, which allows sites from universities and PBS take precedence. The site constantly "fine tunes" results so that they are relevant and accurate.

Why use Sweetsearch? This is a great tool to help students find information faster. Yes, we do need to teach our students how to filter out irrelevant results. But there are times when less time should be wasted on searching and more time should be spent on learning. In the digital age that we live in, our students are bombarded with websites, blogs, etc. Why not help them develop into "expert learners" with this simple tool?

Below are links to SweetSearch's other important features:


My Marketing students have been working together over the past couple of weeks to develop a sports drink. There are two objectives: 1) create an actual product and 2) develop a marketing plan for the product. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been an unbelievable amount of paperwork.

Today, I was stumbling across ideas on how I could make this project better. How could I get my students to collaborate and share multiple documents, pictures, etc. I came across a site called Trello - which is an unbelievable tool to promote collaboration and project management.

What is it? 

Trello is a project board website, where you can assign and manage tasks, documents, etc. from a project board. What is a project board? It's just a collection of what Trello calls "lists." Lists are almost like filing cabinets to put stuff in. It's just a simple way to categorize things.

What do you put inside of filing cabinets? Usually files. Trello allows you to create "cards" (aka files), which give you the opportunity to add comments, votes, pictures, documents, etc. You can easily move each "card" by clicking and dragging it to another "list."

I really like that you can easily assign tasks to other people simply by clicking on their name icon and dragging it to the "card" you want them to work on. I think that this could be another excellent tool to give our high school and possibly middle school students to use. Try it out and see if it works.

New Edmodo Feature Could Change the Way You Teach!

Within the past couple of weeks, Edmodo has launched a new feature that will change the way that you teach. You now have the ability to give a timed online quizzes through the site. What options do you have?
  • Multiple Choice
  • True / False
  • Short Answer
  • Fill in the Blank
When you have students take the quiz, you can receive a statistical breakdown of student performance. We live in the age where data is being used from Art to Science class. Why not use the data to help all of your students learn more effectively and efficiently?

With this new feature, there are some limitations. From what I have seen, it doesn't look like you can edit a quiz after you have published it. This may cause an issue if you want to re-use quizzes that you have created in Edmodo. I was also not able to change the point values for each question. The automatic default was 1 point. However, you could manipulate the amount of time that students had to take the test.

How would I use it? Because the quiz feature is in its infancy, I would only have students answer 3 to 5 questions at time. This could be a very useful tool to check for understanding at the end of class or at the beginning of class to pre-assess what will be covered.

LiveMinutes - Where Collaboration is Key

We hear about the word collaboration all of the time. Our students need to have opportunities to collaborate to grow as learners. But are we providing students with an opportunity to do so? Many of us choose not to. Simply because it's difficult to find the tools.

Finding ways for students to collaborate and interact with content in different ways is an example of Providing Multiple Means of Engagement. When our students are able to engage with content in different ways, they often become more motivated to learn.

I found a tool just the other day that fosters collabroation, it's called LiveMinutes. It's a site that is used to host free Web Conferences, but is very useful in an educational setting. Users can create a meeting space, where they can chat, share documents, and use an interactive white board. If monitored by the instructor, it could be a very powerful tool for our students to use.

This site gives you the opportunity to create distance learning environments for your students to watch PowerPoint Presentations, video clips, or even chat. You can even integrate Skype. It's free and easy to use, which makes it even better.

Why collaborate? Have you taken a look at the world today? Your child's favorite cartoon is no longer developed in one city or country. Artists in multiple locations are colalborating on the storyline, graphics, and sounds. The Internet is the vehicle that is making this possible. I love the quote "we are preparing our students for their future, not our past." This is so true. If we neglect the power of collaboration, we may be missing the boat.

Classroom Management Tools for UDL

When you are having students work on an assignment, do you think about what is going on beyond the assignment? What I mean is...are you giving your students opportunities to prioritize, organize, and manage their time? Have your students developed that "clock in their head" that many NFL quarterbacks have developed.

One of the ways that you can develop this sense of urgency is through the use of visual timers. I have found that my students are more engaged and are able to handle multiple tasks with this visual representation of time. Yes it sounds simple, but it is effective. This is a great way to teach our students ways to strategically plan and monitor their progess (Principle 2: Multiple Means of Action and Expression).

Here are two of my favorites:

  • Countdown Timer - remember the old time stove top timers? This is a great way to wind up and count down the time!
  • Online Stopwatch - is a stopwatch and a timer built into one! You can download other types of timers or just use the online timer.

Google Chrome: The Perfect UDL Browser?

I have to admit it, I've been holding out. I've resisted the urge to try Google Chrome. I've always been a Firefox type of guy. Can't stand Internet Explorer, but love Firefox. Then the other day I couldn't take it anymore. I tried Google Chrome and you know what? I liked it.

It made me think about how Google Chrome could help all of the students that we have in our classrooms today. From the gifted student to the student with a learning disability, how can Google Chrome help?
  • Simplicity - buttons, icons, toolbars, menus, more icons, and more buttons. Let's face it, many of our browsers have become overly complicated. Google Chrome is quite simplistic, which may take away the confusion that our younger learners experience when they are searching the web. Chrome is a great browser for your visual learners because the set up is very simplistic. 
  • Omnibox - we are so used to typing www.something in the address bar. Chrome allows you to do your search in the address bar (aka Omnibox), making things even simpler! This is one less step, instead of going to www.google.com. You can still type in your web addresses too! Keep in mind, other browsers have this feature too. 
  • Voice Search - allows our students to say what they are looking for instead of typing it. Now before you  go and say that it promotes laziness, think about it for a second. I had a legally blind student named Ritchie. He had me for Computer Applications. He was expected to use a computer, but needed zoom software to see. This voice search would have been perfect for him, because it would have made Internet Research a tad bit easier. This is a perfect tool for our struggling readers, dyslexic students, low functioning students, or auditory learners. 
  • Most Visited Pages - just open up a new tab and Chrome will give you a list of your most visited websites. Sure, you could check your browsing history in another browser. But Chrome visually organizes information for our visual learners. 

To read more about Chrome's features, click here. 

SPECIAL GUEST POST: Andrea Erins "How Technology is Evolving for Students"

How Technology is Evolving for Students

These days, most students have access to the internet wherever they go. Between home computers, mobile devices, and school laptops, the way students learn is evolving just as quickly as technology itself. Here are some ways that technology is evolving to better suit students’ needs.

Blackboard Learn – This is a fantastic tool with a number of capabilities for course management. On a course website, teachers can post handouts, study guides, and PowerPoint presentations for those who miss class. Discussion forums allow students to ask a teacher questions and to help each other learn collaboratively. Teachers can also post grades and give feedback on work. The website even provides space to save group projects. For a classroom, Blackboard can be just as interactive as Facebook.

School Blog – Forget the school newspaper. Many school journalism classes are now turning to blogs to publish the traditional school newspaper. This is a great opportunity to teach students some basic skills in online publishing and design software, which will certainly be valuable for a future career in journalism. Use of social media to promote the newspaper will likely get more students to read it, and it’s a great way to go green

Mobile Apps As more and more students get iPod Touches, iPhones, iPads, and similar “smart” devices, a number of applications have been developed to improve their educational experience. For schools that want to integrate such devices into the classroom, an iTunes app called SafeBrowser sets parental controls and an internet search filter. Students can download study tools such as flashcards, reference pages, and review games. They can even download classic books or the complete works of Shakespeare.

eReaders – With the extortionate price of textbooks, it’s no wonder that students are beginning to turn to electronic textbooks, or eTextbooks, as a cheaper alternative. If a student wants to make notes on a certain section, they can always print out the pages they need – although many eReaders already have basic highlighting and note-making capabilities. In the future, students may carry a single eReader to all their classes rather than a stack of heavy textbooks.

Online Learning – Online colleges aren’t the only schools on the internet these days. Many public K-12 schools are utilizing cyber and virtual e-learning platform. This may be a good alternative for a student who has severe allergies or other medical issues, who doesn’t want to go back to school because of violence or bullying, or whose parents want to homeschool but don’t feel capable. Classes may be synchronous with those at a school, or they may allow the student to have his or her own schedule.

Applying for College – College admissions offices are now using social media to appeal to high schoolers as they decide which college to go to. Many colleges have a Facebook page for prospective students to post questions answered by current students. Others have interactive websites where you can read student blogs about the school. Even the application process has gone tech-savvy: instead of the traditional application essay, some colleges offer students the option of submitting a YouTube video about themselves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrea Erins has been a college professor for 13 years and likes to write about various topics related to education. She is the owner of the site www.mastersineducation.com
Do you remember sitting in Chemistry class in high school? Maybe you really enjoyed the content. Chemistry was a point of access, because you enjoyed the experiments and theory. Maybe you feel asleep because you felt the content didn't apply to you. Chemistry might have been difficult for you, thus creating a barrier between you and the content. Regardless of your past experiences, our students often to our classrooms facing the same access points and barriers we faced so long ago.

The question is: how can we make the Periodic Table more interactive and interesting for our students? We still have to teach the content, but maybe we could provide a resource that would enhance learning. PTable may be the interactive Periodic Table website that you have been looking for.

PTable provides a visual representation of the elements on the Periodic Table. You can select an element and get a detailed description of its make up. What makes this table so UDL is the fact that students can access Videos, Podcasts, Photos, and Articles from the site (just put your cursor on top of the Wikipedia Tab). We know that when materials are represented in different ways, our students may make learning connections with it. Other tabs of mention are Properties, Orbitals, and Isotopes.

If you teach Science, this is a must see website.

Snag Learning: Go Beyond Hitting "Play"

I was talking with a colleague the other day and they had mentioned how they would love to show more video clips in their classroom, but that takes a lot of time and research. I have to agree. Not only do you have to screen each video, you often have to sift through amateur YouTube clips to find something. Showing video clips to just show them doesn't increase learning. In fact, it can cause confusion if not appropriately designed. It is so important to design learning opportunities that will reach all - from the beginning!

Snag Learning is a great site to consider because of its use of high quality documentaries from sources like PBS and National Geographic. Teachers of any grade level would greatly benefit from the documentaries on this site. Not only is it a way to provide another way of representing material, but it is another way of engaging and motivating students.

For example, maybe you are having trouble getting your students to care about what is happening in Darfur. They are just not motivated.

What if there was another way to infuse the concepts of your textbook with the interests of your students? We know that when students are engaged, learning increases substantially. Maybe you decided to use a video on the site called 3 Point, which features NBA player Tracy McGrady traveling to the ravished country. Many teachers talk about what is happening in Darfur, but imagine the power of teaching Civics and World Culture, while using a famous athlete?

Unfortunately, many teachers show video clips just to show video clips. Why not use it as a tool for discussion? For many of us, we just don't have the time to consider this. We simply look up a YouTube video, show it, and have an informal discussion.

Snag Learning works to enhance student learning, by providing learning questions that will help focus your student's learning. You could easily lead students in a discussion, create a writing prompt, or have your students use questions as a research prompt.

I challenge you to go beyond hitting PLAY.

5 Tips for Engaging Learners with UDL

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