5 Tips To Keep Students Learning When Extreme Weather Strikes

Yesterday Northern California was hit by massive storm. My school was closed because of weather for the first time in my teaching career. I know this is a fairly regular occurrence in colder climates; however, it’s a new situation for many of us in more temperate climates unused to extreme weather patterns.

When I received notification that our school was closing three days before final exams, I was dismayed. We didn’t have time to lose an entire day together. So, I decided to get creative with technology and modify my class so students would still cover the content.

Here are 5 strategies I used to keep class in session online:

1. Text Your Students and Parents 

The first thing I did was use Remind, a free text messaging service, to text all of my students and parents to let them know school was canceled, but my class was in session online.

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2. Use a Google Community to Connect Students

Create a Google Community for each of your classes. This is an ideal space to post announcements, allow students to ask questions, and encourage students to have discussions about assignments.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 9.52.30 AMPart of our class assignment was to complete reading in Fahrenheit 451. Normally, students would have small group discussions about the reading. I encouraged them to use our Google Community to have a similar asynchronous conversation to ensure they understood the reading.

3. Flip Your Instruction Using Your YouTube Channel

Just because you’re not in the same room with your students doesn’t mean you cannot present information. Record a quick video explaining a concept, introducing vocabulary or describing an assignment or project. I use QuickTime on my Mac to record quick screencasts. Then I upload them to my YouTube channel, so students can view them at home. I’d also recommend you pair your video with a TodaysMeet Backchannel to allow students a shared space to discuss the video and ask questions.

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4. Use Web Tools to Design a Virtual Lesson

I use a wide range of web tools with my students. Yesterday, I designed a lesson using StudySync that asked my students to read and annotate a digital text titled “Burning Books.” Once they had actively read the text, they had to synthesize the information in that article with our core text Fahrenheit 451. Once they submitted their writing, they were asked to provide 2 peers with thoughtful peer feedback on their writing.

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5. Offer Virtual Office Hours with Google Hangout

Even though you are not physically in a room with your students doesn’t mean you cannot connect with them to answer questions or provide quick tutorial sessions. I told my students when I was planning to be online, then I encouraged them to message me if they wanted to set up a Google Hangout to discuss their assignment or our upcoming final exam.

Google hangout pic with my students

Despite the weather and missed day of school, I don’t feel behind. If you are used to school closures and cancelations and have strategies you use to keep your class in session virtually, please post a comment and share them!


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Voxer: Have Fun with Speaking & Listening

This week I was invited to join an ongoing conversation with a small group of English teachers using Voxer. Voxer is a live messaging app that combines the functionality of the classic walkie talkie with texting and photo sharing capabilities.


Users can talk live or share recorded messages with a single person or a group of people. The ability to send a combination of text, photos, and audio messages using Voxer makes it a versatile tool.

In an effort to capitalize on my students’ love affairs with their devices, I’ve tried to think outside the box in terms of the Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards. In addition to our face to face conversations in the classroom, I am always looking for ways to connect students beyond the classroom to extend and enhance the learning happening in real time. Voxer offers some exciting possibilities!

Here are some ideas for using Voxer to help connect students in a meaningful way and practice both their speaking and listening skills.

  1. Create discussion groups up to 5 students.
  2. Encourage students to form study groups to prepare for an exam.
  3. Pair students learning a language, allow them to practice having conversations, and encourage them to critique their recordings.
  4. Extend PBL (project based learning) assignments beyond the classroom so group mates can connect and work asynchronously.
  5. Connect lab groups outside of the classroom, so they can discuss the results of labs/experiments, ask questions and get support.
  6. Facilitate peer feedback. Students can talk through their plans for a writing assignment or share a thesis statement and receive feedback.
  7. Practice an oral presentation and get feedback.
  8. Group storytelling. Each member of the group can add to a collective story that can then be developed in writing.
  9. Gather reading samples from students to evaluate their reading level and share with parents.
  10. Offer asynchronous office hours.

If teachers are a member of each student group, they can see and listen to all of the information shared by their students. This provides more opportunities for teachers to provide formative feedback and support beyond the classroom.

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MindShift’s Guide to Digital Games & Learning

Digital games and their place in the educational landscape has been a hotly debated issue. Despite the debate, one thing is clear, students love games. If educators can capitalize on that interest and excitement, games can become a powerful vehicle for learning.

This comprehensive guide published by  MindShift and written by Jordan Shapiro explores the benefits of using digital games for learning, provides strategies for selecting games, and includes examples of how educators are using digital games in the classroom. Ultimately, the goal is to use digital games to engage students and put them at the center of the learning in the classroom.

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The guide is organized in the following chapters:

 Introduction: Getting in the Game

Chapter 1: What the Research Says About Games and Screen Time

Chapter 2: How to Start Using Digital Games for Learning

Chapter 3: How to Choose a Digital Learning Game

Chapter 4: Overcoming Obstacles for Using Digitial Games in the Classroom

Chapter 5: How Teachers Are Using Games in the Classroom

If you found this guide helpful, I’d recommend MindShift’s “Teachers’ Ultimate Guide to Using Videos.”

If you are currently using digital games with students, please post a comment sharing your favorite digital games and how you are using them!


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The Truth Is I Almost Quit Teaching

Before technology, I was so disillusioned with the teaching profession I remember thinking, “Have I chosen the wrong career?” When I began to experiment with technology, my reality as a teacher changed so dramatically that now I cannot imagine doing any other job!

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Get Common Core Ready: Transfer Active Reading Strategies Online

I’m writing a series of blogs titled “Get Common Core Ready” that are inspired by my next book Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology (to be published by Corwin in spring 2015). This first blog will focus on helping students to transfer their pen and paper annotation skills to the online space.

I’m a stickler about annotations. For years, I heard students lament, “Tucker, I never remember what I read” or “I just don’t understand what is happening in this book.” In response, I began to teach students the art of annotating.

I provide students with strategies they can use to annotate the texts we read. I encourage them to:

  • Identify and define unfamiliar vocabulary words
  • Underline words or phrases that hint at or reveal a central idea/theme in the text
  • Identify new characters or individuals and describe them in a few words
  • Note any symbols and brainstorm the deeper meaning of those objects
  • Underline or highlight sections of text that are descriptive, poignant or thought provoking
  • Make connections to other texts, movies, or points of reference
  • Predict what will happen next
  • Ask questions
  • Capture emotional reactions to events, people and/or dialogue

Some students capture their annotations in the books we borrow from our school library using post-it notes, while other prefer to take Cornell-style annotation notes.











The trick for the 21st century student, who regularly reads both paper and digital texts, is to transfer those classic pen and paper annotation strategies online. It’s too easy for students to skim online articles and texts without thinking deeply about they are reading. Yet more and more information is becoming available digitally, so it’s important that students know how to actively read digital texts.

In addition, a large number of students will be tackling the Smarter Balance Assessment and PARCC exam this spring. It’s crucial that they are able to actively read digital texts if they are going to be successful on these exams. If students have not been given the opportunity to regularly read and annotate texts online, they will not have the digital reading stamina or active reading skills necessary to be successful on these Common Core aligned exams. The more we ask students to read and annotate online, the more likely they are to feel confident and prepared for these new digital exams.

There are a two tools I regularly use to encourage students to annotate online.


StudySync has an extensive digital library composed of excerpts from classic and contemporary literature, poetry, short stories, famous speeches, and nonfiction texts. For every text my students read, they use the built-in annotation tool to highlight and create notes employing the annotation strategies suggested above.

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The goal is to train students to think about what they are reading and use annotation strategies to make sense of complex texts. Each student’s annotations for every text they read are saved and can be easily referenced as they continue through the online lesson.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.52.06 PMStudySync gives me the freedom to pick and choose texts that will complement the traditional titles I teach. For years, I was limited to the literature available in our book room. Now, I have access to hundreds of titles at various Lexile levels (users can search for texts by Lexile). I can pair FDR’s Inaugural Address (pictured above) with To Kill a Mockingbird, which specifically references that speech, to provide students with historical context.

This is a phenomenal resource for schools and districts looking to shift to the Common Core and embrace a digital approach to literacy development. This is a paid for product worth checking out!


Instead of making copies of online resources or articles, I’ve gone entirely paperless. I no longer print articles, make tons of copies and pass them out to students. Now, I simply find supplementary readings online and hyperlink to them from our class website.  I instruct my students to “Diigo” them, which means I want them to read and annotate the online texts.

Diigo - annotating a digital text #1 - toolbar

Students click the hyperlink on our class website and go directly to the article I want them to read and annotate. On their device, they can upload the Diigo toolbar so they can easily annotate anything they read online. There is even a Diigo Chrome extension for those students using the Chrome browser.

Diigo - annotating a digital text #2 -highlight and note

Students can highlight in several colors and create post-it notes as they read. These are automatically saved to their individual Diigo accounts.

Diigo - annotating a digital text #4 - share with a group


Diigo notes can be private or shared with an individual or a group of individuals, which makes sharing resources easy if students are collaborating on an assignment. When they are done reading and annotating, they click “Share” and email their annotations directly to me.

Escaping the paper trail is so freeing, and it teaches students an essential life skill. Using Diigo teaches them how to process and organize all of the information they read online.

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Teachers Must Be Architects of Learning Experiences

When I step back and think about my own evolution as a teacher, I am struck by how dramatically different my approach to teaching is today compared to 14 years ago. When I first stepped into the classroom as a new teacher, at the age of 22, I felt I had to be the expert on everything. In retrospect, this is, of course, ridiculous.

Even after 14 years in the classroom, I do not claim to be an expert! Instead, I’ve learned something much more valuable: I should not strive to be a fountain of knowledge but rather an architect of learning experiences.

In first few years of my teaching career, I prepared mini-lectures to help my students understand concepts, vocabulary, grammar, writing, and literature. Unfortunately, this approach, which involved me talking and them listening, kept my students firmly in the role of passive consumers. As a result, it failed to yield meaningful learning. It also failed to capitalize on the collective intelligence in my classroom.

Today, my classroom is a more chaotic space where students collaborate almost constantly to learn from and with one another. It isn’t that my role is less valuable. However, the focus of the actual lesson is not on me; it’s on them. My energy is spent in two specific areas: building lessons that challenge students to construct knowledge together and providing support/feedback throughout the process as needed.

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Many educators refer to the role of the teacher today as the “guide on the side”; however, that title feels too passive given how challenging our jobs are! I like the analogy of the architect – one who designs a building and as needed supervises its construction. That is how I view my role as a teacher. I design lessons with the goal of providing meaningful learning experiences that demand students be curious and creative. Then I am a presence in the classroom to lend support as their interactions drive the lesson.

Shifting to the role of the architect is challenging. The truth is it’s easier to stand in front of a classroom and tell students everything we know about a topic we have been teaching for years. It is exponentially more challenging to design learning experiences that allow students to construct knowledge. Conversely, it’s easier for students to sit passively staring at a teacher while taking notes; it’s harder to be an active and engaged member of a group. However, being an active participant in a classroom is much more socially and mentally rewarding.

The more we can make learning an experience and engage our students as active generators of information using the tools at our disposal and the collective intelligence in our classrooms, the more likely we are to cultivate students who are intellectually curious and armed with the skills needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world.


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Instagram Sensory Walk

My students are really great at describing what things look like in their writing. They are not as skilled at putting smells, tastes, sounds and feelings into words. As a result, their narratives often feel flat, one-dimensional, and unreal. In an effort to get my students expanding on their descriptions, I decided to do a sensory walk using Instagram. *Check out my blog on using Instagram for scavenger hunt activities.


When I announced that they would be going outside on an Instagram sensory walk, they initially protested, “But Tucker, it’s pouring rain outside!” I cheerily responded that rain was perfect for a sensory walk! There would be all kinds of smells, sounds, and sensations with the rain falling.

My students formed small groups of two or three for the activity. At least one student in each group had to have an Instagram account and the account had to be public for the activity. This made it possible for other members of the class to view their images.

Once they recovered from the shock of having to leave our warm cozy room, I explained that I wanted them to explore our campus, which is quite large, and take pictures. Since the pictures would provide a clear visual, their job would be to use the comment field to describe the scene with vibrant vocabulary and rich details appealing to the other, often neglected, senses.

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In addition to pairing their photos with sensory rich descriptions, I asked them to tag their photos with my Instagram name and our shared hashtag. This way it was easy to see their pictures.

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Despite the rain, they had a ball running around campus taking pictures and collaborating on the best descriptions!

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Save Time Grading with Doctopus & Goobric

I’m always on the look out to spend LESS time grading or, at the very least, to feel like the time I do spend grading is productive and efficient.

Several months ago I wrote a blog titled “Google Docs: Grading Tips & Tricks” in which I shared some simple strategies for grading more quickly when working with Google documents. In addition to those tips, I recently wrote a blog about the new editing feature in Google Documents, which is making it easier to provide formative feedback.

During a training last week, I was surprised that several teachers using Google Apps with students had not experimented with Doctopus, a Google Spreadsheet script developed by Andrew Stillman, and Goobric, a Chrome extension that adds rubric functionality to any document shared using Doctopus.

When Google upgraded to include “Add-ons” to Google Documents and Sheets, I lost the ability to use the rubrics I had designed and created using Google Forms. I was no longer able to “insert” the FormEmailer script to send out individual emails directly to students sharing their rubric feedback and scores with them. This is what inspired me to check out Doctopus and Goobric, which when used together can accomplish the same task!

Jay Atwood, a Google Certified Teacher, has created two easy to follow tutorial videos walking through the process of setting up both Doctopus and Goobric. If you are interested in going paperless, viewing your students’ documents as they work, providing more formative feedback, and streamlining your grading and assessments online, check out these tutorials to learn how to use Doctopus and Goobric.

The New Doctopus & Add-on Gallery

Goobric: Assessing Student Work

With the addition of Add-ons to Google Documents and Sheets, teachers only need to add Doctopus to one Sheet and add the Goobric Chrome extension one time and both will be available from then on.

If you have a favorite time-saving strategy when it comes to grading with Google documents, please post a comment and share it! I love learning from the other educators who read my blog.

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The Definition of Literacy is Changing

Growing up I heard the words literate and illiterate. I knew that people who were literate could read and write, and people who were illiterate could not. I remember trying to imagine what it would be like to navigate the world as an illiterate person. How would you get from place to place if you couldn’t read street signs? How could you cook if you couldn’t read a recipe? How would you know if it was safe to take a particular medication if you couldn’t read the label? These were some of the myriad questions that occupied my mind as a child.

Now, as an educator and parent I find myself revisiting this question of what it means to be literate. The definition of literacy is changing. Literacy means something different today than it did 10, 20, or 30 years ago.

I equate literacy with access to information and opportunities. In the past, people who could read and write could pick up a paper and read the news, pursue a career in almost any field, or attend college.

Technology is changing what it means to be literate. Literacy is quickly evolving to encompass skills that extend beyond reading and writing with pen and paper. Students today must be able to navigate the online space to successfully access information and opportunities.

My husband teaches an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) support class for first-generation college-bound students. Last year, his AVID seniors were applying to college and every step of the application process was online. Students who needed financial aid had to submit those forms online too. If those students had never been asked to create an email address, use a search engine, or work online, could they access the information they need to get ahead in an increasingly competitive and digital world? No. For many, they can’t even apply to college without basic technology skills.

When faced with the prospect of using technology with students, I’ve heard several teachers say, “What I do works for me.” Some resist the move to integrate technology because it’s unfamiliar and scary. There are phenomenal teachers who have been teaching for decades with pen and paper, but I’m concerned that teaching exclusively with pen and paper is not enough anymore. It will not adequately prepare our students for the jobs that await them after high school.

Technology is increasingly woven into the fabric of our lives. It must also be woven into the fabric of education to help students hone the skills they need to be truly literate in today’s society.

School leaders and administrators should engage teachers in a conversation about literacy. It creates more teacher buy-in when it comes to technology integration.

During my trainings and workshops, I ask teachers to brainstorm their thoughts in relation to these two questions: What does it mean to be a literate person in the 21st century? What skills do students need to be successful? The answers, usually, provide a strong case for the role of technology in education and the need to develop, not just traditional literacy, but also technology and media literacy.

This is a conversation worth having…

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Word Sneak: Vocabulary Game Inspired by the Tonight Show

While killing time in the airport last weekend, I watched a series of Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show clips. While watching Jimmy Fallon and Bryan Cranston playing “Word Sneak,” I was inspired! I decided to use this game format for a vocabulary review in my class.

Here are the steps for any teacher who wants to replicate this thoroughly entertaining vocabulary review game:

1. Start by playing a clip from The Tonight Show, so students know what they are being asked to do. Definitely preview the clip you plan to use to make sure it is appropriate for the grade level you teach.

2. Break up a list of vocabulary words into two shorter lists. I printed them out, so students could mark the words they were able to successfully and seamlessly “sneak” into the conversation.

3. Put students into pairs facing each other conversation style. Give each person a list with vocabulary words. Note: each member of the pair should have a different list of words.

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4. Ask pairs to exchange their lists temporarily and allow students 60 seconds to add 3 random, silly (yet school appropriate) words. This adds some spice to the activity.

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5. Once students have added random words to their partner’s paper, ask them to exchange papers and begin! As they “sneak” words into the conversation, they can check the words off of their list. However, if their partner does not think the word was inserted into the conversation “casually and seamlessly,” then they do not earn a point for that word. Note: I’d suggest setting a timer for 5 minutes.

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6. The person who successfully sneaks the most words into the conversation wins!

This game was ridiculously fun! I tweeted Jimmy Fallon (and The Tonight Show) to thank him for inspiring this fun activity. Look what I got in return! My students were totally pumped.

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