Sunday, July 19, 2015

Answer Garden: a Quick and Easy Polling System

Answer Garden advertises itself as the "minimal tool for maximum feedback," and I have to agree. It's super-quick and easy to use with even elementary age students. You can use it on any device with a browser, and they recently launched a free iOS app.

What is it?
AnswerGarden is a free tool that creates word clouds from multiple users simultaneously. {Reminder: a word cloud is a collection of words or phrases displayed in a cluster -- like a "cloud" shape -- where the words/phrases that are submitted the most frequently appear larger than the other words/phrases in the cluster. The more times a word or phrase is submitted, the larger it appears in the final product.}

How does it work?
You, the teacher, create an AnswerGarden on their website. Afterwards, share the link with students so they can visit your "garden" on their mobile device. {Tip: click here for 8 ways to quickly share links with students.}

Students simply type a short answer and click "submit." The answers appear in a word cloud in real time on everyone's device so it's easy to see which submission was entered the most frequently.

My favorite features
  • 100% free
  • Does not require anyone to sign up for an account or remember any additional passwords :)
  • Works on any device with a browser {perfect for the BYOD classroom because all students -- from the one on a laptop to the one on a Kindle Fire -- can participate from their device!}
  • Literally takes 60 seconds or less to set up

Classroom uses
While not made specifically for educational use, there are several ways to incorporate it into your classroom. Here are some basic ideas {but scroll to the end of this post to see more detailed examples of ways to use AnswerGarden with students}:
  • Whole group brainstorming
  • Voting 
  • Discussion 
  • Beginning-of-year activities
  • Review questions with short, simple answers

Create an AnswerGarden in 60 seconds or less
1. Go to the home page, scroll down, and click "create an answer garden" ...or click the + sign in the top, right corner.

Notice there is no account registration required! :)

2. Enter a question or prompt into the topic area.

If you don't want to do anything else, just scroll and click the "create" button at the very bottom of the page:

If you'd like to have a little bit more control, though, you have that option, too. Below are some of the preferences you can toggle:

  • Change the mode {I use the brainstorm mode if students are sharing devices and classroom mode if we're 1:1.}
    • Brainstorm: the audience can enter an unlimited number of answers, including unlimited copies of the same answer
    • Classroom: the audience can enter an unlimited number of answers, but they can enter each answer only once
    • Moderator: you have to manually approve each answer before it is added to the Answer Garden
    • Locked: the Answer Garden is closed and no new comments can be submitted
  • Change the answer length
    • Choose if your audience can submit answers 20 characters in length or 40. This includes spaces, so make sure to ask a question that can be answered in less than 40 characters! 
  • Password and Reminder E-mail
    • I utilize these options because I want the ability to delete unwanted answers, but it's definitely not a requirement. I do recommend, however, unchecking the newsletter box if you choose to have your password and link e-mailed to you.
  • Spam filter and network detection
    • AnswerGarden says the spam filter blocks common unwanted answers, including a range of inappropriate words. 

3. Share the link.  The actual URL is fairly short {for instance, the AnswerGarden I just created has a URL with 35 total characters in it, so students can just type it into their browser. {Click here to read about 8 ways to quickly share a link with students.} AnswerGarden provides other ways to share the link, though:

Scroll down on the actual AnswerGarden to see the share buttons.

Click the QR button to generate a large QR code that you can display on your Promethean for the audience to scan {I always had to turn the classroom lights off or else there wasn't enough contrast for students to scan from their seats}.

The "share" button allows you to share on a variety of social media sites or embed your AnswerGarden into another webpage. When embedding, you have two options. You can either embed the entire AnswerGarden, like this:


 or just embed a "microgarden" that only shows the answer box -- like a blind poll. That looks like this:

If you have a classroom website that students are used to accessing, the embed feature would be a really quick way for students to access your poll. 

Teacher tricks
  • New answers do not automatically appear in the AnswerGarden; refresh the page periodically to see new answers. 
  • Get an inappropriate answer? Walk the room. When someone posts something, the answer appears in blue on their device. Find the person with the device that has the underlined inappropriate-ness, and you've found the culprit. {Mentioning this up front is a great deterrent!} If you entered a password upon creating the AnswerGarden, you now have the ability to edit it... so you could temporarily close the AnswerGarden or moderate answers if you're in Moderator Mode. {This page gives more information about moderating and deleting unwanted answers -- just scroll down to the part where it says, "I'm a teacher."}
  • To see how many times an answer was submitted, just hover over it on the AnswerGarden with your mouse.
Ideas for use
  1. BOY getting-to-know-you project: everyone post 5 adjectives that describe themselves or their summer. 
  2. BOY getting-to-know-you game: the teacher poses a question (ex. "Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?"), and the students type their answer. The answer that grows the biggest on the screen is the most popular. 
  3. BOY learning styles group quiz: the teacher can pose questions (ex. "Would you rather show your learning with a song or a play?" ... "Do you like numbers or words more?"), and the students type their answer. If you keep it pretty simple, you'll get an idea about what the class as a whole likes the most, and you can design your curriculum around it. 
  4. Quick, anonymous poll: quickly assess if the majority of the class understands the concept before moving on to the next part of your lesson. It's anonymous to all the students, although you can walk the room and look at student devices to see how everyone answered. 
  5. Short discussion: ask or post discussion questions to a novel or topic you're studying and let students weigh in. Just make sure students can type a short and sweet answer that's less than 41 characters!
  6. Exit ticket question {save the URL so you can review student answers later}
  7. "What other questions do you have about this topic?" 
  8. "What's one thing you're confused about in this lesson?"
  9. Whole group brainstorming: At the BOY have students submit their ideal class rules or talk about what it means to be a friend. You could also have students brainstorm things like digital citizenship tips, properties of matter, or character traits from the class novel.
  10. Ask for examples to illustrate student knowledge on a topic {Learning about the elements of literature? Ask students to submit examples similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, etc. Studying parts of speech? Ask students to submit examples of adjectives, nouns, pronouns, etc. Learning about polygons or supply and demand? Students can submit real-life examples. Reviewing the scientific method? Students can submit examples of when they could use this concept in their life or even the question they would start with to solve a certain problem with the scientific method}.
  11. Get answers quickly to create a class graph: Let students post how many siblings they have, which type of apple they prefer to eat, or anything other data you use when creating a class graph. Once the page is refreshed, hover over the answers to see how many times each was entered. Then create a graph of the data the way you normally would.
  12. Vote. Need to decide on the class reward, fundraising idea, or class pet name? Use AnswerGarden! Just make sure students all type their answer in the same way to ensure that the most popular answer appears the largest in the word cloud.

How would you use AnswerGarden {or would you use it at all}? What other BYOD tools do you use?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Periscope: How and Why to Broadcast Live

A new app called Periscope is all the rage right now. This post will discuss what Periscope is, how to navigate the app, and why you might want to give it a shot. 

In a nutshell:
Periscope is a free app {available on both The App Store and Google Play Store} that allows users to broadcast a live video stream from their mobile device. 

More info:
Sign up for Periscope using either your Twitter account or your phone number. Choose your username wisely, as you're not allowed to change it!

follow me: @ckaras

Tapping the + icon on a person’s Periscope account (not shown in the screenshot above because I'm viewing my own profile) means you’ve followed them. Here are the benefits of following someone:
  • you can join their public broadcasts
  • their public broadcasts automatically appear in your watch tab
  • you can chat during their broadcasts
  • they can invite you to see other peoples’ broadcasts
  • they can invite you to see their private broadcasts

Click the TV icon (called "the watch tab") in the bottom, left corner to see broadcasts from people you're following. As you can see in my screenshot below, I only had one recent broadcast (recent = within the last 24 hours), and none of the people I follow were live. 

Notice that live broadcasts are at the top of the screen. Public broadcasts that are no longer live but are less than 24 hours old are shown under the "recent" section. After 24 hours, old broadcasts expire and cannot be found on the app anymore. (Although it's important to note: nothing ever really disappears on the internet...)

If you think you'll want to share your personal broadcasts after 24 hours, go into the settings and click "autosave broadcasts" (shown in the screenshot below). This automatically saves your videos to your device, and then you can share them via e-mail, Dropbox, etc.

Find your settings by clicking on the farthest icon to the right -- the people silhouette -- and then the single person silhouette in the top, right. Scroll down and click on "settings." 

After the initial 24 hours are up and a broadcast disappears, a summary of the video (title, date, time, and location if the you chose to share it) is still displayed on the your profile, although you can delete it if you want. 

The map section (accessed by touching the world icon on the bottom of the screen) lets you look for live broadcasts around the world:

Note: the public can only see a user's location if the user has chosen to share it. Toggle whether or not location is shared by tapping the compass icon.

The camera icon (bottom of the screen) takes you to a screen that looks like the one below, and then you're ready to broadcast. 

I have yet to create my first broadcast, so I'm not entirely sure of this process yet. I assume the triangle icon on the left activates your location, the lock icon lets you toggle between a public and a private broadcast, and the Twitter bird lets you share your broadcast on your Twitter profile. I have no idea what that 3rd icon from the left does...if you know, please leave a comment so I can know, too! :) I'm going to try to go live at EdCampIT in Highland Park on Monday, July 20, so maybe I'll have an update about this section after that! 

If you mark your broadcast as live, anyone with the link can watch it. (Lots of people send their broadcast link out via Twitter.) People are able to watch your broadcasts from the web, but they can't comment or send hearts on your video. All broadcasts are, by default, public.

From what I've experienced through watching others' broadcasts, viewers from the app can comment on a video, and everyone -- including the owner of the video -- can see your comments. Viewers from the app can also send hearts, which is the Periscope equivalent to the Facebook "like."

If your broadcast is public, your followers get a notification that you are live, anyone can view the broadcast from the Watch Tab, and anyone can chat on your broadcast or send hearts. 

If you mark your broadcast as private, you have to select which of your followers you'd like to see the video. 

Ways to Use Periscope in the Classroom
The most obvious answer is that this can be a window into your classroom for parents -- particularly for those that have to work and/or can't make it to a class event. Here are some things you could broadcast:
  1. Student presentations
  2. A musical or play
  3. Talent show acts
  4. Parts of a sporting event
  5. "Back to school/Meet the teacher" spiel (have a colleague stand in the audience and film you. If a parent has to work, he/she could catch your Periscope broadcast for 24 hours after open house, OR you could post the video to your class website for viewing at any time)
  6. Special events like parties, parades, Jump Rope for Heart, etc. 
You could also broadcast yourself teaching a lesson (to help parents help their kids with homework) or part of a faculty meeting (as a "behind the scenes" type of thing). 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How to Customize Your Own Image for ThingLink

I'm in the process of adding some new tutorial videos to the database, so check there if you're a video tutorial fan. 

There were a couple of questions about how I made the image for "my digital self" in the #TLChallenge, so I made a little tutorial about it. It's super-easy -- I promise! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

How to Help Students Find Books They Like

As a bookworm, I've always been of the belief that people who don't like to read just haven't found the right book yet. :) Here are a few tools you can use for kiddos who can't seem to find anything they like to read:

This search is best for students who know of a subject or topic they might be interested in reading about, but they don't know of any specific books they've enjoyed or might want to read.

In the "all books" section, just type a title, author, or keyword and click the red "find books" button. 

If the student has a favorite book and wants to find something similar, click that middle tab labeled "search for similar books," type the name of the book, and click the green "find similar books." 

Then you can narrow down the results by reading level, interest level, theme/subject, or genre {not pictured below because there were no options listed under "genre" for my searched title"}. I searched for The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and got 20 search results.

This search engine is best for students who have enjoyed at least one book in the past. 

Type in the name of a book you enjoyed {and the author}, and Book Seer generates a list of similar books from Amazon. I typed in Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss and got these results:

This search engine is also good for students who have enjoyed at least one book in the past.

ELA teachers, this might be a great way to kill two birds with one stone during that first week of school; kids will get to search for some books they start the year reading {and what a good opportunity to also teach them how to find what they need in the library!}, plus you'll get to know each student a little better based on which books they choose to read. 

Taking it a step farther with tech integration:

1. Back-to-school project: showcase 5 books that describe your personality. Use ThingLink, Tackk, or Shadow Puppet Edu to create a collage, poster, or slideshow of the book covers. Students can type or orally narrate how they relate to each book.

2. Reading Goals: which 5 books do you plan to read next, and why? ThingLink, Tackk, and Shadow Puppet Edu would work well for this project, too. 

3. Like suggestion #1 or 2 but don't have time to integrate a full project? No problem. Use Answer Garden to let students put titles and authors on the board and try to find common ground with classmates.  

4. Book Reviews: students can record themselves reviewing a book on something like Shadow Puppet Edu, Seesaw, or Link the recording to a QR code and place the QR codes on a bulletin board or even on the back of each book in your classroom library. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

How to Collect Parent Information {Digitally}

As much as I'd like to push this fact to the back of my mind and forget it, I can't: it's mid-July, and back-to-school events are right around the corner. With that comes the gathering of all kinds of information about your new students. Here are some helpful hints about how to collect information in a paperless way.


I've written before about a free service called Remindclick here for more information. I highly recommend inviting parents to join your Remind class during a back-to-school meeting because you can clear any confusion immediately and make sure everyone is signed up before they leave!

Now you can use Remind's "stamp" feature to conduct polls or get feedback on your announcements. Not only would this be super-handy for collecting information at a back-to-school meeting, but it would be an extra incentive for parents to sign up for the service since they can't participate in the poll if they're not connected to your channel! Keep in mind that recipients are only able to send stamps from the app -- not from the web or through text messaging. {The Remind app is available in both the App Store and the Google Play store.} The stamp feature is applied automatically to all announcements, so there is no extra work on the teachers' side.

There are 4 different stamps. Typically, the ★ = the recipient acknowledging the message, the  = "yes," the  = "no," and the ? is self-explanatory. :) However, you can easily conduct quick polls of your own by giving new meaning to each symbol. Here's an example of using Remind to ask parents how their child will go home:

I sent a message to my "test" class, asking how each student would get home this year. If I'd been thinking clearly when I did it, I would've just copied and pasted the actual icons into the message to save myself a few characters. :)

A parents' view from the app: he/she gets the announcement you just sent 

A parents' view from the app: he/she clicks the star in the bottom, right corner to reveal the stamp options

If the announcement was sent to the entire class, parents can see an overall tally of each stamp (so they could see that you received 10 stars, 3 checks, and 5 X marks), but they don't get to see how each person answered.

As the teacher, though, you can see who answered and how they answered:
A teacher's view from the web: I can see the name of the person associated with the account and how they voted {in the picture above, "C TestParent" voted with an "X."}

Click here to read more about the stamp feature on the Remind website.

Ideas to Ask Parents at Back-to-School Meetings:
  1. Travel: How will your child normally go home this year?  = bus,  = walking/biking,  = picked up in car/truck or by daycare
  2. InternetDo you have internet access at home?  = yes,  = no
  3. BYODCan your child bring his/her mobile device to school for academic purposes?  = yes,  = no
  4. ContactHow do you prefer to be contacted:  = phone,  = e-mail
  5. NewsHow do you prefer to learn about classroom news:  = blog/website,  = social media,  = e-mail, ? = printed paper
  6. TutoringWill your student attend my tutoring club on Tues and Thurs from 3:00-3:30?  = yes,  = no

Ideas to Ask Students at Back-to-School Meetings or the first week of school:
  1. Feelings pollHow do you feel about being in this new grade level?  = excited,  = happy,  = nervous or scared, ? = not sure or combination of these
  2. Multiple choice pop quiz to assess prior knowledge: 45 - 12 = ...  = 57,  = 33,  = 35, ? = 24
  3. Getting-to-know-you: Have you ever been to the beach?  = yes,  = no; Did you read a book this summer?  = yes,  = no; Coke or Pepsi?  = Coke, ? = Pepsi
  4. Anticipatory set: What's your favorite genre out of these?  = non-fiction,  = realistic fiction,  = sci-fi or fantasy, ? = historical fiction

Google Forms

I heart Google forms! Forms are so easy to set up, all information is stored in the cloud so you can never lose it, and all entries are organized into a nice little spreadsheet that you can sort however you wish. This is perfect for collecting a lot of information, since you can ask an unlimited number of questions and receive answers in many different formats {typed/free text, multiple choice, checkboxes, scale, etc.}. Here's a blog post about utilizing Google Forms in the classroom.

Extra tip: Put the link to your Google Form in a QR code, and post the QR code by your door. Parents can scan it during meet the teacher hour or back-to-school meetings and quickly provide you with all the information you need.

Sign Up Genius {Or Volunteer Spot}

Need help in your classroom? Want to schedule Mystery Readers? Need to know who is running the class store on token economy shopping days? Organize volunteers the easy way by using Sign Up Genius. It's super-easy to use; just write down the days and times you need help, and send the link to parents or post it on your class blog/e-mail signature. Bonus: reminder e-mails are automatically sent to volunteers a few days before the event so you can focus on what's really important {like figuring out what you're going to bring to the staff luncheon STAAR testing}.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

ThingLink Teacher Challenge

ThingLink is hosting a teacher challenge this summer, and it's not too late to join! Not only do participants earn 3 months of ThingLink Premium for free, but it's free, online professional development and a great opportunity to learn your way around ThingLink so you'll be ready to use it when school starts in August. Learn more about the #TLChallenge by reading this post on the ThingLink blog.

Completing week 1 of the challenge means creating your digital's mine:
Even if you've used ThingLink before, this is a great opportunity to practice with the premium features like media-rich tags. The star is supposed to show our admin building on Google Maps, but fellow CISD employees may notice that I'm still working on fine-tuning that. :) 

Want more information on ThingLink? Check out this blog post of mine