Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chrome Extensions for Teachers

Although I have been in a 1:1 classroom for many years and my students have been exploring Chrome extensions for a while, it was not until my district disabled student access to Chrome extensions that they became an issue for me. Perhaps it was that little rebel in me that questioned that decision or simply a case of "you don't know what you got till it's gone". While I understood the need to get rid of the annoying bee in student devices, having to go to IT to enable a specific extension pushed me to find the ones that I believe are a must for every teacher and student.

So what exactly is a Chrome extension?

Chrome extensions are small programs that live inside your Chrome browser, allowing you to customize Chrome, adding features and functionality. Once you install them, they appear next to your address bar, and you access them by clicking on them, much like you would a bookmark. Watch this video to learn how to install them.

The cool thing about extensions is that once you have added them, they are "attached" to your Chrome browser, so it does not matter which device you are using, as long as you are logged in to your Chrome browser, they are there for you to use.

There are thousands of extensions, and a simple search of education related extensions in the Chrome Webstore is bound to be overwhelming, so which ones are the ones that I chose for my students?

Chrome Extensions You Should Know About

Share to Classroom : Allows both teachers and students to push web pages directly to Google Classroom. Everybody goes to the right page without the need to type or copy/paste long URLs.

Mercury Reader: You found the perfect article to share with your students, but it is riddled with ads and distractions. With one click, this extension removes all that noise leaving only the text and images and helping your students focus on the content. You can even print the uncluttered article.

Read&Write for Google Chrome: By far the accessibility tool. With dual color highlighting, this extension will read any article, web page or document to your struggling readers. Premium functionality, as explained by Teacher's Tech, is available for free to teachers.

Scrible Toolbar: My absolute favorite collaborative tool for reading online. Scrible will allow you and/or your students to annotate any web page together! Once the permalink is created and shared among collaborators, Scrible will not only keep all notes and allow you to sort them, but also will notify you when you are on a web page you previously annotated.

Grammarly: Your students are ready to respond to a prompt, but they have been raised in a world with spell checker and although they know better, they don't always revise. Grammarly will identify misused homophones, subject-verb agreement and other common grammar and spelling mistakes. It can get annoying at times, but much better than the alternative.

Screencastify: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is priceless. Screencastify allows you to quickly record, edit, annotate, store, and share video screen captures. Create a mini-lesson or have your students record their thinking as they work out a problem. The mini-videos are instantly stored in your Google drive for easy access and sharing.

Install and Remove Chrome Extensions

More Extensions, please...

For more Chrome extensions for education, I invite you to visit ShakeUpLearning's searchable database. And if you use one that is a must in your classroom, let me know!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Evidence Based Rubrics using Google Forms

It all started a few weeks back. My students were putting final touches on one of their projects, and as is usual in my classroom, I asked them to bring out their rubrics and go over the work. I also asked them to go over each other's work, with the rubric in hand so they could provide some feedback to each other.  At this point, they were supposed to act on the feedback before presenting their final submissions. Everything was OK; I saw the exchange of papers and students went back to work. Then came the final submissions that included both rubrics. I sat down to grade and as I looked over the first submission and compared my graded rubric with the ones the students had submitted I had to stop. Was I looking at the same piece of work? The students had given themselves perfect to almost perfect scores for work that was quite sub-par. What had gone so completely wrong? How can I ensure that students look at the rubrics and identify the specific items that are done correctly or that may need work? I needed to teach them how to provide evidence for the scores and not simply mark an "X" on a rubric with no thought about what it means.

So I set about creating my first evidence-based rubric. I had already created some rubrics using Google Forms (Alice Keeler showed me how). However, to solve this particular problem, I wanted the students to be able to add the "evidence" for the scores they were giving. In order to do that, I set up a form that had multiple choice items, page breaks and "go to page based on answers" functionality, requiring students to provide evidence for the scores they were giving.

Satisfied with what I had created, I patted myself on the back and submitted a trial run. I then opened the form responses, added a formula that would add the score, and formatted the columns so the comments/evidence would be easier to read and thought I was brilliant. Oh, how wrong I was. I submitted my second trial, only to figure out that my formula, which I had painstakingly copied over and over in my results and the formatting was "ignored" as a new form came in!

So now, what? I knew that I would not be the only one with this problem, so I dedicated an afternoon to figure it out. As I immersed myself in this, I came across this array tutorial by Ad:AM, solving the first part of my problem: being able to apply a formula (adding the individual scores), to a form.

The formula that I applied to my spreadsheet is:
=arrayformula(IF(ROW(A:A)=1,"Overall Score",IF(LEN(A:A),(D:D + F:F + H:H + J:J+ L:L+N:N+P:P),)))
where D-P are the cells where the response in the score. I could not use a simple =SUM because the columns were not adjacent.

With that problem solved, I still needed a way to keep the formatting. Although it is hard to see in the previous image, you may have noticed that the paragraph responses where the students are providing evidence do not wrap, making the "evidence" the students are providing almost unreadable. Once again, through a Google search and the generosity of strangers who have come across the same issue, I found this silent tutorial on how to solve the problem, using =QUERY('Form Responses 1'!A:Q).

With the "problems" solved, I went back to the classroom and had my students each create their own copies of the three rubrics/spreadsheets I wanted them to use:

Evidence Based Essay Rubric
Evidence Based Project Rubric
Evidence Based CITE-IT Rubric - used to evaluate websites

In all three, I have hidden the "Form Responses" page, and when the students make a copy, it remains hidden. To view it in case you want to modify any of it before sharing with your students you just need to click View>Hidden sheets.

Once each student had made their own copy, I asked them to share it with me so I could have access to the responses. However, when having the students peer review, this is not necessary, they just need to send the form to the reviewer.

As a final step, I also taught them to create filtered views. My students use these to create filters that correspond to the websites, projects or essays that they evaluated, making it easy to share and have discussions about just one piece of work without having the rest of the information showing. The filtered views also have unique URL's, allowing for three-way discussion with other students or even parents without displaying everyone's input in the forms.

Have you found other ways to use Google Forms? I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

We don't need badges, or do we?

When I started my gamification journey, one of the sore spots, if you will, was the awarding of badges. On the one hand, I agree with the ideas in Daniel Pink's Drive and the overjustification effect, and which translates into "Badges ruining intrinsic motivation to learn". On the other hand, I have a gamer son, who keeps going back to specific games in his collection simply because he wants to get that elusive gold badge just so he can show it off in his profile. So which is it?

As I continued to ponder the answer to this question, I participated in a couple of workshops and PD that offered badges that could be "added to my profile". I was surprised by my own drive to complete the activities, not really for the sake of learning, but because I wanted to show off the badges I had. Badges were giving me a sense of accomplishment and encouraged me to persevere, even when I got bored! If badges were doing this for me, why was I being so reluctant to add them to my classroom?

I began exploring different ways that other educators have used badges and came up with two reasons that if addressed would make me re-think the whole badging issue.

First, if I were to include badges, I had to make sure that the badges represented real achievement. One of my concerns with badging is that it can simply become a sticker chart. The idea that everyone gets a badge simply for showing up or participating in an activity takes away the value of the badges. Let's face it if the students know that they will get a badge simply for filling in boxes in an assignment, will they put any effort into making sure that their answers are correct? Probably not. However, if they know that they will only get the badge if they get a high enough score, then they may feel that the badge has some value attached to it. Even better, let's say that they did not get a high score in the badge assignment(s) the first time around. Will knowing that they can re-work the assignment giving them more than one opportunity to earn the badge, motivate them to keep at it, even if they think it is boring or not worth their time? I think it will.

Now, if this is the case, then I knew that I needed to be able to make my own badges. There are several online tools that allow us to do that. ClassbadgesCredly and OpenBadges come to mind. However, I prefer to fully create my own simply using GoogleDraw and clearly explained here by Alice Keeler.

Second, the whole idea of badges for me is that they must be public. Students will want to know, not only if they have the badge, but also who else in the classroom has it. That gamer sense of competition and being able to showcase achievement adds value to the badge. The tools mentioned before for creating the badges, also allow students to log in and view their badges. Now this would require students to create an account and/or log in with accounts that the teacher creates. That, for me, was a no go, and although I toyed with the idea of creating my own system using GoogleSheets, I decided against it (simply due to time constraints), when I came across's Badge Tracker. With a few tweaks, this tool allowed me to import the data of my existing leaderboard, use my own badges and embed it in my webpage for public viewing. All around win!

For now, I have decided on three types of badges:

Leveled Badges: These symbolize achievement in on-going assignments. Students will earn these badges by scoring well on their weekly writings and reading assignments.

Project Badges: These badges represent the skills and knowledge gained in a specific unit of study within the scope of science and engineering curriculum. 

Commitment Badges: These are badges awarded for achievement outside the leveled and project badges. What I envision here is, for example, a "Digital Citizenship" badge or a "Creative Commons" badge. 

So, what do you think about adding badges to your gamified classroom? I would love to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Formative Assessment Made Easy

Do you know where your students are? As you walk around the room today, can you state with some which students are ready to move on and which group do you need to pull for re-teaching? You know the answer lies in the use of formative assessments, but with all other things that pop up daily you may feel overwhelmed. If only there was a simple tool that would give you the necessary information...


With a few clicks, GoFormative allows you to create and share simple (and complex) assessments. You can use multiple-choice and true/false quick checks that are self-graded or add short-answer and "show your work" (where students upload images or draw answers). You can even provide feedback to the students as they answer in real-time. No waiting until they have all finished to gather data, allowing you to address minor misconceptions quickly. Best of all, absolutely free.


This awesome tool allows your students to respond to your questions using video. You simply create a grid (i.e. post a question) and provide the link to your students. Your students can answer using any device they have, without having to create an account. Flipgrid can be used in lieu of traditional exit tickets, and it is much more fun to grade. Not free, but $65/year gives you unlimited questions and answers.


Socrative has been around for a while. This tool allows you to quickly assess your students through quizzes, quick question polls, exit tickets and space races (for those with a competitive edge or in a gamified environment). The tool can grade and provide you with visuals of the results making it easy to identify where each of your students is in their road to mastery.

What other tools do you have in your formative assessment toolkit? I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fines in a Gamified Classroom

Let me start by stating that I have two separate "but equally important" systems in my gamified classroom. The XP  system, which is tied to the students assignments (blog quests, mastery quests and PBL quests). In the XP system students are awarded initial points after submitting their work, and continue to gain XP as revisions are submitted. In true gaming style, one cannot lose XP. After all, once you have an experience you cannot undo it, you can only make it better. The XP system is shared out to students in my public leaderboards.

I also have a school currency system (we call them Patriot Bucks), which is tied to school and classroom behaviors, and stems from my school's PBIS. Students can earn Patriot Bucks at a staff member's discretion for things like picking up trash, participating in class, or basically any show of positive behavior. Students can use their Patriot Bucks to purchase items at the student store or enter them in weekly raffles. It is important to note that Patriot Bucks are a physical item (slips of blue paper, signed or stamped by the staff member who gave it out), and that no one, except for maybe the individual students, keeps track of them. This is what made it so easy to find a new use for them.

It all started a couple of weeks ago as I wrapping up of Back to School unit, which as in most classrooms involves teaching students the expectations, rules and procedures of my classroom. My students had just passed the Acceptable use Policy quiz, and were eager to get their hands on our classroom devices. I had taught/modeled how to take the devices out of the cart and how to put them away. I had explained how it was important that all devices be plugged (with their own plug) in order for all classes to have enough charge for the day, as well as how to make sure that each device was put in the correct slot. I even had students come up one by one and "show" the class just how to do it. Everything was going well until that first eager student picked up a "random" device (i.e. a device that was not assigned to him). The natural consequence for this is that the student would not have access to devices for at least that class period. But, I did not want to do that since that would mean that I would be the one to come up with something related to the activity, but that did not involve technology. The student in question suggested that he write a letter of apology promising to not do it again. It just so happened that I had just had a conversation with a fellow teacher about something she called the "opportunity log", where students write a reflection on a class misbehavior and promise to do better. I had shared with her that in my experience those almost never work. It is a forced apology, akin to a mother telling her children to "apologize to your brother for ____", only to repeat herself the next day and ask for another apology for the same behavior. I shared that with the student, asking him how many times he had apologized to a sibling without really meaning it. He sheepishly smiled, and stated that just that morning he had "apologized" to his sister, but he had no actual plans for "never doing it again".

At that moment, inspiration hit. I told him that in order to get his device he would have to pay a Patriot Buck fine. We agreed that 20 Patriot Bucks would be appropriate. He went back to his seat, carefully counted and came back to me with a proud look. He had just enough! He placed the "fine" on my desk and asked if he could go get his device. I simply thanked him and told him to get to work. The rest of the class exploded in questions about the "fine" system. For some reason they welcomed the addition of fines and saw it as a perfectly acceptable and fair way to overcome infractions. There were many questions about specifics, "What is the fine for not logging out? What about for forgetting to plug a computer?" It was the little things that bugged them as much as me that in their opinion should warrant a fine.

After much discussion, we ended up just having two categories of fines - minor infractions (20 Patriot Bucks) and major infractions (50 Patriot Bucks). Minor infractions include things like not plugging in a device, putting a device in the wrong slot, and taking someone else's device. Major infractions include things like off-task behavior or mishandling of the devices. I left myself some wiggle room, creating a third category that states "Fines for anything not mentioned before can be assigned at my sole discretion".

In a surprising turn of events, something else happened once the fines were in place. Students have begun to help each other avoid fines. Instead of simply walking away from unplugged devices (which of course still happen every once in a while), they take the time to plug them in for each other. I've overheard statements of,  "Dude, stop goofing off, that's a 50 PB fine!" This is already pretty cool, but there is more. A new student who did not have enough Patriot Bucks to pay for putting his device in the wrong slot, and who I was ready to excuse from the fine, saw his classmates (students he had just met), pool Patriot Bucks to pay his fine. No prompting at all, simply a spirit of cooperation and doing right by each other.

So far, this system is working beautifully, and I am wondering if you are using something similar. Do you have any words of wisdom to add? I would love to hear from you.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Web Tools to explore before the summer ends

Summer is coming to an end. As you start getting your teacher hat back on, and dreaming about your "perfect" classroom, you may want to look at some web-tools that could come in handy. Here are my favorite free or low cost summer discoveries:

Write-About: This site allows students to engage in high-interest writing for an authentic audience. Students browse through a collection of ideas, each one paired with an image, and write about them on the site itself. Students can even use the built-in voice recorder! Posts can be shared with the class or made publicly viewable so that registered students and teachers can comment on them. teachers can provide feedback on the writing and moderation tools are included. A yearly classroom plus subscription is around $40.00 USD allowing up to 250 students and unlimited posts. Want a closer look?

iPiccy: Similar, but less complicated than Photoshop, this is an image editing tool that allows users students to apply filters, add effects, crop or resize an image. All online.

EducaPlay: Create your own embeddable activities. From fill in the blanks and interactive maps to video quizzes and sentence jumbles, the possibilities are endless. You can also share activities, collections and search for content created by other teachers.  Free accounts allow you to create groups and see reports (a big bonus for data driven instruction). Watch how easy it is to create an activity in EducaPlay.

PrimaryAccess: A suite of free online tools that allows students and teachers to use primary source documents to complete meaningful and compelling learning activities with digital movies, storyboards, rebus stories and other online tools.

JustapoxJS: This Knight Lab tool allows user to tell stories by comparing two frames, including photos and gifs. Ideal for then/now stories that explain slow changes over time (growth of a city skyline, regrowth of a forest, etc.) or before/after stories that show the impact of single dramatic events (natural disasters, protests, wars, etc.). This is their own example using Google Earth's Images:

If none of these catch your fancy, maybe you will find something interesting in my growing collection:

Mrs. Garcia's Classroom Webtools, by mrsgarciaserrato

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pokemon Go in the classroom?

As I look around my neighborhood today, I cannot help but notice the bands of kids and teenagers walking around looking at their phones. Yes, Pokemon Go has hit my otherwise quiet street, and I immediately start thinking to a couple of weeks from now, when we get back to the classroom... I know the kids will come back from a summer of hunting Pokemon. I know they will be itching to talk about this or that amazing find. So, how can I harness that enthusiasm? What can I do to transform this "distraction" into some meaningful learning activities? Am I crazy for even thinking about it? Here goes:

Pokemon Go Math:

Pokemon caught are transferred into what is called a Pokedex. Clicking on the Pokedex, you can access data for individual Pokemons, including weight and height (in metric, Yay!) Students could use this information to determine things like, "If you were building a Pokemon dwelling, how many Squirtles would fit in an 64 square meter area?", the area needed to house all the Pokemon in their Pokedex, the height:weight ratio of unevolved to evolved Pokemon, or the ratio of "seen" vs. "capture" - does it vary by type or location? . You can even go as far as having students try to determine whether there is a proportional relationship between type of Pokemon and size.

The game also keeps records of all events in the Journal. The data gathered there could be used to figure out average Pidgey appearances for particular locations or times, or average out the number of Pokeballs given at Pokestops. Taking it one step further, they could also graph their Gym results, which has the added benefit (to the students) of helping them create the "best" team.

Pokemon Go Language Arts:

The game has the interesting feature of allowing users to take augmented reality pictures of "wild" Pokemon and placing them in the scene the camera is facing. Students can use these pictures to develop stories. Prompts could include things like "A day in the life of ...", or "When ____ took over the ____".

Pokemon Go Science: 

As part of a unit on biomes, students could use their knowledge of Pokemon types to develop habitats for specific types. This could also lead to lively discussions about why some Pokemons are more common in different places. What characteristics are shared by Ice Pokemon and the animals that inhabit the Tundra?

A study on the mechanisms of evolution could be followed by having students create scenarios that led to the traits observed in their favorite Pokemon.

On a more ambitious vein, you could have students develop a complete Pokemon utopic city, powered by electric Pokemon!

Pokemon Go Social Studies:

Many Pokestops and Gyms tend to be in historical landmarks.  Students could use these places as a basis for further research into the landmarks, or create virtual fieldtrips and advertisements encouraging others learn about those landmarks and/or visit them in pursuit of "Catching them All".

Any other ideas? I would love to hear all about them.