Talking Tech: The New 2016 ISTE Standards for Students: Knowledge Constructor

ISTE Standards- 3-Knowledge Constructor.jpg

In this blog post, I discuss and provide tools and ideas for classroom implementation of the third 2016 ISTE Standard for Students, “Knowledge Constructor”. If you would like to read the blog posts for the first and second standards, here they are:

ISTE Standards- 1- Empowered Learner           ISTE Standards- 2- Digital Citizen

For more background information about the new standards, read my blog post “Talking Tech: The New 2016 ISTE Standards for Students (1 of 8)”.

***Please be aware that I do not pretend to be an expert on the new ISTE Standards. This blog post series was initiated as a “project” for me to learn and understand these standards, so that I can provide better instruction to my students. If you have any comments, questions, corrections or suggestions, please do not hesitate to share them in the comment section.

ISTE and its contributors have been publishing excellent documents that explain and support educators in the adoption and practice of these standards. Here are a few of them:

  • I recommend following ISTE on Twitter. By checking their feed you can find lots of articles about the different standards.
  • ISTE Standards– This is a link to all ISTE Standards (for students, teachers, administrators, coaches, and computer science educators)
  • The ISTE Standards Community– Check out this living and breathing online community for discussions, announcements, community blogs, and much more!
  • ISTE Standards for Students- eBook– ($10)- This eBook contains explanations, examples, suggested skills for implementation in different levels, a comparison to the 2007 Standards, a suggested Scope and Sequence, and more!

Standard 3: Knowledge Constructor

Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

This standard focuses on students’ ability to locate and use digital tools skillfully and critically in order to create artifacts that showcase their understanding and learning journey. The sub-standards focus on research and evaluation skills, the use of collection and curation tools, and exploration of authentic issues.

Now let’s dive into the standard and explore some tools and ideas teachers could use in their classrooms:


 Standard 3a.

Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.

skillsyouneed  TeachThought  ReadWriteThinkYouTube  bingCommonSense  mindshift  google-search  lifehacker SweetSearch

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “research” is defined as:

  1. careful or diligent search;
  2. studious inquiry or examination; especially: investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws; and,
  3. the collecting of information about a particular subject.

The reason I began with the definition is because in many instances students have a wrong idea of what research is. Sometimes they think that merely “looking for information” would satisfy the requirements, when in reality, research is much more than that. In order to look for information one has to open a book or find a website (no matter how mediocre) and read. “To research” means that we embark on a journey of inquiry; we investigate; we interpret facts and theories; we confirm and refute theories; and eventually we construct our truth. This ISTE Sub-Standard focuses on students’ ability to understand how to research effectively and efficiently, and use these skills both in their personal and school lives.

Asking Questions

In order to become a good researcher, one has to know which questions to ask. Here are some resources that would support students as they learn what questions to ask and how to frame them:

  • SkillsYouNeed– An overview of different types of questions and responses.
  • TeachThought- Two excellent articles about questioning. The first, A Guide to Questioning in the Classroom, offers information and strategies about the importance and purpose of questioning, and essential questions. The second article, Seven Strategies to Help Students Ask Great Questions, is an in-depth examination of tested tools and strategies: Socratic Discussions, Paideia Seminar, Question Game, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Question Formulation Technique, and Universal Question Stems.
  • ReadWriteThink: A strategy guide on Socratic seminars. Check out the lesson plans and the Professional Library for additional resources.


Once students know how to ask questions that would elicit the kind of response they planned to have, they should be ready to understand how to utilize their knowledge online. Here are some resources to help students understand how search engines work, learn how to filter results, and how to choose a search engine for their needs.

  • Learning how to Search:
    • Bing’s videos about basic terms and functionalities:
    • The Key to Keywords (a lesson from CommonSense)
    • MindShift– An article about building good search skills and the hallmarks of a good online search education
    • Google – Teach your students how to search better using Google-made lesson plans- from beginner to advanced. Make sure to check out the webinar archives for more content.
    • Google Search Education– Google-Made lesson plans on a variety of topics: Picking the right search terms, Understanding search results, Narrowing a search to get the best results, Searching for evidence for research tasks, and Evaluating credibility of sources. Check out the Live Trainings as well!
  • Choosing an appropriate search engine:
    • LifeHacker– Knowing who to ask and when… 10 different search engines that give 10 different types of results
    • FindingDulcinea: Search engine with tested results (and why it’s better):
    • Don’t forget to ask your school librarians about your school’s subscriptions to databases (WebPath, EbscoHost, etc.) for tested and age-appropriate materials.

Standard 3b.

Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources. 

facebookgoogle-searchslateSnopes CommonSense  Harvard Library UWisconsin  Schrock Juniata

Research does not end with locating information. It is important for students to be able to predict which source would provide them with more reliable information, why different websites hold certain perspectives, what information makes sense, and how to make sure the information they receive is accurate. In short, students need to learn how to properly evaluate their sources.

Evaluating information sources is becoming more difficult, with Fake News becoming a hot topic recently. These made-up stories created to mislead readers in issues relating to many important topics, brought Facebook to shutting down 30,000 fake news websites in France ahead of the presidential elections. Many websites, like Google or Slate are now offering their version of fact-checking services. Snopes is another site dedicated to exposing urban myths and legends.

Here are some resources for teachers to use with their students in order to improve their ability to evaluate sources:

  • CommonSense’s News and Media Literacy toolkit is a great teacher resource. Divided into 4 different grade levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), these toolkits has lesson plans, interactive videos, student take-home activities, parent involvement materials, and more.
  • Harvard– An excellent resource for background information, links, and tools. There’s a great infographic you could use as well.
  • University of Wisconsin– 6 simple ways to tell if a website if credible
  • Kathy Schrock’s website has plenty of resources for critical evaluation skills- for different aged students to evaluating iPad apps, field trips, digital stories, online videos, and more!
  •– you can use the CRAAP tool to evaluate sources
  • Real or not? Use TeachByte’s 10 hoax websites to teach students how to evaluate resources. This is a great tool you can use with your students to better evaluate websites. Have them research the incredible Dog Island, decide if they should visit The Republic of Molossia, or help save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. If nothing else, your students will feel pretty silly for believing what they read…


Standard 3c.

Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions. 

zeef  Only2Clicks  Symbaloo Diigo goodreads libib  twitter   BagTheWeb  seesawmaharawikispaces  PBWiki PaperLigoogle-sitesSoundTrapiTunesU

This sub-standard focuses on students’ resourcefulness and creativity. Students choose digital tools to display a collection of works, or that would make it easier for them to access information. Either way, these collections are supposed to be means to an end, because the purpose of this curation is to show the connections they made and the understanding they arrived at.

It is important to note the difference between curation and collections. Collections are a group of things that may or may not share something in common. Curation is more than that- it requires conscious thought and effort because curated artifacts are collected, and organized to tell a story or highlight something. So let’s look at tools that support students in the collection of artifacts to display (as a resource), and tools that allow students to dig deeper and tell a story:

Collection Tools:

  • Resource: Zeef– Robin Good’s collection of lists of absolutely everything you can think of- from marketing to newsletters to fashion to recommended curators around the web!
  • Only2Clicks and Symbaloo– Two of my favorite teacher tools I have been using to curate resources for my students (and colleagues). Only2Clicks allows users to create tabs with different resources in each. There is a preview window, title and it is possible to add notes to describe each resource. Symbaloo works in similar way, but all resources are organized on one page, and you can customize the icons and “brick” colors to differentiate topics and themes.
  • Diigo– Diigo is a great website for students to collect resources, annotate them, organize and share them with others. They can bookmark sites, organize them according to tags, and build a personal library. There are convenient tools to quickly add resources onto the library (such as Chrome extensions)
  • GoodReads– Like other book curation sites (such as BooknShelf), GoodReads allows users to create an account and build a bookshelf. They can then share their books and browse other users’ bookshelves. I chose to to feature this one because of its immense collection of books (it recently bought Shelfari and is owned by…)
  • Libib– (free with a paid option) This site (and app!) allows users to create and share multiple collections of books, movies, and video games, and lets you annotate/tag
  • Twitter Lists: Students can create their own lists of Twitter chat accounts. This is a way to group and filter results for easier browsing.
  • Tweetdeck: Another Twitter tool, this is a dashboard of sorts- Students can build and organize collections, keep track of users, lists, and activities, create custom searches, and even manage multiple accounts.

Curation Tools:

  • Resource: CoolToolsForSchool blog has a fantastic entry on curation- what it is, what it looks like, what tools are available, and much much more!
  • BagTheWeb– A healthy list of curation tools and an overview into what each is and what you could do with it.
  • ePortfolios: ePortfolios tell (or should…) our story in a digital form. We share important artifacts that can be seen as milestones in our journey, and reflect on their importance. The following are four different ePortfolio options I shared in a previous blog entry about ISTE Standard 1: Empowered Learner):
    • Seesaw– This is a simple ePortfolio option for young learners. It allows students to easily show their work using photos, videos, drawings, text, PDFs, and links. They can then reflect on their work using text, audio or drawing. The teacher interface allows teachers (and parents) to access and monitor student work.
    • Google Slides– This is another child-friendly ePortfolio option. Google Slides allows your students to embed a variety of file formats from their Drive folder- documents, images, drawings, animations and videos, and add text to them to show their learning. In my classroom, I make sure students create a Table of Contents slide whenever they use Google Slides and hyperlink the text or images to other slides in the presentation.
    • Google Sites– I have been using the old Google Sites as my own website and ePortfolio for several years now. Although it was not the most intuitive tool, it did provide great options and I was able to embed documents, images, presentations, etc. from my Drive. However, soon, the old version will become obsolete, and the new Google Sites will be the only option. Albeit simpler interface, it does little of what that old Sites can do. This being said, integration with Drive is fantastic, and it is really easy to embed student work and insert text to explain it. Two problems with it though- you cannot (yet?!) create templates for students to use, and images randomly turn sideways… (to get around it we paste them on a Google Doc or Slide and embed it on the portfolio page).
    • Mahara– Mahara is an open source software used by many secondary schools and universities around the world to document and store student work. Although by no means simple to navigate through, it does offer many higher-level options for users, since it is not “just” an ePortfolio platform. You can create network of friends, use open-source coding, and more. It is also highly customizable at the institution level, so it can do pretty much anything you’d like. Lastly, it has excellent integration with Moodle, and many plugins continue to be developed to make it even simpler to use together.
  • Wikis– What if all students in our schools participated in the creation of a school website that has information about anything related to the school (potential for a countless number of topics, I know…)? WikiSpaces and PBWiki are two websites that allow you to do just that, and more…
  •– Curating links from articles, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms into an easy to read newspaper-style format. Students can use this free service to collect information about a research topic, or to display their work in an interesting style.
  • SoundtrapSoundTrap (for Education) is a collaborative tool that allows users to create music and podcasts online. Within the platform, students can collaborate via embedded video-conferencing with classrooms around the world. Teachers can guide global learning teams by creating group assignments that encourage expression, creativity, communication, and cooperation. Digital artifacts can be stored and shared with global audiences following completion.
  • iTunes U– This link will take you to Apple’s podcast for educators (free). This 25-lesson podcast will guide you through the whats and hows and what-ifs, so you can start your own institution’s iTunes U account. iTunes U is basically a gigantic digital library of educational institutions’ self-published materials. Freshly brewed is Apple’s iPad integration app, which is a mini-LMS that allows you to assign iTunes U content and check work, assign grades, have group and private discussions with students, etc.

Standard 3d.

Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.

DesignLearningBIE  Newsela  sciencenewsforstudents CNN10 ClassroomInc pinterestgoogle-search  zeef  YouVisit

How many times have you heard a students asking, rightfully so, questions like “Why are we learning this?” or “What’s the point of learning that?” Well, in order to prepare students for the “real” world and for life after school, we should make sure we explain the real life application to everything we ask them to know. This would increase motivation and understanding, and would create the kind of students who are ready to think critically, come up with ideas and theories, and ultimately solve problems.

This standard focuses exactly on these skills. Here are some ideas we could use in our classrooms to develop these kinds of thinkers and problem-solvers:

  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)- PBLs are “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge” (
    •– The Buck Institute for Education website is a fantastic resource to learn about what PBLs are, how and why they are/should be used, and basically everything else a teacher would need to learn about, and implement it in any classroom. Make sure to check out the Resource section to read, watch and interact about all-things-PBL!
    • DesignLearning– This website is dedicated to engaging students and educators in creative problem-solving teaching and learning best practices. Students follow the Design Learning Process.
  • Current Events- Exploring real world issues through the media is one of the simplest and most straightforward ways to engage students in exploring the world around them, even if many issues might be too complicated to solve. Here are some news websites you could use with your students:
    • Newsela– A real gem, Newsela features a growing collection of news articles in a variety of topics. Each article is adapted to 3-4 different levels with corresponding writing assignments and quizzes so teachers can truly differentiate their Language Arts curriculum. The Pro version allows teachers to keep track of their students’ quiz scores, to push articles to their students, and more.
    • ScienceNewsForStudents– This excellent website features stories about recent research and current events (related to STEM). Stories are grouped according to topics and sub-topics, and there are many important educator features such as a readability level for each article, power words, further readings, and more. A Chemistry colleague of mine swears by this website. Highly recommended!
    • CNN10– (Formerly “CNN Student News”) World news, simply explained, in 10 minutes. This is a great way to get students (from ES up to HS) aware of what is happening around the world, and begin discussions into the state of our world. Past editions are easily accessible.
  • Educational Simulations- Professionals in a variety of fields have been using simulations (“imitations”) to train people for decades. Simulations in the education field is a relatively new phenomenon that grew with the development of the digital world. Some simulations, especially those experiences which would be difficult to impossible to do in real life, require different technologies, while others can be classroom activities that simulate certain experiences.
    • Carleton College’s Science Education Resource Center maintains an excellent website dedicated to simulations and their use in (higher) education,
    • Here are some websites with simulation resources:
      • WeAreTeachers– 10 interactive science simulations
      • TechTrekers– A variety of Math-related simulation ideas for the classroom
      • ClassroomInc– Several online simulations for different workplace settings (a publishing company, a bank, a clinic, and more)
      • Pinterest– Social Studies simulations. Pinterest is another place to find plenty of simulations.
  • Virtual Reality- There is a variety of virtual reality categories, including ones that require equipment (“wearables”). Currently, the cheapest was to create a VR is Google’s Cardboard.
    • General resources:
      • Zeef– This is a collection of a variety of VR-related information and activities
      • TES– Google’s partnership with TES to address the UK curriculum resulted in a great collection of VR lessons!
      • Gear- Microsoft, Google, and a comparison of the best VR headsets for 2017.
    • Virtual Tours:
      • Google Expeditions– Google’s
      • YouVisit– A variety of VR tours to museums, cities, sites, sporting events, and much more! You can even create your own virtual tour.
      • OpenUniversities– 100 virtual trips you don’t want to miss- cities, landmarks, museums, college campuses, how things are made, and more.



Students as Knowledge Constructors. I hope this blog entry provides you with some high quality resources to use in your classroom or at home. As always, if you have any other ideas for good resources, any corrections for what I wrote, etc. please leave a comment below.

Next one up, ISTE 2016 Standard for Students #4, Innovative Designer!

Gamifying Assessments- The Easy Way

During a recent team meeting we discussed students’ lack of excitement about both existing formative and summative math assessments (which we now call “Celebrations”- because who doesn’t like to have a party?!)

Thinking critically about what we can do to increase student motivation and involvement, the answer came immediately to me- Make it a game! I looked back at an earlier blog post  I wrote while attending Boise State’s Master’s in Educational Technology, which dealt with, and highlighted the benefits of gamifying our classrooms- “games make us feel good, motivated, inspired to collaborate and cooperate, feel like this is the best version of ourselves, and help us find the motivation and courage to get up and confront obstacles.” I decided to share this idea with the team, and show them how the use of technology is not really reinventing the wheel, but rather it can take an existing activity and with a few simple technological innovations and creativity, make it unique and engaging.

So… How did I do this? Here are the eight steps you need to go through in order to gamify an assessment (or pretty much any other activity…):

  1. Figure out what you want to assess
  2. Categorize the different topics/skills, so that later you will be able to create challenges
  3. Under each category, come up with a number of challenges.
  4. Choose an interesting game theme
  5. Come up with a backstory (an interesting one!!!)
  6. Create a reward system and a set of badges
  7. Create the specific challenges
  8. Create a record sheet and print the badges

Here is a more detailed explanation with a concrete example:

1. Figure out what you want to assess

This is a simple one. What is the skill (or preferably set of skills) you have already planned to asses that you would like to improve? We wanted to assess pure computational skills, so we decided to assess students’ understanding of the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of fractions).

2. Categorize the different topics/skills, so that later you will be able to create challenges

The four skills we decided to use are a good starting point because we will later come up with specific sub-skills under each area.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 12.59.34 PM

3. Under each category, come up with a number of challenges.

You can decide to organize the challenges in a descending order according to difficulty, according to theme/sub-topic, or to just create a list of  challenges without any particular order. Keep in mind that some adventures require team work, which could require its own category. You could even create a different set of (both individual and team) challenges for different roles within a chosen topic (such as challenges for the team’s “Engineer”, ” Builder”, “Scholar”, etc.) I decided to keep it simple and organize the skills according to topic and difficulty levels. This is what the challenge hierarchy looks like (ignore the ninja theme. We’ll visit it later):

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 12.59.54 PM

4. Choose an interesting game theme

In my class, we play a fun game called “Ninja”, where students try to “tag” each other, and at the same time they learn about becoming more mindful, attentive, resourceful, patient, and creative. So the decision to come up with a Ninja theme for this gamified assessment was not random…

Ideas for game themes would sometimes depend on the subject you wish to gamify. You can consider anything like “Conquer the World”, “Are you smarter than Einstein?”, “Become a skilled pilot” and more. Start with thinking about what your students are interested in.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 12.59.02 PM

5. Come up with a backstory (an interesting one!!!)

Choosing the Ninja theme had forced me to do a bit of research into the history, culture, weapons and moves used, and to find a specific historical event that would lure my students into the world of the Ninja…

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.16.37 PM  Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.16.53 PMScreen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.17.05 PM

6. Create a reward system and a set of badges

I decided to force students to work through all 4 operations, and to pass challenges in all levels before they attempt the ultimate duel with Lord Rokkaku. So if they don’t win at least one badge per level, they are not allowed to challenge the Lord. If they fail the challenge, they need to go back and collect a second badge by winning all challenges in a particular level.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.00.26 PM

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.00.11 PMNeed badge-making resources/ideas?

7. Create the challenges

Initially I was thinking about creating our own task cards, like this one:

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 12.41.27 PM

But then I decided to use a resource I have already been using, which is a set of ready-made Fractions task cards. I chose two cards for each of the levels, so that when students are ready for the challenge, I can pull them quickly. Please note that you do not necessarily need to create task cards. Some activities, like this Gamified Field Trip I put together, could be done using technology.

Another resource

8. Create a record sheet and print the badges

How are students going to receive their badges? Where are they going to store them so they (and you) can keep track of the great work they have been doing? I created mine on Google Docs

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.58.58 PM
Student Track Sheet
Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 1.52.21 PM
Badges to print and cut











And… You’re done!

Here are the resources I created for this project:

  • Google Slides of the game, rules, badges, etc.
  • Google Doc of the ideas for challenges (and some free to use ninja images)
  • Google Doc of the student track sheet and teacher badges

*** Feel free to use as is or modify any of these resources!

And here are some more professional books you may wish to look into/ purchase:

  • The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education (First Edition) by Karl M. Kapp.
  • The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon.
  • Digital Game-Based Learning (First Edition) by Marc Prensky.



Talking Tech: The New 2016 ISTE Standards for Students: Empowered Learner


ISTE Standards- 1- Empowered Learner

In this blog post, I discuss and provide tools and ideas for the first standard for students, “Empowered Learner”. Future blog posts will include appropriate tools for the other six standards. If you would like to get some background information about the new standards, please read my previous blog post “Talking Tech: The New 2016 ISTE Standards for Students (1 of 8)”

***Please be aware that I do not pretend to be an expert on the new ISTE Standards. This blog post series was initiated as a “project” for me to learn and understand these standards, so that I can provide better instruction to my students. If you have any comments, questions, corrections or suggestions, please do not hesitate to share them in the comment section.

If you would like to read some of the documentation created by ISTE to explain and support educators in the adoption and practice of these new standards, here and here you will be able to find useful information

Standard 1: Empowered Learner

Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.

This first standard captures the essence of the new set of standards updated in 2016. Throughout the refresh process, the theme of empowered learners surfaced repeatedly. Empowering students in our classrooms provides many present and future benefits. To quote the Redefining Learning in a Technology Driven World report, “[Empowered students]… do better in inequality of access situations, are able to personalize their learning and achieve regardless of ability and build dispositional skills, such as executive functioning, perseverance, self-awareness and tolerance for ambiguity, that many believe are necessary to thrive in current and future society.”

Let’s dive into the tools and activities educators could use to support and empower their students both in and out of the classroom. I decided to break down the standards further (into their specific objectives), so that it provides a clearer understanding of each, and will be easier when educators look for a specific one to work on.

Standard 1a.

Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.

lifetick goalsontrack  joes-goals  accelerated-reader

seesawgoogle-slidesgoogle-sites maharaexplaineverythingadobe-spark

Setting Goals and Keeping Track of Them

LifeTick– This is my favorite goal tracking site. The school version is not free (30-day trial), but is totally worth it. It helps students learn about SMART goals, there is a journal integration (with categories and sub-categories), a progress visualization tool, and more. The interface is simple yet very customizable. Teachers can interact with their students by sending instant messages and leaving comments.

GoalsOnTrack– Create SMART goals, break them down into manageable chunks, and come up with measurable results. Keep track of them daily while online or offline, create a to-do list, track how long tasks take you, print out daily planners, and even visualize your success by uploading your image and watching yourself celebrate! There’s a lot to do to set up, but it’s an ongoing and engaging site. The app supports all major mobile platforms. There is no option for teacher oversight, so students will need to be more independent to keep track of their goals, and screenshoot/print them as evidence.

Joe’s Goals– This is an extremely simple (one page) goal tracking site Joe made for himself and now we can use it too. Students can simply create an account, type their goals, track them daily, and work to achieve them. There is no option for teacher oversight on this app as well.

Accelerated Reader– (Paid) This is a reading management program that aims to encourage independent reading habits. Students read books, take a quiz on each book, and together with their teacher can set goals and reflect on their progress. Teachers can assign reading levels and goals and modify them, view the quizzes taken and delete them, and more. Here is a study about the program’s effectiveness.

Reflection Tools

One excellent tool to set goals, achieve them and reflect on them is the creation and maintenance of an ePortfolio. There are several excellent free tools to create student ePortfolios, varying in appearance, difficulty level, and control/sharing option.

Seesaw– This is a simple ePortfolio option for little ones. It allows students to easily show their work using photos, videos, drawings, text, PDFs, and links. They can then reflect on their work using text, audio or drawing. The teacher interface allows teachers (and parents) to access and monitor student work.

Google Slides– This is another child-friendly ePortfolio option, which works best if your school has access to the G-Suite (formerly GAFE- Google Apps for Education). Google Slides allows your students to embed a variety of file formats from their Drive folder- documents, images, drawings, animations and videos, and add text to them to show their learning. In my classroom, I make sure students create a Table of Contents whenever they use Google Slides and hyperlink the text or images to other slides in the presentation.

Google Sites– I have been using the old Google Sites as my own website and ePortfolio for several years. Although it was not the most intuitive tool, it did provide great options and I was able to embed documents, images, presentations, etc. from my Drive. However, soon, the old version will become obsolete, and the new Google Sites will be the only option. Albeit simpler interface, it does little of what that old Sites can do. This being said, integration with Drive is fantastic, and it is really easy to embed student work and insert text to explain it. Two problems with it though- you cannot (yet?!) create templates for students to use, and images randomly turn sideways… (to get around it we paste them on a Google Doc or Slide and embed it on the portfolio page).

Mahara– Mahara is an open source software used by many secondary schools and universities around the world to document and store their students’ work. Although by no means simple to navigate through, it does offer many higher-level options for users, since it is not “just” an ePortfolio platform. You can create network of friends, use open-source coding, and more. It is also highly customizable at the institution level, so it can do pretty much anything you’d like. Lastly, it has excellent integration with Moodle, and many plugins continue to be developed to make it even simpler to use together.

Other ideas/tools for reflection:

Video reflections- Have students respond to prompts while recording themselves speaking or demonstrating their understanding. For video reflections all you need is a video camera, but here are some tools to upgrade the experience…:

Explain everything– this iOS app is a fantastic tool to demonstrate understanding. It is basically an interactive whiteboard you can screencast (both audio and video). Students create their canvas (texts, images, shapes, audio, video, documents, etc.) and record their understanding and/or reflections, and at the same time rotating text, flipping it, and animating it. My 5th grade students love it!

Adobe Spark– Make your stories come to life! This is a great tool to create all kinds of high quality visual content. It works all the way from younger students to adult professionals. There are three options to choose from:

  • Spark Post- add text and filters to images; annotation of work in progress
  • Spark Page- create online stories by turning images and text into magazine style communication tools
  • Spark Video- record voice, add images, icons and soundtrack

Here are some more journaling apps to choose from (from AppAdvice).


Standard 1b.

build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.


Building networks

Providing students with opportunities to create networks and extend their learning beyond the classroom (or their country) is an important task. Although most students with access to tools and internet access do so by taking part in internet-based multi-player games, or keeping in touch with friends using Skype, Facebook, or Instagram, these environments focus on the social aspect rather than the academic one, where they utilized these connections to extend their learning.

Below are several tools, which can be used in classrooms, to help students learn about networks and communities, and utilize existing tools create and maintain them:

Twitter– A great way to tell the world what our class is doing and to connect with other classes, groups, or individuals that could contribute to the class’s learning. It also works great when students want to learn about particular topics or want to ask the community questions.

Edmodo– With over 75 million users, this evolving educational social network is the answer to Facebook’s age restriction. This is a walled garden (closed online social environment), and teachers have the oversight they need to ensure students communicate effectively. Teachers can create groups and invite students’ parents, assign work and quizzes, post discussion groups, award badges, and much much more. If you decide to go for it, don’t forget to look at all the plugins developers keep creating. Finally, there is a very active and supportive online community if you have any questions!

Facebook– Creating groups (or secret groups…) is a great way for teachers and students to communicate and learn about other communities and individuals. Different educators and parents feel differently about Facebook, but here is one educator’s experience and views on Facebook and Education.

Skype in the Classroom– This growing educational network is a fabulous way for students to connect with other classrooms, places and experts around the world. The experiences are divided into 5 parts:

  • Virtual field trips– take your students anywhere without leaving the classroom!
  • Skype lessons– Looking for an interesting lesson about biomes? Aliens? Hook up with other educators and browse the extensive list of lessons created by fellow educators and curated by Skype.
  • Skype collaborations– Teaching a unit about architecture? Connect with other educators around the world and collaborate to learn about how similar and different architecture is in different parts of the world.
  • Mystery skype– A fun activity where students in one part of the world meet another group and asks questions to find out where they are from. A great Social Studies lesson with a possible Language Arts connection (pen pals?)
  • Guest speakers– Learning about anything in particular? There’s someone half way across the globe who know what she is talking about! Why not have your students interview her?

Instagram– Create a class account, share different aspects of your classroom, and connect with other classrooms. Use images to connect your students to the world- create a scavenger hunt, show a class field trip, share reading recommendations, and more! Here are some more ways to use it in your classroom, and here are some hacks for educators.

Google+– (age 13+) A G+ account would allow you and your students to connect with individuals, groups, and communities across the Web. Create specific Circles for specific members (members are not required to add you to their circle even if you added them!), share resources, learn collaboratively, and more. You can also connect using Google Hangouts, but that’s a different story… Here is how to start your own G+ community.

Customizing Learning Environments

Differentiation is a buzz word these days. Educators understood that the one-size-fit-all instructional practice used in the past is not the best way to reach every student in our classroom, and so began the journey into ways we can tailor our teaching to the individual learner. Blended Learning and Flipped Classrooms are two instructional strategies we can achieve this goal as educators, so let’s examine some tools for students to customize their own learning environments.

The key to this objective is choice. Choice in what students wish to focus on (the process), or how they would like to show their understanding (the product) is extremely important. Among other benefits to it, choice increases student self-esteem, motivation and ownership, but it is important for students to know who they are as both students and humans, so that their decisions have more positive long term effect.

Khan Academy– This incredible website offers users (kindergarten to high-school) free self-paced online courses in subjects such as mathematics, science and engineering, arts and humanities, economics and finance, and even offers a variety of test preparation courses. The website allows students to choose their course, read and watch instructional videos, practice their understanding, and get assessed. Using adaptive technology, the website identifies students’ strengths and gaps, and adapts instruction to their level. Being a school-friendly website, one (or more) teachers can create classes and push a variety of content to their students, in addition to the content students choose for themselves.

EdX– A Harvard/ MIT collaboration from 2012, this website offers almost 1,000 college and university courses in subjects such as computer science, languages, engineering, psychology, writing, electronics, biology, or marketing, for free (or for a minimal fee if you want a “verified certificate”. Those who successfully complete a course receive a verified certificate, which they can use to show their university or employer they completed the course. There are courses in 12 languages

Here are some more website that offer similar courses.

Another way to approach this objective (thank you, Aaron TD!) is to examine the ways in which students set up and tweak their work environment to become more successful. Let’s look at how this could look like in the classroom:

Personalizing browsers- Knowing what your browser can do and how you can use it to your advantage is a must, if we want to be organized and get things done quicker. The great ideas Firefox or Chrome have come up with have pretty much become an industry standard- Bookmarking, pinning tabs, using add-ons (Firefox) or extensions (Chrome), adding users, finding pages we visited, setting a homepage, browsing the net privately, deleting third-party cookies, or erasing pages we visited are only a few of the options we get to customize in our browsers. Here are some tips for making Chrome, Firefox and Safari truly your own workbench.

Picking tools just for us! Although this could go under the above category, I think it deserves its own space. The tools I’m referring to are both things our tools can “innately” do for us (such as assistive technology tools) as well as the add-ons and extensions that can help us do work better- ones we can add to our browser and get access to immediately. Here are some examples:

Google Chrome:


Here are assistive technology more tools- whether Mac or PC, Android or iOS…

Learning from others– As a regular tech user, I know my sources. If I’m bored and need to build something, want to know how something works, or need to find if last night’s twitter rumor is true I know where to go. There are many tools students can use to help them in their studies, passions, or free time. Here are a few:

  • Feedly (RSS Feed)- Hear about what you want from whom you want when you want!
  • Subscribe to the blogs you like so you can learn and get enriched!
  • YouTube Channels– Finding a great teacher online can sometimes be a daunting task. Find the “teacher” you like, and subscribe to their channel.


Standard 1c.

use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.

g-suite  wordpressweebly goodreads explaineverything screencastify imindq

Seeking and Utilizing Feedback

The importance of teacher and peer feedback cannot be understated. When students work and create products but do not get the opportunity to receive constructive feedback, they rarely know how to improve their work. Here are some tools that allow students to receive feedback and engage in conversations that would hopefully allow them to reflect on their work and know what and how they could create better products.

G-Suite– The collaborative nature of the Google Suite is what I like most about it. Students can very easily work with others to create products, to discuss and analyze it, and to hear what others think about their work. Allowing peers to “Comment” (rather than to only view or to be able to edit a document, presentation, etc.) is an excellent tool to give and receive feedback once students have revised and edited their own work.

Blogging (any blogging platform, such as WordPress, Weebly, Blogger, etc.)- When students share their learning and ideas with the rest of the world, it is inevitable for others to have an opinion about it. Having students create and share their blogs with peers or with the rest of the world, and making sure they get sufficient practice commenting and responding to comments would allow them to be more conscious of their authoring.

GoodReads– This and other online book depository that allow users to share their books, often also let them engage in book discussions about different topics, hence expressing opinions and giving/receiving feedback. For example, I set up a closed book discussion group for my 5th graders. I pose discussion questions, they reply to them, and then comment on each other’s thoughts, opinions, and understandings. A closed group discussion allows them to practice giving and receiving feedback before I introduce them to groups that are open to the rest of the world.

Demonstrating Learning

Explain everything– Explain Everything is a great (iOS) screencasting app that allows students to show their learning in a visual way. Creating tutorials of learned concepts (my students love creating their own multiplication tutorials!), or simply explaining how something works or how they figured out a concept.

ScreenCastify– (Chrome extension) Another great screencasting tool to allow students to show their learning through the recording the screen and adding a voice explanation. The free version allows for up to 10 minute videos, which is plenty to explain concepts (or at least create a “part one”…).

Video Recorders- Especially for more visual and active learning, videotaping is a great way to demonstrate acquisition of skills. Can students dribble a ball? Can they explain how they solve mathematical equations? Videotaping themselves (or someone videotaping them) is a great option.

iMindQ– This and other mind-mapping tools allows for students to show the ways they organize things and make connections. iMindQ is a paid software but a real powerhouse! It offers many templates to start with, it has a great integration with MS Office for flowcharts and presentations, and it is a collaborative tool. If you want to learn about more MindMapping tools, you can do so here.


Standard 1d.

understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.


Understanding How Technology Works

In order for students to understand how technology works, they often need to step away from the couch and cross to the other side- to take off the consumer shoes and get into those of the creator. Here are some resources to help students learn how technology works, both as consumers and as creators.

Tutorials- From video software tutorials on YouTube to interactive ones “on the job” (such as the Chrome Extension “G-Suite Training”), the Web is full of tools that equip users to learn how to solve their own problems. It’s no wonder YouTube is the second largest search engine (after Google, of course…). So whenever students are not sure what to do, consider directing them to Google and YouTube to find their answers.

Coding- and Hour of Code have become a commonplace in many classrooms. Whether it is coding using block-based programs like Scratch or Tynker, language-based coding like HTML5 and CSS, C, Java or Python, or coding in a Robotics Club using Lego Mindstorm– all of these options give students opportunities to develop their patience, thinking, mathematics, collaboration, and much more. This glimpse of what happens behind the scenes allows them to understand how the technologies they use every day work.

Google Search– Learning how to find what you want is a lucrative skill these days. Learning how Google Search works saves time and a lot of energy. Teachers can, and should, start educating our students from a young age what the “do not include” (-) or quotations (“”) do, and how to use the advanced search and Search Tools for each of the types of result (All, Images, Maps, Videos, etc.). Here is a Google Search for Google Search Tips and Tricks.

Choose, Use and Troubleshoot Technologies

Giving students time to use and tinker with different software and apps is the best way to get them to learn how to solve their own problems, so if you incorporate a variety of technologies in your classroom it means you’re already on the right track. This being said, in order for students to be able to troubleshoot, they will need to have the right mindset- the one of an engineer who is not afraid to try, fail, and try something else again and again until an acceptable solution is found.

Here are a few ideas and resources to help students solve their own problems:

This is a great website that encourages students’ problem solving thinking and skills.

G-Suite’s App Training– If your school is a G-Suite one, then your students would be able to take advantage of the training that’s specific to your school, so ask your administrator it that is available. The trainings are great- providing students tutorials and hands-on activities to test their understanding across the suite. If your school is not, you can still take advantage of the G-Suite Training Chrome Extension that offers simple and interactive tutorials to get you on the right track.

Transfer Knowledge (to Explore Emerging Technologies)

How can students use technology to apply what they learn in new situations and settings? Helping students become familiar with the tools they use, and giving them ample opportunities to practice and explore is the first step. Here are some ideas that would encourage students to do just that, and at the same time have fun to do and/or create what and how they like (that choice word again…):

  • Unstructured time on the computer- The best learning takes place when students are actively exploring their world. Giving students opportunities to play around can illicit some interesting and creative results. For example, when I reward my students with “free” time on the computer, they do some amazing things- trying out different customizations in Google Slides or Bitmoji, and other software, teaching each other how to actualize their ideas and plans.
  • Exposing, Modeling exploring and applying- Teaching students how to use particular tools and then exposing them to similar programs where they can apply their understanding to create better products, is an excellent way to
    • Taking Notes: Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Microsoft’s OneNote, Google Keep,
    • Research: Begin with a basic search (on Bing, Google, YouTube, etc.), and deepen their understanding using Google’s Search Tools (for images, news, videos, etc.). MS/HS students can use Google Scholar, online reference systems (like EBSCOHost), and news site feeds that collate information that are arranged by topics (such as Science Daily or Newsela).
    • Organizing information: Start with paper graphic organizers, then have students use mind-mapping software like xMind, or create their own graphic organizers using net.
    • Presenting information:
      • Posters: Progress from a paper poster to the online interactive posters like ThingLink or Glogster, or even create an infographic using the beautiful Canva.
      • Presentations: Start with PowerPoint, then move on to the collaborative Google Slides, or the more advanced Prezi.
  • Hour of Code (see links above): Learning how technologies work helps students to understand how programmers and designers build websites or games, how videos and other content are embedded, and more. These understandings and skills gives them the tools to do so themselves. For example, using the block-based coding software ‘Scratch’ builds students’ understanding of how language-based coding such as Java or HTML5/CSS work, which in turn, they can use these skills to create their own website.


That’s it… I hope you find above set of activities and tools useful when thinking about, or working with your students on, standard one, Empowered Learner.

Next one up, standard two, “Digital Citizen”. Given the fact that research and tool collection for this standard took me about 8-10 hours, it might be a while before the next one comes out. Please bear with me…

Differentiation Workshop to Local Ethiopian Teachers

I am very fortunate that my international school has such a strong and positive relationship with our local community. Last weekend I had the fortune to participate in professional development workshops, teachers at my school were giving toteachers of our local partner school, Mekdela.

The differences between the schools are obvious (and unfortunate). One is a wealthy international school serving sons and daughters of expatriate business people, diplomats, and the likes, while the other is a public Ethiopian “government” school serving over 1600 students on two rotations due to lack of space (a morning and an afternoon shift). From teacher salaries to classroom resources, the similarities are few and far in between. This being said, as expatriates living and working in the developing world, it is (what I see as) our moral obligation to share our knowledge and skills with our local teacher counterparts in whatever ways we can think of, and so these teacher workshops were a wonderful addition to my weekend.

The professional development day included over 80 teacher participants from the Mekdela school. There were about 15 workshops offered by my school’s teachers and teaching assistants. Each workshop was designed to last two hours. Expatriates who did not speak Amharic were provided with one of our school’s TAs, who served as a mediator and translator to the participants. We were to have two such workshops throughout the day.

I chose to share my knowledge of differentiation theory and practice. Immediately after volunteering to share my knowledge at the event, I was struck with the simple and obvious question- How do you differentiate instruction when you are a traveling (“a-la-carte”) teacher who have little to no resources and 40-60 students in a classroom??? I started by taking a deep breath!

After a short visit to classrooms at the local school, several hours of presentation planning, and middle of the night consultation with colleagues, I realized whatever shape the presentation would take, it would have to be interactive (to keep the audience engaged, to build on their knowledge, skills, interests, and needs), and to include both theory AND practice sections (background is important, and so does the application aspect!) And so by the morning, my presentation was born and the classroom prepared with visual aids and concrete resources for the teachers to browse through.

The Classroom

Although I was concerned with the time element, I felt that all the background information and theory, as well as the interactive nature of the presentation, were necessary. And I must say that the workshops went quite well, aside for the fact that I did not take into consideration the delay in participants’ arrival and the time it would take to translate everything I was saying… What I assumed would be two full hours, were actually about 70 minutes of material…

Unfortunately, in the first presentation teachers had little time to work on concrete and authentic strategies for their owwn classes, which was quite disappointing to me. So I was happy that I had the time to create a packet of handouts for each participant, which included both theory and practical advice for a variety of subjects. Those, I was hoping, would allow them to reflect and experiment in their own time. Not ideal… I had to re-think the second session!

The second workshop went better. I briefly introduced slides, and let Ato Bereket, my fantastic and overly-qualified translator, to take it from there and explain concepts and ideas directly in Amharic. This allowed us to go through the material faster without compromising the discussion and content. We had more time to work on individual strategies, although another hour or two of collaborative work would have been wonderful!

All in all, this was a very successful educational day for everyone involved. After the presentations ended we got together, shared a bunna (coffee) ceremony, exchanged thank yous, took a photo together, and started our weekend…

2015-10-03 16.20.53

Upon reflection, I must sayI am very impressed with the motivation these local teachers have to improve and enrich their understanding and practice as teachers. These workshops were not mandatory, they did not get paid for attending them, and many would think that they would not be very applicable to their situation. Yet they attended, participated, stayed to ask questions, and asked if they could come in the future and observe the classroom or create some sort of a collaborative practice with us teachers.

What an inspirational day. I hope I will continue to be involved in this collaboration and be able to see how these teachers grow in their profession, and how I grow as a result of these experiences.

Here is the presentation I created: