Shakespeare Trivia with Remind101

At the start of our Othello unit, I wanted to get my students excited about Shakespeare. This is no small task as most high school students cringe and recoil when they hear the name William Shakespeare. They assume they will hate every moment of reading his plays. Each year I am on a mission to prove them wrong!

On the first day of our unit, I sent a Remind101 text to all of my students during their morning break informing them that there was a Shakespeare trivia question on the board. I told them the first student to correctly answer the question would receive extra credit. I decided to record a movie to see how long it would take for a student to come to my class and answer the question correctly.

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I’m not sure what I expected, but I definitely didn’t expect a student to come blazing through the door fists of triumph in the air 46 seconds after sending the text message. I was stunned. My student was stoked.

I’ve continued to post Shakespeare Trivia questions each day to keep Shakespeare at the forefront of their minds. It’s fun to see them research the questions and excitedly write them on the board. I love that technology can make learning so fun and engaging.

I want to thank Ramsey Musallam for inspiring my Shakespeare Trivia! He uses Remind101 to alert his students to chemistry problems that need to be solved. I am so grateful to my PLN for sharing awesome ideas and continuing to inspire me.

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Research Meets Gamification With A Google A Day

As with any skill, research takes practice. The more students search, the better they will become at finding what they need online. I use A Google a Day to “gamify” research in my classroom.

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After I present tips for searching smarter, I want students to have ample opportunities to practice those tips and strategies. A Google a Day is a free game offered by Google that presents 6 trivia questions each day. If students opt to play the “basic game,” there is no sign in required and they can access the first three questions. If they sign in with their Google+ account, they have access to all six questions.

Students are timed and receive points based on how long it takes them to correctly answer each question. The faster students search, the higher their scores will be. New questions are posted daily and relate to a variety of categories ranging from sports to history to science.

Tips for getting the most out of A Google a Day:

  1. Put students into “teams” or groups as they play. They tend to have more stamina when working together, and the competitive element motivates them to stay focused.

  2. If possible, make sure each member of the group has a device. It’s fun to watch groups of students, devices in hand, doing simultaneous searches and talking about the information they are finding. The energy in the room during a Google a Day activity is electric!

  3. If you are working with middle school students, the “basic game” with just three questions is probably enough for them. The questions are really challenging and require several searches to find the right answer. Asking them to do the full game with all six questions can be a bit overwhelming and cause research fatigue.

  4. Play a game each week to keep research a part of your curriculum all year.

  5. End each activity by asking groups to share their own search tips. What search strategies did they use that they found helpful? I’m a big fan of crowdsourcing information, so this is a great way to get students sharing what they learned after each activity.

For more on teaching students how to evaluate digital resources, check out my blog “Common Core: Evaluating The Credibility of Digital Sources.”


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An Experiment: Badging & The Pursuit of Mastery

Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 1.09.25 PMMy article “Five Musts for Mastery” was published by ASCD and explores how educators can leverage technology to support students on their individual roads toward mastery. I was quick to point out that “the term mastery creates this illusion that we can master a concept or skill—when, in reality, mastery isn’t an end point but rather an elusive goal that remains forever out of reach. This may dishearten some, but I prefer this definition. There is no dead end in learning.

In my journey towards embracing a mastery model in my own classroom, I decided to use Class Badges to identify key skills I wanted my students to “master” before leaving my class. The Common Core Standards for 9-10th grade English clearly state where my students should be on their road to mastery by the time they leave my class to ensure they are prepared for the next year. I decided to use the Standards as a guide when I created my badges at the start of second semester.

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I designed 10 badges total with artwork, catchy names and descriptions grounded in the Common Core Standards for my grade level and subject area. I explained to my classes that I would be awarding badges for the remainder of the year to students who demonstrated mastery for their grade level in a particular skill. Once a student had demonstrated mastery, I told them they would be not be assessed on that skill any more this year.

For example, I designed a Savvy with Citations badge to give students who were able to properly cite a range of sources correctly using MLA citation.

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I had taught them how to cite properly, linked them to the Owl Purdue website for reference, and allowed them half a dozen opportunities to practice this skill collaboratively with their peers before they were individually assessed. I was dismayed when only three of my students demonstrated mastery, passed out of this skill, and earned a badge. Given the time we had dedicated to practicing citations, I was shocked that a larger percentage of my students did not successfully complete the assessment.

In the past, students would practice a skill and complete some form of assessment after working on that skill. Regardless of their individual grades, we would eventually move on to the next skill. I realize now that in that traditional model the majority of students might never learn the nuances of a skill being practiced.

In my desire to get of my students to mastery, I allowed them to discuss the results of their citation assessment and identify what they had done incorrectly. Then we practiced some more, and I assessed them again. Only the three students who demonstrated mastery were excused from the second assessment.

The second time around almost a third of my students demonstrated mastery, passed out of the citation skill, and earned a badge. We continued in this cycle as more and more students earned their badges. What amazed me was how excited and proud my students were to have earned a badge. The accomplishment clearly meant more to them because they had taken several assessments and work extremely hard to demonstrate their ability to properly cite sources.

I began to think of the moments in my own life when I have been most proud of myself. They are times when I have worked hard to accomplish something that I initially was not sure I could do. I believe this is the reason so many students were so elated to earn a badge. It was a recognition of their hard work and ability to master a challenging skill.

There is a dramatic shift that happens in a classroom when students know they will be asked to continually work on a task or skill until they have mastered it. They become invested in their work. They begin to take pride in their successes. They are more eager to learn and engage in the classroom.

Are you attending the BLC (Building Learning Communities) Conference in Boston this July? I’m leading a workshop titled “Embracing Mastery Learning in a Traditional Classroom” on Monday, July 14th from 1-5pm. Please join me if you are in town!




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TED Active: The Talks & My Thoughts

In the last three days, I have heard over 20 TED Talks delivered by articulate speakers on a wide range of topics. As a teacher and professional development facilitator, I was definitely thinking about each talk in the context of the work I do.

Here are three of the early TED Talks that resonated with me because they offered insights relevant to education:

1. Chris Hadfield, an astronaut, captured my attention with a terrifying story about losing his vision while dangling by one arm in space. When his shocking story was through, he asked us, “So, what are you afraid of?”

I work with so many teachers who are afraid of technology. I thought of all these teachers as I listened to Hadfield talk. He made an interesting distinction when he said, “Danger is entirely different from fear.” This statement resonated with me. People have a lot of fears, but they are not necessarily in any actual danger. I had never thought about that subtle difference.

I walked away from his talk thinking how ironic is is that human beings tend to initially fear those advances that ultimately yield so much positive change in our lives. Hadfield’s talk was a great reminder to embrace moments of fear and retrain our primal reactions to them, so they no longer limit us.

2. Amanda Burden, an urban planner, spoke about her work transforming many of New York City’s abandoned or neglected areas into vibrant social spaces to attract New Yorkers.

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As I listened to Burden share her work, I was thinking of the blog I wrote when I first arrived at TED Active about the need to create collaborative and inviting spaces in education similar to the spaces all over the conference.

The images Burden shared in her talk reflected the transformations that took place all over the city as a result of her work. She talked about what she learned observing popular parks and successful social spaces. I realized that much of what draws people to these places in a city (comfortable, moveable chairs and a social component) can be applied to the classroom.

3. Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father and education activist, talked about his great pride at being “Malala’s father.” He eloquently explained why he encouraged his daughter to speak out for both women’s and children’s rights despite the dangers this posed.

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Yousafzai’s talk reminded me how fortunate I am to live in a country where women have made such incredible strides towards equality. Women all over the world are deprived the basic right to an education. I was struck when Yousafzai said that an education for a girl in Pakistan gives her a name and an identity. I wish more of the children I teach understood how very fortunate they are to have an education.

He ended by saying, “I did not clip her wings.” As a mother and a teacher, that was the most poignant part of his talk. I, too, want to live without clipping the wings or limiting the potential of my children or my students.


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TED Active: Creating Collaborative Spaces

TED Active officially begins today! It’s thrilling to know that in a couple of hours I will be watching TED Talks and chatting about those talks with the diverse collection of people attending TED Active.

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I’ve spent the morning wandering around the conference area exploring. I’m struck by the intention and mindfulness that has gone into the design of each room. The spaces have been laid out with a range of furniture, tech tools and interactive work stations to foster creativity, connections, collaboration, and conversation.

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As soon as I enter a room, I am curious. I want to push buttons, add my ideas to a white board, start a discussion, and learn from the people who wander in and out of each room. This is how learning environments should be. They should by their very design invite movement, experimentation and curiosity.

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Unfortunately, my own classroom is a far cry from these collaborative spaces. By necessity, my students sit at desks. There are so many students crammed into my classroom that there are few opportunities to move furniture and make the space work for them.

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As we think about what future classrooms should look like, we need to be mindful of the design, layout, and furniture.

If we want to change the traditional teaching paradigm and shift the focus from teacher to student, the physical design of the room must reflect this shift. If we want to cultivate curiosity, we need to embrace spaces that encourage discovery. If we want students to talk and collaborate, they need to be comfortable and have a degree of mobility in their learning environment.

I’d like to see the design of classrooms discussed more. As a learner, I can attest that the feel of a room (classroom or otherwise) plays a huge role in how successful a learning experience will be.



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Now Your Google Docs Can Do More with Add-ons!

Last night, I was working on a chapter for my newest book Using Web 2.0 Technology to Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards and noticed a little red “New” sign at the top of my Google doc. Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 12.59.02 PM I was intrigued and decided to procrastinate and check it out. I spent the rest of the evening exploring this fun new addition to Google documents!

Turns out Google docs can do even more now. In addition to collaborating, defining and researching inside our Google docs, we can also select “add-ons” to make our docs even more dynamic.

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If you click “add-ons” at the top of any of your Google documents, a window will appear that looks familiar if you have spent anytime inside the Google Chrome Web Store. This window allows you to select from a variety of different add-ons that can be used to enhance your Google documents.

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While exploring the add-ons, I found a few I will definitely use with my own students!

  • Table of Contents – automatically creates a clickable table of contents in the sidebar
  • Track Changes – review and approve changes made to your document to improve the editing experience.
  • Thesaurus – explore synonyms and antonyms
  • ProWriting Aid – check writing for plagiarism, acronyms, cliches, redundant phrases and grammar mistakes.

You  can check out different categories of add-ons or search for a particular add-on. Once you’ve found the add-on you want to use, simply click on it and add it to your document. Then you can access that add-on inside any of your Google documents by simply clicking “add-ons.”

If you have a favorite add-on, post a comment! I’d love recommendations.


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Holocaust Journals & The Power of Connecting Classrooms

Ever since I attended the Google Teacher Academy in 2012 I have wanted to use Google apps to connect with other classrooms. This year I finally did it! I collaborated with Megan Ellis — a 7th grade English teacher in Palo Alto — on a Holocaust Diary Project.

My high school English students were reading Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, while her 7th grade English students were reading The Diary of Anne Frank. We planned our curriculum so our two units overlapped. Then we began collaborating on the details.

Holocaust Work w:Ellis

Mrs. Ellis and I worked on a shared Google document to create our Holocaust Diary Template. We wanted to create a template that would provide both information and structure for the assignment, which would span 4 weeks.

Holocaust Work with Ellis - Google Doc

We put our students into groups of 2 or 3 and Mrs. Ellis used Doctopus, a Google spreadsheet script, to share our Holocaust Diary template with each group.

In the past, my students typed their journals and submitted them to me. Although many enjoyed the process, I knew it would be more meaningful for them to have an authentic audience. Ms. Ellis sent me a message the day she assigned the diary project and said that some of her students had “already started writing their bios. School has been out for 30 minutes.” Clearly, both groups of students were excited by the prospect of connecting with another classroom.

They  began by researching a person who lived during the Holocaust. Then they wrote a bio for the person they selected and posted their bio to the shared document. This way students would know who they were writing to over the next 4 weeks.

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The challenge was to write from this person’s perspective and weave elements of their life, as well as details from the Holocaust, into their diary entries. Each diary entry was also linked to a particular stage of the Holocaust (expropriation, ghettoization, deportation, etc.) to ensure students didn’t jump right into life in the camps. We wanted them to experience all the events leading up to the concentration camps.

In my class, I separated students into six groups. Each group researched a different stage of the Holocaust and collaborated on a Google Presentation. They presented their information for the class, which allowed them to become the “experts.” They taught each other about the various stages of the Holocaust. This also helped to fuel their writing by providing details about each stage before they had to actually write their diary entries.

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The magic happened when students began writing to each other. They wrote back and forth asking each other questions, commenting on each other’s experiences and sharing their feelings about everything that was happening around them. It was powerful.

Screen shot 2014-03-04 at 2.10.07 PM At the end of the project, our students expressed interest in “meeting” their writing partners. Google once again made that possible. Mrs. Ellis and I coordinated our schedules and found time to host a Google+ Hangout with each of our classes.

Skyping with Ellis

We began the conversation by asking our students what they enjoyed about the project. Then we invited students to  come up to the computer to introduce themselves and meet their partners. The first time a student in one class identified their writing partner in the other class, cheers burst out in both classrooms. I had to laugh myself at how excited they were to connect after weeks of writing. It reminded me how important the human connection is. They were curious about each other and felt invested in their partners. It made me want to collaborate with more classrooms!

As I reflect on the unit, I am amazed by how easily Mrs. Ellis and I were able to plan and execute this project using Google apps. For any teacher who has ever wanted to do a cross classroom collaboration, I say “Do it!”


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Google Docs: Which Workflow Works for You?

On Twitter this week I was asked how I manage Google docs with so many students. I realized there are several different answers to this question. I wanted to share a few different workflow options for managing Google documents when you go paperless with your students.

#1 Students Create & Share Docs

The first option is having your students create a document for each assignment and share that document with you.

1. Once you assign something, students “Create” a Google document in their Google drive.

2. It’s crucial that students use a uniform naming convention. This is key to organizing their shared documents on your end. I require all of my students to use the following naming convention: Class Name-Last Name-Assignment Title This makes it easy to filter them by class or assignment.

3. After they properly title their assignment, they should click the blue “Share” button, enter your email address, and click “Can edit.”

Caution: If students share their Google documents with you before naming it properly, they will appear on your inbox as an “Untitled document.” If they accidentally do this (and some will), tell them to go back into their document, remove you as a collaborator, properly name their document and re-share it with you.

4. To avoid getting a flood of email notifications in your inbox, create labels in your Gmail for each class and each assignment you are collecting from each class.

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5. After you have created your class and assignment labels, you can set up a filter in your Gmail using key words  (class name + assignment title) in the subject line to automatically put the shared notifications into your Gmail labels. Once filters are set up in your Gmail, the shared notifications will be automatically filtered into the the labels you create. You can access students’ documents directly from the shared with emails. Watch the tutorial below to learn how to filter your emails.

Benefits: This mirrors the way most Google documents are shared in life beyond the classroom. Teachers don’t have to organize student work in folders in their Google drive because they can be accessed quickly from your email.

Challenges: You need to create labels in your Gmail to organize the email notifications that are sent to you each time a student shares a document. You also need to set up filters on your Gmail to avoid dealing with a TON of email notifications in your inbox. Students will often mess up the title of their document, which can create problems when you try to filter their email notifications.


#2 gClassFolders

gClassFolders is a script that can be installed on a Google spreadsheet to create shared folders for your students. You can run the script and it creates 3 folders for each of your students — a “Dropbox” folder, a “View only” folder and a “Can edit” folder.

    • The “Dropbox folder” is where students will submit their work. They simply drag their completed files into their dropbox folder, then you can view and edit their work on your end.
    • The “View only” folder allows you to share documents for students to view (i.e. syllabus, assignment descriptions or notes) but they cannot edit these assignments.
    • The “Can edit” folder gives everyone editing capabilities, which is ideal for group projects.

The beauty of gClassFolders is that teachers can avoid being inundated with email notifications each time a student shares a document. The shared folders live in your (and your students’) Google drive. Below is a quick overview of how gClassFolders work.

Benefits: Teachers can easily create folders for sharing and collecting students work in their Google Drive without receiving a ton of email notifications each time a student shares a document. 

Challenges: If you have a large number of students, you will have a large number of folders to navigate in your Google drive. There have also been some minor hiccups reported about the script and how it works. That said, the majority of the teachers reviews are extremely positive.


#3 Students Submit Their Documents Via a Google Form

Create a Google form that asks students to submit their work by sharing the URL/link to their shared Google document.

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This way you can collect and organize an entire class set of documents in a Google spreadsheet and go straight from the spreadsheet to view and grade each student’s document.

1. Create the Google form in your Google drive and be sure to collect the following information in every form:

    • First name
    • Last name
    • Class name
    • Email (*if they have one)
    • Title of the assignment (*optional)
    • Document URL

2. Students need to click the blue “Share” button at the top of their Google document and share it with your email address. Remind them to give you the appropriate sharing rights – “Can view,” “Can comment,” or “Can edit”– before clicking the green “Share and save.” They need to copy the long URL/link at the top of the “Share settings” box because that is what they will paste into the Google form so you can access their document.

Benefits: This makes accessing their documents quick and easy. Teacher using scripts (like FormEmailer) can easily provide feedback directly from the spreadsheet too!

Challenges: You need to create a Google form for every assignment you want to collect. It does add an additional step for students because they have to complete the Google form.


#4 Doctopus

Doctopus is a script that can be installed on a Google Spreadsheet to quickly share documents with a roster of students, monitor student activity on the shared documents, and give students feedback from the spreadsheet.

Click here to check out a great “Doctopus How-To” I found online! It was shared by the writers of the Literacy 2.0 blog.

Here is a great walk through YouTube video created by Jay Atwood.

Benefits:  It makes it easy to quickly share a document that is properly titled with all of your students at one time. You can easily see the last time each document has been updated by a student. The activity stream is awesome for quickly checking to see who has been on their documents recently (great for catching the procrastinators!). 

Challenges: You need to have a class roster for each class ready in a Google spreadsheet. You need to install the script each time you assign a document. 


#5 Teacher Shares a Folder with the Class

You can create a folder in your Google drive and share that folder with an email list of your students. This makes it quick and easy to share a collection of documents with your students and collect a variety of documents from them. All you or your students need to do is drag documents into the folder.

You select the sharing rights — “Can view,” “Can comment,” or “Can edit”– but all of the contents added to the folder will share the same properties. This can be the downside of this approach. If you collect documents you intend to edit (or grade), then everyone with access to the folder will have editing rights (not just you).

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Benefits: This is the fastest way to share or collect a large number of documents with an email list. 

Challenges: Every document in the folder has the same privacy settings, so you cannot share “View only” documents and collect “Can Edit” documents. This makes collecting work that you want to grade digitally a hassle. 

This is by no means a complete list, but they are strategies I have used. They all have benefits and challenges worth considering. If you have a workflow that works really well for you, please share it with us!

Please Tweet me your comments and feedback @Catlin_Tucker.

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Common Core & Reading Ready: Preparing for SBAC

Like most educators, I am hearing A LOT about preparing students for the Common Core assessments. In California, students in 3-8 and 11th grade will be required to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) starting in the 2014-2015 school year. I recommend educators attempt the practice test. It is hard. Really, hard.

After taking the practice tests for 3rd, 8th and 11th grade, I was struck by how challenging this exam is. My concern is that most students do not have the digital reading skills or technology literacy to be relaxed or confident in this digital testing environment. To be successful on these computerized exams, students will need to:

      • develop reading stamina.
      • transfer close reading skills from paper to the computer screen.
      • answer text dependent questions.
      • identify textual evidence to support answers.
      • practice navigating the tools embedded into the computerized exam.

These are no small tasks. Students will need to practice reading “complex” nonfiction and informational texts. In addition to completing close readings, they will need practice answering text dependent questions. This is why I was thrilled to discover!

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NewsELA is a news website where educators can search by subject to find articles on a variety of topics: science, arts, war and peace. Each article is available at range of Lexile levels. Teachers simply click the Lexile level appropriate for a class or group of students and the vocabulary and sentence structure change without altering the topic or information presented.

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This creates exciting opportunities for differentiation. Teachers can match students to nonfiction readings that are appropriate for their grade and reading level. As your students develop as readers, you can steadily increase the rigor of their reading assignments with the click of a button.

Many of the articles also have quizzes built right into them. After reading an article, students can take a quiz that will ask them Common Core aligned, text dependent questions.

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If a teacher has set up “classes” in Newsela, then all of their students data and quiz scores can be viewed quickly to see how each student is progressing.

The benefit of using a tool, like Newsela, is it helps students to develop the reading stamina required for computerized exams without creating more work for teachers. Teachers can also pair Newsela with an online annotation tool, like Diigo, and encourage students to practice their close reading strategies as they read the articles online.

How are you preparing your students for the Common Core Assessments? Please share any strategies and/or tools you’ve found helpful.


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Collaborative Lessons that are Common Core Ready!

I’ve been using online discussions for years to extend conversations, collaboration and learning beyond the walls of my classroom. Now, they are a cornerstone of my approach to blended learning. Online discussions are transformative because they:

    • allow for an equity of voice that isn’t possible in real time.
    • encourage students to share a variety of perspectives.
    • build community to complement face-to-face interactions.
    • improve retention and understanding.
    • create opportunities for modeling and peer-to-peer learning.
    • teach online communication skills necessary to success beyond school.

As educators transition to the Common Core Standards, it is crucial that we use the online space to engage students in meaningful tasks that teach communication, collaboration, reading and writing skills.

I’m excited to share Collaborize Teachers Guide – Common Core Ready: English Literature, Grades 9-12 (Kindle version) with other English teachers looking to integrate dynamic online discussions and asynchronous collaboration into their curriculum.


Available on Amazon & Teachers Pay Teachers

This ebook has lessons aligned to the Common Core Standards for five of the most popular texts taught at the high school level. I designed the lessons to ensure they target a range of specific Common Core Standards and cultivate a variety of skills at one time. The lessons use a variety of question types, as well as media, to drive interest and engagement. My hope is that these lessons will yield the same types the dynamic, academic discussions I’ve been enjoying for years!

The online topic-based lessons are launched right from this ebook. When you select a collaborative lesson in the Teacher’s Guide, it will either instantly appear in that teacher’s private Collaborize Classroom site or is made available as a stand-alone lesson. These stand-alone lessons have their own unique URLs, which can then be integrated seamlessly into almost any digital environment, LMS, blog, or assignments page. All a student needs is Internet access and a browser. The lessons can also be accessed by students on almost any mobile device.

I had the pleasure of writing and curating these lessons, but future Collaborize Teacher’s Guides will offer lessons aligned to the Common Core for a range of subject areas and grade levels written and curated by other inspiring educators.


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