Let’s Talk About Sketch

Note taking can be a torturous task for students and teachers alike. Let sketchnoting be the innovative approach for note taking that transforms this mundane task in your classroom.


Taking Notes

Some of you probably already rolled your eyes or groaned just reading those two words. Even before I knew the research (including this piece on NPR) backed my feeling up that taking notes vs. being handed notes or typing notes had benefits, I always appreciated the act of note taking. It seemed that writing the information down made it stick better, for me and for many of my students. But…I also realized that even though I valued the act of note taking, I wasn’t truly engaging my students in this process, and they weren’t making the notes their own.

So What?

So one day I was looking at posts on Twitter, and I saw something that caught my attention, #sketchnotes. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at what you find, both from adults and the student examples out there. Sketchnotes allow a person to combine doodles and text to better process the information. Best of all, the students are deciding what doodles/icons/pictures will connect with the text they’re writing. They’re note taking, but they’re making it meaningful.

There are many examples of sketchnotes available, but I’ve found that Carrie Baughcum @HeckAwesome is a fantastic resource for all things sketchnotes. Carrie practices sketchnoting in her classroom, and she is passionate about helping other teachers learn about and embrace sketchnoting in the classroom. Check out her video, My Pencil Made Me Do It: A beginner’s guide to sketchnoting in the classroom. And her newest addition, Sketchnoting: I Just Don’t Know How to Start, is excellent support on taking the plunge.

But I still know that fear lingers, and she has been practicing it and growing with it, but you haven’t…so is it really doable? YES! And I’m going to show you how I jumped in and made sketchnoting part of my classroom.

But I can’t draw. This is definitely not for me.

In the last quarter of the school year, I started implementing sketchnoting with my students, and although I was just a tiny bit terrified to try this new process, it was a much-needed and welcome change! It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a talent for drawing. In fact, that’s one of the things that made the process so much fun for my students and me. For example, we laughed together at my obvious “talent” for drawing swans, especially when one of the swans turned out twice the size of the pond. By showing them that I could laugh at my own representations but that those pictures still made sense, I allowed them the opportunity to view their own doodles in the same way.IMG_5452

Obviously everyone has to find his/her own comfort level in any new task, but maintaining a sense of humor was essential in my experience.

Try it yourself.

My first step was actually to try sketchnoting for myself. I didn’t want to instruct students on something I had never done. Quite honestly, I still wasn’t sold on whether it would work for my eighth graders, an age group prone to being self-conscious about everything, especially artistic endeavors. I also knew that I was going to have to model the process at some point, and that made me nervous. My building had started applying ideas of standards based grading, so I decided that a sketchnote to help me organize those ideas might be a good place for me to start.

first sketchnote

When I finished, I felt better. I realized there really wasn’t a right or wrong way to approach scketchnoting, and that I didn’t need amazing drawing skills to effectively convey and organize my thoughts. As I completed it, I also tried to think of things that might help students and came up with these:

  1. Decide how you want your sketchnote oriented before you begin. Are you a person that wants a larger icon and title in a top corner, or do you prefer a central image? Are ideas radiating from the image, or are ideas meant to flow in order?
  2. Don’t worry about perfection. You’re bound to have a spelling error or picture that has a funky line. Correct it if it bothers you (and you notice it at that point) and move on. If you cross a word out and have to rewrite it, not a big deal. (They seem to struggle with this at first.)
  3. Use pen or pencil or markers or colored pencils…whatever you want to use. Although I do encourage those students who are more timid about using colors to try it out, at least with a couple colors at first.

Jump right in.

I told my students that we’d be trying a different kind of note taking. I’m big on explaining the “whys” of my decisions to my kids, so I told them why we were trying this new technique and how it could help them “in real life.” We watched this short video narrated by someone who sounds as if he’s close to their age and created as a sketchnote.

first student sketchnotes

As a class, we had just finished reading and discussing the story “Stop the Sun,” so it seemed like a great starting point to take the plunge. With no other guidance than the video and a short discussion about what it meant to create a sketchnote, i asked students to create one for the story. I gave the option to use notebook paper or computer paper, colors or not, with the guiding instruction that it should act like a summary of the story since summarizing was a skill we had been practicing and assessing on.

I was so encouraged by the results the next day in class! I was able to conference with each student quickly as the class worked on another task. As I conferenced with students, I pulled examples to project that we could talk about to encourage creativity and build confidence.

Keep Going!

The next day I projected an Internet article about analogies on the board. As we read through, students told me what they thought were important details to represent in my sketchnote. While I completed my sketchnote on the white board with their help, they each completed one of their own as well. The students finished up the last section of the article as homework, so when class started the next day, I was able to conference with each student quickly as the class worked on another task. If they were heavy on text and really light on doodles/images, we discussed that. If they were heavy on doodles/images and text was nearly nonexistent, we discussed that.

It became a common note taking practice for us. They sketchnoted as we read through a story or novel. The first time we did this, I participated with them and projected mine on the SmartBoard using my ELMO. Yes, you’re doing it in real time. Yes, you might make a mistake. Yes, you may struggle at first to figure out how exactly you want to represent an idea. But…that’s exactly what your students are going through, and through your participation, you’re showing that those missteps are a part of the process. If you see a student doing something inventive, creative, logical, or brilliant, stop and point it out. Hold it up, project it, talk about why it’s such a great idea.

The story we started with was “The Third Wish,” and the first sketchnote shows how I progressed through the story using a style comfortable for me. The others are student examples from different books, and you can see that even though I modeled sketchnoting, students made it their own in a way that was comfortable and meaningful for them. And really, that’s the point.

Quick Feedback

One of the greatest benefits for you the teacher in having students use sketchnotes for note taking is in how quickly you can check for individual student understanding. Instead of waiting until the end of a unit/concept/story after you’ve given students notes or sifting through all of their traditional notes to see if they understand, you can quickly look through the visuals and their text counterparts. If you see a problem, you can address it. Maybe it’s a class misconception that needs further class explanation. But you know. Quickly.

Sketch Away

You’re ready. Something different is always a bit intimidating, but you have a plan, and it’s time. Your students are ready. They’re tired of regurgitating notes that teachers have given them without a say in their creation. They’re ready for a better solution. Give them a chance to show you what they can do with this new formula. Be prepared for the students who will be scared at this new idea. You’ll be taking them out of their comfort zone, too. Remember that making that move isn’t a bad thing; it just makes us nervous.

If you take the plunge, please share your experiences and examples here! Happy sketching!




The Trouble with Gratitude

No, I’m not the Grinch before his heart grew three sizes that day; my shoes aren’t too tight, and my head is screwed on just right. But in reality, there is a problem we have with gratitude, and to address it, we have to recognize it.

No, I’m not the Grinch before his heart grew three sizes that day; my shoes aren’t too tight, and my head is screwed on just right. But in reality, there is a problem we have with gratitude, and to address it, we have to recognize it.

It’s more than a month.

One of the biggest indicators that we’ve reached November is that we’re all suddenly grateful for everything in our lives, both in and out of our control, and we want everybody to hear us as we shout it from the rooftops.

I’m just as guilty of that, by the way. Every November I take on some kind of gratitude challenge, whether on social media or through journaling or just through talking with family and friends. It’s not wrong to be grateful and to show our gratitude, but if we’re only cognizant of our gratitude when we think it’s the “right” time of year to show it, we miss out on the awesome power gratitude has in our lives.

Taking the time to focus on our gratitude for a set amount of time can actually help us continue that practice after the time period is up, so the real trick is looking for ways to be humbly grateful instead of bragging through our gratitude. Because let’s face it, it’s easy to be grateful when we’re on top of our game; it’s much harder to be grateful when it feels like your world is crumbling around you.

In Sickness and in Health

When November approached, a friend from my professional learning network (PLN) Adam Powley (a great high school gamified educator if you aren’t already following him @MrPowley) contacted several of us to ask if we’d like to participate in sharing blog posts that we write about the same topic – gratitude. I agreed without hesitation and started this post immediately.

But in the middle of my own gratitude challenge and writing about how we need to be intentional with our gratitude, my grandmother died. She was 92 and the mother to 16 children, 5 of whom have/had muscular dystrophy. To say she was the lifeblood of our family seems like an understatement. She acted as our loving matriarch even after her husband died from a long battle with esophageal cancer and then later losing three sons in the span of a few short years. She herself battled with fibromyalgia. Losing her was crushing, but as I reflected, I realized that she was always grateful, intentionally grateful. It was gratitude for another sunrise or sunset, for a new puzzle that she could work on from the chair she couldn’t leave, for family.

That realization strengthened my resolve to not only be aware of what I have to be grateful for year round but also to be intentional in my gratitude.

Intentionally Grateful

Being intentionally grateful instead of boastfully grateful means that you focus on not how lucky you are to live in a large house or to be incredibly talented but instead to focus on the things in your life that truly work to fulfill you. Instead of being grateful that you got to go home after a long day with a difficult class, find gratitude for the student who trusts you enough to want to tell you 20 stories with every single detail included.

For me, being intentionally grateful meant finding gratitude in my grandmother’s death – her long life, the memories I have with her, the example she provided, the friends who reached out to show they cared, the chance to reunite with family. It also meant that when I was sick and unable to drag myself out of bed that I found gratitude with the fact that I HAD a sick day available to take. Instead of being irritated with having to go to the store, I was grateful to have a store with so many selections available to me. It meant being grateful that I was physically capable of raking the abundance of leaves in my driveway instead of being grateful when I was done raking them.

The gratitude that is truly transformative calls for us to look beyond what we WANT to happen and see even a tiny spark of light in a dark day. It doesn’t ask us to be smiling and happy all the time, just to acknowledge that there is something in our day that makes it bearable.

What will you find to be grateful for today?

The Power of Positivity

Because of course, the positive attitude is more than a smile when you want to roll your eyes. The positive attitude is what allows you to take the next step even though you’re not really sure that you want to. The positive attitude doesn’t mean you’re always happy; it means that you’re willing to use a flashlight instead of stumbling in the dark.

* This post was originally started in November…of last year. I wrote and discarded, wrote and discarded, and then just abandoned. I’m not sure why, but I was distracted by other things and simply couldn’t commit to finishing it. As the year anniversary of attending the EdCamp I’m writing about came and went, I decided it was time to return to this post for multiple reasons.

  1. Positivity is essential to us being effective educators.
  2. I met two of my dearest friends at this EdCamp because I took a chance.
  3. Even though we all know the importance of being positive, it’s very easy to ignore what we know and focus on the negative.

No More Excuses

Let’s be honest, for most of us life is hectic. It’s easy to get bogged down by everything we need and want to do. There are times as I try to juggle my professional and personal responsibilities that I just want to throw my hands up, eat some chocolate, and lament how unfair being an adult can be. But then I get reminded about the power of positivity.

Recently I had the opportunity to drop everything on a Saturday and drive 2 1/2 hours to Chicago Heights for the fall EdCamp Chicago. If you’ve never been to an EdCamp, it’s like no PD you’ve ever experienced, and I highly suggest you find one to attend. The beauty (and value) of them is that you’re surrounded by educators from a variety of school districts who want to be there. They want to learn from and teach each other. It’s not like the school PD that you dutifully attend because you’re expected to. These days are free and relevant and full of the things we always say students need, voice and choice. And did I mention they’re free?

So I travelled to this EdCamp alone but planned to meet up with other teachers from other locations who were in my PLN. It was an idea completely out of my comfort zone, walking into a school hours away from my home base, alone. It had been a week more stressful than the previous weeks, and I was considering just backing out and watching the Harry Potter movie marathon; I mean who wouldn’t, right?

And this, my friends, is where I stopped originally. I was feeling all of these emotions after this EdCamp, and I didn’t know how to proceed. The message felt important to me, to stay positive even in a new and potentially scary situation, to take the leap with an open heart and head, but I was too close to the actual experience to finish it. So now that I have a year behind me, I’ll try to finish.

Taking a Chance

I’m an introvert by nature (which most people find hard to believe), and as I made excuses for why I didn’t need to attend this EdCamp, my husband supported me with positivity. He could have simply pretended to listen or told me to do what I wanted, but instead, he not only told me I should go, but he arranged for me to go up the night before and stay in a hotel (with no kids, woohoo!). I made every excuse not to go. I said that I would probably not learn anything new, or that the people I was excited to meet wouldn’t really be interested in meeting me, or that it was taking me away from all the work I had to do. Luckily he decided to be the positivity that I wasn’t willing to be for myself. 

So I made the trip, enjoyed the night to myself, took a deep breath, and allowed his belief that this would be a positive experience to become my positive belief. And when I walked into the venue early and didn’t know anyone, I kept a positive attitude. And when the person I was waiting for walked in and greeted me with a giant hug before going to a table with her friends, I kept a positive attitude. And when she invited me to sit with them and it went against everything in my nature to sit on the outskirts of a table of people who didn’t seem to care one way or another if I was there, I kept a positive attitude. And when I made it through the day having learned several new things, with ideas for change running wild in my head, I was happy I had kept a positive attitude. And when I made real connections with people who I hadn’t really known before, I was glad I had kept a positive attitude.

Because of course, the positive attitude is more than a smile when you want to roll your eyes. The positive attitude is what allows you to take the next step even though you’re not really sure that you want to. The positive attitude doesn’t mean you’re always happy; it means that you’re willing to use a flashlight instead of stumbling in the dark.

Epilogue – Making New Friends

I mentioned at the beginning that this was the trip that introduced me to two of my dearest friends and many others who now hold a special place in my heart and my world. Only one month after EdCamp Chicago (pictured on the left), I attended EdCamp Green Bay with my new friends (pictured on the right).




Are You Sketchy?

In addition to using sketchnotes for note taking, they can also be used quite effectively to assess learning and to build relationships.

As I wrote about before, sketchnotes are a beneficial addition to any classroom and any content area. It’s a good alternative form of note taking that combines both sides of the brain to synthesize information. In addition to using sketchnotes for note taking, they can also be used quite effectively to assess learning and to build relationships. Take a closer look at how to incorporate sketchnotes into your classroom in a variety of ways in episode 3 of Mrs. Cford Vlogs.

I’ll Show You – Snake Oil

Snake Oil is a game that I love adapting for classroom use because it makes students think quickly and creatively, can be utilized in groups or as individuals, and can even be left as a meaningful assignment when you’re out of the building.

This vlog post is the first in a series that shows you how to take a game or idea and make it and/or use it right away. Snake Oil is a game that I love adapting for classroom use because it makes students think quickly and creatively, can be utilized in groups or as individuals, and can even be left as a meaningful assignment when you’re out of the building.

The video walks you through what the game is, how to adapt it to your content area, and the skills being addressed. It also includes a template for creating your own customer cards to customize for your content.


If you use Snake Oil in your classroom, leave a comment to share how it went, and as always if you have questions I’d love to help!

The Power of a Good Streak

Since March of last year I decided to run at least 1 mile a day for as long as I could make myself get out and go. There’s so much power in committing to do something once every day and then sticking with it.

The new year brought the foray into a new format. I love writing a blog, but there has always been something intriguing about the idea of creating a vlog, still creating and sharing ideas, but the visuals a vlog provides have always made me feel like we’re able to get to know the speaker a little bit more. The viewer sees the personality behind the words. So for 2018, I decided to put out at least one vlog post a week. I’ve been so focused on sharing ideas through that format, that I neglected putting those ideas in text here.

So from now on I’ll post each vlog link here and give an introduction to the topic. I hope you’ll enjoy the new format as much as I enjoy making it. I’m able to show you some real ways to start different ideas right now in your classroom and talk to you about mindsets to keep and challenges we face.


The first vlog is about the Power of a Good Streak. Since March of last year I decided to run at least 1 mile a day for as long as I could make myself get out and go. Having two kids and a husband that has a different schedule means finding time to get out and run after a long hiatus was very difficult, but I missed running, and I needed to start being active again for my health. At the time of the vlog, I hadn’t hit a year yet, but I was closing in, and the benefits from “streaking” were and continue to be amazing. There’s so much power in committing to do something once every day and then sticking with it.

Streaks don’t need to be a year long. They can be 7 days, a month, 6 months, as long as you can keep it going. It’s the act of committing for a certain length of time that helps you develop new ideas, look at things in a new way, and even improve your confidence level as you check another day off of your streak.

And “failing” at your streak is also okay. Celebrate your successes and re-evaluate whether you want to restart your streak, why you stopped, whether you need a little break, and whether there’s a new idea you want to start a streak with.

If you are currently streaking, start your own streak, or have questions, please share with me!

Wonder Powers Unite to Form…SketchSnaps

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you’ve probably recognized that I love both BookSnaps and sketchnotes as tools in the classroom. But the other night I started thinking of how to combine some of the things I find most effective and helpful in the classroom, and I came up with the idea of the SketchSnap.

If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you’ve probably recognized that I love both BookSnaps and sketchnotes as tools in the classroom. But as I was contemplating how to combine techniques I love for reflection and understanding, I decided the SketchSnap was what I was looking for.

So…what the what?

Well, if you’re not familiar with BookSnaps, they were the brainchild of Tara Martin @TaraMartinEDU. By combining pictures of what you’re reading with text boxes, emojis, drawings, and Bitmojis, you’re capturing a visually appealing, quick to interact with graphic that works well in classrooms and even in professional circles. Since their inception, other people have adapted them to work in other creative ways with ideas such as #GratitudeSnaps, #EDUsnaps, and #CoachSnaps. In my classroom, we frequently use #BookSnaps to interact with text in order to make inferences, summarize, and reflect on books and stories we’re reading. If you need a quick tutorial on how to create a BookSnap, click here. (Snapchat and Seesaw are my favorite ways of creating BookSnaps, and Seesaw is my favorite place for displaying BookSnaps so that students get to interact with them in a safe social-media like environment.)

An EDUsnap I created to share an idea from my classroom that day.


book cover student booksnap
Student example of a BookSnap where students were asked to make an inference about a book based on only the cover image and title.


The Power of Sketchnotes Intensified

Sketchnotes are a powerful tool in the classroom. If you’re not familiar with them or have been thinking about trying them but still haven’t committed, check out my last blog post first, Let’s Talk About Sketch.

To me, the beauty of sketchnotes is in the fact that the students are making their own visual notes that allow both the left and right parts of the brain to be activated, allowing for better and more retention. The notes become more meaningful to them. In fact, some students struggle with the idea of sketchnotes at first because you’re asking them to step away from having notes handed to them and asking them to process and summarize the material in their own words.

The other day, my students were learning about people who were considered heroes of 9/11. Each student chose at least two heroes, heroic stories, or a combination of both to represent in a sketchnote. After completing the sketchnotes, students shared their choices with the class and explained what it was about the heroes that grabbed their attention over the other heroes. That night as I was thinking about the variety of sketchnotes I had seen that day and the reasons they gave, I started to think about how the sketchnotes could be used reflectively in an easily shareable format, like the BookSnap, and that’s when the idea hit me.

So I decided to use a student’s sketchnote and see what it would look like with the reflective piece added, and this is what I created. The words were my student’s. She was moved by how young these people were who willingly walked into danger and death.The SketchSnap adds the one missing piece to the sketchnote, the reflection. You can use an essential question, write an open-ended question, or ask students to write a question to answer that requires their own reflection over their notes.

This means that now your students are interacting with their sketchnotes and will be forced to reflect on whether those notes contained all/enough important information or if the sketchnotes were lacking. If the student finds his sketchnotes lacking, what a great opportunity for him to reflect on why/how the notes could be improved. This reflection can easily be adapted into partner work as well where students work together to see how they would answer the question differently based on their different versions of sketchnotes. They could discuss:

  1. How were their notes more or less effective when trying to answer the question?
  2. How were their answers alike? How were they different?
  3. What are elements of their notes they might change the next time?
  4. Practice formulating arguments by asking them to defend their answer to their partner.

Sketch it and reflect upon it.

You know what BookSnaps are, and you know what sketchnotes are; whether you’ve ever tried them before or not, you have everything you need to start today. Try it. Take a chance. See how adding an easily accessible reflective piece can make student note taking (and your own) even more meaningful.

And then come back here and share your experiences! Happy SketchSnapping!

Twitter, Who Has Time for That?

If the thought of using Twitter as an educator leaves you less than enthusiastic, follow these simple steps to have you comfortably joining the Twitterverse in no time.

The answer is you. And the better question is, as an educator, “Who doesn’t have time for Twitter?”

I’ll admit that before January, I had practically zero interest in Twitter. I’d tried previously to get motivated to figure out what all the hype was about; I even had a professional account set up, but I just couldn’t see how it was supposed to help me as an educator. After all, who has time to scroll through tweets from strangers let alone respond to them?

I’d still be feeling apathetic at best if it wasn’t for a district wide technology PD scheduled for after the winter break last school year. Teachers were allowed to choose some breakout sessions, and I signed up for Power Up: Personalize Your Own PD, hosted by @mandyeellis.

power up pdSee, what tricked me was that the title had nothing to do with Twitter. (Nicely done, Mandy.) But that session was the best thing to happen to me, precisely because of what I didn’t want to interact with, Twitter.

So I took some PD. Big deal.

The big deal was that I finally learned HOW and WHY to utilize Twitter as a professional. Instead of blindly staring at random tweets, I now had a place to start and build from. And from there I just kept building, and sharing, and “listening,” and learning.

twitter user
Image from https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bp0G4zGCAAAp-fb.jpg

Now that you have a Twitter handle, what next?

Perhaps you’ve decided to give it a try; whether it was because of your own curiosity, a coworker/friend encouraging you, or an administrator or district telling you that you wanted to sign up, here are some ideas to get you started and engaging with educators on Twitter.

Build a PLN – stat!

A PLN (professional learning network) is one of the best benefits of becoming engaged on Twitter. It’s a chance to connect with educators worldwide who are encountering the same struggles and have the same interests, but even more importantly you’re connecting with educators that are being innovative, encouraging creativity, and wanting to work collaboratively with you, yes YOU!

Build YourHow do you build a PLN? Easy! Just start following educators that are interesting or inspiring to you and watch your PLN grow. Of course, it can still be daunting to find the people you want to follow at first, so I suggest finding your favorite educational authors or innovators. If colleagues are taking or have taken the plunge, follow them too; the interaction you have on Twitter will be different than passing them in the hall or chatting before or after school. If you’re still unsure, here are some recommendations to get you started:

Rick Wormeli @rickwormeli2 (or as I think of him after seeing him in person, the Steve Martin of education) – If you’re thinking about using standards based learning or are already practicing (any principles of) standards based learning, Rick is a must to follow. He’s great about responding to any of your questions, and he tweets helpful resources for your journey into standards based learning in the form of current research as well as articles and current events. As a bonus, if you’ve never listened to him or have never considered standards based learning, check out this video on redos, retakes, and do-overs.

Dave and Shelley Burgess @burgessdave and @burgess_shelley – These two are the powerhouses behind Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., and they are also kind, fun, down-to-earth, and they LOVE interacting with educators on Twitter.

dbc inc.png

If you’ve never heard of Teach Like a Pirate, written by Dave, you need to get a copy, like right now. And then check out all of the other LAP (Like a Pirate) books that will inspire you to play, explore, learn, and lead (written by Shelley and Beth Houf, a middle school principal with great ideas) like a pirate. While you’re at it, follow the other LAP authors, Quinn Rollins author of Play Like a Pirate, Paul Solarz author of Learn Like a Pirate, and Michael Matera author of Explore Like a Pirate, which is all about gamification. Matera and Rollins both teach social studies/history, and Solarz is a 5th grade teacher in case you’re looking for educators familiar with your content as well.

Carrie Baughcum @HeckAwesome – Carrie is a special ed teacher who knows the benefits of sketchnoting for both students and teachers. She’s passionate about what she does, and she’s always willing to brainstorm with you. If you’ve never heard of/tried sketchnoting, have a look at what Carrie is doing, and you’ll be trying it in no time. She’s also got great insight into gamifying classrooms.

Tisha Richmond @tishrich – Tisha is an AMAZING high school culinary teacher who is implementing gamification; think Food Network food truck challenges with local judges. Her enthusiasm is catching, and like Carrie, she is happy to help you on your journey.

Tara M Martin @TaraMartinEDU – Tara is the mastermind behind BookSnaps that have been sweeping the nation. Clearly she’s an innovative thinker, and she’ll engage with you as you challenge yourself and your students to use available technology and apps in new and meaningful ways. If you’ve never seen a BookSnap, here are a few examples from my students.




Alice Keeler @alicekeeler – If you’re a math teacher (and I am not but still follow her), Keeler bookthen she should be a no-brainer to add to your PLN. Alice is vocal about making math meaningful and incorporating technology, specifically using Google Apps many times, to make that happen. She’ll push you to go paperless and to ditch homework. She has authored several books, including this one on using Google Apps to teach math. Many of her tweets will take you to tutorials linked from her blog that will make using functions in sheets and other Google Apps very approachable.

And if you’re looking for a Google expert, follow Kasey Bell @ShakeUpLearning.

Now you have the start to your PLN. What next?

Hashtags are really the most effective way of searching for information relative to what you’re looking for. Obviously there are a plethora of hashtags out there, but if you have a starting point, you’ll find others that interest or intrigue you as well. Hashtags can relate to classroom practices, professional books, content areas, etc. Here are a few of my favorite hashtags that you might start with: #tlap, #xplap, #learnlap, #kidsdeserveit, #shiftthis, #sblchat, #ditchhw, #ditchbook, #innovatorsmindset, #sketchnotes, #BookSnaps.

Participate in (or observe) an edchat.

Edchats can be extremely overwhelming when you’re a newbie. They’re fast paced, usually an hour long, where participants are answering questions and replying to others in a rapid-fire manner. If it makes you queasy just reading that, take a deep breath and stay with me. If you prefer to be a quiet observer in a chat, taking it all in and contemplating ideas, that’s okay. If you see a question or two that you’re compelled to answer, that’s okay. This is, after all, about you exploring and growing at your own pace.

If there’s an education hashtag you follow, chances are there’s a weekly chat on the topic. For instance, #tlap chat is currently held on Mondays at 8:00 CST, and #xplap is currently held on Tuesdays at 9:00 CST. The moderators for the chats have their questions planned ahead of time and post them at intervals throughout the hour. If you search a hashtag and find tweets that have something like A1 in front of them, you know you’ve found someone’s answer to an edchat question.

edchat guidelines

Keep it all straight with a little help from TweetDeck.

TweetDeck makes dealing with hashtags much more convenient. Log in to TweetDeck on your laptop or home computer and connect with your Twitter account. You can add hashtags that you want to follow, and it will show you any notifications or messages you have all on the same screen. Here’s a portion of my TweetDeck:tweetdeck

You can like, tweet, retweet, comment, and message all from your TweetDeck. I have more columns that I follow, so I simply scroll left and right to reach all of them.

Share what you’re excited about.

Have you created a bulletin board you’re proud of, received a drawing from a student that melted your heart, had a brilliant insight into an issue that’s dear to you, have a classroom issue you just need a little feedback about? Tweet about it. If you’re using apps with your students such as Flipgrid or Seesaw, tag them in the tweet by including their Twitter handle. (Never used Flipgrid? Check out my blog post.)

Maybe you’ve had your students craft questions for their favorite authors. If those authors are on Twitter, submit the students’ questions under your account and see if your students receive a response.

If you have older students with Twitter accounts, create a Twitter Tuesday where they respond to a question that you pose on your Twitter account.

Make sure to remember that this is your professional account, so keep it classy. Include as many relevant hashtags as you are able to so that your Tweets reach more people. If you’re posting student work examples, be sure you’ve taken names off or covered them up.

Start now.

Really, that says it all. Build your PLN, look for some hashtags that interest you, observe and/or participate in edchats, and start posting your own insights and questions.

Do you have other tips that you think are essential for making Twitter a useful tool? Share them here! Happy Tweeting.


Flipping Out

Flipgrid is a great new tool to start using in your classroom, today!

For a couple of years I’ve thrown around the idea of starting a blog. You know, the way you contemplate something between planning, grading, and all of the other things that fall into your priority list. In the classroom, I don’t wait. I discover new ideas, create new ways to use them in my classroom, and just do it. Often times that includes visiting fellow teachers and brainstorming, talking the ideas out, and sometimes even practicing how a project will go, especially if it involves the use of a new app. Together, the students and I figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and I revisit and revise. Why should blog writing be any different? So finally, instead of thinking about it, I’m actually doing it.

The real push came from discovering Flipgrid. Suddenly Flipgrid was everywhere on Twitter. It was showing up in all of the edchats I was participating in, and educators in my PLN that I highly respected were encouraging teachers to give it a go. Finally, Matt MillerDitch That Textbook author, integrated Flipgrid as part of his #ditchbook edchat one week. That was smart. It forced us to actually interact with the tool, and once you’ve participated in a grid, you start thinking of all of the possibilities for your own classroom.

Using Flipgrid

If you’ve used or are using Flipgrid already, feel free to skip this introduction and jump straight to the Choose Your Own Adventure information that I’m super excited about implementing, and I think that you might be excited to try something like it too! For the newbies, here’s a quick introduction to using Flipgrid. First create your free account. With this account, you can create one grid, but it can have multiple topics. This is a great way to play around with it on your own, with other teachers, or even with a class. A paid subscription is offered that allows the creation of unlimited grids and some extra tools such as teacher feedback, and you can upgrade at any time.

flipgrid login

Once you’re in, you begin creating your grid, not unlike interacting with Google Classroom. You can customize your grid picture, name the grid, and make a few decisions about the security and privacy of your grid. The following are the default settings of a new grid:

security and privacy settings

What I like is that I can choose to password protect it so that it’s only visible to those people that have the password that I create.

grid password protection

The next step is to create a topic within the grid and share the grid code or link with the participants. When you create a topic, you can make your own video to introduce the topic, or you can type your question or topic out. The students, though, have to respond with a video. In the free account, student responses can be up to 1 minute and 30 seconds long, and they always have the option to review the video before posting it, so they really are in control of their posts! For students who may be a little camera shy, you can ease them into it by allowing them to record their response while having the camera pointing at another object. Students can even respond to classmates’ videos. I’ve been impressed with their excitement, and since I teach lit, it has been a great tool to assess whether they’re able to use evidence to back up their opinions. Even on days when I haven’t posted a topic, I’ve had students ask if I would create one.

Currently, my eighth grade house is sharing technology, so we sign out an iPad cart or the house computers (without cameras) when they’re available. That means that when I want to use Flipgrid, the students use the free app on the iPads or their smartphones if they’ve downloaded the app on them. Before unleashing the app on my students, I did have a few teachers on my team help me out by logging in as a student and participating in the grid, just to make sure I was aware of any questions that might come up since I operate my account from my laptop. I definitely recommend this; if nothing else, it’s good for a laugh.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Next year my school is going 1:1 with Chromebooks. Knowing that, I wanted to start utilizing Flipgrid frequently and for meaningful tasks, things students get excited about. During an #xplap chat on gamification, I had the idea that I’d like to use Flipgrid in a Choose Your Own Adventure style of activity. I wasn’t sure of the logistics, but I was positive that I had to do this and that it would be a great way to start the 2017-2018 school year.

The creators of Flipgrid and their team are amazing at brainstorming with you, answering questions, and offering support. Don’t believe me? Check them out on Twitter with the handle @flipgrid. After talking with Charlie Miller, one of those creators, I have a plan of attack, and I think I can make this work. It’ll start with one topic on the grid and then give students two choices represented by two more topics, and this would go again and then have two ending topics for a total of seven topics. There are obviously more details to work out, but this is enough to get me started, and my power lit class is more than willing to help me figure it out. And really, what’s better than learning together?

And this, really, is why I decided that right now was the perfect time to start this blog. I had an idea I was excited about, and I want to share the process with you. Maybe you’ll want to try the same thing (or something different) and check in with me. This is where we brainstorm together, try it, and revisit and revise.

Have you been using Flipgrid in your classroom? If so, what great things have you been doing with it? If not, create a grid and tell me how it goes!