Category Archives: Teacher Tools

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

Radical Black Friday Giveaways. Line Starts Here!

Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday, right?

A time to reflect on the joys of family, friends and football!  We gather, we eat, and we count down the minutes until we can line up outside the local mall to claim our chance to grab a $6 alarm clock or a top-of the line juicer/slicer combo for 80 percent off! Throw in a chance to win ONE MILLION DOLLARS, and we’ll even consider camping out for the better part of a long holiday weekend.


Given that ’tis the season for giveaways, I figured Radical Nation deserved a few freebies, too.  So I pulled together a few of my favorite student-involved assessment activities for you.  Check ’em out below and take ’em with you if you want.  No camping out required:

Revise it Once/Revise it Again Activity

Revise It Once/Revise It Again activities remind students that making progress on any task is possible by highlighting samples of responses to classroom tasks that have been progressively improved through revision.  Students start by studying each sample and identifying specific changes made from version to version.  Then, students summarize the ways that each revision improved the final product.  Finally, students are asked to spot opportunities in their own work for making similar improvements to their original attempts.

The key to developing successful Revise It Once/Revise It Again activities is to make sure that the samples shared focus attention on one or two tangible steps that students can take to improve their final products.  For example, the revisions in the Revise It Once/Revise It Again activity linked above are all centered on incorporating statistics and scientific vocabulary into reflection statements for a student lab report.  By focusing attention on one or two tangible steps that students can take in Revise It Once/Revise It Again activities, you are more likely to encourage students to actually use the lessons learned from comparing their work against examples of accomplished performance – an essential element of effective feedback.

High/Low Comparison Tasks

High/Low Comparison tasks present students with a handful of essential criteria for a successful performance on a task that they are required to complete.  Those criteria are written in approachable language and short phrases.  More importantly, those criteria are always based on core characteristics that can actually be observed in final products.  Vague descriptors like “Piece is well written and includes elaboration” are replaced with more specific descriptions of success like “Quotes from experts are used to elaborate key points in each paragraph.”

Then, High/Low Comparison tasks present students with two exemplars of authentic work.  One exemplar models a high level of student mastery while the other models a low level of student mastery.  Working alone, students use a feedback grid (Wiliam, 2002) to record the success criteria that can be found in both exemplars, determine which exemplar represents accomplished performance and compare their own work to the exemplars shared.  Finally, High/Low Comparison tasks give students opportunities to compare their ratings with ratings given by peers, looking specifically for points of agreement and/or disagreement.  In short, side-by-side conversations, partners defend their ratings by referring back to evidence spotted in the exemplars being examined.

Unit Analysis Forms

If the first fundamental rule of feedback is that it should be more work for the recipient than the donor — one of my favorite Dylan Wiliam arguments — then our primary goal as teachers should be to create opportunities for students to spot trends and patterns in their own mistakes.  The most meaningful feedback isn’t something that is given.  It is something that is discovered by individuals trying to improve their own performance.  That’s the purpose of Unit Analysis Forms in my classroom.

Given out as we review tests taken in class, Unit Analysis Forms ask students to determine the objectives from an individual unit that they have — or have not — mastered.  Then, students are asked to figure out if their struggles are a result of conceptual misunderstandings or simple mistakes.  Finally, students are asked to reflect on and write about the patterns that they can spot in their test performance.  Instead of simply grading a paper and handing it back, kids are forced to really think about what those scores mean about their progress as a learner.

Of course, every one of these tasks are based around the sixth grade science curriculum that I am responsible for teaching.  That means if you are a high school math teacher or a grade 3 teacher, you’re going to have to adapt these templates so that they reflect YOUR curriculum and YOUR tasks.

But know that they reflect best practice in providing feedback because they cause students to think — and thinking about feedback is WAY more important than simply receiving it.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!



Related Radical Reads:

Feedback Should be More Work for the Recipient

Effective Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

@shareski is Right: My Students CAN Assess Themselves

Using Remind to Share Nonfiction Reading with Students

One of the things that I like best about the students in my sixth grade science classroom is that they are still INCREDIBLY curious about the world around them.  Blowing their minds is just a matter of taking the time to make them aware of the fact that cool science happens every day.

I’ve done a ton in the past few years to share visual content with my kids — mostly by creating and sharing curated lists of interesting YouTube and Instagram channels worth following (see here and here and here).  Those efforts have definitely paid off:  Tons of kids are now walking around with easy access to constantly updated streams of pure science awesomeness, and that’s cool.

But I’ve never worked to get high interest science text in front of my students — and that’s a missed opportunity.

The simple truth is that turning students on to nonfiction reading — proving that articles from sources like Popular Science and Gizmodo and National Geographic can be JUST as amazing as The Hunger Games or The Lightning Thief or The Lunar Chronicles — is probably the MOST important contribution that I can make to the academic and intellectual growth of my students.

Being exposed to high interest articles from a wide range of fields — space science, biology, chemistry, earth science — might just introduce kids to personal passions and future professions.  Seeing science in action turns what could be just another boring subject in school into an interesting career worth pursuing.  Just as importantly, exposing kids to high interest nonfiction text on a regular basis will build their comfort level with a genre that will increasingly define the reading that they do as middle schoolers, high schoolers and adults.

So I’m trying something new this year:  I’m going to use Remind — a free service that allows teachers to send out text and/or email updates to parents and students — to share two or three interesting science current events every week.

Remind is the right service for this project for three reasons:

1). Students can receive my updates via text.  The average teen sends and receives 30 text messages per day, making texting one of the most important methods of communication for today’s kids.  That means sharing interesting content via text is the best strategy for reaching my students.

2). Remind allows me to schedule messages for specific times.  Right now, my plan is to deliver every message to my students between 7:15 and 7:45 AM and between 3:00 and 3:45 PM.  That means my kids will get interesting content while they are trapped in the carpool line or on the bus on the way to and from school.  My hope is that reading the cool stuff that I send will become a part of their regular routine — something to look forward to because it keeps them busy during a time when they are normally bored.

3). I can schedule messages directly from my cell phone:  I do most of my casual nonfiction reading on my cell phone right before bed.  While reading, I am constantly bookmarking content to use in class later and sharing content out to my Twitterstream.  Essentially, I have turned spare minutes while I’m winding down for the day into an opportunity to curate information for myself and for others.

Integrating Remind into that already established process will be a breeze because scheduling articles through Remind’s app is a two-tap process from any screen.  That means sharing nonfiction with my kids won’t be yet another thing that I have to do.  Instead, it is a natural extension of something I’m already doing.

I’ll keep you posted on whether or not my plan works.

(PS: This is a perfect example of the notion that the best #edtech decisions have to start with meaningful learning outcomes in mind.  I’m not using Remind because texting students is a behavior worth pursuing.  I’m using Remind because sharing high-interest nonfiction reading is a behavior worth pursuing.)


Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool, NOT a Learning Outcome

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks

Is Stocking Library Shelves with Nonfiction Content a Waste of Money?

Check Out Canva’s Education Resources!

As regular Radical readers already know (see here, here and here), I’ve been a big fan of Canva — an online tool designed to make it easy for anyone to create stunning visual content — for a long while.  Understanding the role that visual content can play in communicating messages and persuading audiences is an essential skill in a world where pictures and infographics and videos are everywhere.  Canva facilitates that work, plain and simple.

What I love the best about Canva, though, is their organizational commitment to supporting educators.  In the past year alone, I’ve had tons of conversations with Cliff Obrecht — Canva’s Founder — about just what classroom teachers need in order to better integrate graphic design into their lesson plans.  And in that time, I’ve watched Canva create REALLY useful content that teachers and students can use immediately.

Need proof?  

Then check out Canva’s Design School Tutorials, where you can work through a series of lessons on topics ranging from pairing fonts together in a design to using whitespace to enhance a final product.  Every time that I poke around in the Design School Tutorials, I learn something new.  More importantly, every time that I poke around in the Design School Tutorials, I learn something that I can share with my students as I help them to master the art of creating influential visuals.

Need MORE proof?

Then check out Canva’s Teaching Materials, where you can find a growing collection of classroom-ready lesson plans that are being created by remarkable practitioners.  Learn how to use Canva as a part of a lesson on visual poetry from John Spencer; how to use Canva for mathematical modeling from Steven Anderson; or how to use Canva to create “fan pages” for historical figures from Vicki Davis.  There are also lessons from Monica Burns, Paul Hamilton, Terri Eicholtz, and some guy named Bill Ferriter.  It’s honestly a remarkable collection covering all subjects and grade levels.

Or just stop by Canva’s new Education landing page — launched at this year’s SXSW conference:

Long story short:  I’m a BIG believer that teaching kids to create influential visual content matters — even if creating influential visual content isn’t a skill that appears regularly in our required curricula.  To turn kids loose into a visual world without preparing them to communicate messages visually would be akin to turning kids loose in a text-based world without teaching them how to read and write.


And I’m a BIG believer in Canva.  They are a company with a great tool.  But more importantly, they are a company committed to doing everything that they can to make graphic design more approachable for teachers and for students.



(Blogger’s Note:  In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’ve got a great relationship with Cliff Obrecht, Canva’s founder.  While we’ve never met in person, Cliff reached out early in Canva’s attempts to get into the education space.  I’ve been giving him advice ever since.  

I continue to fill that role for Cliff as an official “Education Adviser.”  That doesn’t come with any official salary — but Cliff does throw me gift cards that I can share with readers every now and then!  I don’t help him for free gift cards, though.  I help him because I believe in him.  He really does want to give back to practitoners — and that’s just plain cool.)

(Blogger’s Note 2:  Want a gift code good for 10 free premium images in Canva?  Cliff just sent me a ton to share with readers.  Drop me a comment with your email address.  I’ll send one along!)


Tool Review: Zaption Makes Differentiation Doable

One of the core instructional behaviors that I’ve been trying to polish over the past few years is providing differentiated learning experiences for my students.

The simple truth is that whole class instruction isn’t completely appropriate when my classrooms are full of students with incredibly diverse abilities.  My challenge, then, is finding ways to stretch students in need of enrichment and to provide extra practice to students in need of remediation.

That kind of targeted enrichment and remediation, however, ain’t easy to pull off.  First, it depends on my ability to accurately identify the different levels of mastery in my classroom.  Then, it depends on my willingness and ability to develop multiple sets of materials that are uniquely suited for students of different abilities. Finally, it depends on my ability to find and then give my students access to those materials on a moment’s notice!


That’s why I’m tinkering with Zaption — a service that allows students to interact with video-based content in interesting ways.

Zaption makes it possible for teachers to create interactive “video tours” that pair videos from popular sources like YouTube and Vimeo with content elements like text and image slides as well as multiple choice and open-ended assessment questions.  Adding text and image slides to a video tour allows teachers to reinforce key points.  Adding assessment elements allows teachers to get a quick sense for whether or not students are mastering important concepts.

Need an example of what a Zaption video tour looks like in action?

Then check out this tour on plate tectonics that I put together yesterday.  While you won’t get to see the reports available to teachers, you will get a sense for what a Zaption video tour looks like to students.

The free version of Zaption makes it possible for users to create tours built around one video.  Each tour created with a free account can include up to six content elements.  Zaption’s Pro features — which cost $79 per year — make it possible for users to create tours from multiple videos and to include up to 15 content elements in a tour.  There are also additional content, organizing and reporting elements — like classroom discussions and the ability to create student groups — available to Pro users.  Finally, Zaption has a Pro Campus feature that allows STUDENTS to create their own video tours.

My plans are to stick with the free version for the time being.  While I am REALLY intrigued by the classroom discussion features available to Pro users and the ability for students to create their own video tours available to Pro Campus users, I’m broke — and there is enough functionality in the basic version to let me do some interesting things in class.

My guess is that I will start to use Zaption to do both preteaching and reteaching in my classroom.  

Using Zaption at the beginning of a lesson can give me valuable information about what students know before I even begin teaching.  I might be able to quickly spot students — or entire classes — that can place out of individual lessons because they have already mastered the content or concepts that we are about to study.

I’m also excited about using Zaption tours as remediation activities in my room.  When students struggle to master content or concepts, I can turn them loose on a video tour for initial reteaching.  That will free me to work more productively with student groups in my room who actually need my attention.

Long story short:  I see a TON of potential in Zaption as a tool for facilitating my efforts to create differentiated learning experiences in my classroom — an instructional practice that I believe in and yet have always struggled to pull off on a consistent basis.


Related Radical Reads:

Want a Quick Guide to Web 2.0 Tools and Projects?

In Celebration of TEACHING Geeks.

Tool Review: Kahoot