How Backchanneling Stimulates a Classroom Environment

Today in class, I showed a video about Chick-Fil-A and how successful they have become by staying true to their beliefs and values. I knew that this would stir up an interesting conversation, since many of my students are at different ends of the belief spectrum. This can cause many students to shy away from conversation because they are intimidated by speaking or sometimes a conversation is dominated by one passionate person.

I knew that this could be a barrier to their learning, so I had an idea to give all students a voice through backchanneling. First of all, what is it? It's using technology to maintain a separate conversation during live events, like showing a video, having a class discussion, or making a presentation. It is what has made Twitter so popular.

I created a free backchannel through Today's Meet, so that I could give all of my students a voice. The best part of this site is that you don't have to have a a username or password, you can choose how long you want your room open for, and you can easily share through a link.

As I played the video, I had my students make class related comments and questions during the chat.The backchannel was optional; however, I was surprised at the number of students who participated and engaged in it.

If students did not listen to my request, I would have had them log out of their computers and just showed the video without a back channel. This seemed to keep students honest.

As the video progressed, I monitored student comments and answered questions. It was amazing to see what students were noticing that I hadn't. It was interesting to read their questions and see how they would help their classmates understand certain portions of the video.

Overall,  I felt that it helped us develop a deeper conversation because it was a safe environment, where students felt that they could have a say. One student asked "why is there a cow mascot walking around?" This is a question that some students wouldn't have the courage to ask in a face to face conversation.

It also helped prevent students from becoming fixated on a minor detail like this and ignore other parts of the video clip. My backchannel gave me a chance to answer that it was their mascot, so that the student could connect with other parts of the video.

After the video was over, I had the ability to share the transcript with the class or review certain parts of the transcript. Not only was it great to review certain parts of the video, but it helped stimulate a conversation that probably wouldn't have occurred otherwise.

Using NoRedInk to Improve Student Writing and Grammar Skills

The Common Core emphasizes the need for students to develop strong writing and communication skills. While this is an important skill, many of our students struggle with grammar development. This barrier can cause our students to lack the communication skills necessary to achieve this goal.

NoRedInk is a free website and Edmodo App for teachers to provide students with practice assignments and quizzes to help them develop grammar and writing skills.

How does it work? 

1. Sign up for a free account at

2. You will be prompted to create a class and give it a name.

3. After you have established a class name, you can create assignments or quizzes. Assignments are formative assessments, where students can learn from their mistakes and fix them immediately. Quizzes are summative assessments where students can fix mistakes at the end of the quiz.

You can create assignments or quizzes on capitalization, apostrophes, commonly misspelled words, colons, commas, and pronouns. The best part is that NoRedInk provides a question bank of pre-made questions, so there is very little that you have to do!

4. Choose the specifics and customize your assignment or quiz. Do you want students to complete 5 or 50 questions? How many points will this be worth? When do you want students to take the quiz? Do you want the whole class to take the quiz or just a few students?

5. Students can join your class with a code provided by NoRedInk.

Why It Helps Students

In the digital age, it is important for students to learn at their own pace. It is also important to provide scaffolds and supports in place for struggling students. This is the perfect tool to help students learn at their own pace. The best part is that NoRedInk teaches students as they go. If students make a mistake, they will learn why their answer was incorrect and how to correct their results. Students can track their progress throughout the assignment and see how they are doing. This avoids mindless practice and provides timely feedback, which is both effective and engaging.

Why It Helps Teachers

Addressing the Common Core is all of our jobs and is no longer isolated to Language Arts classrooms. This is the perfect tool to help all students in all classes. The best part, is that you don't have to be an expert. If you are a teacher who also struggles with grammar, this tool can help you help your students become better writers. NoRedInk gives you tools to track student progress and grades activities automatically!

Want to See It Work? 

Check out my video tutorial below!

What's White, Black, and Grey All Over? Cell Phone Usage in School

When you think of cell phones in school, what image comes to mind? I think of a student with a hooded sweatshirt, turning to the side, constantly glancing down and fidgeting because they are busy texting.  I think of the time I walked into a restroom and saw feet pointed sideways in a bathroom stall and the sound of click, click, click. I tapped on the door and said "when you're finished texting, step on out." 
I think of the high school I recently visited that allows students to text during lunch time. Friends are literally sitting next to the same friend that they are texting. It made me question the value of cell phones in education, however, why not use cell phones in the classroom? Kids already have them in their pocket and are dying to use them anyways! 
There are so many possibilities to open up creativity and engagement in the classroom. Plus they are already finding creative ways to use their cell phones when they are not supposed to have them anyways. What if we opened up the possibility of using them in the classroom? Would it allow them to be creative in new, innovative, and productive ways? 
I could think of a few uses or ideas:
1. Why not have students Tweet about a certain topic? I was recently at a conference, where the presenter encouraged participants to take 5 minutes to "tweet" a response. Then we discussed it as a group. Cool idea and great for students who have trouble speaking to an entire class. They can still speak their mind and their tweets can speak volumes. 
2. Instead of using expensive clickers to check for understanding, why not use Apps like Socrative? This tool can help check for understanding through multiple choice questions, polls, short answer, etc. It is a great way to engage students through technology and allows you to move beyond "what" the answer is to "why" the answer is what it is. 
3. You could use Aurusma, an augmented reality app, to have students do scavenger hunts, engage differently in activities, and demonstrate creative ways of learning. 
The problem with the cell phone issue, is that I have seen many schools treat it as a black and white issue. Some schools say that cell phones shouldn't be seen. Others have taken the extreme of having them available all of the time or during certain points of the day. Unfortunately we cannot get around this issue because they will always be around. Unfortunately, there is more grey in this issue than we see. 
I think about many of the parents who text their children during the school day, even though they know that students shouldn't be using their phones. I think of the teachers who are busy texting their family and friends during school. There is just too much grey and an issue we cannot avoid. 
If we are supposed to teach our students 21st century skills and Netiquette, wouldn't this be the perfect tool to help students learn these valuable issues? If students use them the other 16 hours of the day, could we teach them how to use them in productive and creative ways? 
What are your thoughts? Do you think cell phones should be allowed or prohibited? Why? 

Getting Ready for #PETEC14 with AudioBoo

I am really excited to make a return to PETE&C in Hershey, PA on Monday, February 10th. I will be making 2 presentations!  Please feel free to check them out!
  • 5 Awesome Ways To Use Weebly In Schools from 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM in the Cocoa Suite 5 (Hershey Lodge)
  • Changing Learning through AudioBoo from 3:45 PM - 4:45 PM in the Crystal A room (Hershey Lodge)

This week's post is very abbreviated because I am still putting the final touches on both presentations. You might be familiar with Weebly already, but I would like to get you excited about AudioBoo. Here are several resources to help you get started: 

1. Want to Use the Web Version of AudioBoo?  Check out this tutorial:

2. Want to Use the iPhone App of AudioBoo? Check out this tutorial:

Please feel free to say hello at either presentation. I love meeting my readers! You are all my inspiration and why I continue to write. 


Using the #SAMR Model to Create Collaborative Google Presentations

Since the beginning of my career, I have always naturally wanted to integrate technology into my lesson plans; however, I have never really given much thought to the strategy involved. I just seem to do it. 

Recently, I have come across the SAMR model of technology integration, which stands for: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.  There are so many resources on the topic. In fact, here is my favorite article from  

After much thought, I have found that I have emphasized the Augmentation and Modification levels of the SAMR model in my own quest to integrate technology. For example, many of us have used PowerPoint as a form of Augmentation or using technology as a replacement for common tasks.

It is a great substitute for lecture and provides visual representation for visual learners; however, I have found that our students are often “PowerPointed” to death and tend to lose interest almost immediately.

I wanted to try something new to help my students take more responsibility for their learning and develop powerful collaboration skills. I decided to use a Google Presentations as a form of Modification,  to redesign the way students would interact with content, each other, and technology. 

It was simple. I created a presentation template as a Google Presentation. It assigned a group number and provided information and resources students needed to help prepare the presentation.  I changed the sharing settings, so that anyone with the link could modify the presentation without needing to sign into Google.  I shared the link with my students by copying and pasting the URL into my Edmodo page; however, you could easily share it by copying and pasting the URL into a word document or webpage or using a URL shortener like

Each group was assigned a slide and had to work together to put together the presentation. After 10 – 15 minutes, each group assigned a spokesperson to present their information. As students presented information, their classmates would fill out a note outline. As I listened to the presentation, I would interject if necessary to add to the dialog, highlight information on the presentation to study, or type in additional information. When the presentation was finished, I would modify the sharing settings, so that anyone with a link could view and not edit.

Want to see how I did it? Check it out:

Want to see me in action? I invited you to come check out my presentations @ PETE&C on Monday, February 10th in Hershey, PA: 
  • 5 Awesome Ways To Use Weebly In Schools from 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM in the Cocoa Suite 5 (Hershey Lodge)
  • Changing Learning through AudioBoo from 3:45 PM - 4:45 PM in the Crystal A room (Hershey Lodge)

Converting Files Made Easy:

I am currently preparing a presentation at PETE&C next week on AudioBoo. Due to the nature of the presentation, I am using several audio clips. When you are at a big conference, you always have to prepare for wifi issues. A few weeks ago, I watched another presenter's presentation self-destruct because they weren't prepared for this. I have learned in the past that you should have a saved copy available to use because you never know.

In the past, I have used Any Video Converter to have a backup copy of YouTube clips for my presentations.  This time is a little different because I am sharing several of the audio clips that I have used on AudioBoo and I needed a way to convert the audio clips  to MP3 that was quick and easy.

When you search the Internet on this topic, you will find many creative ways of doing this. Some are complicated and others are not. I found a great site that can help you covert and download audio, video, documents, eBooks, and images. It is called Online .

What do I like about this site?

It is very easy to use! You can upload a file from your computer, access the file in your DropBox folder, or paste the URL of the resource you want to covert. Choose the format you want to convert it to. Click convert and it will download.

After the file is converted, Online Convert gives you several different options on downloading it. It will automatically download to your Downloads folder on your computer; however, you can download the file again with a direct link. Want to share it by email? This is perfect if you need to share the converted file with another person or access it on another machine.

You can save the file automatically to your Dropbox or Google Drive account.  Online Convert generates a unique QR code that you can scan with your mobile device to download the converted file.

However you plan on downloading the converted file, all links will automatically delete after 24 hours.

Want to see if it works?

Check Out My Presentations @ PETE&C on Monday, February 10th: 

  • 5 Awesome Ways To Use Weebly In Schools from 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM in the Cocoa Suite 5 (Hershey Lodge)
  • Changing Learning through AudioBoo from 3:45 PM - 4:45 PM in the Crystal A room (Hershey Lodge)

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