What Being a Student Has Reminded Me About Good Teaching

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of teaching, sometimes not really thinking about the things you know you should do, but run out of time to make happen. Unfortunately, time is a limited resource, and teachers are in a perpetual cycle of never quite being “done” with their work. Even if you’ve planned all of your lessons, graded all of your papers, updated all of your bulletin boards, and answered all of your emails, there’s always something more you could do to improve upon what you already have. 

As I’m finishing up my first year in a PhD program, I’m completing my final assignments before the university goes on winter break and reflecting on what my experience as a student has reminded me about good teaching practices.

  1. Timely feedback is important! The sooner that feedback can be given, the better, and the more specific it is, the more valuable it is. If your students believe you’re not looking at their work anytime soon, they’ll lose the motivation to complete it.
  2. Grading the quality of a first attempt at a skill is setting up your students for failure. Especially for a first try, students need the safety net of being free to fail and learn from those mistakes without major consequences. Either give feedback without a grade attached, or offer a do-over if you must grade that first try. 
  3. If you’re looking for something specific, providing an exemplar is really helpful. If you aren’t able to provide a strong example of what you’re looking for when you assign the task, at least provide a rubric so students know how their work will be scored. 
  4. Offer options when possible. Sometimes you really need students to practice a certain skill in a particular way, but often standards are written in a purposefully vague way that is open to some interpretation. Use that as a springboard for your students to be creative in how they show their learning. Offer options, and maybe even be open to your students coming up with their own variation of the task sometimes. 
  5. Be mindful of the issues that so often arise during group work, and attempt to avoid students having to depend on one another too much in order to complete their part of the task. The most common issue I’ve encountered as both a student and a teacher is specific people not completing their portion of the work, or not completing it in the timeline and to the standard their group mates expect of them. Consider how you will combat these issues when you assign group tasks.
  6. Offer optional opportunities for students to expand their learning. Whether it’s a review or a bonus task that dives deeper into the content, offering additional learning opportunities can help your students gain a better understanding of what you’ve been teaching. 
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Lessons in Teaching from “The Great British Baking Show”

I’m a fan of cooking competition tv shows. I don’t know why, but I love them. Perhaps it’s the fact that no one really gets injured, it isn’t typically painful to watch, and the episodes don’t exactly hinge upon one another for continuity, so if I watch them out of order, or only watch the ones that look the most interesting, I don’t feel as though I’m missing the plot (other than the arc of who gets eliminated each week if that show has the same contestants for the whole season). Some of my favorites have been “Cupcake Wars” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” but tonight I watched “The Great British Baking Show” for the first time, and was struck by how completely different it is from the others I’ve seen.

At first, I was simply shocked by the fact that contestants willingly shared kitchen tools, such as a strainer. Then I was flabbergasted when contestants looked genuinely happy for one another when others did well. During the first episode I watched, when a second person in a single round was told that their cake was perfect, the first person who had been told that very same thing minutes before looked on with pride and happiness for their competitor. I wondered for a minute whether I had missed the fact that this was a team competition and that was his partner.

It was when I noticed the difference in how the judges spoke to the contestants that I realized that while this show is a competition, it’s also structured like a differentiated classroom, and the judges are teaching and coaching the assessments, using each task as opportunities for feedback. When assigning a task, it’s often given as “bake your best fruit-flavored cake,” or “bake your signature dish.” The judges’ comments were largely positive, and they at times gently joked with the contestants about the obvious failures to lighten the mood, nearly always giving specific constructive feedback. When they don’t give specific feedback for improvement on a dish, that’s because that dish has been declared perfect, and the ways in which it is perfect have been spelled out for them. This cake is perfect! It has the color, flavors, texture, density, and cake-to-frosting ratio that are all just right. This sounds a lot like when you overhear a student making amazing connections and you repeat their insights for the class to benefit from. (Or lie through your teeth that you heard some people saying the connections that you were hoping they would make when they turned and talked with their partners…not that I’ve ever done that.)

Overall, my takeaways on how “The Great British Baking Show” models great teaching are:

  • Differentiate; it’s possible to give a topic and let everyone show their abilities on it in different ways, at least some of the time.
  • Be positive and build relationships, especially before giving constructive feedback.
  • Giving critical feedback is important if you want your students to improve, but it can be given gently and maintaining the student’s dignity.
  • Celebrate others’ victories; it means you get to celebrate far more often than if you only enjoy your own success.
  • A competition does not need to be cutthroat; it can be low-key and fun, primarily motivating students to do their personal best, and for celebrating the biggest successes of the day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have new episodes to watch…

 

Learn to Code With Google Sheets Macros

Last week, G Suite made an update to Sheets that made their product a little more efficient: macros. Perhaps you’ve noticed them in Microsoft Excel, and now they’re available in G Suite.

What IS a macro, anyway? It’s a way to automate tasks you have to do repeatedly, without writing code. To use them, go to Tools>Macros, record yourself completing the series of tasks you want to automate, save and name the recording, and then you can use it over and over again. If you’re not into coding, this can be a game-changer to save you some time later on repetitive tasks. Macros can be recorded so that they are performed over the exact area recorded on (think cells B2 through B7), or on a relative location (the active selection), so think about how you plan to use the macro before you start recording. (If Macros aren’t showing up in your Tools menu yet, check back in a few days. The nice people at Google told me that it could take up to 15 days from their new features roll out on 4/11/18 for everyone to have access to the shiny new features.)

But I AM a (novice) coder, and I’m excited about what this can do to expand my knowledge base. You see, G Suite Macros automatically transform the macro into code in Google Apps Scripts. Once you save the macro, click “Edit Script” to see what your actions look like in Google Apps Scripts code, which is a variation of JavaScript. You can access the script later by choosing “Manage Macros” and clicking the three dots to show the “Edit Script” option.

So, if there’s a task I know how do to manually, but haven’t the faintest idea how to code, theoretically, I can work backwards! I can create a macro for the task, and look at the code the macro created, instead of writing the code, hoping it will do what I want, and banging my head against the desk when it doesn’t for the 934th time. Once the script is created, I can analyze it to learn to write the code for the task I know how to do manually. Since I’ll know the end result of the code, I can use it to learn the commands and formatting that  created the desired result.

Typically, I put lines of code that I’ve found tricky to remember, but I know I’m likely to use again as notes into Google Keep. I make all of my coding notes the same color and give them the label “Code” to easily find what I’m looking for when I need it.

 

Sharing Hyperdocs: Canvas vs. Google Classroom

One tool I love for its versatility is the hyperdoc. They can be made using Google Docs or Google Slides, and it’s essentially a combination of content resources and a place for students to create their own work, all in one file.

I’ve shared them with students both by the force copy trick on a link in Canvas, and by sharing in Google Classroom so that each student gets a file. Both methods have their benefits; when sharing in Canvas (or another LMS), I can circulate the room while students are working, asking questions and giving feedback as they go, but students don’t submit their work until they are finished. In Canvas, Google files that are submitted are available to the teacher in a format almost like a screenshot, but it’s the whole file, not just one screen worth. Using Speedgrader, the teacher can quickly and easily scroll through a class’s work, scoring it on a rubric and making comments.

In Google Classroom, I can still circulate the room and give students feedback as they work, but in addition to that, the teacher has access to each student’s file from the moment it is created. My students recently worked on a hyperdoc when I was out of town for several days, and opting to share it with them via Google Classroom meant that I was able to provide them with comments containing encouragement or suggestions for improvement even though I wasn’t able to be present in class. Having to open each student’s file separately is a small inconvenience, unless using an add-on like Doctopus, or *gasp* paper and pencil, a rubric isn’t available, and for better or worse, the teacher sees student work whether it has been submitted or not. The positive to that is I was able to leave comments on work in progress, but the drawback is that it’s possible to score work that a student hadn’t quite finished.

Overall, I prefer the workflow available for scoring student work that’s available in Canvas, but the capabilities of viewing work in progress provided by Google Classroom. Assigning the work in both places and submitting the final product in Canvas is an option, but it sounds like it will be unnecessarily clunky. Students would need to look for comments in both places, and I imagine that a lot of kids will click “Turn it in” in Google Classroom and it will be missing in Canvas. No, it’s definitely best if I choose one place to disseminate my hyperdocs, and which one I pick may change depending on whether having access to student files throughout the process or having an easy way to score the work is more important for that task.

Hyperdocs: Content and Creation All In One

What is a hyperdoc? It’s a file that contains necessary content and a place for students to create and add their own work. For an easier workflow, sharing a hyperdoc in Google Classroom, Canvas, or another LMS will allow your students to access a copy of the file (so they don’t change your original and each student or group can do their own work) and give them a place to submit their finished product.

I find that with elementary students, it helps to have a finite area in which their work is supposed to go. Papers that have a question, but not a line on which to write an answer typically results in a student not realizing they were supposed to do something in that space. The same often works in digital formats. I like to use tables for this purpose. Sometimes it’s a series of 1×2 tables with the question in a colored cell and a blank cell beneath it for students to put their answer. Other times I’ll put tables so questions are on the left and answers go on the right, but I color each row of cells so the question and answer that belong together are in the same color cell. While students are able to change that, I think it gives a good visual cue of “these belong together” to help students be confident that they are on the right track.

Below are two very different hyperdocs I’ve used with my class recently. The RI Pathway has 3 versions. I only shared one version, but leave me a comment or shoot me an email to see the other versions. Each iteration is identical except for the linked texts being below, at, or above grade level, and the image students need to analyze is from the text at their respective reading level. I did remove the links to the texts for copyright reasons since they were accessed from Reading A-Z and ReadWorks, but the titles accurate, so you can search for them on those resources if you wish.

Pi Day Challenge Hyperdoc

RI.3.5 RI.3.7 Pathway Hyperdoc

Check out The Hyperdoc Girls’ website for more information and resources.

How Google Keep Allows Me to Organize My Life

I am not one of those people who has a planner that follows her everywhere. Many planner options are adorable and offer the crafter in me a lot of creative outlet, but to be honest, lugging a big book with me everywhere I go isn’t my style. I’m more of a minimalist. I do, however, always have my phone with me.

Google Keep is an app that is part of your personal or education Google account, so no worries about hidden fees. It’s a place for you to keep notes. They can be text, pictures, drawings, hyperlinks, or even lists where checked items go to the bottom of the list within the note (you can still see them, but they’re clearly finished).

You can pin those notes to the top of the list by simply clicking the pushpin icon in the top right corner of the note. A reminder can be set for a specific time and date, or even when you arrive at a specific location. Those reminders can be set to occur for set intervals too, such as daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or using a custom range. For example, I have a note set to remind me once every 10 days to progress monitor students. I can also set a reminder to pop up when I arrive at Target with the list of things I need to buy (not including the extra $40 in items I will inevitably put in the cart while hypnotized by the Target bullseye).

Notes can be color coded, labeled with tags for easy searching, archived or deleted when finished with them, sent to a Google Doc, used when creating Slides by going to Tools>Keep Notepad within a slideshow, and shared with other people (I often share notes from my secondary Google accounts to my personal account so I only have to look at one within Google Keep to stay organized, but other people might prefer to compartmentalize by switching back and forth between profiles). Caution: When sharing a note on Google Keep, all collaborators have editing (and deleting) rights. Only share your notes with people who won’t change or delete your stuff and cause you heartbreak.

Some Ways to Use Google Keep:

  • Have a shared note for a grocery list with your roommate or significant other. As long as they have their phone, there’s no concern about whether someone left the house without it, and the person still at home can add to the list and the one shopping can see changes in real-time.
  • My husband and I have a shared note with brands of spaghetti sauce we’ve tried, with a thumbs up or thumbs down icon beside each one depending on what we thought about it. (We like to buy what’s on sale, but not at the cost of it tasting terrible.) This has saved us from a sub par spaghetti dinner several times. Priorities.
  • I have a colleague who uses Google Keep to have often repeated lines of code ready to copy and paste whenever their working on a new Google Apps Scripts project.
  • I keep a to-do list for days that I have a ton of errands and don’t want to forget something, and another for tasks around my classroom (what I need to photocopy, anchor charts to make, work that needs to be graded, etc).
  • You could even use it as a digital journal or scrapbook by including photos and jotting down the memory that goes along with it. Not everything that you want to remember belongs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The year and anyone involved in the memory could be labels, and the date could be part of the note’s title.

Teachers, Don’t Forget to Relax

Admittedly, self-care is not my forte, but, like Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) I need to learn to take my own good advice.

I think that most people imagine that teachers spend the whole summer sleeping until noon, hanging out by the pool, and relaxing. For me, this is laughable.

Instead, summer vacation ends for me in 2 1/2 weeks. So far, I have:

  • attended 12 days of training offered by my district (many of which included tasks that I needed to complete outside of class time, even if it was just working through the lunch break that day instead of going out somewhere).
  • implemented 30 days of “Family Art Time” with my kids, where we watched a YouTube video of how to draw a specific picture step-by-step. It’s a combination of fine motor skills practice, time hanging out together, and learning a new skill as a family. My progress has been logged via Instagram.
  • subjected my older two sons to “roll, write, solve” addition practice with dice. They get to “level up” to a die with more sides and numbers when they correctly solve 10 questions in 3 minutes.
  • read most of Explore Like a Pirate in the hopes of diving into gamifying my classroom this year, and come up with the beginnings of a plan for my game.
  • Participated in some Twitter chats, mostly #3rdchat, as a way to connect to other teachers for ideas and feedback.
  • finished knitting the shawl I’ve been working on as a surprise for my grandmother before the cold weather sets back in. (Confession: I meant to finish it in time to give it to her last Christmas, but was only about halfway finished.) I’ve also made some progress on a couple of other unfinished projects that started to collect dust during the school year.
  • read for pleasure. The Paper Magician series by Charlie N. Holmberg is a really fun read. It’s enchanting and full of action…and really makes me want to do some origami.

I imagine that I am NOT the only teacher who has been busy this summer, and many have accomplished far more than I have.

During the school year, I am sometimes guilty of not getting enough sleep, spending too much of my time at home on things for school, never exercising (other than the 7500 or so steps I tend to walk around my classroom and school each day), and not doing things outside of school that I enjoy.

Summer is when there is time available to be a little selfish and do the things I don’t always have time to do during the school year, and while for me that doesn’t mean sleeping until lunchtime and hanging out by the pool, it can mean commandeering the TV for awhile, sitting down at the piano and playing just for fun, knitting without falling asleep in my project, or taking the kids somewhere other than the grocery store. I need to be careful to walk the line between having zero plans and accomplishing absolutely nothing for weeks at a time and making so many goals that even family time and hobbies feel like work.

What have you done to relax this summer?

 

 

The Power of Books

I hope everyone has read at least one life-changing book, but I think that many times books change us as readers without our even realizing it. For example, this article at Smithsonian.com discusses a study that was published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that those who read Harry Potter, “might develop greater empathy and tolerance toward people with disadvantaged backgrounds.” Based on observation, it seems that my students who are Percy Jackson fans seem to not have any negative stigma regarding ADHD. In the series, it’s a known fact that many demigods have ADHD and dyslexia, since their ability to pay attention to lots of different things helps them in battle, and their brains are hardwired to read Ancient Greek, not modern English. In the hopes that students will show more empathy towards those who are different from them, physically or otherwise, I’ve read “Out of My Mind” to my class for years, and I have many colleagues who read “Wonder” to their classes for the same reason.

I think that it’s equally important that literature featuring protagonists from different cultural backgrounds are read by children of any race or cultural background. Everyone deserves to read about a character with whom they can identify, but they also all benefit from reading about others to broaden their perspective. This is precisely why the books I offer students to choose from for our historical fiction unit featured a wide variety of protagonists: Esperanza Rising features a Mexican girl who emigrates to the US; Bud, Not Buddy features an African-American boy looking for his father; The Watsons Go to Birmingham features an African-American family from Michigan who travel to Alabama in 1963; Number the Stars features a Jewish girl in Denmark and her best friend, a Christian girl whose sister died as part of the Resistance during WWII; In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson features a Chinese girl who emigrates to America in the 1940’s; Sylvia & Aki features two girls based on a true story, Sylvia is Latina and is not allowed to attend the “white” school and Aki is Japanese-American and is sent to an internment camp during WWII.

What books do you use to enhance your curriculum, teach your students life lessons, or give them a different perspective of the world?

Teachers Using Google Apps Scripts

The training I’ve been to (so far) this summer where I’ve learned the most was one on using Google Apps Scripts. There was a pretest, which I completely bombed, and I wondered whether I was in so far over my head that I should just go home. It was very much out of my comfort zone, as the most sophisticated programming I’ve done before was Lego NXT robots with drag and drop programming, when I taught summer camps at the local science museum.

Why should a teacher learn to code Google Apps Scripts? Well, if you have repetitive tasks you do on any Google products (within the same product or moving information from one to another, such as from a spreadsheet to a document), creating a script to complete that task at the touch of a button (or automatically at a specific time) could be a real time-saver! It may take awhile to code the script in the beginning, but once you have it, it saves a ton of time later. If you’ve never coded before, the learning curve is a bit steep, but there are resources free on the internet to help you!

Helpful Resources

Codecademy – Use the JavaScript tutorial. Google Apps Scripts is sort of like a dialect of JavaScript. If you get the basics from this, you’ll have a good foundation.

Google Apps Scripts Developers Page – You can click on the product you’re coding a script to use with, or use the guides near the top to help learn how to use the apps scripts for different purposes. I recommend using CRTL+F in order to search for specific terms on the page.

Alice Keeler – One of the things that really helped me to make some of my scripts work was to look at one that is functional, and tweak it to do what I want that may differ just a little from that initial author’s intention. Alice Keeler has a ton of premade scripts and add-ons that she shares on her website for free. She also has tutorials for writing your own.

Example Scripts

To run a script:

  1. Open the file the script is attached to.
  2. Go to Tools>Script Editor
  3. Choose the script you want to run (if more than one) and press the play button OR click Run>Name of the script. All of the scripts below will only work on the tab of the spreadsheet you are currently open to.

Format a Spreadsheet – This will format a spreadsheet to get it ready to analyze data. It changes the column widths, deletes extra columns and rows, freezes the first column and the first two rows, changes the color of the background and font of the header rows, and set up to average the columns. To use it, open the file, then go to File>Make a copy. The copy is yours to edit and use as needed. Feel free to copy my script and change it for your needs.

Words Their Way Spelling Inventories – Semi-Automatic Analysis

I made a file for each version of the WTW spelling inventories. I call them semi-automatic analysis is that it doesn’t analyze correctly spelled features for incorrectly spelled words. If you type in how each student spelled each word, the script will mark the word as spelled correctly or incorrectly, and will give feature points for all correctly spelled words. You will still need to manually score feature points for words that have been misspelled. You’ll also need to transfer the data from each student’s tab to the class scoresheet. Once there, it will automatically color code each spelling feature as mastery or “could benefit from instruction” based on the recommendations from the Words Their Way book. I have the fourth edition of the book, so please double check whether there are huge changes that need to be accounted for before using my files as they are. I hope to update the code (once I figure out how to do it) to automatically transfer information from each tab to the class scoresheet, so keep a lookout for updates if you’re interested in using these. These files would be great to use with Alice Keeler’s TemplateTab script! Just make sure you run her script first.

You’ll need to use the link below for the file(s) you need, then File>Make a copy in order to actually use them. I have instructions for using the script on the first tab of each file to help you out.

Primary Spelling Inventory

Elementary Spelling Inventory

Upper Level Spelling Inventory

 

Creating Responsive Quizzes With Google Forms

A responsive quiz is one that responds based on a student’s answer. If you’ve ever used Google Forms to create “choose your own adventure” stories, this has a very similar setup. The idea is that when a student answers a question correctly, they get another question of equal or greater difficulty, and when a question is answered incorrectly, their next question is easier. This is a great way to determine a student’s upper limits on a particular skill when pretesting. This can really help when planning small groups, seeing which skills need to be reviewed from previous years in order for students to grasp the current skills, and knowing which skills students are already nearly proficient in to help pace your unit.

The first step (once you have determined the skill you’ll be pretesting) is to vertically align standards. I would recommend starting off with standards for the grade level below yours, or with standards from your grade level that students will need to have already mastered in order to be successful with this skill. My sample quiz is intended for 3rd graders to determine their prior knowledge for rounding. I found this math vertical alignment document that aligns Common Core standards from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade. The standards for place value and notation are located on page 19, so that’s where I’m looking for guidance on which standards to put together.

place value and notation vertical alignment

As you can see, there are multiple standards that students should have mastered in kindergarten, first, and second grade in order to successfully round numbers to the nearest ten and the nearest hundred in third grade. If students show mastery of the third grade standard, their quiz will also ask questions regarding the fourth and fifth grade standards in the skills similar to rounding.

For this quiz to work, you’ll need to click “add a section” on the right side after creating each question. After creating your questions, click on the stack of 3 dots in the bottom right corner of each question to reveal a menu. I like to shuffle my answer choices, but you’ll definitely need to use the option “Go to section based on answer.” You’ll need to set up each question to send students to answer correctly to a question of equal or greater difficulty, and all wrong answers to take a step back in difficulty level.

On mine, I’m including at least one question for each related standard from first through fifth grades. I started with a second grade question in an effort to build confidence with something familiar before moving forward. If they answer a second grade question right, they move to a third grade question, if not, they get a first grade question. If a first grade question if answered right, they move to a second grade question, if not, they get another first grade question. When I ran out of first grade questions, students who answered a second grade question wrong got another second grade question. I set it up to submit the quiz after any incorrect answer from 4th and 5th grade questions.

You can see my sample responsive quiz below. In order to avoid having changes made, I can only share it like this. One of the drawbacks of Google Forms is that you can either share with editing rights, or you can share the completed form. Feel free to take the quiz to see how it works, purposely answering questions correctly or incorrectly to get a feel for how it would play out for your students. The number at the top of each page represents the grade level of the standard the question covers, the letter beside it is just a numbering system to keep the questions straight.

Teacher Planner Options

There are so many options out there for what teachers use as their lesson planner. Here’s what I know about just a few of the options out there. I know from personal experience that different schools have varied expectations about teacher’s lesson plans. Some administrators never check plans unless they see a need for it, others require teachers to turn in plans the week before they are taught, and everything in between.

Digital Planners

Google Drive

Whether you use a new doc for each week, a spreadsheet you have carefully formatted and create a new tab for each week, or even format slides to show specific lessons, your plans will always be available to you if they’re on Google Drive.

If you aren’t up to the task for formatting the file to look how you want, there are tons of sellers on Teacher Pay Teachers who sell digital templates they have set up, and some will even make custom ones for you if you have specific needs that you don’t see met by what is already in their store.

Planbook.com

planbook

This web-based planner allows teachers to set up their planner for a variety of types of schedules. You can view your plans by day, week, month, or as a list. Lessons can be organized into units. Standards and assignments can be attached to lessons. It allows you to share plans with colleagues who also use Planbook.com using a teacher key, and you can also share items you specify with students (and their parents) with a student key. If you need to bump a lesson forward or backward by one or more days, it only takes 2 clicks. You can also easily extend a lesson and/or the standards attached to it for those lessons that take more time than anticipated. There is a print-to-pdf option that would make it easy to keep a paper copy on your desk, or attach the pdf to share plans with your administrator. There are also apps you can use to access your planner on both Android and iOS. Although there is a yearly subscription fee of $12 for Planbook.com, that is far less than some of the paper options out there. You can sign up for a 30-day trial to check out whether it works for you before committing to the subscription.

PlanbookEDU.com

Here’s another web-based planner, with many similar features to Planbook.com. This does have a free version and a paid version. The subscription costs $25/year, and you lose some really important functionality without it, such as being able to print or email your plans. Their site is supported on iPad and iPhone, but not through an app. You get a 14-day free trial of premium features when you sign up, and are automatically changed to the free version once the trial ends. It only takes 2 clicks to bump the entire day’s plans to the next day (think snow days). Comparing Planbook.com and PlanbookEDU.com, the latter is very simplistic, but that also means there are fewer features available, so it depends upon your needs and preferences which is right for you.

Paper Planners

Erin Condren

erincondren.com

I’ve seen a couple of colleagues with Erin Condren teacher planners, and several YouTube videos of teachers outlining the pros and cons of these beautiful planners. They start at $55 for a standard wirebound coil, or $60 for metallic coil and metallic accents on the cover. It comes with: 40 weeks of lesson planning, 12 monthly planning pages, a communication log, a yearly planning page, some checklist pages (not enough to be your gradebook), 1 sheet protector, a folder, dry erase board inside covers, and 4 pages of sticker sheets. The primary complaint I heard from several YouTube videos is that the monthly planning pages are all together, and then all of the weekly pages are in a separate section. So, you’ll have your August-July calendars, followed by your weekly plans for August-June, while some prefer to have the weekly plans immediately following that month. By the time I customized one on their site, I was up to $68 before tax and shipping. They are very pretty, and have a lot of useful pages included. The second most common complaint I heard on YouTube videos is that the months and weeks are not dated. The months are labeled, but the actual numbers for each day are not printed on the page. You need to put little stickers or write them in yourself.

The Happy Planner

I spent some time drooling over these at Michael’s one week this summer. (Yes, I went multiple times, don’t judge me.) There are several YouTube videos I watched comparing Erin Condren’s planner with The Happy Planner. Some of the biggest differences include that The Happy Planner already has all of the dates filled in, the weekly planning pages are immediately after each month’s calendar, and the page are repositional (to a degree…some won’t make sense elsewhere). The Happy Planner is bound using a disc system (like the Arc notebooks at Staples), so you can use a special punch to attach any paper you want into your planner, and you can also remove and replace pages. There are lots of ready-made accessories you can add to your planner, such as additional student checklist pages, notes pages, folders, stickers. Let’s put it this way, I didn’t have everything I wanted to buy in my cart, there was a 40% off sale, and I still had $80 worth of things in my cart at Michael’s before I decided against it.

My Two Cents

Personally, I like to use a hybrid of paper and digital plans. I love having all of my units and lesson materials on my Google Drive, but keep an abbreviated version of that week’s plans written on paper. For the past several years, I have started the year with one of the digital options, but before September ended, I always go down to the teacher supply closet and pick up one of the basic planners available there. You know the ones, with greenish paper, 6 boxes across and 5 days down.

For the coming school year, I thought long and hard about buying an Erin Condren Teacher Planner or The Happy Planner’s version. In the end I opted not to get either one. I’m left-handed, and have a very difficult time writing in binders and wirebound notebooks. The Happy Planner’s binding system has 11 discs I would need to avoid, rather than the 3 in a binder, and I never write in binders.

Instead, I bought a really big Leuchtterm notebook, since I don’t mind writing in that style of binding, and I’m setting up a few pages most days this summer to take what I think are the best features of The Happy Planner and the Erin Condren Teacher Planner and put my own twist on them. Is it time-consuming? Absolutely, but I’m counting it as crafting, so I’m happy to do it. I intend to include my weekly plans, checklist pages for me to log grades (as backup for PowerSchool, and to keep them at my fingertips in case I need them and don’t want to log in to the digital gradebook), and more. I’m logging my progress in Instagram if you want to follow my setup.

 

Create Fluid Quizzes on Canvas

Do you have access to Canvas? There are some amazing features, aren’t there? So many, that it can be a bit overwhelming. The other side of that is the temptation to keep everything extremely basic, but that means you aren’t taking advantage of all of the bells and whistles at your disposal.

Why might fluid quizzes be helpful to you?

Do you:

  • teach multiple sections of the same class?
  • have students show mastery as they are ready, rather than all on the same day?
  • allow students multiple opportunities to show mastery?
  • want to safeguard against potential cheating?

If you answered yes to any of the above, fluid quizzes are for you.

What are fluid quizzes?

They are online quizzes that change within the parameters you have set so it is different each time it loads. Students are not guaranteed to have any of the same questions as their friends, and even if their question is the same, the order of the answer choices are scrambled.

How Do I Create a Fluid Quiz?

When you first create your quiz, scroll down on the details tab and check the box for “Shuffle Answers.” I also like to let students see their correct answers at a certain date, my standard is to make their answers visible the day after the quiz closes for submissions. You can also click “Allow Multiple Attempts.” Each attempt will potentially load different questions, and answer choices for questions that were on the original quiz will be shuffled.

detail options

Now it’s time to add the questions. Go to the “Questions” tab. Choose “New Question Group.”

new question group button

Click “Link to a Question Bank.” If you have made quizzes before, but not played with question banks, you probably have a whole lot of unfiled questions.

link to question bank

If you already have a question bank ready to go that only includes questions you would be happy to have on this quiz, select that title and click “Select Banks” at the bottom of the pop up window. If not, choose “View Course Question Banks.”

question bank list

On the far left, choose the button “Add Question Bank.” Give it a title and press enter.

add question banks

If you have questions you have used before that you would like to add to this question bank, open the “Unfiled questions” bank. If you have just one or two questions you want to move, you can just click “move/copy question to another bank” for those particular questions.

move question

If you have a lot of questions you want to move, you’re better off using the “Move Multiple Questions” tool on the far right.

move multiple questions

Clicking this will open a pop up window that lets you quickly click check boxes for all the questions you want to move, and send them all to the same question bank. You can send them to an existing bank, or create a new one right there.

move questions pop up

Keep in mind that you need to have more questions in your question bank than you intend to include on your quiz. The closer the number of questions are in your bank to the number of questions you plan to include on the quiz, the higher the probability that students will have the same question on their quizzes. I like to keep the number of questions in my bank at about double what I plan to include on my quiz.

To add questions, go to the question bank you want to edit, and click “Add question” on the right hand side. Edit your question bank until you are satisfied with it. If you work with a team, perhaps each person could be a teacher in a shared sandbox, and you can all contribute a certain number of questions to each question bank.

One word of caution

You want all of the questions in a question bank to be of a similar difficulty level. If your bank of questions has a range of skill levels, it is entirely possible that some students will luck out with all easy questions, some will have a mixture, and others will have all difficult questions. If you have a range of difficulty levels for questions on the same skill, you can make a different question bank for each level, and are able to allot more points to the more difficult questions if you want.

add a question

You can also include multiple question banks on the same quiz. For instance, I created a fluid quiz on rounding that includes 3 questions on rounding to the nearest ten, 3 questions on rounding to the nearest hundred, 1 question rounding to the nearest dollar, and 1 vocabulary question. I have four different question banks for that quiz.

multiple question banks

This quiz will load 8 questions for each student. I have 6 questions in the Round to the Nearest Ten bank, 1 question in the Round to the Nearest Dollar bank, 6 questions in the Round to the Nearest Hundred bank, and 2 questions in the Rounding Vocabulary bank. I know everyone will get the same question for rounding to the nearest dollar, and there is a 50/50 chance of students having the same question regarding vocabulary. The actual rounding practice questions will be fairly varied, so I’m happy with it as it is.

Results

I previewed the quiz and this is what loaded for the first 3 questions.

first two questions

When I closed the quiz and made no other changes except pressing the preview button again, this is what loaded for the first 3 questions.

first two questions - second try

Out of the 3 questions that loaded for each time I previewed quiz, there was only one repeat, and the order of the answers was scrambled. This means that even if a student has multiple attempts on the quiz, they are likely to get different questions for most of the quiz on their subsequent attempts than they did on their first.

Can I Do This On Google?

As far as I know, there isn’t a way to do something quite like this on Google Forms at this point. You can scramble the answer choices, and even scramble the order of the questions, but there isn’t a question bank feature. You can have the form set up to move to specific pages based on how certain questions are answered, which has its own benefits. For example, you can use a Google Form quiz to send students to easier or harder questions as they answer each question correctly or incorrectly. I can see that being really helpful when you give a pretest. It would allow you to find the upper limits of your students who are already knowledgeable on that topic without frustrating your students who have less prior knowledge.