Saturday, 24 October 2015

DMAIL: The email will self-destruct in 5...4...3...2...1

There's a great new Chrome extension called Dmail, which allows you to set an expiration date on emails. I believe this was probably started so that you could email sensitive material, like bank details, with a little less fear, but I can see some great ways of using this in schools too!
When you add the extension you have the option to have the email destroy itself in one hour, one day or one week. The email will not disappear from the recipients inbox (how great would that be), but instead turns into a scrambled up jumble of letters!

Firstly you could send confidential information, which you don't want there to be an email trial for, like information about an incident or confidential information about a student.

You might also want to use it for 'your snooze you lose' type emails. For example, asking if anyone is currently free or sending out a cake alert email!

You may also want to send students emails that they don't necessarily need to have access to after the lesson.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Circuluar Writing With Google Docs

A teacher came into see me the period before a lesson, asking if I had a tool for circular writing. She wanted everyone to write an opening chapter, then another student to write the second chapter, another the third and so on. Although I could not think of a tool dedicated to do this, we realized that Google Docs was an easy solution!

We started by making a Google Drive Folder, which was accessible by anyone at our school, who has the link. We then created 18 documents, as we had 18 students, and labelled them by number.

We also decided that tasking a student to write the opening chapter would be the most difficult part, so decided to use some writing prompts. If we had more time to plan, we may have written these ourselves, but, as we are short for time, we used some pre-written prompts. I use Pinterest a lot, and already had several folders full of resources to help this, (general writing prompts, sci-fi writing prompts, hero story prompts and dystopian prompts). I chose a mixture of prompts, which all included some text. I'd like to experiment and have some with just images soon too.

Some examples of the prompts used:

We started by having students pull a number out of a bowl, this was the first document they worked on. It also meant that they didn't write the following chapter to the person sitting next to them. We used for a timer and gave students 5 minutes to write their opening chapter. They then closed their document and opened the next number document. They were then given two minutes to read the chapter, then five minutes to write the next.

Students seemed to really enjoy this activity and they wrote a huge amount! One student was pulled out of the lesson to speak with our principal, so I took over his laptop and got to have the student experience myself and it was great. They came up with very creative plot twists, used fantastic language and responded well to their peers previous chapters.

This is a super easy thing to do in the classroom and I recommend everyone giving it a go!  I am definitely going to collaborate with that English teacher again, as this was such a cool idea and I will share it with our other teachers, including the French, German, Spanish and ESOL teams.


BoomWriter is an incredible tool for story writing.

At a teacher you can pick form one of the main StoryStarts, which are fantastic opening chapters of books,t hat are designed to hook you in. You can even search through the available chapters by level and genre (so it can fit perfectly when you are doing a certain unit, like a sci-fi unit). You can also write your own opening chapters, which is something we did for the ESOL class. Although the only opening chapters available are English, you can obviously upload your own in any language.

After students read the first chapter, usually as a group and with a class discussion, each student writes their own second chapter. Teachers can add guiding notes, for example 'use the vocabulary list from class' and they can review each student's second chapter, either approving it, or giving it feedback for improving it. Once everyone has written their chapter, you host a voting session! Here students get the chance to read four of their peers chapters, (though they don't know who authored what they are reading) and they also get a chance to vote. It is very clever and makes sure all chapters are read an equal number and that no one reads there own. Once you close voting, the chapter which receives the most votes becomes the chapter two for the book!

With BoomWriter you are able to select how many chapters you want total, how many days you want them to write and vote and you can add in guiding notes to support the students. You can do it so that all chapters get approved, and you just give feedback to the winning chapters, or you can go through each draft and give them feedback. It just depends how much time you want to spend on it. You can easily use it for a summative assessment, grading each chapter, or you can have a hands off approach and just use it to foster the love of writing.

When the book is complete you get given a link and can order physical copies, (your first book is free), you can also pass this on to parents to buy! Also throughout the writing process students get given 'Boomer Bucks' when they write and vote, which they can use to customize their 'Boomer'.

The students we have used this with love it, and put a huge amount of time and effort into their chapters, because they know their peers will read them and because they want to have a chapter in the final, published book. You could even buy a copy of each book for the classroom and for the school library. I have been popping into the English classes that I set this up in, to support the teachers, and when the students see me they get really excited because they know it is BoomWriter Day!

BoomWriter set up is easy for both students and staff, and I am excited to see more and more classes using it at my school. I can not recommend BoomWriter enough, and seeing how much joy it gives the students is wonderful. I am very excited to start using this with older students, to see if they respond in the same way.

Over the last few weeks I have introduced BoomWriter to our Grade 6 English classes and on Grade 7/8 ESOL class.

Duolingo Schools

Duolingo has long been the leader of independent language learning. It is used by people across the world to learn many languages, including Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, English and they constantly adding more, (Russian is about to launch any day now!)

You can learn through the browser on your laptop/computer or on your tablet/phone, (with the activities being slightly different between the two types of devices).  When using it you are tested for reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. Duolingo grows to your needs and levels and it's aim is to get you to be 100% accurate, (it says you are X% fluent, but I think that is the wrong word to use, as there are all sorts of fluencies).

Duolingo have recently launched a Schools Edition. This interacts with the normal Duolingo accounts. You are able to give your students a sign up code, and then track their progress, (if they have already been using Duolingo, it counts their previous experience). You can also change the students mother tongue - meaning you can have a class of students learning Spanish, but some can be doing it with English instruction and others with German!

Students can also add their friends and compete against each other - this is done by experience points (XP) and not be their proficiency, so it is rewarding effort over anything else. There's also some great teacher tools, including lessons you can run on the whiteboard for different vocabulary sets, (for example vocabulary about media) or you can run a lesson based on your classes average levels.

I tested this out over the last two weeks with ESOL, French, German and Spanish classes, ranging from Grade 6 (year 7) through to Grade 10 (year 11) and had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. I asked them questions about the page, to see if they all looked having the XP points, the illustrated Owl and they all liked this feature.

I think that Duolingo is a great tool to support what is already happening in the classroom. It self differentiates, so everyone is working at a level suitable to them. Students enjoy it, so will happily use it outside of the classroom to further their learning. It is a great tool to use for 10-15 minutes at the start or end of the lesson, giving the teacher time to work with individuals who need support. For cover work this is perfect, because often non-language teachers get put on cover, (in my last school I was forever covering Spanish). The set up is super easy, as is the data is provides you.

Predictions for how Duolingo Schools will grow:

  • It will allow teachers to assign vocabulary groups for homework
  • It will allow teachers to assign time/XO for homework
  • It will provide printable certificates
  • It will have a class table for competitions
  • Schools, or at least classes within a school, will be able to compete against each other
  • There will be posters and other resources to promote this around the school and to other teachers and parents
  • Hopefully they will launch Chinese and Latin classes.

Let me know if you use Duolingo Schools. If you want my Google Slides which you can show in class while setting this up, send me an email ( or comment on this post.

Comment Bubble

I have a new favorite tool! Comment Bubble!

Comment Bubble allows you to upload videos and add five buttons for people to press while watching the videos. They can also pause the video at any point to write comments on what they are seeing. It charts viewers feedback in a handy graph at the bottom. The simplest way of using this is to have 'hate' 'dislike' 'not interested' 'like' and 'love' buttons (the buttons are customizable), and to use it the same way a market researcher would, or someone working behind the scenes on a political campaign!

To see how it works, watch my "10 Amazing Robots That Will Change the World" Video.
Another neat thing is that you can either have it so anyone can answer anonymously, like in my example, or you can have students create a log in, so you can record who is writing what. I've also made a "Top 10 Modern Young Adult Books (and Series)" version.

Comment Bubble has a lot of potential. If you use it for potential you could use it help students collect and receive meaningful feedback on work they have produced. You could even use controversial videos or videos on current events, getting students to add their opinions at home, then discuss the results in class.

You can also step away from putting opinions and have them do something like look for literary devices, having buttons like 'alliteration' and 'rhyme', with students having to try and tap the button every time they hear an example!

You can even use the feedback as more than just a discussion point. At my new school the math team will be doing a unit about statistics, focussing on bullying, and can collect student opinion through Comment Bubble to analyze.

If you use Comment Bubble, let me know how and why (and send me a link!)

Lastly - you may have noticed that I have been using American spellings...this is because I live in America now, (Atlanta, Georgia)... YeeHa!