Thursday, November 3, 2016

Creating the perfect set of Plickers cards

As my organization rolls out G Suite for Education to our eleven sites across the state, I have been scheduling several professional development sessions over the next couple of months.  One tool that I will be sharing during these sessions is Plickers.  The Plickers app is an easy to use assessment tool perfect for classrooms and other settings with limited access to technology.  If you aren't familiar with Plickers, please take a look at my post "Formative Assessment is the One Device Classroom"  Plickers is perfect for our specialists because oftentimes were are presenting in locations that have limited access to the internet.  Since presenters are at the mercy of the network admins as to what access they may be granted, it is imperative that presenters are prepared with effective tools even in the face of limited access.

In preparation for this rush of presentations, I decided to create a new set of Plickers cards to stash in my presentation bag.  Plickers provides a pdf document of the card set is a couple of sizes.  With the convenience of packing in mind, I went with the standard size for a set of 40 cards.

With visions of grandeur in my mind, I first tried printing the cards directly on card stock with my desktop laser printer.  The smearing that resulted made the set unusable!  So, I tried another approach.  I printed the pdf on plain paper using the "big" printer/copier that is shared in the office.  I then loaded the card stock in the bypass tray, made an adjustment for think paper and simply copied the pdf.  The results were perfect.

The set will print as two cards per page so, of course, some trimming was needed.  I knew that I wanted to end up with a set that was nice in appearance and that was as uniformly cut as possible.  Off to the paper trimmer!  Of course, a good trimmer with a measurement grid is essential.  Now I had to calculate the dimensions.

After a couple of dry runs here is the procedure I followed:

  1. Cut the paper in half vertically by placing the car stock in the trimmer lengthwise with the left edge at the 5 1/2 inch mark. This will give you a half sheet with one card.
  2. Place one of the resulting cards in the trimmer lengthwise, this time with the left edge at the 6 1/2 inch mark (removing 2 inches from one side of the card).
  3. Rotate the card so that the right edge you just created is now the left edge and place the edge at the 4 1/2 inch mark.  This will cut 2 inches off of the opposite edge.
The resulting card should look like this:

Next, I needed an easy way to carry the cards without worrying about creases and tears.  A quick look around the office and I located some leftover cardboard mailers, the kind once used to mail CDs.  The entire set of 40 cards fit nicely in the mailer and the cardboard is sturdy enough to protect the cards.

However, I really didn't like the look.  I scrounged around and found some Avery 5165 Full Sheet printable labels. I opened up Microsoft Word and changed the layout to landscape.  I inserted a shape with the dimensions of 5.75" tall and 7.25" wide.  I added my name and organization as well as contact information in case I leave the card set somewhere.  Hopefully, a kind participant would shoot me a message, but in all honesty, if they did, I'd probably suggest they keep and use the set.  As a final touch, I added my Plickers Ambassador badge to the label.  

Here is the holder with the label applied:

As you can see, the printing on the mailer still shows through a bit.  Next time, I'll first apply a blank label and then the printed label of it, but this will certainly do the trick.

While looking for the full page labels, I came across some 1" x 4" mailing labels.  I took a few minutes to create a quick label for the back of my cards.  I also took the time to add the card number and small letters to help the participants orient the card on the back.  This took several minutes, but I think it will pay off during sessions.  Here is how the back of the cards look now:

All told, this project took me about two hours, but that includes a couple of interruptions, a bit of searching for materials and the time consuming adding of the letters to the back of the cards.  Two hours invested gives me a ready-to-implement assessment strategy that is always available in my presentation bag.  Even if I intend to use something different but run into network issues, I can pull out my Plicker cards and immediately demonstrate a technology based strategy that will work in a pinch or everyday, especially in a one device classroom.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The benefits of technology certifications

I recently was successful in earning my Google Certified Teacher Level 2 certification.  This comes on the heels of completing the BrainPOP Certified Teacher online course. I, of course, took the time to add these certifications to my biography page and it got me thinking about the value of these certifications.  What do they really mean to me as a teacher and presenter of professional development? A trusted colleague often teases me about the number of certifications I hold and the dedication I display in seeking them out.  He doesn't describe it as dedication, however.  He has more colorful language to describe it, but I'll go with "dedication."  I have explained that I am an outlier.  As the Educational Technology Specialist for a statewide program that serves a variety of schools and districts, I feel it benefits me to have a wide range of experience and exposure as it relates to technology integration.  Would a classroom teacher need such a variety? The likely answer is no.

However, they did agree on two points about certifications. First, if two candidates displayed equally impressive soft skills, then earned certifications could be a deciding factor because, and this was the second point, the earning of respected technology certifications did indicate the desire and dedication to go the extra mile to learn more and demonstrate their knowledge. I see this extra effort on the part of a teacher as incredibly important.

If I were looking to add staff to serve in instructional technology, certifications would not be the driving force, but could certainly "steer" my decision. (See what I did there?) I would never hire the prospective coach that held nine certifications without a long, thorough interview to evaluate the soft skills, but the earning of certifications, does, for me, demonstrate a teachers' desire to expand and improve their practice.

 Teachers that are charged with, or simply find themselves in a position that they are often called upon to share their knowledge related to technology integration should strongly consider seeking the respected technology certifications for the tools they use frequently.  After all, no downsides have been mentioned and having them in your bag of tricks serve two purposes.  First, if the teacher approaches the certification process correctly, it will inherently improve their practice; it will help them teach better.  Second, it will likely open doors of opportunities for them- opportunities to share and present to others, for instance. If you are part of the technology leadership team for your school or district, you can easily identify those teachers that are effectively integrating various digital tools in the classroom.  Take a few minutes to determine if there is a certification path for teachers on that product. If so, take the time to share the information and encourage that teacher to pursue certification. The benefits to you are obvious- more qualified teachers that can be utilized to increase and improve technology integration. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Formative assessment in the one device classroom

By now we all understand the necessity and benefits of formative assessment.  We must know where our students are in their learning so that we can be sure that they are ready for the next step.  By assessing students at regular intervals, we can ensure that we know this and can adjust our lesson, either for the entire group or begin differentiating based on the results of these formative checks.

In a perfect world, one in which every student has a device or ready access to a computer, there are many great options for quick and easy assessments that utilize technology to help teachers collect and analyze the results.  From Kahoot! for an interactive and fun experience to Edmodo for a more structured setting, options abound for the tech heavy classroom.  But what about a classroom that is sparse on technology?  In this situation, Plickers may be the perfect solution.

Plickers is an interactive assessment tool that only requires a single device in the hands of the teacher.  Students are armed only with a simple, pre-printed card that displays a unique code, similar to a QR code.  The cards can be purchased, but they also can be freely downloaded and printed by the teacher to save costs or because you simply want to get started quickly.

The first step for the teacher is to head over to and grab a free account.  Set up your classes and add students.  You can do this manually, but Plickers also lets you import a spreadsheet as well. Students are assigned a number that corresponds with a particular Plicker card.

Now that the students have been added, you can move on to adding questions.  Note that you can add folders here and that is a good idea, especially if you teach multiple subjects.  You can nest folders as well, making it easier to stay organized.  Once you have your questions added, switch to LiveView on the computer that is connected to the projector.  Then launch the Plickers app on your phone or tablet.  On your device, select a class then go in to your library and find the questions you want to present.  If there are several questions you'll be presenting, add them to the queue.  If it is only a single question, go ahead and tap Scan Now.

The question will displayed on your projected computer.  Students will rotate their Plicker card so that the answer they choose is at the top and will hold the card facing the teacher.  You will then scan the cards in the entire room by pointing the camera of your device towards the students.  You do not have to scan each card individually; the app will detect the cards automatically, even scanning them as a group!  The students responses are captured and stored in the reports section of your Plickers account.  You can also display the graph view on the projected computer to see live results.

As you can see, using Plickers is quick and easy once you have things set up.  You will add your classes and add students first.  Then add questions to your library, or create them on the fly.  Students respond by holding up their Plicker Cards and you capture their responses with a quick pointing of your device.  It's that simple!

Plickers is a great replacement for expensive Student Response Systems and is a breeze to capture formative assessment data in the classroom but don't forget to think outside of the box.  Traditional clickers and expensive student devices might not always be the best choice for every situation.  Consider capturing feedback while on a field trip.  The students are outside at the nature center (or museum or on the bus heading back).  It's not an appropriate place for student devices due to the risk of loss or damage.  The teacher can verbally read the question and answer choices, quickly scan the responses, and get a good idea of student understanding before you leave the site!  Now that is anytime, anywhere learning!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Curating resources as a professional learning activity

The number of valuable educational resources available on the web seems to grow by the hour.  There are so many great sources of content that the challenge for today's teacher is simply finding the best resources for their student and their classroom. That is where the concept of content curation comes in to play.

Beth Canter (2011) defines content curation as "the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.  The work  involves  sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information." This definition is almost perfectly complete, only missing one aspect- content creation is hard. And time-consuming.  Wait, that is two things.

I probably need to expand on my additions to Canters' definition.  Content curation is hard when it is done right.  It is easy to throw together a list of links on a related topic.   Curation done right is much more than that.  You need more than just the link, you need information about the resource.  That is why I have become such a big fan of Participate Learning ( and their content collections.  Participate make it incredibly easy to add resources; there are already thousands in their database.  The power comes from your ability to create a new collection around your selected topic. And if you take the time to add a review of the resource, it becomes even more powerful.

Participate has included all the bells and whistles needed to build great resource collections.  Resources can include apps, online videos, websites, or even uploaded files.  This allows users to included everything from iPhone apps to YouTube videos to printed rubrics. This flexibility has led me to begin promoting the development of Participate collections in two different ways as a professional learning activity.

Participate Collections as a Lesson Plan

When I began my teaching career it was right in the middle of the transition between the analog and digital worlds.  My undergrad technology course included instruction on 16mm film projectors and opaque projectors (All you younger educators should look up that second one, it was a beast!) By the time I began my Masters work, the focus had shifted to Microsoft Office and the Internet.  If you were talking internet lessons in the mid-90's that meant Webquests.

Webquests were, and still can be, effective digital lessons.  You could easily design a Participate collection to serve as a guided online lesson.  Start to collection with a simple document that includes the detailed instructions.  This could be done by adding a link to a Google Doc or by uploading a static file.  Next, find a great YouTube video that describes the concept you are looking to teach.  Don't worry about the ads or the other videos that would normally be visible if you send the students directly to YouTube; Participate will show just the video in a window inside the Participate collection. Follow this with an iPhone app that the students will use to complete an activity.  Then maybe a website that the students will review for more information.  Complete the collection with a link to a Google Form you have created to serve as a quiz.  Creating a detailed lesson in this way is a great professional learning activity.

Photo courtesy of pixabay

Curating Collections

While I have already discussed the how of creating collections, let me detail how this can serve as professional learning.  When the resources in the collection include a teacher-review that details how the resource was used, it requires a level of teacher thought that certainly qualifies as professional learning.  Combined with thoughtful curating of a diverse collection on the targeted topic itself requires an incredible amount of teacher preparation and is exactly what we want teachers to be doing.  In fact, I'm hearing that soon resources will be able to be aligned to Common Core standards (a feature that is currently available to Participate Learning experts).

Photo courtesy of University of Delaware

Collaborative Professional Learning

One of the unsung features of Participate Learning collections is the ability for teachers to collaborate on resource collections.  You can create a collection and then invite other teachers to your collection.  They can then add resources to the collection.  Additionally, there is a built in chat feature that allows collaborators to communicate inside a collection to discuss and evaluate the proposed resources.

I have begun incorporating the curation of resources into the graduate-level Educational Technology courses I teach as well as working them in to professional development sessions I conduct.  When you require more than just a basic collection of links, the curation of resources presents teachers with a challenge that is definitely worthy of professional learning credit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Nearpod Goes Virtual

Nearpod, the well known and engaging presentation system, has recently expanded into the world of virtual reality.  For several months, VR-ready presentations have been available in the Nearpod Library and those presentations have been used by many teachers and students with Google Cardboard-type products. However, Nearpod recently introduced their own NearpodVR goggles in a special package for schools.  They launched this new product with a grant program available to select schools that submitted video entries to earn the grant.

I am fortunate that I have an existing collaborate partnership with the Instructional Technology Coach at Owens Cross Roads Elementary School in Madison County (Alabama).  Davina Mann led the grant submission for the school and she recently presented a full Nearpod workshop that I was lucky enough to attend.  After the obligatory, but incredibly valuable, introduction to Nearpod, she introduced the new VR presentations.  If you have experienced any VR system, such as Google Cardboard, there are some similarities.  In fact, the are even some Nearpod-branded Google Cardboard headsets out there in the world.  But Nearpod realized that these were not rugged enough for the school environment.  They seemed to realize that there was an answer out there.

First, they began by creating, and partnering with other creators to create, a huge collection of immersive VR content.  A quick search of the Nearpod library for "VR" resulted in too many VR inclusive lessons to count.  The content variety is quite good and there are many free lessons, as well as those that are available through a Nearpod subscription or individual purchase.

Next, Nearpod realized that the cardboard versions of VR headsets would not withstand the daily grind of the school environment.  They also knew that school budgets eliminated the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive level of headsets.  That is why they have released the NearpodVR headsets.  The resources work without the headsets but the experience is much more immersive with them.

After spending a couple of hours playing with several of these VR lessons, I am convinced that this type of interactive multimedia will become more and more prevalent in education.  Nearpod has developed a great implementation of an educational VR experience that will engage students.  The quality of the resources is impressive and so many of them are free or extremely affordable that teachers will be able to easily locate something that can be immediately incorporated into the curriculum.

Check out the Nearpod VR collection by going to

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A lot of little things

It has been a busy couple of weeks that have been filled with many "little" things so I would like to take the time to recap.

Last Friday, the first full episode of Today's Tech Coach was released and we have hear some great feedback.  The audio will be improved with the next episode!  Even with that distraction, Mark Coleman (@jmarkcoleman) and I are pleased with our first effort.  Mark and I discussed several popular platforms that work similar to learning management systems but aren't quite full blown LMSs.  Also in the show was an interview that I did with Jaclyn Stevens from the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University.  She and I chatted about a rethinking of the SAMR model using the analogy of a swimming pool.

You can check out the entire podcast on iTunes.

On this past Monday, I was thrilled to have some comments I sent in to the TwiT Network included in two different shows.  Earlier, on Tech News Today, the crew discussed Apple's ConnectED grant program and tended to focus on the equipment and that branched in to a iPad vs. Chromebook discussion on the show.  I sent in a few comments via email to point out that the discussion should be less about the devices and more about the content.  TNT co-host Meghan Morronne (@meganmorrone) was kind enough to respond by email and different parts of my email were included in iOSToday and Tech News Tonight.  Check out the clips below:

On Tuesday, I was notified that Symbaloo has added a guest post I did on the new Symbaloo Lesson tool on their blog.  

Finally, as this post is being written, the annual Google I/O conference is just a few hours away.  We will be watching and will bring you all the education-related updates right here on the BigTechCoach blog and in the next episode of Today's Tech Coach.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Edmodo for Professional Development

Over the past couple of weeks I have been completing the remaining requirements to earn my Edmodo Ambassador credential.  This was an interesting endeavor because although I am a very frequent user of Edmodo, it is not in the traditional classroom setting.  In my position with the State Department of Education, I am heavily involved in professional development for teachers.  Edmodo works well in this scenario because it is web based and participants can be from any district.

While many would state that Edmodo doesn't completely qualify as a Learning Management System (LMS), it is a perfect tool for the management of a professional learning community.  It provides a great venue for group discussion in the form of posts and replies to specific topics.  Edmodo also includes a polling feature, quizzes and a library system in which you can easily store resources.  These are features found in most LMSs but the openness of Edmodo in allowing the individual teacher to regulate enrollment.  This outshines most LMSs for my uses in that there are no restrictions on who can be added to a group.  Google's Classroom limits participants to users in the same Google Apps for Education system (Google recently added the ability for administrators to "whitelist" other GAFE districts allowing select cross population.)

Let me walk you through a typical use case for Edmodo for professional development.  The State Department of Education was set up by Edmodo as a school district.  That allows us to add various programs as schools.  Once teachers, in our case various State Department of Education staffers,  have been added to the schools, they can create groups.  Each group normally represents a particular professional development session or professional learning community.  These groups can be used to completely manage the session if it is to be presented asynchronously or can be used as a supplement to a traditionally presented PD session.

To manage a completely online session, the facilitator (or in Edmodo terminology, the teacher) can add resources, make assignments, take polls and even give quizzes.  Using Edmodo in this way does take some planning.  You don't really have a way to post a course structure as many LMSs do.  However, you can create folders and add files, links, and quizzes.  The teacher might create folders for each unit or module of the course and post the needed materials in the folder.  Participants (or students in Edmodo-ese) would need to learn to switch to the folder view to navigate through the content.  (Note, participants would utilize the same Edmodo account they would use as a teacher in their school, they would simply be referred to as a student in these groups.)

A more frequent use of Edmodo for us is as a supplement to in person PD sessions or conference presentations.  The presenter of the session can preload content and additional resources into the group and referred participants to the group as a repository.  However, the group could also be used during the session to post feedback, take polls to gather data and even allow for 'back channelling discussion amongst the participants.  This is made possible with the quick and easy enrollment process using group codes and the availability of full-featured mobile apps.

Research has shown that one-shot PD is not very effective (Darling-Hammond, 2009), so one of the greatest advantages of Edmodo as a supplement to the traditional PD session or conference presentation is to provide the necessary follow up and extension activities to ensure teachers actually integrate their learning into their practice.

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R. C., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Palo Alto, CA: National Staff Development Council and The School Redesign Network, Stanford University.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

EdCamp- Turning Teacher Professional Development Upside Down

It is a common refrain.  You are sitting in a professional development session that the district required you to attend.  The presenter stands in the front of the room droning on about the latest changes to the student information system (SIS) or the resources that came with the newly adopted textbook series.  Maybe there are some text-filled PowerPoint slides glowing on the screen behind her.  You wish you were anywhere but here.

There may be several reasons for the way you feel.  Maybe it is because you piloted the SIS and you already know all of the information being shared.  But you wish there was a way to speak with someone that had been using the system for a few years to ask them how to handle more advanced tasks.  But instead you keep looking forward, pretending to pay attention while slowly becoming more and more frustrated that your time is being wasted.  You want to walk out.  But you can't do that.  The principal is sitting right there.  Of course, he is not paying attention to the speaker either because he, too, has already mastered today's content.

Suddenly, it hits you.  Have you become that teacher?  You know, the one that always complains when a staff meeting or professional development activity is announced.  The one that is still presenting the lessons they created twelve years ago and doing so the exact same way they were presented originally.  The one that the kids dread.

But you know that it isn't true.  You love learning and trying new ways of teaching.  You were up last night until the wee hours of the morning pinning bulletin board ideas on Pinterest.  You participated in two different online chats about formative assessment last week.  You spent hours this past weekend designing a new online activity for your students because they just didn't seem to be as engaged in math as they were the previous week.  So why do you feel this way?

It is probably because you are being forced to sit through a session that will not benefit you.  Maybe it is because you have already mastered the content or possibly it is because it doesn't even apply to your subject area (but is, never the less, required by the administration).  In either case, the problem is choice.  The lack of choice is probably a better description.

With all the talk of differentiation and personalization of learning that garners so much attention in regards to students, many administrators have yet to make the connection that this also applies to teacher professional learning.  Yes, of course, there are some topics that must be mandated for all teachers.  But these should be limited to policy and legal updates.  And even these could also be presented in a blended format to reduce teacher "seat time."

But what if administrators gave teachers voice and choice (two of the core principles of Project-based Learning so commonly promoted for students)?  Too hard to manage?  They wouldn't do it?  I have to disagree and I have some evidence to back me up.

Just over 6 years ago in Philadelphia, a movement started that is sweeping the education world by simply giving teachers voice and choice in their professional development.  EdCamp is an "unconference" movement that is based on teachers choosing the learning that they want to participate in and feel they need.  Almost always held on a Saturday or during the summer break, EdCamps are organized by teams of education leaders.  Everyone is invited and very few things are formally planned.  On the morning of the event, a blank session board is opened up to the participants.  Do you want to share a great strategy that you use for online assessment?  Put it on the board.  At the assigned place and time, you will be able to facilitate a conversation about your strategy, sharing it with others that are interested and hearing how they have done similar things. Don't know much about digital portfolios but want to learn more? Put it on the board.  The participants that show up may have experience with portfolios and will be great resources.

Oh, and if you sit down in a session but quickly realize that it isn't what you wanted or needed, the EdCamp model encourages you to get up and head to a different session.  It is all about what is best for you.

Are you ready to take charge of your learning?  Head over to the EdCamp Foundation website and check the map for an upcoming Edcamp near you.  Or better yet, come join us in Alabama.  There are at least a half a dozen EdCamps each year, including the inaugural EdCamp Lake Eufaula of which I am a member of the planning team.  This event will be held on a Friday in July and provides a great chance for you to attend a valuable professional development activity and then stay the weekend at beautiful LakePoint State Park.

Learn more about how attending an EdCamp can make a difference in your professional practice by viewing the EdCamp video below.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Guest post on Using Video to Flip Professional Development

I just learned that the GoAnimate for Schools blog picked up my blog post on flipping PD.  You can check is out at

Learning to Code One Box at a Time.

Flashback to 1988.  I'm lurking in the electronics department of the local Sears department store.  I drift over to the shiny new IBM clone computers.  After a quick glance left and right to ensure the coast was clear, I deftly exited out of Windows 2.1 and launched GWBasic from the command line.  I only needed two lines of code.

10 Print "Sears is full of Idiots"
20 Goto 10

I'd press enter as I quickly walked away.  Not too far, however, because most of the fun was watching the "television expert" or the "appliance specialist" notice my handywork and struggle to try to stop it.  Soon, two workers would be huddled around the PC trying any number of key strokes before finally reaching around and pulling the power cable out of the back of the machine.  For those without any coding experience, let me explain.  Those two lines of BASIC code would display "Sears is full of Idiots" on the screen. Again and again, ad infinitum. No, this isn't a "how I got caught shoplifting" story of my arrest, but the middle-aged appliance salesmen probably thought it should be.  This oft repeated exercise in hilarity was available to me through learning to code.

During the 1980s and 90s, coding was the realm of the geeks, the War Games watching nerds who entertained ourselves, I mean themselves, pounding away at a keyboard copying hundreds of lines of code from the latest copy of the Basic Computer Games series of books.  Back then, programming was for a small number of teens that had a particular interest in it.  Over the last five years or so, as technology has become more and more a part of our everyday lives, coding has become more popular in the mainstream of education. launched the first Hour of Code event in late 2013 and more and more schools are becoming involved.  However, many schools do not have the experienced teachers to fully implement a program and often the teachers feel too pressed to cover mandated curricular topics.  Coding is working it's way into that category, but for most it is not there yet.

Many teachers, Instructional Technology Coaches and parents, however, see the value of coding and not just during one hour of one year.  But they need fun and engaging strategies and tools to use with students.  One interesting approach has been adopted by the team over at  They provide a monthly subscription program that delivers a box full of interesting coding activities by mail.  Last month, they shipped a sample box for me to take a look.  Now, as eager as I was to dive in, I decided that since Bitsboxes are targeted towards kids, I needed some help.  So I recruited a couple of nine year old kids (twins, A. and E.) to help me out.

Opening the box was exciting.  The box contained app trading cards, stickers, temporary tattoos and a mystery toy.  In keeping with the Spy theme of this box, the toy was a pair of special glasses that allowed you to look behind yourself undetected.  These are of course just novelty items to add a little interest; the heart of the box is the book full of coding apps.

The book is a well produced, glossy soft cover book of about 20 pages.  It feels good and I expect it will last even with repeated use.  It is filled with apps that can be entered into a web-based program that will actually execute the code.  Each sample app has an app code that you enter on the Bitsbox website from a computer with a hard keyboard.

So, we pulled out the MacBook and opened Chrome and headed over to  The instructions said to click on "Get Started" but I couldn't find any such link.  I scrolled down and back up.  I reloaded the page.  Nothing.  I Googled it and the help I found was the same- just click "Get Started."  But it was no where to be found.  I fired up a Windows PC and had the same results, no "Get Started" link to be found.  After I muddled around for a few more minutes, I played a hunch,  opened up Safari and there is was, top right corner, just where it was supposed to be.  I checked Firefox and the link displays properly there as well, but this is something the BitsBox team needs to address.  Especially with the popularity of Chromebooks in schools, this should work in Chrome, but if they can't make that happen, then it needs to be prominently a part of the instructions.

Once you get into the site, you have to create an account.  This worried me a bit as it does require an email address for the kids account, but it is necessary to save your apps.  The FAQ page does include a tip on how to use the parents email address to setup a kids account and even how to create multiple accounts under the same email address.

Once that is done and you log in, you will see a virtual tablet.  Click the New App button a the bottom and you are prompted for a four digit App Number.  These numbers are in the App Book included in the kit.  Enter the number and you are presented with a virtual tablet computer alongside a coding area.  Now the kids enter the lines of code from the book.  Once entered (exactly, of course) you can click the green arrow to execute the program.  If everything has been entered correctly, the app will run on the virtual tablet.  The book will then prompt the kids to change a setting or two to demonstrate how the app works.

Here is where I was left wanting a little more.  I have the background to talk the kids through thinking about what was happening, but not all parents or even teachers may feel comfortable with that.  For instance, Bistbox uses the stamp command to display a picture.  I felt I needed to walk the twins through understanding that the stamp command would always do that but the variable that followed the command determined what picture would display.  There is no discussion of what is happening with each command in the App Book.

The apps start very simple, just two lines for the first one, but get progressively more complex.  With a bit more explanation by me about how the commands work and worked together, the twins were really starting to get the hang of not only entering and executing the sample programs, but were getting really good at predicting what was going to happen and how they could modify the app.  I wish the App Book included that challenge of predicting what might happen as that is a true gauge of student understanding.

The apps were engaging for the kids.  My test subjects took a bit of time to enter the lines of codes, however, which with taking turns meant that one of them was always just waiting in the wings.  I tried to keep the second kid engaged by prompting them with questions about what they thought this app might do, but for many teachers and parents, this could be a problem.  Any time a kid has to wait with nothing to do, there is a risk of losing them.  It would be great if the App Book included a background story that could be read by one as the other entered the lines of code.

Once an app has been entered into the web-based system and executed on the virtual tablet, you can click the share button to display a QR code.  The code can be read with any QR code reader app on a tablet device and the app will open and can be played on the tablet.  Once this is done, it does give that second kid something to work on while the next lines of code are entered into the computer.

It will take kids several sessions to work through a complete App Book, especially since the book ends with Coding Challenges that provide only a challenge and a few new variables that can be used to code an original app to complete the challenge.  While we haven't gotten to these yet, I looked over them and expect them to provide an extended session while the twins work through the challenge.

All in all, I found the BitsBox to be well designed with only a few things I wished to see.  The missing link in Chrome should be an easy fix.  My desire for a backstory or some other activity to fill the time of a second child while the first one enters lines of code would be a huge plus, but I strongly believe that a parent/adult guide to accompany each book to provide guidance and vocabulary help would really make these kits an incredibly valuable tool.  They have such a guide now but it is not mentioned in the App Book.  I found it on the website in the Educators section, an area many parents may never think to visit.

Bitsbox does provide additional online activities and even has a dedicated Hour of Code page that can be used without a login and provides several additional free activities.  They also have a dedicated Educators page that includes that great Grownups Guide along with coding activities, some of which can even be completed without a device.

Bitsbox is a $30 per month subscription for the regular Bitsbox but a download only version is also available for just $20 per month.  You can learn more and sign up at

Note: Bitsbox provided me a complimentary sample box upon request, which was used to write this review.  They did not request, nor were they provided, any editorial review of this post.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Parent's Guide to Finding the Best Apps and Resources for Kids

Just a quick post to thank the crew over at GoGuardian for sharing my guest blog post on the importance of parents selecting the best and most engaging app for their kids. Check it out at

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Eye Observe Classroom Observation App Review

Earlier this week, I became aware of what could be an incredibly handy iPad app for Instructional Technology Coaches and administrators.  The app is called Eye Observe and, at least for now, it is available free in the App Store.  The purpose of the app is simple- provide a quick way to record educator observations, both notes and even video.

The app opens to a login screen at which you must create an account.  While not everything about the account is made clear, you are able to store observations to pull up later so hopefully that is the only purpose.  Once you are logged in, you are presented with a split screen. On the right is a live feed from you iPads camera above a blank area that you'll later learn will display any video clips you have captured.  Below this area are a trio of buttons- New, Aggregate Reports, and Saved Forms.  Tapping New gives you a pop up men from which you can choose from four types of observation forms.  The included forms are Coaching, Record, Teaching Standards Assessment, and Technology Competency.  

The Coaching form is a well designed guide to record an initial coaching meeting with space to record outcomes and action plan for example.  It even includes space for both Coaches and Teacher comments.

The Record form provides a quick, easy to complete form to record classroom observations, walkthroughs, conferences, really any type of interaction between a coach and a teacher or admin and teacher.  You still have the option to capture video or still images that can even have notes attached to them.

Let me skip down to the Technology Competency form for a moment and I'll come back to the Standards Assessment in just a moment.  The Technology Competency form provides a nice observation tool to record much if the technology usage and integration that is observed by the coach or admin. A self assessment is also available.  This forms allows the observer to record the number of students engaged with different technologies as well as the tools, software or web resources being used, but also gas prompts to record what type of interaction is taking place.  The prompts seem well thought out and there is just a hint of some local influence; that is some competencies and strategies that may be common or even required in Arizona but may not be as common in other areas.  I do wish there were national references here such as the ISTE Standards or even a quick SAMR scale to measure the level of integration but as the author is from Arizona State University and the app is copyrighted by the Arizona Board of Regents, there may have been some specific goals the team was trying to achieve.

Which brings us back to the Teaching Standards Assessment form.  Once again, this is a well designed tool to quickly record observations in a variety of settings.  The description provided indicates that this could be used either as a formative, ongoing assessment but also as a sum native assessment.  It appears to be very closely aligned to the Arizona evaluation system but it demonstrates some wonderful features.  While the bulk if this form is a series of Likert scale items a quick tap on the information button for each displays the continuum for that item.

While I have not tried to create a large number of dummy forms, the Aggregate Report and Saved Forms buttons clearly indicate at lease the ability to record multiple observations and to compile some of that data.

Now for a wish list.  This is clearly a fresh project.  All information that I could locate indicates that the app is free...for now.  Hopefully the Board of Regents will continue to provide this app for free.  Possibly they could add the analyzing of additional data for Arizona users for a fee to subsidize the app overall.

There is also the question of data security.  Is the data being stored on my device or, because I have logged in, is t being stored on a server somewhere?  Since this could include teacher performance evaluations, that answer needs to be made clear.

That login screen is a bit buggy too.  It works fine, almost too well.  Every time you leave the app, you are forced to login again.  This includes even if you simply jump out to check a text message or email.  During a full evaluation, this would get frustrating. (During the writing of this post as I jumped back and forth to detail the various forms, I have logged in 22 times.)

One promising thing is that it appears as if there is room for additional forms to be added.  This has great potential and could be the source of income.  I'd gladly download the app for free to have access to, say, just the coaching form, but take advantage of in app purchases for a few others, especially if they were less locally specific or even specific to my state.  

All in all, this is an incredible handy app as it is and with a few tweaks and a reasonable pricing model would certainly find a permanent place on my iPad.  Hopefully the team will continue to make it available to the education community. 

Eye Observe is available in the App Store at

Sunday, April 3, 2016

EdCamp Montgomery Recap

On Saturday, April 2nd the first ever EdCamp Montgomery was held at Montgomery Academy.  I was a part of the planning team for this event and overall, everyone agreed it went great.  We had a smaller than expected turn out, but in some ways that was better.  In fact, well over ninety percent of those in attendance indicated that this was their first experience with EdCamp.  That is a great thing.  The EdCamp experience is different than other conferences and I believe word of mouth will have a positive effect on next years event.

Once the crowd gained an understanding of how things worked, the activity level and excitement really began to grow.  Even with such a large number of first timers, the session board filled quickly.  Members of the planning team were prepared to jump in to lead multiple sessions in case the participants were hesitant to lead sessions but as it turned our, some of us had to hustle to the board just to lead one!

I heard multiple positive comments and many sessions had standing room only.  The Google Classroom session was packed and all of the sessions I participated in were well attended with eager participants.  Davina Mann (@DavinaMann), Instructional Technology Coach from Owens Cross Roads Elementary School, lead a great session on Nearpod (@nearpod) and I hosted a session on Participate Learning (@participatelrn).  Mark Coleman and I joined up to facilitate an EdCamp tradition by hosting a "Things That Suck!" session that had the attendees debating a variety of education topics in the boisterous way that proves just how passionate today's teachers are about their jobs, their schools, and most of all their students!

Just check out a few of the Tweets from the events:

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Symbaloo Lesson Plans? Yes, Please!

I have been a SymbalooEDU user for several years now.  My default home page is a personal Symbaloo webmix that contains 140 of my favorite web links.  I became a user about the time that Google phased out the iGoogle tool and I needed something to speed up the process of getting to my commonly used sites.  Wait, I should make sure that I am not getting ahead of myself.  You are familiar with Symbaloo, right?

Symbaloo is an amazing bookmarking tool that allows you to create personalized tabs called webmixes on a custom page that is exclusively yours.  These webmixes can be populated with bookmarks to you favorite sites.  However, these book marks are added in the form of tiles that you can add from the vast Symbaloo library or create your own.

Check out this webmix that I created of various Educational Technology related sites-

As you can see, the webmix is packed with great resources, but even when embedded like this, users can still scroll around the webmix and it is fully functional.

This makes Symbaloo a perfect tool for teachers.  You can collect the resources that you want students to access and share the webmix by embedding it on your blog or class website.  Point the kids to that page and off they go. . . with guidance from you!

But Symbaloo wasn't happy with just that.  During their weekly #symchat on Twitter, I learned about a new feature they are rolling out. (Side note- if you haven't tried the Participate Chat tool from Participate Learning, you need to give it a try.  It makes following Twitter chats so much more rewarding!)

The new feature is a Lesson Planner builder around Symbaloo!  It is amazing.  You can create a lesson that can then be shared with students.  Students start at the beginning and work their way through the lesson that you built.  Want them to watch a video?  Add it to a tile.  Need them to visit a particular document on the National Archives site?  Add it to a tile.  As the students open a tile, the resource is presented to them.  Videos will play. Web articles will display.  You can even add formative assessment questions that students must answer.  A "Continue" button takes students to the next tile, which will launch automatically.  Because you design the path that students will follow, it is much less likely for students to get off track.

Tiles can lead to text that you input, a website, an online video, an online article or another Symbaloo webmix.  You can even add math problems with the built in formula builder or embed content from any other web-based tool that provides the appropriate HTML coding!  This makes the possibilities almost endless! Each of these tile options allows for assessment questions to be added and several question types are available.

Right now, the Lesson Planner is in beta and there are a few things I hope the Symbaloo team can add before the product is officially released.  For instance, it is a planning tool so I might not completely have all of my ducks, err, tiles, in a row when I begin.  I would love to be able to drag and drop completed tiles to reorder them or make room for a step I forgot.  Also, how about branching based on the answer to a question?  Can you say "choose your own adventure" lesson?

There is a nice little calendar icon on the lesson plan builder page.  Clicking on it brings up a message informing me that there are no assignments yet.  What the what?  Assignments?  How do I create them?  Are you teasing a new feature, Symbaloo?  Come on, let us at it!

I am working on putting my first lesson into the planner and so far, I really like how it works.  It does take a little re-thinking because you need to realize that whatever you include is something the kids will definitely see.  There are no hidden tiles (wait, feature request!).

As I continue to perfect my first Symbaloo Lesson Plan, check out this great example from Symbaloo PD Pro Sylvia Buller.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Explain Everything

Explain Everything has long been an incredible app for screen casting websites on iOS.  If you wanted to create a video of how to do something using an iPad, EE was the way to go.  You have been able to insert pictures or websites and the app would record the screen and your voice while you annotated on top of the content.  Recent updates added the same annotation capabilities on top of video.  Now you can further explain what is happening in that YouTube video by drawing directly on the video.

This is of course in addition to the wonderful whiteboard features of Explain Everything. This app has always allowed you to start with a blank canvas and draw on the whiteboard while simultaneously recording your audio. This made it for a great tool to quickly and easily create how to videos so that you could, well, explain everything.

Explain everything is particularly useful in creating demonstration videos. You can use the built-in video recorder to record an experiment, for instance, and then annotate on top of the video you just created. Of course this also plies to still pictures that can be taken with the camera as well.

Beginning late last year, the Explain Everything team took the app to the next level. As it had previously existed Explain Everything became Explain Everything Interactive and a new app was launched that is known as Explain Everything Collaborative. And it should be no surprise that this version adds real time collaboration.  It even works across platforms. The app is available for iOS as well as Android and Chrome book. There is even a version for Windows!  Along with this update to the app comes a new web based Explain Everything Discover portal that allows you to upload your creations to either public or private folders as well as download content created by other users.

All of these changes bring about a new pricing model for the app. Explain Everything now works on a subscription model. There is a free version however it only allows you to view collaborative sessions. In the Premium version, the collaboration features are available and you revive 2 GB of content storage.  The Premium account is a $4.99 per month subscription.  However, Explain Everything offers a EDU group account that provides all of the Premium features for up to 30 users and 5GB of content storage.  Additionally, the licenses for these users can be centrally controlled including revoking and reassigning the licenses.  All of this for just $7.99 a month.  Both of the premium options allow for annual billing with the equivalent of two free months.

You can start with the free version which includes the premium features for 30 days to let you decide, but since the EDU Group account could be used for an entire school or even just a group of teacher friends, I suspect that this will be the way most of you will go.  Think about it, you and two friends could split the annual $80 subscription at roughly $27 each.  You would each get an account for yourself and nine accounts for classroom iPads!

By the way, if you are happy with the features of Explain Everything Interactive (without the collaboration features) grab it now because they will be raising the price beginning April 15th.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March Apple Event Preview

Tomorrow, Apple will host a media event that is expected to focus on the release of an updated, yet smaller iPhone line, rumored to be called the iPhone SE, and a smaller version of the recently released iPad Pro.  While both of these releases are certain to cause a buzz in the mainstream tech media, they would have little impact on the education market.  iPhones traditionally are not part of the classroom purchases made be schools and the iPad Pro, especially in its very large 13" form factor, has had little adoption in education.  While a smaller iPad Pro might bring the price point down to affordability for some schools, the iPad Pro line is still that, primarily a pro device.  The benefits of the Apple Pencil for drawing would be of particular use only in a few education niches and likely will have only a small impact.

However, there is an outside change that the Apple software team will spend a little time during the announcement to cover in a bit more detail some of the interesting education features of the previously announced iOS 9.3.  Released as a beta several weeks ago, 9.3 includes some much needed features exclusive to education and hopefully these will be more fully addressed tomorrow.

Two features really stand out.  First, Apple is releasing a new Classroom app that will allow teachers to see what each student is doing by viewing their screen.  Additionally, teachers will be able to launch apps and lock the devices into that app remotely.  Could this rival Nearpod and other similar apps?  We will have to wait and see, but it is always interesting to see how Apple incorporates new features directly into the software.

The second highly anticipated features relate more to device management.  Apple has long provided a device management system known as Apple Configurator but its limits quickly became obvious and third party Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions quickly overtook it, but they are limited by what Apple allows.  Now Apple is introducing Apple School Manager, a one-stop device and course deployment system.. ASM allows admins to management Apple logins, deploy iPads, install apps and even build courses all from one system.  This app alone to end the hassle of iPad deployments for technology administrators and could further spread iPads into schools.

I'll be watching the Live Feed and will post a complete wrap up of all of the education related news tomorrow!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The podcast show title will be. . .

Just over a week ago I announced plans to launch a podcast this summer that would focus on helping Instructional Technology Coaches and the teachers they serve to stay abreast of the latest happening in educational technology.  The goal is to provide useful information related to technology news, the latest apps and software updates and tips for integrating technology effectively in the classroom.

I have been working on the format, the show features, and, of course, the show title.  So, here it is- the podcast will be titled "Today's Tech Coach." Take a look at the cover art below!

As I discussed in the original post, the show will begin as an audio only podcast with an occasional video post to my YouTube channel.  You may have also noticed the "& friends" listed along with The Big Tech Coach.  I have already begun contacting EdTech leaders that I have met and worked with in the past and hope to have them join me from time to time.

I am still looking toward a June launch, possibly to coincide with the Alabama Educational Technology Conference, and have even started the process of sketching out some plans for various features that I hope to include.  The show will include instructional coaching strategies in the Coaches' Corner, app reviews and updates in Appoholics Anonymous and EdTech news in the News and Notes feature. If you have suggestions for additional features, I'd love to hear them. Just add a comment below, shoot an email to or call the Today's Tech Coach voice line at 334-595-9092.

Monday, March 7, 2016

EdCamp Florence, Alabama

This past Saturday I attended EdCampFlorence, which makes the fifth EdCamp I have been too.  It was a great event, especially since it was the first one for Florence.  I was especially fortunate since my fiancee was able to attend as well.  Since she is an instructional technology coach, the conversations about what we saw and how it might be useful in the classroom are always beneficial.  This is particularly important since she specializes in elementary, which is a great contrast to my secondary mindset.

The event had over 180 educators in attendance and took place in an incredible facility.  I thought it might be a good day when right off the bat I snagged a door prize which was a collection of three educational books.  One, Stephen Covey's The Leader in Me, was already in my personal library so I'll pay it forward and give that away at EdCampMontgomery next month.

I stepped up to facilitate sessions on Participate Learning's (www.participate.comParticipate Chats feature as well as an intro to Symbaloo ( Additionally, I highlighted Symbaloo's new Lesson Plan feature in the App Smackdown.

I sat in on a great presentation on Google Chrome Extensions and a MakerSpace session that was quite informative. (Note, I still need a lot of practice flying the Parrot Mini Drone.  I didn't exactly crash it but it didn't really land under my control either.)

As the day continued, I ran in to many friends and colleagues including two of my graduate students from Auburn University Montgomery.  Since all of my adjunct work for AUM has been online, this was our first real meeting.

As with most EdCamps, the day concludes with several door prize giveaways.  As readers will remember, I have been busy securing door prize donations for EdCampMontgomery.  The great folks at Ipevo had provided several items, including a Ziggi HD Plus document camera that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.  Ever since that review, I have been trying to come up with a real reason why I needed to buy one for myself.  So, when I saw that EdCampFlorence had also been provided with some Ipevo gear I put most of my chances into that bucket.  But for good measure, I threw some at a chance for a Swivl robotic camera stand and a package from Marzano Research.

Of those items, the Marzano Package came up first.  Well, what do you know, my ticket came up!  A T-shirt and collection of two books.  The Art and Science of Teaching had already been in my wish list, but Managing the Inner World of Teaching has only been out about six months.

Next up were the Ipevo items.  I knew that Ipevo had sent four of their Wireless Interactive White Boards as well as a couple of the Ziggi document camera models.  I had put quite a few chances in but fully expected not to win, or to win one of the white boards which would be of little use for me.  How thrilled I was when my name was pulled first!  They had grabbed a Ziggi VZ-1 HD, a great USB and VGA model document camera to hand me but, I'll be honest, I gently asked for the Ziggi HD Plus that was still sitting on the table.

I was checking out the Ziggi and flipping through the Marzano books when I heard my name again! "What? I won a Swivl too!"  Well, okay, I'll certainly put that to use!  In fact, I have already recorded the unboxing and I'll have a video review of it here on the blog by weeks end.

While there certainly is some luck involved, I do want to share with all EdCampers and few secrets about door prizes.  EdCamps are about getting involved.  Everyone gets a few tickets; the EdCamp staff is normally encouraged to be generous, but that also means that extra tickets are given out to presenters and facilitators, as well as participants that ask questions or add to the conversation in a session.  So, don't be shy, speak up.  Lead a session.  Ask a question.  Share some knowledge.  Maybe, just maybe, you'll walk away from an EdCamp with some new toys!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The BigTechCoach Podcast is coming Summer, 2016!

Hello everyone!
I hope that you have been enjoying the BigTechCoach Blog over at  I know I have and I love that it is starting to get a regular number of views with each post.  I just wanted you to know that I plan to add audio and video in the form of a bi-weekly podcast starting in time for Summer, 2016.
The podcast will feature educational Technology news items, tips and tricks, app and product reviews, special guests, and, of course, commentary.  My current plan features a show twice a month with special edition events when necessary.  With a nod to"Buzz Out Loud" the BigTechCoach podcast will be a "podcast of indeterminate length."
I plan to keep you in the loop on the show's development and I would love to hear you thoughts and ideas.  The show will begin as primarily an audio podcast but I plan to add video at some point.  Do you have a preference?  Would you prefer audio, video, or both?  Are there any particular features you would like to see?  Let me know by leaving a comment! 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Patrick Breitenbach

Friday, February 26, 2016

Getting Jiggy with Ziggi!

As a presenter that is often traveling to and from conferences and events, I am always on the lookout for quality presentation equipment that does what it is supposed to do but is light weight and easy to transport.  This past week, I found something that I really want to add to my gear bag.

The great folks at IPEVO (online at and on Twitter @ipevo) recently sent several items to use as door prizes for EdCampMontgomery coming up on April 2nd. They only had one request- Use the devices during EdCamp so that participants could see them in action.  This is important to note because that means that I would have to open the boxes before the items were given away.  Hmmm, if they have to be opened and used before they are given away then it really doesn't matter if they are opened now or then, right? Yes, I wanted to give these things a try so I decided that it would be acceptable to do this so long as I shared my experience with you!

The IPEVO team sent a total of four different device types to us.  I'll try to get reviews of each of them, starting with the Ziggi-HD Plus USB document camera.  At just $99, this document camera seems like you are stealing it from IPEVO, but at that price, I was wondering about the quality.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The Ziggi ships in a sturdy box that could certainly be reused but they also offer a nice carrying case for less than 20 bucks.

Inside the box was everything you need, which isn't much.  Of course, the document camera is there but IPEVO also includes a slide on anti-glare screen for those fluorescently lit classrooms (how is there always a light directly above where you need the document camera?)  and a quick start guide.  The very capable IPEVO Presenter Software is available for free download for your PC or Mac.  There is no power adapter needed, which is great.  There never seems to be enough outlets so not needing another is helpful.

To get started, I pulled out my Asus Windows 10 laptop and headed to the IPEVO support site to get the software downloaded while I took a look at the device.  By the way, the software downloads and installs quickly and I was ready to go in short order.

The first thing I noticed when taking the Ziggi-HD Plus out of the box was its heft.  It is not heavy (just over a pound and a half) but the base feels very solid.  It would take some serious jarring of the desk or table to move this thing!

The Ziggi feels very well made with lots of nice little touches.  For instance, the USB cable comes directly out of the camera at the top of the device but IPEVO incorporated a nice slot that runs down the length of the arm that the cable tucks into to keep it out of the way.  Leave a little bit of the cable loose at the top, though, because you can swivel the camera head to best handle your setup location.  The multi-jointed stand adjusts easily but then stays in place.

My quick review was done in my living room with no overhead lighting connected to a digital projector projecting the image onto a blank painted wall.  As you can see below, the image for the 8.0 megapixel camera was great and this was even after I took the resolution down significantly.  I reduced the resolution to counteract a bit of stutter that I am convinced was a result of the relatively low power of the Asus chipset in that budget laptop I was using.

Overall, I am in love with this document camera and I haven't even had time to try out half of its features.  The Ziggi can live stream video and even includes a built-in microphone allowing you to use it to create video demonstrations or even podcasts.  How great would that be in your flipped classroom!  The camera features 12x zoom and autofocus.  The autofocus was quick and smooth, barely noticeable and certainly not distracting.

The Ziggi-HD Plus is a well equipped and completely affordable document camera solution for both a permanent set up or for a frequent traveler.  Add in the live streaming and recording capabilities of the free Presenter software and it becomes a great option.