Category Archives: Tool Reviews

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

Update 2: Using @RemindHQ to Share Nonfiction with Students

As I’ve mentioned before (see here and here), I’ve been using Remind — a free tool that allows teachers to push out notifications to parents and students via text, email or app — to send out a daily current event connected to science and technology to the kids in my class.

My goal is to hook students on nonfiction — and my guess is that hooking kids on nonfiction starts when every student is exposed to really cool content.  For most students, “reading nonfiction” elicits groans because it is synonymous with “reading the textbook.”  Changing that perception matters if we hope to have a scientifically literate population.  Our kids need to learn to love nonfiction — not to begrudge it.

Anecdotally, my plan seems to be working:  Darn near every day, I have students come up to me to talk about the current event that I send out.  Better yet, they are talking to one another about the current event, too.  And as soon as kids hear me talking about the event with one of their peers, they pull out their devices to check their texts, emails or notifications so that they can join the conversation, too.  Each current event becomes an impromptu social event — bringing people together around a shared topic they wouldn’t have otherwise had.  That’s been fun.

Statistically, my plan also seems to be working.  I currently have 84 people signed up to receive my daily messages.  Just over half of those subscribers are my students.  Most of the rest are moms and dads — which creates neat opportunities for conversations about science at home.  Given that I only have 88 students on my learning team this year, those numbers are fantastic.


Here are two other interesting numbers — pulled from a recent survey of people receiving my current events — worth considering:

  • 76 percent of respondents report “really enjoying” receiving daily current events on science content.
  • 67 percent of respondents report “almost always” reading the current events sent out each day.

And here are a few comments shared by parents and students who are receiving my daily current events:

  • Parent: “It give me a chance to have a conversation with my son…every day!….since he likes it too.”
  • Parent: “My son and I went outside early this morning to look for Venus in the sky.  Thanks for that moment.”
  • Parent: “A huge thank you for doing this, the info is awesome and not only provides “theater” at the dinner table, but I often use these quirky and cool facts in my work life – they get people’s attention, break the ice and create common ground quickly.”
  • Student:  “It’s really fun reading the current events and I think it’s worth the little time it takes. I also like discussing it with my friends and family and it also gets them interested in it.”
  • Student: “I think it would be great if you have 2 posts a day instead of 1 so we can read a new post when we get home.”

My favorite comment, though, addressed a concern that one of my boys had about our upcoming three-week vacation — which we call “tracking out.”  He wrote:

” I love how you take the time to send out something everyday. Will you be sending some over track out?”

How awesome is that?  When eleven-year old boys are worried about whether or not they are going to have interesting nonfiction to read over their three-week vacations, that’s GOT to be considered an instructional win, doesn’t it?

When I started this project, I really didn’t know what to expect.  I wasn’t sure whether anyone would sign up to receive my current events.  More importantly, I wasn’t sure that anyone would actually READ the events that I was sending out.  I knew that the project wouldn’t take much of my time — I’m already reading interesting science every day anyway and Remind makes scheduling and sending notifications a breeze.  But an easy project that has no impact is STILL a waste of time.

Now, I’m pretty sure that sending out daily current events will always be a part of my teaching practice.

Seeing my students excited about the science that surrounds them, listening to them talk — to me and to one another — about the content that I am sharing, and hearing from parents that my efforts are creating new opportunities for interesting conversations at home has been the highlight of my first quarter.



Related Radical Reads:

Using Remind to Share Nonfiction Reading with Students

Update 1:  Using Remind to Share Nonfiction Reading with Students

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks

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!)


My #DLDay Gift to You: Three Tech Quick Guides

In case you missed it, tomorrow is Digital Learning Day — a coordinated effort to raise awareness about the role that technology can play in today’s learning spaces.

The day promises to be FULL of activity.  Whether you plan to follow the #DLDay Twitterstream, poke through blog entries written by your favorite writers, or watch the Digital Learning Day Livestream from the Teaching and Learning Conference in Washington DC, I hope that you spend at least a few minutes wrestling with new ideas.


My #DLDay gift to you are three #edtech quick guides that share my favorite digital tools and services.

What makes the quick guides unique is that they are paired with detailed annotations outlining the ways that the tools support meaningful learning or efficient practice.  They are designed to reinforce my core belief that technology is a tool, NOT a learning outcome and that school is changed by teaching geeks, NOT tech geeks.

Check them out here:

Quick Guide to Web 2.0 Tools and Services:  Designed as a companion to Teaching the iGeneration — which is set to be released as a new and improved Second Edition in just a few weeks — this quick guide is organized by essential skill.  Interested in teaching your students about collaborative dialogue?  Passionate about problem solving?  Believe that persuasion or information management are essential?

You will be able to find tools and resources for supporting ALL of those practices here.

Quick Guide to Tools and Services for BYOD Classrooms:  My colleague Adam Love and I have been tinkering around with a small-scale BYOD effort this year.  This quick guide highlights tools and services that we have found useful in supporting those efforts.  It is broken into three categories:  Tools for instructional delivery, tools for creating differentiated learning experiences, and tools for publishing to larger audiences.

Quick Guide to Tools and Services for Supporting Teacher Collaboration: Another one of my personal passions is helping schools to build successful professsional learning teams — and one of the lessons that I learned long ago is that digital tools can facilitate any collaborative effort.  This quick guide highlights every tool that my own learning teams have used to tackle core practices like developing and storing team resources, collecting and organizing assessment data, and building consensus.

I’m not about to argue that the lists I’ve shared here are perfect by any means!

What I CAN say, however, is that I’ve used every tool and service included on these lists in the ongoing work that I do with students and teachers.  They are all approachable.  More importantly, they can all help to make you a more efficient and effective teacher and your students more effficient and effective learners.

Hope they help!


Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Zaption Makes Differentiation Doable

Let’s Celebrate Teaching – NOT Technology – Geeks

Technology is a Tool, NOT a Learning Outcome