Category Archives: Teacher Tools

Tool Review: Blendspace by TES Teach

One of the challenges of teaching science to sixth graders is that many of the most common lab procedures and processes are new to them.  Everything from identifying constants and variables to using lab equipment properly can lead to a slew of questions and slow groups to a steady crawl.

That’s why I started tinkering with Blendspace — a digital tool that makes it possible for users to create a landing page filled with content that users can consume.  I figured that if I could point students to one site that could answer all of their questions, lab time would be more manageable for me and more productive for my kids.

Need to see a sample of Blendspace in action?  Check out this one, covering important information for a lab we are currently completing:

Each tile on the Blendspace represents a piece of content that will help students to successfully complete their lab.  Students can work through the space in order from beginning to end by hitting the “Play” button at the top of the screen OR they can click on the icons in the bottom right hand corner of each tile to explore individual resources answering specific questions.

Creating my Blendspace was a breeze.

After planning out all the content that I thought my students would need in order to successfully complete our lab, I sat behind my cell phone camera to record and upload my videos directly to YouTube.  Adding those same videos to Blendspace tiles was a one-click process.  The other content — links to online tutorials or videos, links to individual Google Docs, text-based slides sharing directions and/or information — were just as easy to add.

Putting this Blendspace together — recording videos, organizing content, adding tiles, making a short link with Bitly — probably took about 90 minutes from start to finish.  That’s TOTALLY worth it if it helps students to answer their own questions during our labs AND if I plan to use the same lab in future years.  Better yet, my Blendspace will help other teachers on my learning team who are teaching the same lab — saving everyone a ton of time and energy.

I see potential in Blendspace because it’s a tool that solves a specific problem for me.

Providing students with recorded directions and organized sets of materials for every lab promotes independence and frees me up to interact more meaningfully with the kids in my classroom.

Whaddya’ think?


Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Screencastify

Tool Review:  Google Expeditions

Tool Review: Edpuzzle

Edpuzzle Just Made Transitioning from Zaption Simple.

A few weeks back, I shared an example of digital resilience here on the Radical when I learned that Zaption — one of my favorite tools for creating digital tutorials for my students — was going out of business in early September.  

To be honest, I was devastated.  Zaption tutorials have become the first step that I take in my classroom whenever I want to reteach individual concepts to my students or to provide enrichment for kids who are ready to move on before our lessons even begin.  Stated more simply, Zaption tutorials made differentiation doable — and I had invested a ton of time and energy into creating tutorials on dozens of topics connected to my required curriculum.  Losing that work was hard to imagine.

That’s when I stumbled across Edpuzzle — a service that makes it possible for users to create the same kinds of digital tutorials.  Better yet, Edpuzzle is seamlessly integrated with Google Classroom — making it possible for users to import their class rosters, assign content, and track progress back and forth between the two platforms.  For a guy like me working in a Google Apps for Education district, that is an awesome feature that Zaption didn’t offer.

After tinkering with Edpuzzle for just a few minutes, I knew that I’d found a great replacement for Zaption.  Creating videos and tracking progress is just as easy in Edpuzzle as it was in Zaption. Edpuzzle users can also ask the same kinds of questions and include the same kinds of content in their digital tutorials as Zaption users.  In fact, the final products made possible by Edpuzzle are nearly identical to the final products made possible by Zaption.

The only hitch:  I wasn’t all that excited about recreating the 30+ tutorials that I had stored over in Zaption.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

That’s when Edpuzzle saved the day yet again, dropping me a message in Twitter that pointed me to a new feature that they’d just finished developing:  One click transitioning from Zaption to Edpuzzle.

Here’s the details:


Do you see how ridiculously valuable that is to Zaption users like me?

Thanks to the work of the folks over at Edpuzzle, losing Zaption isn’t going to hurt me at all.  By making it possible to automatically import my Zaption content into their service, Edpuzzle has saved me a ton of time AND made it possible for me to continue providing differentiated learning experiences for the kids in my classroom.  That matters.



Related Radical Reads:

Goodbye Zaption. Hello Edpuzzle.

Zaption Makes Differentiation Doable

Being Digitally Resilient

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks


Goodbye Zaption. Hello Edpuzzle

One of the most important lessons for teachers living in a digital world to learn is how to be digitally resilient — or persistent in the face of the kinds of glitches and hiccups that happen when you are working with old technology, unreliable infrastructure, or free tools.  If you can’t persist despite challenges, you may as well stop using technology in the classroom because those challenges are inevitable.

I had a first hand experience with the need to be digitally resilient today when I learned that Zaption — one of my favorite tools for creating differentiated learning experiences for students — had been sold and will be shutting down in early September.  Given that I’ve got about 30 different Zaption videos about content across my curriculum that I use for initial reteaching when students struggle to master standards and for providing enrichment to students who master content early in my class, I was more than a little devastated!

But here’s the thing:  I knew that there had to be other tools LIKE Zaption that I could turn to and start rebuilding my collection of tutorials.  

And ten minutes after finding out that Zaption was closing up shop, I stumbled across Edpuzzle — which offers the same feature set as Zaption — the ability to create annotated video tutorials, the ability to ask students questions and automatically grade their answers, the ability to see how many times students watched a tutorial.  Better yet, Edpuzzle offers seamless two-way integration with Google Classroom — a Google Apps for Education product that has become the primary hub for all of the online work that I’m sharing with students on my learning team.

I signed up, created a tutorial that is almost identical to a tutorial that I had already made in Zaption, imported my class rosters from Google Classroom, and pushed out the new tutorial to my students in no time.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I’m bummed that Zaption is gone.  I invested a ton of time in creating tutorials for my kids and I’ll have to go back and do that work all over again.  

But I’m not giving up because (1). there are plenty of other tools available to me and (2). the core behavior that I care about — providing quick reteaching and enrichment opportunities to students that are self-directed and created in advance — still matters.

That’s digital resilience in action.


Related Radical Reads:

Zaption Makes Differentiation Doable

Being Digitally Resilient

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks

Robotics = Low Risk Failure.

I’ve been doing a ton of thinking alongside a colleague named Kevin Coulter lately. Kevin is a longtime math teacher who as recently transitioned into an instructional technology facilitator role in our building.  Most recently, Kevin was pitching me on a robotics club that he is starting in our building.

In the course of that conversation, he mentioned that he’d bought a Sphero 2.0 for his six year old son to tinker with — and he talked me into buying one for my six year old daughter.

I can’t wait for the Sphero to get here for a ton of reasons.  

Perhaps most importantly, it will give my daughter some early experiences with coding and programming — skills that I am convinced will be difference makers by the time that she grows up.  I’ve had her tinkering with Scratch Junior over the past year, but she’s never been all that motivated by moving an imaginary cat around a screen.  My hope is that the Sphero rumbling around the living room or the backyard will be far more motivating because it is tangible — she can see it and feel it working in a way that just isn’t possible with Scratch.

What I’m most excited about, though, is that the Sphero will give my daughter a thousand opportunities to fail without risk.

She’s going to write flawed instructions time-and-time again.  The Sphero won’t move at all — or it will go too far or too fast or too slow to do whatever it is that she’s trying to get it to do.  It will make wrong turns and end up stuck under the couch. It’s bound to knock over a few drinks sitting on the carpet.  Who knows, it might even bounce off of Nana’s shins a few times instead of going straight through her legs.


Each of those flawed instructions is going to need correction — and my guess is that my daughter is going to be highly motivated to make the corrections.  Because she can see her Sphero moving in unexpected ways and because she has specific plans in mind for how she wanted it to move in the first place, I imagine that she’s going to return to her code, find the error in her directions, and make corrections in the moment.  What’s more, she’ll experience the instant gratification that comes from making a correction that fixes the flaw in her code — or the need for persistence that comes when there are flaws in a corrected line of code.

You see why this all matters, don’t you?

If we really believe in the power of having a growth mindset — if we are convinced that being confident in your own abilities when faced with challenging circumstances matters — then we’ve got to create lots of opportunities for kids to fail, make revisions to their initial efforts, and see that those revisions worked.  That cycle of creation and correction is a fact of life when you are programming — and it builds confidence in learners.  Each new opportunity to rework the code that she’s written for her Sphero will send the message to my daughter that mistakes are not failures and that she really does have the ability to think her way out of a jam.

Sadly, that’s NOT the message that students get about failure in most traditional school settings.

Instead, failure typically has HUGE consequences.  You spend two weeks working on a project with paper and glue only to find out that you’ve done something wrong.  Correction requires TONS of effort that may and/or may not seem worthwhile.  Or you spend a month studying a new concept without much in-the-moment feedback about the progress that you are making and you miss twelve questions on the test at the end of the unit.  The teacher — rushing their way through a huge curriculum moves on and you are labeled with a C or a D or an F.  Your parents are mad and you are embarrassed.

The simple truth is that robotics programs in schools have potential NOT because kids need to learn how to program robots.

Robotics programs in schools have potential because they provide students with chances to fail without risk and with chances to recognize that they DO have the ability to move forward after something goes wrong.



Related Radical Reads:

This is What a Growth Mindset Looks Like in Action

How Gritty are Today’s Learners

Talent is Cheaper than Table Salt

Tool Review: Head Over Heels in Love with Screencastify

One of the struggles that I’ve always had as a teacher is differentiating instruction in my room.

The truth is that while I believe in targeting instruction towards student needs and allowing students to work at their own pace through my required curriculum, pulling those behaviors off on a consistent basis is a heck of a lot harder than it looks.  Working in a classroom where some students need direct instruction, some need quick review, and some need extensions and enrichment all at the same time can really stretch a teacher thin.

A trick that I picked up years ago from Carol Ann Tomlinson was to record sets of directions for stations that students could use to get themselves started.

Tomlinson’s thinking is that differentiation efforts stall when teachers are constantly interrupted by students who are looking for the answers to simple procedural questions.  Recordings — which can be replayed time and time again — build instructional momentum for everyone and leave teachers confident that they can facilitate classrooms where groups of students are working on different tasks at different times.

For a long while, I was using YouTube’s now defunct My Webcam feature — which allowed users to record video content directly from their computers and post it to the site — for this work.  I’ve also experimented with screencasting tools like Screenr (also defunct) and Screencast-o-Matic — which allow users to capture their desktops or the content in their web browsers, too — for quick tutorials on how to navigate apps or software programs that kids in my class often use when working in stations.

But after a recommendation from my pal Pete Caggia, I’ve fallen completely and totally head over heels in love with Screencastify.

In many ways, Screencastify does the same things that YouTube’s My Webcam, Screenr and Screencast-o-Matic do.  Users can create recordings — either directly from their webcam, of their desktop, or of tabs in their browsers.  When recording desktops or tabs, users can also embed their webcam in the bottom right corner of their video — allowing viewers to see both the desktop AND the presenter at the same time.

What makes Screencastify unique, however, is that it is an extension for Google’s Chrome browser — so after installing a browser button, you are one click away from creating a recording no matter what computer you happen to be using.  What’s more, Screencastify saves your recordings straight to your Google Drive and makes it easy for you to upload those videos directly to YouTube.

Combine that feature set with Screencastify’s seamless integration with Google’s core products — Chrome, Drive and YouTube — and it becomes the perfect tool for teachers who are working to make collections of tutorials to use in differentiated classrooms.  There’s literally NO struggle to create and post polished final products — whether you are simply recording yourself giving directions to students or whether you want to create a “flipped video” that provides more formal instruction to students on concepts in the required curriculum.

That seamless integration with Google’s core products also makes Screencastify the perfect product for schools rolling out Chromebooks as a primary tool in 1:1 environments.  Given that there is almost never any significant storage on a Chromebook, Screencastify’s decision to post final products directly to Drive is a fantastic workaround.

Screencastify has both a free and a paid version.

While the free version is probably sufficient for most classroom teachers — it enables the recording of videos that are less than 10 minutes long but adds a Screencastify logo to every video — I REALLY want you to consider investing in the paid version.  For $22, you can get a lifetime membership.  That $22 doesn’t get you a ton of new features that you’ll need, but I’m a big believer that we need to invest in good tools if we want those tools to stick around.  The reason our favorite #eduproducts disappear is that we never want to pony up the cash to make the #edumarket viable for developers.



Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review:  Zaption Makes Differentiation Doable

Tool Review:  Kahoot

Tool Review:  Using Remind to Share Nonfiction with Kids