Spiral.ac – rocking my #edtech world!

I wrote about Spiral.ac as an edtech tool in November.  At the time, I was very excited about it, but was having difficulty using it in my high school classes as I could never get more than 2/3 of a class successfully logged in at a time.

Over the past few weeks I have been in contact with tech support at Spiral, and they have been fantastic at answering my questions and doing some things on their end to sort out my problem. 

In a potentially foolish move, I had one of my large high school English  classes log onto Spiral on our first day of a new semester.  I literally did a dance of joy when 100% of students were able to log in successfully.  Emboldened, we continued! I did have a few intriguing questions planned for them in the “Quickfire” mode, including one where students had to answer with the “canvas” drawing tool.  I modeled how I could “send back for editing” any answers that were incomplete or inappropriate. We used the “presentation mode” on my Smart Board to compare answers and look for similar responses. spiral launch

Students were engaged, and one typically hard to please young gentleman requested that “we do this every day”.  Needless to say, I have more activities planned using Spiral this week, including one day where I plan to try Spiral’s newest feature: Team Up.  I imagine that I will be compelled to write about that experience…..

Kudos to Sprial.ac for their awesome tech support!

Spiral.ac – Trying Something New

In our college EdTech class this week, students had the task of researching several Web 2.0 tools and blogging about the three that were most exciting to them.  I’ll readily admit that it doesn’t take much to get me excited about EdTech Tools, so in the spirit of learning with my learners, I too will be blogging about a favourite EdTech tool.

I’m not sure where I first encountered Spiral.ac a few months ago, but Mark and Marli at Spiral are certainly doing a fine job on Twitter of asking teachers to try out their new tool; several of my pre-service teaching students have been asked to try it out via Twitter and they’ve been able to reply that they’ve already used it as a student!  If nothing else, it has been exciting for my students to have these kinds of interactions as a teacher on Twitter!

So what is Spiral? It’s billed as a “collaborative” app and has several distinct features.  Some of these features are similar to other tools or apps like Socrative, Poll Everywhere, Padlet, or even Edmodo or a blogging site, but they have some neat “collaborative” aspects that set them apart.spiral launch

“Quickfire” is one of the two modes publicly available on the app. Students login to their teacher’s account using a join code the first time, or username and password given by the teacher.  Basically then they wait for the teacher to “fire” a question at them.  What I love about this as a teacher, is that the questions don’t have to be pre-planned so you can really ask what ever question fits the flow of the lesson. I can ask it orally, or type it in for students to see. Once I launch it to them, they submit answers that appear anonymously on the white board so we can compare responses, test theories, answer basic fact-based or review  questions, make predictions…the possibilities are excitingly endless. There is also a “pie graph” view which works best for shorter one or two word answers or if students are asked to pick between a few different choices.  Here’s one of the neat parts: as answers appear, I can give them a check mark, or send them back for revision…”Mrs. Kannekens would like you to revise your answer.”

Here’s an example: In my EdTech class, students all sit at computers and many are distracted by their own screens.  I find this a challenging aspect of teaching adult learners in a computer lab.  Spiral lets me throw questions as them on a regular basis so I don’t have to rely on the same 2 or 3 students to respond to my questions…now everyone has to answer.  A questions this week to start the class was “What is Web 2.0?”. Our Spiral response quickly showed me that almost no one in the class knew the answer. This surprised me, but I then knew I needed to go into more detail in my description.  Spiral can thus lead to great lesson customization!

“Discuss” is the second mode available. I tried this for the first time 2 weeks ago in a different lesson with my EdTech class.  Students basically write/create a written response to a pre-planned question. (In this case, I had students briefly describe their experience in their first-ever Twitter chat).  So far, no big deal…but then I get to press the “shuffle” button!  Each student receives the anonymous response from someone else in the class and is able to respond. And then we can shuffle again… I can “star” exemplary responses to examine merits, or just discuss orally as a class. I can’t wait to use this for peer feedback in one of my English classes! Responding to each others written ideas is a process that we have done in different ways through Kidblog and even Google Slides in this course, but Spiral made it very quick and efficient and the anonymous component has some advantages (although I can always identify a student -publicly or privately– if need be).

Those 2 very versatile features are very exciting. I would be using this product at my high school if our internet was reliable.  When I tried it on two separate occasions with one of my English classes, only about 2/3 of students were able to log in.  When internet reliability is restored, this will quickly become a very useful tool in my classroom to increase student engagement.

Because I’ve been using Spiral, they’ve sent me a third Beta tool to try out called “Team Up”. According to their website, “Team Up improves the process and outcomes of group work. Students work in teams during one or more lessons – contributing ideas and building shared presentations in the form of slide shows or posters. Teams can work from individual or shared devices to create high quality outcomes that the whole class can learn from. ”  Again, this tool seems similar to outcomes that can be achieved in other platforms like Thinglink, Glogster, Padlet, etc, but the collaboration piece does seem intriguing.  And maybe this is what the “team” function is for when I create a class of students???  If not, it’s another feature of Spiral that I have yet to discover.

I’d love your comments if you’ve experience Spiral as a teacher or student!


EdPuzzle website …trying something new

EdPuzzle. Check it out for your flipped classroom videos!

EdPuzzle. Check it out for your flipped classroom videos!

Today in my college Ed Tech course, I finally had a chance to test run the website EDpuzzle.  I came across this website on Twitter when EDpuzzle started following me, and as a result, I checked out their product.  I’d say this site is still in its start-up phase, but it has lots of potential, especially in the world of “flipped classrooms”.  Basically, the website allows you to personalize any video from the web by shortening it, adding voice-over content, and embedding comments or quiz questions.

Earlier in the semester, I had hoped to try it out with a grade 10 video on globalization, but it just wasn’t quite the right assignment.  This week, I came up with a solid place for a trial.

While tweaking my “movies in education” lesson for pre-service teachers, I modelled the use of EDpuzzle by shortening and adding project-related comments to an iMovie tutorial.  The video that I personalized could be reached by a URL, and did not require log-in to view….all excellent features.  When my inserted comment points were reached, the video actually stops and shows the comments in a speech bubble to the right of the video.  Students must then choose ‘continue’ or ‘ replay’ in order to finish with the video.  I imagine that some students will find this annoying, but as a teacher, I love that I can have students get my explanations or reminders at the relevant point in the content.

I haven’t yet tried the most intriguing aspect of this product.  If you create a Class and have students login and launch their video watching from the website, it will track their views.  Did they watch the whole thing? Did they review certain parts? And while logged in, they can then also do video quizzes WHILE they watch the video. Like the comments feature, the video stops, presents the questions (multiple choice or short answer) and students must answer the quiz before they can continue.  This will allow students to go at their own pace and re-watch as necessary.  Think of the value of this for flipped classrooms or virtual/online course work!

I haven’t done any test runs with this quiz feature, but I am quite excited to try it, and I’m sure I will be compelled to discuss my experience here!  (Click here, and you might be able to try an interactive video quiz that I eventually created.)

EDpuzzle is new and growing.  One of the downfalls is that you can only clip or shorten content from the beginning or end of a video.  The video tutorial that I was using about iMovie had some content from the middle portions that wasn’t as relevant to the class project.  I couldn’t figure out how to clip this middle content, so I “asked” EDpuzzle if this was even possible. Turns out, the answer is “not yet”, according to the Co-Founder who responded by email to my query.  This is evidence of a being a new ed start-up — when the Co-Founder is answering client emails!  It will be interesting to see how EDpuzzle changes as it grows.

EDTS 325 students, if you are reading this, I would be very interested in your take on the EDpuzzle experience in the comment section way below.

Ode to a Doubter of “iPads in Education”

A student in my Ed Tech class for pre-service teachers wrote an excellent blog post questioning whether there is much of a future for iPads in the classroom. Are just an expensive accessory that will get “trimmed” as our provincial education budget inevitably tightens?

The class assignment this particular week was to produce some projects using iPads and experience some class-type activities that allowed learners to be out of their desks and even roaming the campus.  It’s hard to be critical of the engagement for all learners, and especially those who are kinesthetic learners, when you are able to be learning, decision-making and creating while “on the move”!  But I can definitely relate to this student’s frustration at being asked to use an iPad when it is not your tool of choice. I don’t even own an iPhone and only bought an iPad because my school was using them, so learning to navigate on an iPad was and is a stretch for me as well.

She goes on to quote, “Also as a pre-service teacher I find myself going to many different classrooms and I have yet to be in a classroom where the teacher used iPads or has them available for class use. With classroom and school budgets in the decline I feel that classroom and school sets of iPads are not going to be something that is readily available for teachers. Therefore I feel that teachers need to be utilizing the forms of technology that they do have available to them, such as computers, projectors or Smartboards.”

All valid points. There are certainly more classrooms who do NOT use iPads, than those that do at this point in 2015. Furthermore, in our corner of the province, most classrooms have Smartboards and projectors, and, well, I’m a Smartboard junkie, so I’ll never argue about the importance of a Smartboard!

Another excellent point this student made was about observing the difficulty that even  her iPad savvy classmates had moving files between devices. Don’t get me started on the countless hours I have spent trying to devise systems to get a class set of student work OFF of the iPads! IPads were not designed to be used by multiple users, which creates significant challenges in school settings. (Dropbox was the work-around our school settled on.)

Despite these valid reservations about the need for and/or use of iPads in classrooms, my own classroom experience has driven me toward iPads, even though I’ve never been a big iPad fan.  

Two years ago, for instance, in attempt to move toward a 1-1 classroom learning device environment, I spent hours converting many of my lessons into a format that could be readily used by students who would bring their laptops from home.  Many high school students have their own laptop, so it seemed like a great plan.  Here’s the thing….the majority of my students would NOT bring their laptops to school on a regular basis. Too bulky, too heavy, too slow to get on the network. These were just some of the excuses. Can’t we just bring an iPad? At the time, my answer was no….all the time I spent converting lessons doesn’t work on an iPad!

So, this non-iPad girl got thinking. What would it look like to use iPads? About this time I was astonished to hear that our division was pushing iPads as the technology of choice that they would be implementing and supporting.  My favoured “Chromebook” model was given an “absolutely not going in that direction” shut down. So, I began to look at iPads. Could this work for high school humanities classes where we wouldn’t just be “consuming” content by playing/ learning on apps? We need to type multi-page essays–how could this possibly work? Google Docs soon became an important piece of the equation, and so I started to teach my students to use Google Docs way before we had our own school iPads, and perhaps before it was recommended by our division.

There are other signs that iPads are not just an educational fad:

  • Our school is slated for some major renovations. The design team of architects talked about removing our computer labs entirely!  The future looks like iPads and portable laptop labs, not bulky desktop equipment that renders a room otherwise useless.
  • Last month, our school of 450 just bought a second set of 20 iPads (these ones with Bluetooth keyboards).  Because internet access is so immediate, they are often used for research or short activities by two different teachers in the same period.  20 ipads isn’t enough devices for most class sizes, but students WILL bring their own iPads from home on a daily basis.  Between student iPads and mobile phones in a pinch, we always have enough devices.
  • Many times, iPads work great for recording information or creating projects in groups of 2-4, so I can even run a great lessons using iPads with only 5 or 6 devices.

At this point, I can’t imagine a near future in educational environments without iPads.

The bursting of my Plickers bubble

What in the world is “plickers” you ask?

Plickers is an answer/response system where every student has a paper card with a coded square and the teacher uses a single device to record or take a picture of student answers – each side of the square is labeled a,b,c,d; the letter at the top is the answer you’ve chosen. The answers display in real time, providing instant feedback to teacher and/or students.  (See plickers.com)


This is a plicker. Each student gets a different card (this is #1). Note the A,B,C,D on each side of the card (in tiny print to deter cheaters). This card is held in the “B” answer position

I’d read about Plickers several months ago, and had a chance to try it out for the first time in early 2015 with my college Ed Tech class. Of the 6 or 7 different interactive response systems that we experimented with, Plickers was a favourite with most students. There was a literal buzz of excitement in the air when we did some sample questions. Future teachers were especially excited about this use of technology because it only required a single teacher device, yet served the same function as several other sites we used without requiring students to each have access to a device.

Since then, I’ve been eager to try Plickers out in my high school classroom and today was the day. The grade 12 students were rightly befuddled and intrigued when I passed out these cards with funny little squares on them.  They knew they were having a quiz on a topic related to the Cold War, but this was a curveball they hadn’t expected.  Although skeptical at first, they quickly got into it. The Smart Board display instantly records when their card had been captured by my camera, and if I missed someone, they would let me know right away.  They loved the “reveal answer” feature, as the Smart Board display would tell them instantly if they got it right or wrong. On the downside, it revealed everyone’s answer at once, so even though I was reluctant to ‘reveal’, they were adamant on every question. On the up side, this meant that we could instantly discuss any answers where several students went astray – talk about real time feedback. To that point, Plickers was awesome.

I sent the students about their next task, and went to gather the quiz marks. I turned the settings and tabs inside out, but finally had to concede that there was no way to retrieve the students’ quiz marks, other than single question by single question!!!  I definitely overlooked this aspect of Plickers in my earlier investigation of the tool. I actually had to hand tally each of the 8 quiz questions to get an overall grade for each of the students. (OK, to be fair, my trusty work experience student, Logan, did the hand tallying, but the point remains!)  This was definitely a bubble-burster.

There is actually a second bubble-burster that I was willing to work around.  When you create questions, Plickers allows you to connect the questions to a class, but not to an actual quiz, like Socrative or Quizlet would, for example. So, I created four eight-question quizzes for my grade 12 Social class. That meant that there were 32 questions that I would have to sort through to “send” the next question to the display screen for students to answer. I worked around that by putting a quiz code at the beginning of each question so that I could easily find it in the middle of administering the quiz (eg. Today the quiz was about the Korean War, so each question had KW at the beginning). This was a reasonable work around that I was willing to implement, however, combined with the previously described “bubble-burster”, I’d have to label this a second burst bubble.

So what will the future of Plickers be in my high school classroom?  I think there is a definite place for it, and I have just the opportunity later this week. In grade 10, we will be doing some practice or sample multiple choice questions before our next big multiple choice unit exam. This will be a perfect time for Plickers. It will be formative assessment and/or practice for the students, so I won’t record their marks, but it will be perfect for discussing how to answer these questions. Plickers displays the number of students that chose each response – in ‘real time’ don’t forget – so we will be able to have timely and efficient discussions about each question and the distractors.  This should be the perfect job for an efficient tool like Plickers.

Won’t this technology be obsolete?

In the college course that I teach on technology in education,  we spend the first two weeks learning Smart Notebook software. The previous instructor designed the course that way, and being a Smart Notebook devotee myself, I have followed that part of the outline, at least for the time being.

Although students may Smart Notebook softwarehave been in classrooms where Smart Notebook was used by their teachers, students themselves have mastered PowerPoint.  PowerPoint is safe and familiar. For most, Smart Notebook is a new software that does not respond like a Microsoft product.  Many students experience frustration as they work their way through the learning tasks, and if it wasn’t required for a college assignment, many would just give up and revert to PowerPoint, like many teachers before them have done.

In this atmosphere of early uncertainty and frustration using Notebook, one student mentioned how some teacher friends of his had told him that Smart Boards would be obsolete in 5 or 6 years.

Of course!

Technology is like that!  Are we still going to learn Smart Notebook in this course?  Absolutely.

The Smart Board technology display is changing rapidly – the part that, when used with a projector, is often just used to show YouTube videos in many classes.  Interestingly however, the newest school to open in our city this past September installed Smart Boards.

But the power is in the software — that’s the part that some of my colleagues have never taken the time to get to know, but these students will.

Once they can fully create with Notebook and have unleashed its power in their lesson planning, then by all means they can revert to PowerPoint or projecting Word documents on the Smart Board, or whatever new display technology they might have.  However, my experience is that for the majority of people, once they take the time to learn the power of Smart Notebook, their view of it as a teaching tool changes.

There are other reasons that learning Smart Notebook still makes sense. In our part if the province, almost all classrooms have Smart Board hardware on the wall and Smart Notebook installed on at least the teacher computers.  With oil dropping to $40 a barrel ( or lower!) it is unlikely that Alberta teachers will be in line for any significant, system-wide technology replacements in the near future!  And when these students graduate with their teaching degree in 2 years, their new classroom will likely still have a Smart Board, as will the classrooms that they do their pre-service teaching in over the next few months.

But mostly….technology changes.  When  I first started using Smart Notebook 10 years ago, YouTube was just being invented.  Showing a video on my new projector still required a lot of time and effort to capture it in a useable digital file.  And it was years after that before we could access YouTube from a school computer.

When I did my teacher training in the early 1990s, the internet as we know it didn’t exist.  In one of my mandatory university technology and teaching  classes, we had to do a test to prove that we could thread a film projector and another to show that we could create a properly centered overhead transparency sheet.  Most of my classmates never did use a film projector in their classrooms, but we all had binders full of overhead transparencies….until we got our Smart boards and projectors over 10 years later.

I did take another technology in education option course at university where I experienced frustration similar to that of my college students experiencing Smart Notebook software for the first time.  It was the early days of personal computers and Microsoft Word was probably in its first version. Our prof made us type a document with proper word processor formatting – he was going to view the formatting trail, not just what it looked like when we printed!  No more return at the end of every line and return twice to double space.  No 5 spaces to tab. We had to do fancy things like  bold some words….

It is laughable now, but it was an extremely frustrating endeavour, perhaps more so because it was the first time many of us had used a computer with a mouse!  But that frustration of learning how to use a product to its fullest potential was a most valuable experience, as ever since then, I have been a proficient word processor.  I’ve worked with many colleagues since who have struggled with Word, now the most basic of teaching tools, because they never really had to learn how to use it.  I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that many of them don’t use Smart Notebook either!

Yes, Smart Notebook may become obsolete. Or it might be like Microsoft Word and the rest of its Office – virtually unrecognizable from its original version 20 some years later.

That’s the world of technology in education. Ever-changing, but never going away.  So we will learn to use today’s most useful tools as they will lead to the tools of the future.

Online Learners…anywhere, any age….similar issues

Today, the college course that I instruct on Technology in Education–EDTS 325–was focusing on the topic of Digital Citizenship. This is a new and ever-evolving topic for us as educators. Some school divisions are off and running on this topic; others, it seems, are trying to catch up and keep up. For most educators in schools today, myself included, this is a significant topic that has evolved before our eyes. We didn’t learn about this in university–the topic didn’t even exist; many of us are helping to frame and make up the digital citizenship content and discussion as we go.

When I realized that I would be doing a lesson on Digital Citizenship, an activity that we do in grade 10 Social Studies immediately came to mind: an information race–essential a google race–to see which group can accurately search and answer a set of 10 random questions. Phone number of your local MP? Vladimir Putin’s middle name? The current temperature in Buenos Ares? The name of the President of Molossia? Dangers of the chemical DMHO?

I wasn’t sure if this activity would yield the same results in a college classroom as a high school classroom, but I was hoping it would.  Fortunately for my lesson, it did!

Google + race = grab from the internet as fast a possible=gullibility

Of the 10 questions, students are asked to take information from three websites that lack credibility. For example, check out dhmo.org or city-mankato.us. When one carefully examines these sites, their foibles are obvious. However, college students were shocked at how they didn’t even think twice before providing answers from these sites as fact.

“Yes, but,” students said, “we never would have made that mistake if you weren’t telling us who was winning the race.  We’re too competitive. We wanted to win.”  And that was a great segue to discuss what happens when we are rushing to finish an essay, a term paper, a lesson plan….it perhaps explains the “how to ” videos that were submitted through out the semester in Russian or Arabic!  This was powerful lesson–a “light-bulb moment”–on how easily, even as adults, we get duped into a false sense of reliance and reverence for the internet.  Yes, this is important for teachers to pass on to students, but also for teachers to heed ourselves.

A timely reminder on the importance of blogging.

It’s been just over a year since I’ve convinced myself to jump into the pool of teachers who blog.  While I’m not a blogging rock-star by any means, I’ve found the process to be stretching and am generally pleased that I’ve posted at least monthly.  It certainly is entertaining to have a record of my continual evolution as a teacher!

This fall I started co-teaching a college course to pre-service teachers on Education and Technology. This week’s topic is the Power of a Personal Learning Network and taking some steps to start creating one. For part of this lesson, the prof that I’m taking over from had students create a personal website as a digital portfolio. A website is great for them to have, but I really believe that blogging is a more ‘PLN’ type activity and soooo important for building a network. It’s so much more interactive than a website about oneself. I was struggling to decide whether to go ahead with having them create a blog as part of the class, and then I came across this blog post from George Couros, a respected Canadian voice on technology in education:  4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Change Their Minds

George’s blog reassured me that blogging is  definitely the right seed to plant in new educators.  (We’ll still create the website…later.) To help get them hooked, we’ll use their new blog as an ‘exit’ slip type activity for the rest of the course, and have them comment on each other’s perspectives.  Hopefully this will help these budding teachers experience the importance of being stretched and poked by others in their PLN. That kind of learning extends well beyond technology and into the habits of a life-long learner.