What’s Routine Got to Do With It? Building Edtech Routines

by Amber Wilson

building edtech routines

image courtesy alxsanchez | freeimages.com

As professional adults, the benefits of routines are obvious to us. We optimize everything we can, especially our time. Establishing a routine means that we don’t have to constantly stop and ask ourselves “What comes next?” All classrooms have routines in place. There are behavior-centered routines for classroom management, and there are metacognitive routines for learning and comprehension.

Some routines are inherent to the situation: before class begins, students file through a narrow opening into an enclosed space. (For some of us, the routine consists mostly of standing in the doorway, shooing barely-on-time kids into the room and urging them into seats.) Some of them are consciously developed over time to achieve a specific goal: when I need your attention, I clap twice and you clap once and respond verbally before falling silent and looking at me.

You probably have routines for assigning work, for collecting homework, and for distributing readings and resources to your students. (If you are Google-savvy or a regular reader, you may already be using tech to fine-tune these processes.)

Take a quick inventory of the tech that you currently (or would like to!) use regularly with your students. You may have some technology available that you’re hesitant to use because you don’t want it to pull focus from the instruction and learning tasks at hand.

We know that the point of educational technology is not the tech itself, but the additional learning opportunities it can provide. Just like routines for common occurrences such as students excusing themselves to the restroom, and for infrequent events like fire drills, routines for getting out, using, and putting away classroom technology will prevent distraction and keep the focus on education.

What are some routines you might want to put in place?

What are the benefits of tech-use routines?

  • manage class time effectively
  • students always know what is expected of them
  • minimize student confusion and loss of attention
  • maintain high standards for self and others
  • allow greater independence, accountability, and responsibility for students
  • emphasizes that you value student work (as well as the devices themselves)

Remember that it takes a lot of repetition for something to become habit. Don’t be afraid to invest time in the beginning. Building good habits that allow students (and teachers) to get the most of out of available classroom tech will yield great rewards in the long run.

AmberAmber Wilson is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

How to Use Auto-Graded Exit Tickets

by Erin Dye

exit tickets

image courtesy nongpimmy | freedigitalphotos.net

Are you a fan of exit tickets? Is your administration pushing them at your school? Even if they’re not, it’s something to consider. Running formative assessment during class requires preparation, management, participation, and grading time. As a result, the system tends to work best with multiple-choice questions (and thus, it can’t assess the entire range of skills students learn), but exit tickets can be a great way to figure out if you need to reteach or if you can move on.

As with most things, having an easy daily routine can be a good way to manage your formative assessment and exit tickets. Technology in the classroom can make a big difference here, but even if you’re in a low-tech room, there’s still a lot you can do to lessen your administrative workload.

We’ve divided up this resource list based on the level of access to technology in your classroom.

For one-to-one classrooms:

Find a web-based assessment resource that will export data from your students’ answers into an Excel chart or some other useful format. Daily formative assessment is likely to fail if you are still stuck grading 30+ individual answers. We love Kahoot. The great thing about this resource is that it somehow manages to be engaging and fun for every grade level. And it really is fun—try it with your colleagues at your next staff meeting and watch a room full of adults light up.

You can also use Socrative to issue short quizzes. This service also allows you to export data. A lot of teachers like Socrative for vocabulary test prep and for open response as well. Socrative takes just a few more minutes to set up than Kahoot does, but it offers a wider range of answering options (i.e., more than just multiple choice). Socrative even has templates and sample exit ticket questions already available for you to use.

Classrooms with response devices (clickers):

If you have clickers, you can plug a few questions into the clicker software each day and have your students follow the normal classroom procedures for using the clickers to answer. Depending on how you’ve set up the system’s software, the data will export auto-graded results into a format you can upload into your grade book.

Teacher-Tech-Only Classrooms:

Sometimes the only technology in a classroom is the teacher’s smartphone. Never fear, though, you can deliver auto-graded quizzes using paper and your phone.

Mastery Connect, the group that makes the super-useful Common Core app, have a resource called the Bubble Sheet Scanner. Your students fill out a paper multiple-choice answer sheet. Then you hold their completed papers up to your computer’s camera, scan the papers, and the software automatically grades each quiz. (You can also download a free app for your iPad.) All the data is exportable to your grade book.

You can also try using Plickers (“paper clickers”), which allows you to use your smartphone or tablet to capture student responses. First, you print out (or order via Amazon) a set of cards, which you hand out to your students. When you ask a question during class, students hold up their card to answer the question. Each student’s card looks different, so there’s no easy way for someone to copy a classmate’s answer. While students have their cards raised, you use the Plickers app on your smartphone to take a picture of the classroom. The app reads the responses and shows the data on your phone. You can also log in from your computer and download a spreadsheet with the data.

Give exit tickets a try to figure out where your students understand the curriculum and where they may be falling behind. Exit tickets will help you intervene and remediate at the most effective times. Using tech-enhanced resources with your exit tickets will help keep you sane and will make the data more useful.

What do you use for exit tickets? Let us know below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

5 Great Sites for Student-Friendly Informational Texts

by Helen Beyne

sites for informational texts

You already know that one main mission of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative is to help students comprehend a wide variety of informational texts—nonfiction texts that inform readers about a topic. But with the vast amount of information available online, you might not know where to go to find appropriate informational texts for your students. The five websites described below are a great place to start.

1. Time for Kids
(primary, elementary, and middle school)

The articles on Time for Kids have been created specifically for students in grades K–6, introducing them to “high-quality nonfiction writing to build reading and critical thinking skills.” Topics include national and world news, science, and health. The articles address high-interest subjects, and many have appealing text features—such as “Are We Alone?,” which ponders the existence of alien life. (Note: Access to the site’s special features requires a subscription, but the full text of many articles can be accessed for free.)

2. Newsela
(elementary, middle, and high school)

Newsela presents daily news articles from a number of well-known media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press. You can choose from topics including war and peace, science, law, health, arts, and sports. Articles are CCSS-aligned and are written at five Lexile levels, allowing students with varying levels of reading proficiency to analyze the same content in class. The free version includes student quizzes and one-click assignment of articles to class; a professional version (Newsela Pro) is available for a fee.

3. The Library of Congress
(middle and high school)

The Library of Congress (LOC) is one of the definitive online resources for primary-source documents. Oh, and it’s all free! Browse the site by topic to find materials on a range of different subjects, including American and world history; science, technology, and business; news, journalism, and advertising; and much more. A blog on the site describes how to use the LOC’s primary sources to address the CCSS; it also features teacher tools and a primary-source analysis tool for students. Also check out this article, which explains why primary sources are integral to the CCSS.

4. The National Archives
(middle and high school)

Another excellent place to access primary sources is the National Archives. This independent agency of the U.S. federal government has an entire Teachers’ Resources section devoted to helping educators use primary sources in the classroom. Use the online DocsTeach tool to find thousands of primary sources from different historical eras, including the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Great Depression and World War II, the postwar United States, and contemporary America. Find and create activities to “bring history alive for your students.”

5. The New York Times Learning Network
(middle and high school)

Need to find an engaging way to help students understand what’s going on in the world? Then check out The Learning Network blog from the New York Times. This resource features weekly lesson plans that use the newspaper’s content to teach current events. All content from The Learning Network, including any Times articles that are linked to, is free. To get started with The Learning Network, begin by reading How to Use Our Blog This School Year.

Have any thoughts on the sites above? Are there other favorite informational-text sites you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum: The Basics

by Erin Dye

reading and writing across the curriculum

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For more than thirty years, there has been an emphasis on using reading and writing “across the curriculum” to promote student learning—activities that come part and parcel with teaching ELA, but seem more difficult to integrate into a geometry class. The underlying principle is simple: purposeful reading and writing activities help students better understand and think critically about content, no matter the subject.

With many states adopting the Common Core State Standards to direct instruction—which includes a set of standards just for reading and writing about history, science, and technical subjects—there is a renewed emphasis on the inclusion of purposeful reading and writing activities both inside and outside of the ELA classroom.

Reading across the curriculum means more than reading an assigned chapter in a textbook. Students might also read related essays, letters, speeches, reports, and so on to better understand a particular topic. Students in an American history class, for example, might read an online excerpt from one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to better understand how politicians viewed the issue of slavery before the Civil War, using a program such as Diigo to annotate the text as they read. To kick off a new unit in a math class, students could read an excerpt from John Allen Paulos’s Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences or Keith Devlin’s Life by the Numbers to answer that age-old question, “When am I ever going to need to use this?”

But reading subject-specific texts isn’t enough. To develop understanding, students need to produce related writing. There are two main types of writing activities that teachers can use to promote student learning in any classroom—“writing to learn” and “writing in the discipline.”

When students write to learn, they produce short pieces of writing that help them process the content that they have learned. For example, a student in a chemistry class might use a “learning log” (using a program such as Evernote) to reflect upon a week’s concept—recording their initial reactions and questions. These types of assignments typically require only a cursory review by teachers.

When students write in the discipline, they produce longer pieces of writing that also adhere to the conventions of a particular discipline. In an ELA classroom, for example, a student might produce a research paper that adheres to MLA guidelines. The chemistry student would develop a lab report to document an experiment.

Reading and writing can be integrated in any class to further student engagement and learning. Find ways to make “writing to learn” activities a regular activity in your classroom and ways to incorporate “writing in the discipline” activities as long-term projects, and you will make your students engaged, thoughtful learners.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

The Rise and Fall of Premium IWB Content

by Tom Nieman

In October, SMART announced via email that it “will no longer be selling paid lesson content on SMART Exchange.” (We can’t find the announcement on the site to link to.) The announcement affected us because Green Light Learning Tools had developed hundreds of pages of “premium” content. One publisher spoke for many of us who had worked with SMART to create a premium IWB marketplace when he wrote, “You guys are idiots!”

Premium IWB content once seemed like a promising way to connect teachers and digital publishers. Now that market has all but vanished.

First Resource Packs

To the best of my knowledge, the paid IWB market began in 2005 when Promethean contacted Green Light to create the first “premium” IWB lessons. Even though Promethean Planet had thousands of free IWB lessons, the hope was that, like Apple with iBooks and iTunes, Promethean could create a revenue stream by inducing publishers to create professional IWB lessons and sell them on Planet.

We first partnered with Dorling Kindersley to create several “resource packs.” These “packs” used high-quality pictures and graphics from Dorling Kindersley books and the IWB software from Promethean to create standards-aligned resources for downloading. Premium meant, in effect, publisher-quality, as opposed to free and homemade.

Within a couple of years, numerous publishers had joined this effort and converted their published content into ActiveStudio or ActivInspire lessons and offered them for sale on Promethean Planet. Like Apple with iTunes, Promethean commanded a hefty premium of 30 or 40 percent commission for creating this marketplace. Then all they had to do was to wait until teachers downloaded the resources and the money flowed in.

Underwhelming Response

But there was no rush for the “resource packs.” They were in essence collections of assets (pictures, activities, graphic organizers) that teachers could adapt with the supposedly easy-to-use IWB software ActivInspire. Except, of course, the software was anything but easy to use for teachers. Sales struggled even to get into the hundreds of dollars.

We and other publishers soon began working with Promethean to create actual, ready-to-use lessons that teachers could simply open and display. Yet even that did not work, for at least two reasons besides Promethean’s smaller market share: 1) many teachers were not even using the new interactive whiteboards in their classrooms, likely because 2) they were not trained how to use the software. The introductory “trainings” provided by Promethean were perfunctory at best, and teachers weren’t learning how to use their IWBs on their own.

Half-life of SMART Exchange

For several years, SMART had no answer to Promethean Planet. SMART commanded a dominant market share through its intensive training efforts, but they didn’t have a website or “premium” content until finally, in 2013, SMART created SMART Exchange. It was like a shooting star, fast rising but soon sputtering out.

Lessons Learned

SMART and Promethean both learned that teachers are not, like most consumers, ready at a moment’s notice to whip out a credit card to pay for lessons. IWB companies also refused to take PO’s, which is how most schools pay for educational materials.

Next, they also assumed teachers would teach themselves how to use the software and thus need premium lessons. As it turns out, teachers never had the time or motivation to do so.

Finally, the whiteboard companies never worked effectively with educational publishers. Promethean and HMH made one valiant joint effort to create an entire Common Core-aligned math program in print and in IWB lessons, but neither the publishers nor the IWB companies felt that they needed to work together further.

Closed vs. Open Systems

At first, both SMART and Promethean also created systems that worked only with their handheld devices, but not with the tablets and smartphones teachers already had. The IWB systems were essentially closed. But America’s classrooms were open and free-wheeling. Google, as it turns out, was a better fit—open, free, and easy to use.

Starting in 2014, both SMART and Promethean released new software that worked with most tablets and allowed users to exchange documents back and forth with students, but now so did the free Google Classroom—which was better and easier to use.

Moving Toward Obsolescence

Interactive whiteboards are not quite, as some friends chide me, going the way of the LaserDisc players in classrooms, relegated to basement storage rooms. Whiteboards allow teachers to display content to an entire classroom, and for that reason continue to be useful. Boards focus students’ attention on the reading, problem, graph, picture, or video of the moment. IWB software—Inspire, Notebook, amp, ClassFlow—on the other hand, now seems very dispensable.

The End Is Near

Premium content for IWBs will soon have left not only the building but the entire district. “Free” resources appear to have won the day. Classrooms are moving towards a one-to-one environment where each student has a device just like his or her teacher. The teacher in front of the classroom dynamic is becoming obsolete as well, which is probably for the best, and it runs not on “premium” IWB lessons but rather on more teacher- or student-created ones.

Publisher-created materials in general are under siege by the do-it-yourself, “it’s free,” movement. “Open source” materials also attract considerable interest now, more for their price than their quality, and that may well be the way of the future. Yet a lifetime in publishing has taught me that there is a big difference in quality between lessons that are edited and vetted and ones that are not, but that—regrettably—is a minority view.

Tom bioTom Nieman is president of Green Light Professional Development and Nieman Inc., a privately held company that specializes in developing curriculum materials for educational publishers.

Use Technology to Develop and Celebrate Fluent Readers

by Helen Beyne

Are you looking for activities to boost your K–4 students’ reading fluency or ways to extend and enhance your classroom reading centers? Do you want to plan a special event to celebrate your students’ developing reading skills? Use the online resources and technology ideas below to help students build fluency skills and get excited about reading.

  1. Expand students’ opportunities to listen to fluent readers.

Record yourself reading a variety of texts, put audio books on iPods, download ebooks, or invite parent volunteers or older students to record themselves reading class favorites. (Fluency expert Dr. Timothy Rasinski has put together a great list of titles, “Fabulously Famous Books for Building Fluency.”)

In addition, create classroom listening centers where students can listen to examples of fluent reading online. Two excellent sites—both free—that feature celebrities and authors reading classic picture books are Storyline Online and Online Storytime. Encourage students to notice how readers vary their voices and pace to read expressively and portray different characters. Help them understand that reading fluently is more than just reading fast.

  1. Have students read along with online text.

Set up an independent or partner read-aloud center where students can see online text as they hear it read. In addition to downloading ebooks and reading apps, give students access to free online resources such as those at PBS Kids, Starfall, Reading Is Fundamental, and Scholastic’s Listen and Read. The sites include a wide variety of genres, engaging music and visuals, and easy ways to pause or hear a word or sentence repeated multiple times. Students can do repeated assisted or independent readings, timed or untimed, until they can read accurately, expressively, and easily.

  1. Have students record themselves reading.

Hearing themselves read aloud can be a great motivator for many young readers. After students practice reading a poem or brief passage several times, invite them to a recording center to record themselves. You can choose from a wide variety of recording options. For some classrooms, an inexpensive tape recorder with a microphone makes the most sense. Other teachers and students might use apps, software, or web platforms like Audio Memos, GarageBand (see Using Garage Band to Work on Fluency video), Audacity, Audioboo, or Evernote (see Increase Fluency with Evernote video).

Have students—alone or in pairs—listen to their recordings, evaluate their fluency, set new goals, practice some more, and then re-record. When students are happy with their reading, you might upload the recordings and feature these podcasts on a class or school website, store them on class MP3 players for classmates to enjoy, or email them to parents.

  1. Plan a special reading performance.

Showcase your students’ increasing fluency by having them read orally for an audience. Knowing that they will be reading aloud might be just the thing to keep your young readers motivated to practice reading. Below are several ideas for class-only, grade-level, or all-school events. And don’t forget—all these performances could be recorded and transformed into podcasts or become part of students’ digital portfolios.

  • Reader’s Theater: With a focus on expressive reading, gestures, and facial expression, these dramatic presentations provide wonderful opportunities for students to develop fluency. Choose a script that fits your students’ interests and talents—from the budding actor or actress who enjoys the spotlight to a shy or struggling reader who would prefer being part of a chorus. Find reader’s theater resources and free scripts at PBS Kids, Reader’s Theater Scripts and Plays, and Aaron Shepard’s RT Page.
  • Book Talk: Students share their ideas about a favorite book—what it’s about, why they like it, and so forth. Have students read aloud a brief passage that illustrates a key event or illustrates the author’s writing style.
  • Poetry Read: The short lines and interesting sounds and rhythms of poetry make it a great read-aloud choice. Two helpful online resources for using poetry to develop reading fluency are the Shell Education Podcast The Poet and the Professor: Poems for Building Reading Skills and Kathy Norris’s Performing Poetry: A Study Guide for Teachers at PoetryTeachers.com.

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

5 Sites to Publish Student Writing Online

by Helen Beyne

websites publish student writing

image courtesy arinas74 | freeimages.com

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) require students to “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing” beginning in Grade 4 and continuing through Grade 12 to publish digital content. Google Docs are a great way to encourage collaboration and to pique students’ interest in publishing their writing online. However, what are the best tools for your students to use to share their work safely with a broader digital audience? Here are 5 great sites to publish student writing online.


Blogger, one of the most commonly used blogging tools, is free and fairly intuitive. It offers a number of basic, colorful templates, and advanced users can customize their blogs even further. In the classroom, students can use Blogger to create their own individual blogs, or teachers can create a class blog and invite students to contribute. This user-friendly site is Google’s blogging tool, so students must create a Google account before they can use Blogger (if your school already uses Google Apps for Education, Blogger is an easy addition to the arsenal).


For young students, Kidblog might be the way to go. Because teachers create accounts for each student user, students do not need email addresses to sign up. Teachers also have the option to assign and reset passwords, so instructors will not need to worry about younger students forgetting this sensitive information. The basic version of Kidblog is free, but its premium features are available for an annual fee.


Edublogs is one of the safest places for students to publish their writing online. The site is equipped with content filters to keep their blogs student-friendly. Teachers also have total control over privacy settings, so they are able to share students’ work safely and responsibly. One drawback to Edublogs, however, is that its free version is rather limited. Users must pay a monthly free to enjoy all that the site has to offer, including embedded videos, mobile blogging, and custom domains.


Penzu is a free online journaling site students can use to reflect privately or share their thoughts with others. If users choose to share their journals, commenting enables viewers to turn a static journal post into a conversation. Penzu Classroom makes it easy for teachers to start a collection of journals for students. Teachers can then use their own Penzu accounts to create assignments for the class, give comments, and grade students’ entries.


Pen.io is the easiest way to post writing online. It is one of the few sites that do not require students to create an account. Instead, they simply create a unique URL, assign a password, and start publishing content. This barebones blogging tool lacks the fancy templates and other customizable content that comes with other blogging tools, but its anonymity is a plus for teachers who don’t want their students to publish their names online or those who require their students to publish their writing only few times a semester.

What do you think? Which online publishing tool is right for your classroom? Do you know any other safe sites for sharing? Add them in the comments!

Helen bioHelen Beyne is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. She has years of experience in creating innovative curriculum materials in reading, ESL, science, and social studies. She writes about IWBs and free online resources for teachers.

Connecting Content to the Real World with Project-Based Learning

by Erin Dye

connect to the world with project-based learning

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Project-based learning has become an important alternative to more traditional methods of instruction and for good reason. It addresses the looming question many students have about what they learn in the classroom: Why do we need to know this? Not only does project-based learning help connect class content to the real world but it also helps students develop the skills they will need to operate in the real world—critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and time management, among others. An effective project ideally should include the following:

  1. A Compelling Question. Think about what topics or issues actually interest or affect your students and how you can address that in your classroom. Come up with a creative way to introduce the driving question to your students. TECH TOOLS: Consider using Newsela to introduce a current issue, Google Earth to explore a location, or Prezi to create your own presentation that introduces the topic or issue.
  1. An Appropriate Timeline. Creating a project—instead of a simple assignment—means considering the amount of time your students will need to really develop their knowledge and skills as they work to address the question. A meaningful project will allow students enough time to really understand the driving question and develop an appropriate product to address it. TECH TOOLS: To help your students stay on track during the project, create a Google Calendar to share with them. You might also have students use an app to manage the tasks they must complete during different stages of the project.
  1. Clear Guidelines for Assessment. Because project-based learning includes activities that are less structured than those you might use with more traditional instruction, students need to understand how their progress will be assessed. Rubrics work well as a way of outlining your expectations for students at different stages of the project.TECH TOOLS: Use Google Drive to create and share a rubric with your students so that they can easily review how their performance will be measured during any stage of the project.
  1. A Final Product or Products. Because project-based learning is all about real-world use of class content, it’s important to give your students something to do that isn’t just dressed-up busywork. Think about what your students can create to help address the driving question for the project, and be flexible about what students can produce; allow them the space to think critically about how to address the question and use their creativity to develop a product. TECH TOOLS: The possibilities here are endless! Depending on the skill level of your students, you could have them create a podcast using PodOmatic, a blog using Blogger or Weebly, a video using iMovie, an electronic book using iBooks Author, or a presentation using Prezi or PowToon.       
  1. An Opportunity to Share the Product(s). Providing students with an opportunity to share one or more of the products of the project is an important way of reinforcing the project’s connection to the real world.  Whenever possible, have your students present their product(s) to an authentic audience—one that would likely see or use their products in the real world. TECH TOOLS: If your students’ final product is a performance, presentation, or address, they could share it with an otherwise inaccessible audience via Skype, Google Hangout, or other videoconferencing application.

Whatever project you develop for your students, choose tech tools that you think will both enhance the project—the process, the product(s), or both—and be easy for your students to use. Come back and let us know which tools worked best with your project and your students! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development and a Google Certified Educator. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

How to Use Backchannels in the Classroom

by Hope Morley

how to use backchannels in the classroom

image courtesy miamiamia via freeimages.com

If you’ve been to a conference in the past several years, I’m sure you saw that the event had its own hashtag. Whatever your feelings about Twitter and hashtags, I can tell you that some great conversations happen thanks to those hashtags and that it’s a great way to hear what someone else in the same sessions thought of the speakers.

This type of digital conversation occurring in the background of a live event is known as a backchannel. Backchannels can be great in the classroom as well as the conference center.

When you have a class discussion, what percentage of students really participate (outside of monosyllables)? 50 percent? 75? Using backchannels is a way to increase that number by allowing students who may not feel comfortable speaking up, or who process more slowly, to contribute their ideas.

I also like backchannels during lectures or while showing movies in class. Students can post questions as they watch, and you as the teacher can monitor engagement. It’s similar to collaborative note taking. You can pause the movie if you see many questions about a topic or comments indicating that students are itching to discuss!

Obviously giving students an open platform can be risky, so moderate any backchannel while it is still in use and shut it down when the activity is over.

Backchannel Tools

The Best:

Today’s Meet

With a fast and easy setup and no sign in required, Today’s Meet is the easiest and quickest way to start using backchannels. Once you start your chat, you get a simple URL (no long sets of numbers or letters) or QR code that can be shared with your students. Transcripts of the discussion can be downloaded for reference later. Today’s Meet asks for “Nicknames,” so set rules with your students as to what name they need to enter.

The Rest:


This is a great option if you want students to post anything in addition to text, or if you don’t need the discussion to stay in chronological order. Padlet is also a good option if you are having students use a backchannel while reading an informational text. If students have questions that require a little outside research, other students can post answers, images, or even videos. Lino is a similar service, but I prefer Padlet’s interface.


Chatzy creates an old-school chat room. Guests need to be invited via email, which is an additional step you may not want to take. Chatzy also lacks a presentation mode and the ability to download transcripts like Today’s Meet. You can ask multiple choice questions, though if you want students answering questions during class I’d recommend Poll Everywhere or Socrative. Chatzy also has public rooms with questionable content, so keep curious student eyes on your room.

Google Moderator

I want to like this tool. I really do. The features, such as threaded conversations, seem great… but I can’t stand it. I find the layout very confusing and the presentation mode leaves out any replies to comments. A rare whiff on Google’s part.

Edmodo or Twitter

If your students are on Edmodo, you can have students post in a group. I don’t think Edmodo is as clean or easy as Today’s Meet, but go for it if your students are comfortable with the site. Twitter also works (set a unique hashtag), but all your students would need a public account.

For more about backchannels, check out Cybrary Man’s backchannel page. Or pop over to Twitter and ask me your questions!

Hope bioHope Morley is a consultant and social media coordinator for Green Light Professional Development. She writes about social media, conferences, and anything else on the web that helps both students and teachers learn. Follow her @GreenlightLT

5 Cool Science YouTube Channels

by Hope Morley

science youtube channels

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last month we shared five YouTube channels that offer great educational videos on a wide variety of topics. This week, we focus on the best YouTube channels for science videos.


LEVEL: Middle school

An offshoot of MinutePhysics, this channel offers “science and stories about our awesome planet!” Animated videos provide information about earth science subjects such as the atmosphere as well as life science topics about organisms. Its most viewed video is “Where Did Earth’s Water Come From?”

National Geographic

LEVEL: Middle to high school

The National Geographic Society, “one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world,” was founded in 1888. Its YouTube channel contains thousands of videos, including scores of fun animal clips that feature the “World’s Deadliest” and “World’s Weirdest.” It also includes glimpses into peoples and traditions from around the world as well as videos about historical and current events. The channel offers information about nature and science, too. One playlist for National Geographic’s Genographic Project shows how the Society is tracking human origins and migration through DNA analysis.

The Periodic Table of Videos

LEVEL: Middle to high school

Video journalist Brady Haran works with University of Nottingham, England, chemists to produce short videos about every element on the periodic table from hydrogen to ununoctium. The channel also includes videos showing experiments at extremely slow rates of speed (it’s more entertaining that it sounds, trust me), such as pouring mercury into liquid nitrogen, which can lead to new discoveries that the scientists then share with their viewers. In “Hydrogen Explosions (slow motion),” Professor Martyn Poliakoff enthuses, “It’s always good for a scientist to be proved wrong.”

The Science Channel

LEVEL: Middle to high school

Developed through the Cassiopeia Project, this channel aims to provide teachers and students with videos that explain difficult concepts in astronomy, biology, and physics simply and clearly. The “From Big Bang to Man” series provides detailed descriptions about the “baby” universe, the universe today, how life evolved on Earth, the first humans, and people today. The Science Channel also includes dozens of videos about the Hubble Telescope.


LEVEL: Middle to high school

When Derek Muller was studying for his doctorate in Physics Education Research, he found that “addressing misconceptions first is often essential to engage the audience and promote conceptual change.” He applies this knowledge on the Veritasium YouTube channel, which gets its name from the Latin word for truthveritas—and the suffix -ium, a common suffix for many elements on the periodic table. Many of the offerings focus on physics. Viewed more than 9 million times, “World’s Roundest Object!” explains the history of the kilogram measurement and how to “eliminate the kilogram’s dependence on a physical object.”

What do you think about these science YouTube channels? Are there other channels that you would add to this list? Leave a comment below, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

Hope bioHope Morley is a consultant and social media coordinator for Green Light Professional Development. She writes about social media, conferences, and anything else on the web that helps both students and teachers learn. Follow her @GreenlightLT