Category Archives: Tool Reviews

Are You a YouTube Recommendation Engine for Your Students?

Let’s start with a simple questionAre YOUR students spending any of their free time watching videos on YouTube?  

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Here’s the answer:  Most likely.

While there is little direct statistical evidence of YouTube use by elementary-aged children, 81 percent of parents of children under the age of eleven who were surveyed report that their children are consuming content on the popular video sharing website.

And marketing companies — who produce some of the most detailed statistics on YouTube use — report that 74% of kids between the ages of 12-24 use YouTube on a weekly basis, that YouTube captures about 30% of the total screen time of teenage users, and that the average teen spends about an hour watching YouTube each day.

Now another question:  Do you know WHAT KIND of YouTube videos your students are watching?

Depending on their age, your students are probably watching funny cat videos, hilarious fail videos, 24-hour fort challenge videos, or live Fortnite gameplay.  If your students are younger, they are probably churning through dozens of slime videos and toy reviews.  When she was six, my daughter even convinced me to become one of Cookie Swirl C’s ELEVEN MILLION SUBSCRIBERS so that we could get notifications whenever she posted a new My Little Ponies video.



Seems harmless, right?  Everyone loves a good fail video after all.

But here’s the thing:  That’s a TON of wasted potential.  If our kids spend 30 hours a month — almost 400 hours a year — watching funny cat videos and toy reviews, are they REALLY going to grow into learners and thinkers who are ready to innovate and create the future?  Wouldn’t that time be better spent on something more meaningful?

Now I know what you are thinking:  These are the same worries that parents and teachers had about all the time that we spent sitting in front of the television when we were kids.  I can still remember my mom losing it when she caught me watching Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch after school.  “Get off the Boob Tube and go read a book!” she’d shout, just before turning off the television in the middle of an epic episode.  “You are wasting your time.”

That’s faulty logic, though.  The truth is that the time our kids spend watching YouTube is a heckuva’ lot WORSE than the time that we spent watching broadcast television.  

Here’s why:  To increase the time that its users spend on the site, YouTube offers viewers recommendations at the end of every view — and those recommendations get progressively longer from video to video.  The result?  Our kids get slowly sucked into spending more and more time watching content that does little to move them forward.

Worse yet, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm uses your viewing history to make new suggestions to you.  So the more mindless content that you watch, the more mindless content YouTube is going to pull forward for you.  A few dozen clicks and your entire stream is filled with nothing but marginal content.

And that’s a HUGE missed opportunity because alongside all of those fail videos, YouTube has TONS of meaningful content worth watching.

There are dozens of science communicators creating interesting and educational content that will leave kids hooked while teaching them a thing or two at the same time.  There are makers and DIY channels that can encourage kids to use their hands to create.  Most major news outlets — both in the United States and beyond — are sharing engaging content to explain current events to viewers.  You can learn to play the piano or the ukulele or the guitar on YouTube.  You can also learn to draw or to dance or to sew or to repair a car or to cook, too.

Stated more simply, YouTube really can become a powerful learning tool if you want it too.

That’s why I’ve decided to become a YouTube recommendation engine for my students.

Here’s how:

First, I create an annotated list of some of my favorite YouTube channels and share it with my students on our team website.  Then, I “channel talk” each source over the course of the year and spotlight the best videos in classroom conversations.  If I use a video from one of my channels in a lesson, I remind my students that they can find that content creator in my annotated list.  And if students finish assignments early, I allow them to spend that time in YouTube as long as they are watching videos from channels on my annotated list.

I also maintain a playlist of videos that I am currently watching — and I encourage students to watch those same videos whenever they have the chance.  By transparently sharing the content that I am watching, I create opportunities for conversations with my students.  Comments like, “Hey Mr. Ferriter, I saw that video on the plan to use helicopters on Mars.  That was cool” become teachable moments that started from a simple public playlist on a popular digital property where my students are already spending their free time.

There’s nothing revolutionary going on here, y’all. 

In fact, all I’m doing is acting a lot like our school’s librarian — pairing my knowledge my curriculum and my kids to curate a collection of resources that I know they are going to find interesting.  And the best part is that nothing I’m doing requires extra time, energy or effort because I’m already spending time looking for engaging content in YouTube.  All that I need to do is add the videos that I’m watching to my public playlist and share the new channels that I’m finding in my master list of interesting YouTube sources.

But there really is something powerful happening.

Every time that one of my students checks out videos on the YouTube channels that I share or from my public playlist, I’m stealing a few minutes away from the time that they would have otherwise spent watching content with no real educational value.  Even better, every time that a student checks out the channels or videos that I am sharing, the content that YouTube will recommend to them moving forward changes.

That means students who are checking out MY suggested videos and channels will see more and more interesting content appearing in their streams — and fewer and fewer fail videos.  Not only am I exposing kids to content that they will find interesting right now, I’m ensuring that YouTube’s interest algorithms will keep exposing kids to that kind of content every time that they return to the site.

So how can YOU become a YouTube recommendation engine for your students?

It’s easy.

Start by finding an interesting video that is connected to your curriculum.  Follow the steps in this short screencast to add it to a new public playlist.  Then, keep adding videos to the playlist moving forward and share the playlist with your students.  If you find great content time and again from the same YouTube content creator, add their channel to an annotated list that you can also share with your students.

And if you don’t want to do all of this content curation on your own, consider inviting the members of your learning team to collaborate with you.  Giving others permission to add to a playlist that you have already created is a three click process.

Finally, remember to keep adding fresh content to your playlist a few times each week.  If your students know that they are likely to see something new and interesting every time that they stop by, your playlist will become the first place that they turn when consuming content in YouTube.  On the other hand, if they stop by several times and there’s nothing new and interesting to watch, they won’t waste their time coming back again.

Long story short:  Our kids are already spending tons of time in YouTube.  If we can influence what they are watching there — a process that starts by carefully curating high-interest content connected to our curriculum — we can have a long-term impact on the role that one of the most popular digital spaces can play in their learning lives.

That matters.


Related Radical Reads:

Using Remind to Share Nonfiction Reading Content with Kids.

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks.

Using Edpuzzle for Initial Reteaching and Extension


Tool Review: Using Edpuzzle for Initial Reteaching and Extension.

So here’s a simple questionWhat active steps do you take when students in your classroom struggle to master a concept that you think is essential for them to master?

And just as importantly, what active steps do you take when students in your classroom have mastered a concept before you even begin a cycle of instruction?

The philosophical answer to that question is probably on the tip of every teacher’s tongue:  “When a student struggles to master a concept — or has mastered a concept before instruction even begins — we provide opportunities for reteaching and extension.

Sounds great, right?

Sure — but if we are being COMPLETELY honest, reteaching and extension can also feel COMPLETELY overwhelming to most classroom teachers.

Here’s why:  We are responsible for teaching dozens and dozens of concepts and skills to an incredibly diverse group of students over the course of a school year.  That makes it difficult to predict which kids are going to need reteaching or extension on which concepts at any given time.  Trying to provide remediation or extension for ALL of those concepts and to ALL of those students can feel impossible.

That’s why I’m in love with Edpuzzle — a digital tool that allows teachers to pair interesting video content drawn from popular sources with questions and annotations.

Here’s an Edpuzzle video that I’m using with my students:

To make this video, I started by pointing Edpuzzle to a video posted on YouTube that I already use to teach students about atomic structure.  Then, I added several annotations to the existing video. 

Those annotations appear as green question marks in the timeline of the video.  Some annotations are simple text boxes where I remind students of important concepts that we have covered in class.  Other annotations are actual review questions that I can use to check concept mastery.  If the questions are multiple choice, Edpuzzle grades them automatically for me.  If the questions are open-ended, Edpuzzle allows me to score them on the back end — where I can also see more detailed viewing statistics.

The entire video took me about fifteen minutes to make from beginning to end — and now that it is made, I’ll be able to use it with students again and again.  That’s fifteen minutes well spent!

In my classroom, Edpuzzle videos play two important roles.  I use them for initial reteaching of concepts and to provide extension opportunities for students who master content before their classmates.

If a student struggles with a concept in my classroom — something that I can tell through observations or more formal assessments — I begin my reteaching efforts by asking them to complete an Edpuzzle video about that particular topic.

I call that “initial reteaching (and retesting) without the teacher” — and it’s a beautiful thing. 

Here’s why:  If students can get some initial reteaching and retesting without needing my support, that frees me up to work with kids who have deeper conceptual misunderstandings.  Those kids really do need ME.

But that’s not EVERY student who struggles with initial mastery.  Some students just need to hear the concept a second time or see it delivered in a different way by a different “instructor”.

Those are the students I’m hoping to reach with Edpuzzle — and it works.  Typically, if I have eight students struggling with a concept, at LEAST five demonstrate mastery after working with an Edpuzzle video.  That makes consistent reteaching feel far more doable to me because I’m working with smaller groups of students.

I’m also using Edpuzzle videos as an extension activity.

Here’s how:  If a student aces a pretest and shows me that they already know a concept that I’m about to teach, I ask them to CREATE an Edpuzzle video about the concept that I can use with their classmates.

The students begin that process by filling out this Google Doc.  It is essentially a planning document — asking students to think about the quality of the video that they are choosing and the locations in that video where it would be appropriate to insert annotations.

Once students have shared that completed Google Doc with me, I review it — and if it looks solid, I log kids into my Edpuzzle account and let them create a video.

There’s a ton of reasons why this task is the perfect extension activity. 

Perhaps most importantly, it gives kids chances to think critically about the content a second time.  Evaluating the ideas shared in the videos that they are considering is a higher order thinking skill.  What’s more, students often stumble across videos that go beyond our required curriculum while brainstorming for their Edpuzzle activity.  That broadens their understanding of the concepts that we are studying.

It’s also a motivating task that my students enjoy AND it leads to the development of an additional resource that I can use moving forward.

Interested yet?  Then give one of Edpuzzle’s three plans a look. 

Here’s a quick summary of how they work:

Free Account:  Anyone can sign up on When they sign up, they will receive a video limit of 20 videos to store in their “My Content” channel. They can earn more storage space for videos in this free account by referring colleagues to Edpuzzle. Once their colleague uses their unique referral link (here’s mine) to register and verify their account, both parties will receive an extra three videos for their “My Content” channel.

Pro-Teacher:  This is for teachers who might be the only one or one of a few using at their school. This is a single license for unlimited storage (just for that account). It is $6.50/month via credit card.

Pro-School:  This is for a school that has a good amount of teachers who are actively using Edpuzzle and want unlimited storage. Edpuzzle bases their price for Pro-School — typically ranging from $650 to $1,100 — on number of teachers at the school.

The Pro-School option also comes with a School Success Manager who is your dedicated Edpuzzle person. They will help get the school started, be there for questions and help, and prepare data reports to show if Edpuzzle was a good investment for your teachers that year.

You might also be interested in this series of short Edpuzzle setup tutorials that I made to help a group of teachers that I recently introduced Edpuzzle to.

Long story short, I dig Edpuzzle.  

It’s a tool that makes it easier for me to consistently meet the unique learning needs of every learner — and that’s the kind of practice that can make a real difference in my classroom.


Related Radical Reads:

Do Your Technology Investments Advance Your Priorities?

Is Your School Wasting Money on Technology?

Note to Principals:  STOP Spending Money on Technology

Google Classroom’s New Comment Bank Feature is a Win for Meaningful Feedback.

As regular Radical readers know, I’m pretty passionate about the role that feedback should play in helping students to improve as learners.

That’s a topic that I tackled in Creating a Culture of Feedback — my newest book, written with my buddy Paul Cancellieri.  But more importantly, it’s a topic that touches my heart as the father of a beautiful nine-year old kid who doesn’t do particularly well in school.

She’s started to think of herself as nothing more than a “two” because those are the grades that she earns on darn near every assignment — and in a grade-driven schoolhouse, there’s not a whole lot of other evidence that she’s a capable learner.


The solution is for classroom teachers to do their best to create environments where students get TONS of feedback — from teachers, from peers and, through structured reflection, from themselves.

But here’s the hitch:  Giving feedback to students can be an incredibly time consuming process for classroom teachers.  

The simple fact is that when you are trying to grind through a stack of 120 essays or lab reports or journal entries, writing the kind of targeted and specific comments that are essential for driving meaningful change goes out the window somewhere around paper number seventeen.

What’s left for the other hundred-plus kids in our classes?

Generic comments like “well done” or “add more detail here please” that do little to improve learning and — as a result — are rarely even acknowledged by students.

That’s why I’ve got a bit of a professional crush on the new “Comment Bank” feature that Google has added in the newest release of Google Classroom.

Here’s how it works:  Teachers can create their own predetermined bank of comments that are permanently stored in Google Classroom.  Those comments can include specific text that refers back to key points emphasized in classroom instruction.  The comments that you develop can be as detailed as you want them to be — which allows teachers to easily draw specific attention to individual changes that students need to make to improve their work.

So instead of saying something simple like “Add more detail here” on a lab report, a science teacher like me can say something like “This would be a great place for you to use data that you collected in your lab to support your conclusions.  Can you go back and find something convincing in your data table?”

Comments can also be created that encourage kids to “act like detectives” — a key to effective feedback that assessment expert Dylan Wiliam believes in.

In my science classroom, those comments might sound something like this:  “When we were talking about graphs as a tool for communicating data in class, we said that a good graph had to meet four criteria.  Yours is missing at least one of those criteria.  Can you figure out what’s missing?”

Those are the types of feedback comments that make a real difference for students because they offer explicit advice on a specific element of a work product that can be improved — but they are also the types of feedback comments that are rarely added to graded papers simply because they take so darn long to write.

The best part is that adding comments to your Comment Bank — and then to a student’s assignment — really is a breeze.  

To add a comment to your Comment Bank, simply open an assignment that has already been turned in through Google Classroom.  Then, choose “Comment Bank” from the menu that borders the right-hand side of the assignment that you have opened.  Adding comments can be done in bulk or one-at-a-time as you are grading papers.

(click to enlarge)

To add a comment from the Comment Bank to an assignment that you are grading, simply highlight the spot in the task where you would like your comment to appear.  Then, click on the “insert comment” icon that appears in the right-hand margin.

Finally, start your comment with the pound sign — # — and begin typing a few letters or words from the comment that you want to add.  Google will pull comments from your Comment Bank that include those letters or words.  Select the comment that you were looking for and Google does the rest.

(click to enlarge)

I’ve graded probably four or five different assignments using the Comment Bank and I’m sold*.

I’m able to add extensive feedback to student assignment efficiently — and that’s a win.  Better yet, the comments that I am adding are either targeted and direct OR they encourage students to act like detectives — which increases the overall quality of the feedback that I am giving.

If you believe that the best recipe for improving learning is to provide students with “heaping dollops of feedback” — one of my favorite John Hattie quotes of all time — then you’ve definitely got to take Google’s Comment Bank for a spin.


(*Note to Google:  If you want to REALLY impress me, develop a feature that allows teachers to create Comment Banks that THEIR KIDS can use to give each other more meaningful peer feedback.   #prettyplease)


Related Radical Reads:

The Best Feedback is Gathered, Not Given.

Peer Feedback Matters

Using the Checkmark Extension from Chrome to Reimagine Classroom Feedback Practices.

Using the CheckMark Extension for Chrome to Reimagine Classroom Feedback Practices

One of the beautiful things about teaching in today’s digitally driven world is that there are literally TONS of tools and extensions that can make good practices more approachable for classroom teachers.

Need an example?  Then check out the CheckMark extension for the Chrome browser.

Once installed, CheckMark makes it possible for teachers to add common comments to Google Docs by highlighting and then clicking one button.

Check it out here:

Can you see how valuable this is?

Classroom teachers spend countless hours giving students feedback on written assignments.  Often, we stop giving specific feedback simply because the process takes too much time, energy and effort to feel worthwhile.  In organizational theory, that’s called a transaction cost — and the simple truth is that core behaviors are almost always abandoned whenever their transaction costs exceed their perceived benefits.

By automating the process of adding common comments to student work products, CheckMark has made it possible for more teachers to give kids targeted feedback in a timely way.  That’s essential — particularly given the important role that targeted feedback can play in moving learners forward.

What I love the best about the CheckMark extension is that teachers can add their own custom comments to the CheckMark extension.

Here’s how:

That’s SUPER important simply because teachers often have unique criteria for scoring individual assignments — and those criteria almost always extend beyond the simple grammar and mechanics issues that CheckMark has preloaded into their extension.

Here’s an example:  I want to see my students add additional wonder questions to the conclusions of every lab report that they write for me.  That’s because wondering is a HUGE part of new scientific discovery.  Those wonder questions, however, need to be clearly connected to the concepts that we are studying in each individual lab.

I often comment on wonder questions that students add to their written products.  I’ll say things like:

  • Great wonder question!  You have me thinking here.
  • Can you make a prediction about your wonder question using data from our lab?
  • What do you think the answer to your wonder question will be?  Why?

I love adding those comments because it shows students how much I value wondering in class — but I hate typing those same comments over and over again while reviewing 120 assignments because it’s time consuming times ten!  CheckMark will make that easier for me going forward because I can easily add them to the extension — and revise them from assignment to assignment as needed.

I haven’t dug too deeply into CheckMark’s abilities yet, but my next step is to see whether or not STUDENTS can use the extension to give feedback to one another.  That would make it even more valuable to me because it could enable more meaningful peer feedback experiences in my classroom — a key step in moving from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in schools and in helping students recognize that teachers aren’t the only sources of feedback in any classroom.

My guess it that students CAN use CheckMark to give one another feedback as long as they have the ability to add extensions to Chrome through their student logins.

In our district, extensions have to be approved by the district technology team in order to be installed by students — so I may have a few hoops to jump through before I can start using CheckMark for peer feedback.  But jumping through those hoops will be totally worth it because it will increase the quality of feedback that my students can give to one another.

Long story short:  I’m pretty jazzed by the potential that I see in CheckMark.  Any tool that makes it possible to provide more feedback — and more targeted feedback — to my students in less time is a win for everyone. 


Author’s Note:  Want to learn more about the role that feedback can play in the modern classroom?  Check out Creating a Culture of Feedback — the book I recently wrote with Paul Cancellieri.  


Related Radical Reads:

Peer Feedback Matters

The Best Feedback is Gathered, Not Given.

Using Flipgrid to Reimagine Classroom Feedback Practices


Tool Review: Quizlet Live

So here’s an interesting confession:  I am NOT a huge fan of teaching vocabulary.  I get that it is important — particularly in a content specific field like science where understanding individual terms is essential for fluent communication.  I just don’t like doing it.

Which is one of the reasons that I’ve tinkered with Quizlet over the years.  Quizlet has always made it easy to give kids multiple opportunities to practice their vocabulary.  Teachers create word sets by entering terms and adding — or selecting — definitions.  Quizlet does the rest, creating four or five different kinds of activities for student users that range from working with digital flashcards to playing a speed based matching game called Scatter.

Need an example of what this all looks like in action?

Check out this word set that my students are currently practicing with and tinker with the tools available to learners:

Quizlet upped its game recently by releasing a new activity called Quizlet Live that is pretty darn amazing.

Quizlet Live makes it possible for students to participate in a competitive vocabulary review game against their classmates from any device.

What makes Quizlet Live unique is that students compete on randomly assigned teams of three or four students.  Even better:  The correct answer for each question asked during the game appears on only ONE group member’s screen.  The result:  When a question is asked, teams need to first figure out what the correct answer is and then figure out which partner has the correct answer on their screen.

Here’s a short video introducing Quizlet Live:

We played it for the first time in class on Thursday and I’m sold.

Not only did my students enjoy practicing with their vocabulary words — something that middle schoolers rarely look forward to — but they enjoyed practicing with their classmates.  They worked with students they normally wouldn’t choose to work with, recognized that there were other experts in the room who could help them learn, came to rely on one another because they had no other choice, and celebrated victories together.

In many ways, Quizlet Live is a perfect blend of two other tools that I’ve experimented with over the years:  Kahoot and Socrative.

Like Kahoot — which I review here — my kids LOVED the competitive element of Quizlet Live.  They loved racing against other teams, trying to be the first to answer every question and to get bragging rights over their peers.

And like Socrative — which I review here — Quizlet Live encourages students to find the RIGHT answers to questions instead of rewarding random guessing by forcing teams that get wrong answers to start the entire game over AND to spend five seconds reviewing both the missed definition and the definition of the incorrect answer given.  My kids figured out quickly that there’s some truth to the notion that you have to go slow to go fast.  Thinking through answers together and being right — even if it took a little longer — was often the difference between finishing first and finishing last.

Are there limitations to Quizlet Live?  

Sure.  Probably the biggest limitation is that it is REALLY difficult to play the game productively if you don’t have a ton of devices in your classroom.  Even when students share devices with one partner, teams of three or four quickly swell to teams of six to eight.  That’s unproductive simply because it leads to some students doing a ton of work and some students sitting quietly, hitchhiking instead of participating.  I’m also not convinced that Quizlet Live can handle questions that move beyond simple recall and review of core facts or vocabulary words.

But my kids were JAZZED the entire time we were playing and BUMMED when our class period ended.  For a lesson designed to review essential vocabulary, that’s a pretty darn good outcome.


Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Kahoot

Three #edtech Tools Worth Exploring Right Now

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices