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.



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.


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


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.


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.


Using AutoCrat in the Classroom

At a training I attended a couple of months ago, I was shown how to use the add-on autoCrat for Google Sheets. It takes information from a Google Sheet and disseminates it into specified places on a Google Doc based on a template that includes <<merge tags>>. Once in the Doc, it can be emailed automatically to specific email addresses as a Doc or PDF, shared with specific people, or just kept in your Google Drive.

The possibilities are endless for how to use this, but here are a few ideas. Feel free to check out my AutoCrat Ideas folder in Google Drive. All of the files there are set up for you to have viewing access, but File>Make a copy will add a copy of it to your drive to edit for your own use.

  • At Meet the Teacher night, instead of trying to read information scrawled on the papers you left around the room, have parents completed a Google Form. From there, use an autocrat job to: send a personalized welcome email, and populate a student information sheet that you can print for your sub folder and teacher planner.
  • Alice Keeler had the brilliant idea to use AutoCrat to create personalized newsletters for each student. I have a sample in my folder. My sample was made very lazily, so there are options such as, “Student is doing social studies,” but it’s enough to give you the idea of how it works. For the newsletter, I have mine set up to not run the AutoCrat job until I manually go to the spreadsheet and push the run button. That way, no one gets their newsletter until I’m ready to send it to everyone. I made a Google Form for it, but some sections will be the same for every student (although, not for every newsletter), such as general information and important dates. I plan on completing that part of the form for the first student, then copying and pasting for the rest of the class in the spreadsheet. Another alternative would be to update the template before running the AutoCrat job for each edition of the newsletter, and just eliminating that question from the Form.
  • Filling out award certificates.
  • Sending emails to parents to inform them about an event regarding their child (positive message, missing work, etc.)
  • Sharing the questions and a student’s answers to a Google Forms quiz with their family in a neat document.
  • Awarding badges or certificates for completing specific tasks.

Do you already use autoCrat in your classroom? What are some other ideas you have for how to use it to make your life easier?


Growth Mindset and Always Learning

If you read so much as the title of my blog, you probably know I’m an educator, but I’m also a parent to 3 boys (all age 9 and under). Not long before the school year ended for my sons, we sat down and made some goals for the summer, because when you have a lot of time on your hands, it is sadly really easy to let it all slip away. Before we realize what has happened, it will be late July and we will have accomplished nothing more scintillating than watching a whole lot of Netflix if we don’t form some semblance of a plan.

They chose their own goals, but I gave them some suggestions. Some goals are things like working on belt loops for Cub Scouts, going to the local science museum and zoo, swimming, and reading a book now and again.

One of the things I know they need to work on is their fine motor skills and handwriting. While some kids may get really excited about practicing forming row after row of individual letters and contrived words, mine simply don’t. I knew that printing handwriting pages off the internet would only end in tears (more than likely mine). Instead, we have implemented Family Art Time. Each night one of us chooses a YouTube video that features “how to” step by step instructions for drawing a fairly simple picture, and all of us attempt to draw it…even the grown-ups. For now, we’ve been choosing from kidsarthub’s channel, but their last video was uploaded 2 years ago, so I know we’ll need to find another at some point. We each have our own little blank notebook to use as a sketchbook, and I hope that they realize at the end of the summer how much their drawing improves over time. We might even revisit some of our early videos in August to see how much better we are at drawing something familiar after so much practice.
We’re still very early in the summer, but so far the results are good. The boys are excited about family art time, they work to control their pencils carefully to create what the video shows, all of us are improving our drawing skills, and we’re spending time together as a family.

One of the things I love about Family Art Time is that it has given us a natural situation to nurture a growth mindset in our boys. They see Mom and Dad erasing when we make mistakes. We have already had one kid remark in frustration that he just isn’t very good at drawing the picture du jour, which led us into a conversation about how practicing is the best way to get better at things.

Want to follow my journey as an artist? I’ve been documenting it on Instagram @thecurriculumnerd.

How 1:1 Technology Changed My Classroom

This year, I was fortunate enough for my district to provide every student in my grade level a Chromebook that they could access throughout their school day.

First quarter, there were some hiccups. Not every student was allowed access for several weeks, as each student and their family attended the training regarding the expectations and acceptable usage of these devices, as well as the consequences for noncompliance. (Our technology lab is entirely comprised of Chromebooks, so students were already proficient on how to operate them.) Between this and all of the normal first quarter hullabaloo, I hardly used our Chromebooks, and I felt really guilty about it.

Around the beginning of second quarter, when things in the school year get a little less crazy, I began having students use their Chromebooks for pretty much everything. This was over the top, and not exactly best practices either.

For the remainder of the year, I’ve made it a point to strike a better balance, although it is still my preference for graded work to be turned in online, especially for tasks the take more than one class period.

Some of the benefits I’ve found of having 1:1 access to technology are:

  • Instant feedback for students – Whether students complete a self-checking quiz on Canvas/Google Forms, or work on a website that gives immediate feedback, students are able to realize their errors and correct their far more quickly than if they completed a worksheet and wait until I get around to grading it and hand them back.
  • Differentiation – A Google Forms quiz can be set up for students to be sent to a particular section depending upon how previous questions are answered, Canvas modules can be set up as Mastery Paths to give students “just right” work depending on their performance on the initial assignment. Obviously you don’t need technology to differentiate, but setting it up to run automatically is definitely a time-saver during implementation. I also like that it’s a little less obvious to students who is getting the easier work than it is when everyone has their paper on the table.
  • Save paper and copies – I have definitely used less paper than last year, and spent much less time standing at the copier waiting for it to print out the work for my class.
  • No lost papers – When you use less paper, there are fewer papers that can be misplaced! There is not a concern about whether you remembered to give a copy to the student who was absent the day a task was assigned, no making sure that you put that late paper in the same stack as the rest of the work from that task, and no one needing a second copy because they accidentally forgot their backpack at home that day. Students who are absent, sometimes return to school with the work they were absent for already completed. There is never a question about whether a student really did turn in an assignment, and work that has been turned in is marked with a time-stamp so you know exactly when it was submitted.
  • Paper planners are no longer the only way to keep track of assignments. – While some people function better with the paper planner, having work posted in Google Classroom or Canvas helps to keep track of assignments. You might only use it as a backup plan when the planner is forgotten, or as another layer of communication to keep families connected with what work students are doing in the classroom. Both Google Classroom and Canvas have a calendar function that show the due date for assignments. In addition to the calendar function, I have set up my Canvas classroom so that the landing page includes an embedded Google Slides file showing students what they need to work on that day, what work they can do to get ahead, and what students may do to keep learning when they have already completed all of the currently assigned work. I update that slideshow every morning before my class arrives so that I don’t need to embed new files each day.

Summer Plans Smashboard

Thanks to Twitter, I learned about smashboards a little less than 2 weeks ago. Essentially, it’s a pathway that chunks a big project into smaller steps, using various files and/or apps for each step. When they finish, students have created a project that is typically more of real-world situation than the average school project.

Once I found out about this amazing idea, I quickly built a smashboard for my students to work on when they finished some other tasks that had already been assigned. Some students finished in 2 days…so I added 3 more boxes to my smashboard. Those same kids finished the new content that very day. I’ve already asked my students what they want to do next, and one of the suggestions was to let them make their own smashboards, and I could do them. As cool as that sounds, I think it would be even cooler for them to make their own smashboard, then let their classmates choose which one(s) to complete.

At any rate, I had shared a photo of this smashboard on Twitter and got a lot of positive feedback, including a request to share it. Below, I have shared all the necessary files, and given directions for how update it for use in with your class(es). Because many of the links on my original brought students to a Google Form or the Google Sheet where the form collected information, I couldn’t just share it as it was. That would have put the data from everyone who ever uses it all in one spreadsheet. That might be really interesting for data collection and analysis, so I’ll file that away for next school year’s ideas, but for this I really wanted to keep some of their work more private.

So, what do they do on this smashboard? They make a summer plan of what they would do (and where they would go) if they had all the money in the world available to them. Using that plan, they use Google Tour Builder to go to those places. Those get turned in on a Google Form and they take tours other students made and leave feedback on Flipgrid. After that, they scale it back and make a plan for some goals they could actually achieve this summer, and share those. The newest addition was for students to analyze the data from the survey of what they are actually doing this summer (the first box) and use it to plan an event or vacation that 4th graders or families with 4th graders would be interested in taking. They create an advertisement for their plan, with Flipgrid, Google Tour Builder, and Google Sites being my suggestions for where to create their ad.

In a nutshell, students will need to do: data collection, goal setting, use research and prior knowledge to know where to go to achieve their goals, leave feedback and receive feedback from classmates, publicly make a goal, data analysis, plan an event or tour based on that data, and advertise their creation.

If you want to use this smashboard, here is the folder in Google Drive with all of the files you will need. The folder is in “view only” mode, so anything that you don’t want to use as is, you’ll need to make a copy and update the copy. The board itself does not have links on all of the images right now, so you definitely need to make a copy of that one, and share the edited copy with your students. All of the docs are already linked so that clicking on them in the smashboard takes them to a screen that automatically requires them to create a copy.

There are a LOT of steps, but most of them will each take a minute or less.

How To Update The Smashboard:

  1. Open the link to the folder in Google Drive. Near the top of your screen, it you will see: Shared with me > SHARED Summer Plans Project. Click the down arrow and click “Add to My Drive.” The entire folder will now appear in your Google Drive instead of only in your Shared with me section.
  2. Right-click on the Summer Plans Smashboard file and click “Make a copy.” It will be in the same folder, named “Copy of Summer Plans Smashboard.” That is the one you will update and share with your students. Open that file, and rename it if you want.
  3. In the folder, right-click on the Google Form “Summer Goals Survey” and make a copy. Look through the survey and make any changes you wish. I’ve updated it to be more generic for ease of sharing. My original had information that was more specific to our location. Once you are happy with your survey, click the Send button and choose the icon of a link. Copy the link address and go to your copy of the smashboard doc. Click on the purple icon in the “Start here” box, click “insert link” in your toolbar, paste the link into the box, and click apply.
  4. Go to Flipgrid. Sign up for an account if you don’t already have one. Once you have a grid, set up a topic. My question was, “If you could choose any way to spend your summer vacation, what would it be? What goals do you have for the summer, and how do you plan to achieve them?” I have my grid password protected, and my videos are set to not post until I moderate them. I also opted to turn off the “video likes” and “video views” options after some students spent a lot of time reloading and liking the same video over and over to make it more seem popular. Once your topic is set up, you’ll be given a direct link to the topic. Copy that link, and go to the smashboard. Right now, the link for this box is set to go to the Flipgrid homepage. click on the icon and click “change” where the link appears. Replace my link with the one that goes directly to your topic, and click apply.
  5. In the Google folder, open the doc “Ultimate Summer Plan.” If you are happy with it as is, the link already on the smashboard is perfect for you. If you want to change it, right-click, make a copy, and change the copy. When you are finished, in the bar where the URL is, go to the end of the address, where you’ll see /edit and perhaps some other letters and numbers. Change “edit” (and anything that may appear after it” to “copy” and copy the entire url. Go to the smashboard and change where the link goes to the one you just copied, and click apply. This will make anyone who clicks on that link get a white screen that asks if they want to make a copy of “Ultimate Summer Tour Plan” and has a button they push to do it. It adds the copy to their Google Drive. This makes it so every student has their own version of the doc, rather than everyone editing one doc that you own.
  6. The sample tour is a tour I created. Feel free to keep it in your smashboard, or create your own example.
  7. “Build a Tour” takes students to the homepage for Google Tour Builder. You’ll want them to sign in, then create their own tour.
  8. To turn in their tour, I had originally embedded the Google Form into the Canvas assignment where they had downloaded a copy of the Summer Plans Smashboard. Because I know not everyone uses Canvas, I’ve updated the shared version to have a Google Form icon instead. Go to the folder I shared and right-click on “Google Tours: Submit Completed Tour” and make a copy of it. Open the copy and make sure you are happy with the form. When you are ready, click the Send button and choose the link icon. Copy the link and paste it on the Google Form image on the smashboard.
  9. On the form you just linked, click “Responses” and click the Sheets icon (green with white lines one it). Choose the default setting and click the create button. Open that file (it will be the only Google Sheets file in the folder right now, and shares the name with the survey it is attached to), and click the share button. Choose “anyone with a link can view” and copy the URL. Link the sheets icon in the box that says “Travel on at least 2 tours.”
  10. Go to Flipgrid and create a topic. Mine was titled Tour Feedback and my prompt was, “Which tours did you take? What did you like best about them? What is one thing that would have made each tour even better? Google Tours We Built​​​” Where it says, “Google Tours We Built” I included a link to the spreadsheet where the tour URLs were collected in case students needed to refer back to them. Once your topic is created, copy the direct link. Click on the Flipgrid icon on the smashboard and insert a link, pasting in the one you just copied. Click apply.
  11. Go to the folder in Google Drive and open the file Summer Goals. If you are happy with it as is, you don’t need to do anything. The file is linked so that students will have to create a copy to use the file. If you need to make changes, make a copy and make changes to the copy. When you are finished editing, go to the web address at the top of your screen. At the end of the URL, change “edit” (and anything that may appear after it) to “copy” and then copy the entire URL. Click on the Docs icon on the smashboard and change the link to the one you just copied.
  12. Go to the Google folder, right-click on the Google Form “Shared Summer Goals,” and create a copy. Open the copy. Make any changes you wish, then click the Send button. Click the icon of a link and copy the link. Go to the smashboard and click on the Google Forms icon in the box that says, “Share your goals” and inset a link to the URL you just copied.
  13. Open the Google Form you just linked to the smashboard. Click Responses near the top of the screen, and click the Sheets icon (green with white lines). Use the default settings and click the Create button. Open that sheets file you just created (unless you changed the name of the form, it will be called “Copy of Shared Summer Goals”) and click the Share button. Change the sharing settings to “anyone with a link can view” and copy the URL. Go to the smashboard and in the “check out our summer goals” box, click the Sheets icon. Insert a link to the URL you just copied.
  14. This step is one that you’ll want to wait until a fair number of students have taken the survey that is in the first box. You may wish to wait to do the next 3 boxes a day or so after unveiling the smashboard, or just have everyone take the initial survey before doing creating this link. Go to your Google Folder and open your copy of the Summer Goals Survey. Click Responses near the top of your screen. Since your students have already taken the survey, you have all kinds of charts and graphs. You have a few options for how to share the data. The simplest way cuts off some of the data, but I decided we could work with that for my class. While looking at the responses, I right-clicked and chose Print. I changed it to Print to PDF and saved the PDF to my Google Drive in the Summer Plans Project folder. Then I linked that file to the “Check out our summer goals survey results” box in the smashboard. You could also screenshot each graph and paste them all into a Google Doc as view only, or make each column of your Google Sheet create a graph and share the Sheets file as view only.
  15. Go to the Google Folder and open the Real World Connection doc. If you are happy with it as is, it is already linked to the smashboard so that it requires anyone who clicks the link to make a copy in order to see the file. My original file was specific to 4th grade, but I’ve updated it for sharing to be more generic. If you want to change it, right-click and make a copy in the Google Folder, then make any edits you wish on your copy. When you are finished, change /edit at the end of the URL to say /copy and then copy the entire URL. Change the link on the smashboard to your version.
  16. For the final box, there are two links (I was trying to keep the smashboard to one page). First go to your Google Folder and open the Google Form “Advertisement for Summer Event” and make any changes you wish to make. When you are happy with it, click the Send button and choose the link icon. Copy the link. Go to the smashboard and click the Google Form icon in the final box, choose insert link on the toolbar, and paste in your link.
  17. Return to your survey and click Responses near the top of the page. Choose the green and white Sheets icon. Keep the default settings and click Create. Open that sheets file and click the share button. Change the settings to “anyone with a link can view” and copy the URL. Click on the Sheets icon in the last box of the smashboard and use the toolbar to insert a link. Paste in the link to the Sheets file and click apply.
  18. Make sure your smashboard itself is set to “anyone with a link can view” or open the file and change /edit to /copy at the end of the URL and share the link to the full URL using your LMS or create a shortlink and have students type that in. The difference between sharing so anyone with a link may view and changing /edit to /copy and sharing the URL is that “anyone with a link may view” does not automatically put the doc into their Google Drive, but it does always show any changes you have made in real-time. The /copy trick only includes any edits you have made up until the moment they make a copy. Any subsequent changes will require students to redownload the file, which will create multiple files called “Copy of ________” in their Google Drive.
  19. To double check your sharing settings, log into a different Google account and go to the version of the smashboard you will share with your students. (You might be able to outsource this to a friend and they let you know which files won’t open.  I rolled the dice on this step and ended up needing to update the settings on 2 files when students said they couldn’t access them.) Click on each link. If for any of them you get an error message asking you to get permission from the owner, go back to that file and set it up to share so that “anyone with a link may view.”
  20. Enjoy your smashboard, and have an amazing summer break, whatever your goals may be!

Playlists and Pathways: How Do I Use Them?

Think of your playlist or pathway as a road map. Before you go on a long trip, you know the route you plan to take to get to your destination, even if you just know which interstates to take. Sometimes, even though you have a map, you take an unexpected detour and need to backtrack, other times you start off in a different place than someone else does, but you end up in the same destination. Using playlists and pathways in your classroom is a lot like this. As the teacher, it’s your job to create the “map;” in this case, the playlist or pathway for this skill or unit. Then, based on data from pretests or other resources, you mark the starting point for each student, and teach.

Some teachers use instructional videos as some of the activities on their playlists and pathways, and while I’m not opposed to making a video one of the tasks, I don’t feel comfortable completely replacing my instruction with a video. There’s just something to be said for the ability to gauge your audience, and adjust based on conversations students are having and questions they are asking as you check for understanding at different points throughout the lesson.

Let’s use an example to illustrate how this might look. Keep in mind that each day, you will look at how your students are progressing on their independent work. Anytime I have scheduled a reteaching lesson on the document below, that means that the data from that lesson’s independent work would show that group needed additional instruction and practice on that aspect of the skill before being ready to move on. Sometimes you will need to reteach for more than one day, other times not at all.

NFPathway1 (This is the pathway the embedded document below is teaching.)

Playlists and Pathways: What Are They?

The short answer is, playlists and pathways are the road map to your personalized learning unit for you and your students.

A playlist is a single-track path of activities that students will complete, in the order they are written. Based on information such as pretests, students may start at different points of the pathway, but the pathway for that skill or unit has all of the same activities and assignments on it for each student.

A pathway is much like a playlist, but it offers students choice. Instead of one activity or assignment that the student must do, they have 2 or 3 options of which task(s) to complete for that portion of the pathway. Just like with a playlist, the starting point for each student may depend upon information from a pretest or other data. Again, there is a progressive order in which the tasks must be completed, but the options can help to keep students engaged and interested. Sometimes the options are sorted by multiple intelligences, learning styles, levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, or even the difficulty level of the material (below, at, and above grade level).



Both linked files are written as pathways, which means that they offer at least some level of student choice. To turn them  into playlists, all that would have to change is that students would be required to complete all activities in order, or you would remove some of the activities and students would be required to complete each task in order.

If your district uses Canvas as an LMS, there is a feature that allows you to use tasks and pages on Canvas as you would a playlist or pathway. To use it, you need to go to your settings and click the slider bar for mastery paths to green. On a graded task (teacher graded or automatically scored) that has been assigned to everyone, go to the Mastery Paths tab to choose which task(s) students complete next depending upon how they score on that assignment. If you assign multiple tasks for a score range, the default is for students to do both tasks, making it a playlist. When you are setting it up, you can click the “&” between tasks to change it to “or,” which allows students to choose one of the two (or more) tasks you have attached to that scoring range. This subtle detail effectively changes your playlist to a pathway.

I’m using a Mastery Path module in Canvas LMS for my students as we are reviewing for our end of year standardized testing. For each specific standard, I have a pretest in Canvas. Depending upon how they score on that pretest, they are either directed to another pretest, or to a page with review instruction on the skill and short quiz to practice. Students who do not show mastery on either quiz will be pulled for small group instruction and practice, then given another chance on the quiz. This allows students who have mastered the skills move on instead of sitting in on yet another review session for something they can already do proficiently, and lets those who need more instruction and practice have that in a smaller setting.