Shrewsbury EdTech

Tech resources for Shrewsbury Public School educators


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Get organized with an online planbook

I switched from a paper teacher planbook to a digital version a few years ago because it just worked better for me. When I made the switch, I looked into various websites, programs, and apps but none really stood out to me.  I eventually created my own Google Doc.

This was a great solution for me because it was always readily available, and I could make changes to my plans when things arise without having to cross out or erase and rewrite. I know there are quite a few teachers out there who use Google Docs for this purpose and are very happy with it. There are others who use Google Calendar, and they’re happy with that.

I was doing some curriculum work the other day and noticed a few colleagues planning out their first week in a paper planbook, and it motivated me to take another look at some digital alternatives again. After all, it had been a few years, and new products were always being developed. I found an article that recommends eleven online software and apps for lesson planning and used that as my starting point.

Most of the digital planbooks in the list have a free and paid version, though some were paid only. I focused on just the free versions. If you’re interested in trying out an online planbook, I encourage you to check out the list for yourself. I ruled some out due to a lack of features or because I just didn’t like the interface.

My Recommendation

Out of the the eleven online planbooks, I have decided to use Common Curriculum.

The Common Curriculum planbook has a lot of features available to teachers for free. You can create multiple classes, attach unlimited files, and connect each lesson to specific standards. For the science teachers reading this, you can link lessons to both the new and old standards! My favorite feature is you can customize your lesson templates to make it as simple or detailed as you like. Each element of a lesson plan is a “card” that can be moved to a different part of the lesson or even to different day. Entire lessons can also be moved around in case things pop up, like snow days.

There are two additional features that made Common Curriculum really stand out to me. First, it has some cool collaboration features for teachers. With the free version, you can create a group and share your planbook with your colleagues. This would be great for teams, especially if they are doing any type of interdisciplinary work, departments, and for the special education/ELL teachers and aides.

The other cool feature is you can make various parts of each lesson plan publicly viewable on a website that can then be shared with students and parents. You may not want to share the standards or any accommodations, but you could show them the agenda, materials, and homework for instance. When a student is absent and asks you what they missed, point them to this website!

If you currently use an online planbook or plan on trying one out this year, feel free to leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

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Global Day of Design and Pi Day Maker Faire

The “Hour of Code” encouraged teachers around the world to introduce their students to computer coding for one hour. It was a huge success with over 200 million people participating worldwide. Just like how the Hour of Code opened millions of eyes to computer programming, John Spencer and A.J. Juliani hope their Global Day of Design will do the same for design thinking.

The first Global Day of Design will be held on April 26th. It’s a one day event that focuses on using the Design Thinking process in schools. Their goal is to inspire students to create, make, and build. A new design challenge will be released each week leading up to this event on the Global Day of Design website. Teachers can choose from one of these design challenges to use with their students on this day. Design challenges range from 45 minutes up to 5 hours long.

Register on their website and receive a FREE Design Thinking toolkit!! 

Pi Day Maker Faire

If this event sounds interesting, you might also like to attend the Pi Day Maker Faire at Shrewsbury Library! It takes place on Pi Day (Saturday, March 12th) from 10am – 3pm. Read more about this really cool event.


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OpenDyslexic Font

(This is the second tech tip brought to you by our friends on 7 Green!)

OpenDyslexic is a new open source font created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia. The typeface includes regular, bold, italic, and bold-italic styles. It is being updated continually and improved based on input from dyslexic users. OpenDyslexic is free for Commercial and Personal use.”

Elin asked a friend whose son is dyslexic to read documents in a regular font and compare it with the OpenDyslexic font. He claimed it was easier to read the OpenDyslexic font. She now tries to put all of her documents into this font. In fact, you can see what the font looks like in her Emoji exit slip. It is such an easy way to accommodate your dyslexic students.

If you download and open the zip file from their website, you can copy/paste the font files into the “Fonts” folder. This can be found by going to Macintosh HD –> Library –> Fonts. Installing these fonts will make them available on programs installed on your computer such as Microsoft Word and Pages. Unfortunately, the font is not available in Google Docs.

OpenDyslexic on iOS

It’s also possible to install this font onto an iPad. Visit this link on your iPad and hit “download” to install the font. This adds it to the iOS font list. Therefore, students will be able to use this font in apps that use the default iOS font list.

I checked a few apps on my own iPad. While the font is available in Pages, it’s not there in Notability. From what I can tell, Notability uses the iOS font list, so I’m not sure why this font isn’t available. I reached out to both the makers of Notability and this font on Twitter, but I haven’t received any clarification yet. One thing for sure is the font can NOT be used in Google Docs. They use their own set of fonts.

In the end, if this font doesn’t work on Notability, I’m sure how useful it would be to install it onto a student iPad.

OpenDyslexic Extensions

It’s also worth nothing there extensions for Google Chrome and Safari. These extensions are able to display most text in the OpenDyslexic font. Below is a screen shot of the OMS website with this extension enabled. Using these extensions on a teacher laptop might be helpful for students, but it cannot be used on the iPad’s Safari app.

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Emoji Exit Slips

There are many different ways to elicit feedback from students to assess their current understanding of a topic or concept. We have Schoology and Socrative quizzes, Google forms, and more. Sometimes though, a quick check in is all that you need. Rather than worrying about a grade, you just a general sense of how students feel about your lesson.

We shared this post on Plickers, which let you quickly poll your students using cards with QR codes on them. Now, thanks to the wonders of Pinterest, Elin Dolen and her 7 Green teammates have a new idea to share with you…emojis 🤔 😳 😀 😬

This may not be very high tech, but middle school kids LOVE their emojis, so I’m sure they would love this idea! Below is a screen shot of the exit ticket Elin used to get a quick sense of how students felt after learning about natural selection. She had them choose an emoji and give an explanation for why they chose that particular emoji.

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Below is a variation I created using a Google form. Even though you cannot technically add photos to the multiple choice options, I highlighted the emojis and copied them into the boxes…and it worked! I just chose four random emojis, but you could offer more options.

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What do you think? Would you use this idea in your classroom? If so, we’d love to hear how it goes!

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Step-by-Step Guide For Introducing Genius Hour

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will chronicle my team’s attempt at piloting Genius Hour with our students. I’m hoping it will give some guidance to teachers who are considering a test run as well. Remember though, no one is expected to implement any type of “Genius Hour” project this year. If nothing else, you will be able to learn from our successes and failures next year. I’m assuming there will be plenty of both!

Instead of calling it “Genius Hour”, we decided to go with “Passion Projects”. (Same idea, different name.) I felt it was a more accurate name because 1) we are not giving them one hour each week to work on projects and 2) we’re not expecting them to all be geniuses. That’s a pretty high bar to reach. Instead, we’re simply encouraging them to “follow their passions”.

**Special thanks to Emily Bredberg at Shrewsbury High School for sharing all of her Genius Hour resources with us!!**

Here is a step-by-step guide for how kicked off Passion Projects with our students. All of the resources mentioned below can be viewed here in Google Drive.

Step 1: Watch Dan Pink’s Ted Talk on the puzzle of motivation

The big takeaway from this video is that extrinsic motivation limits creativity and critical thinking. School does not foster these skills because student performance is often tied to extrinsic motivators (parents, grades, course placement, etc.) Very rarely to do students want to learn for the sake of learning.

Step 2: Passion Project Brainstorming Survey

All students completed this Google form that asked them to reflect on what they were most interested in learning. These word clouds reflect the most popular answers.

What would you like to LEARN?

want to learn

What would you like to MAKE?

like to make

Step 3: Project Kickoff Presentation

Here is the Google Presentation we shared with students on the first official first day. It explains our expectations as well as different phases to the project, which I will explain further below.

Step 4: Develop Action Plans

Students are currently in different places in developing their action plans for their passion project. Some are still zeroing in on a topic they’re passionate about while others are nearly done planning. In the next blog post, you will find out how well these action plans helped students develop their projects!

Key elements in the Passion Project Action Plan include: 

  1. Topic
  2. Open-ended question
  3. Physical resources needed – Students must list what they will provide and what they hope for the school to provide.
  4. Digital resources – These are further divided into iPad apps and everything else (websites, blogs, wikis, YouTube videos, etc.)
  5. Game Plan – It’s important for students to have an idea what learning will look like for them. They must write down the steps they will take toward completing their project.
  6. Final product
  7. How final product will be shared with others

A few reflections at this point…

  1. Most students seem pretty excited about this project. We are realistic and know not every student will be able to identify a passion or even think of a topic they really want to learn more about. For these students, we plan on copying 7 Green’s wonderful idea to use the DIY website. Students will earn “badges” as they successfully complete various tasks.
  2. There’s an app for that! I encouraged all students to spend at least 20 minutes browsing the app store for free apps that are relevant to their projects. They have been able to find apps for everything from coding to fashion design to photography.
  3. Research is an important component of Passion Projects. Many students want to learn just enough about the apps and programs they have found so they can make something. We are encouraging them to become “experts” with these applications. If they use Explain Everything, for example, they should take the time to learn everything they can about this app. If they want to learn about photography, they should learn the advanced camera features.
  4. Resources are limited. A lot of students are interested in learning computer programming. This is best done on real computers. Others want to learn photography. They have asked for access to photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. They would also benefit from computers, but our school computers don’t have these programs. If we’re serious about moving forward with school-wide Genius Hour projects next year, it would be great if we could get site licenses for some of these creative programs.


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Embedding YouTube Videos in Schoology

Sssshhh! Don’t tell your students yet, but YouTube is now unblocked at OMS.

YouTube continues to be an excellent resource for teachers. There are endless high quality educational videos on YouTube that we want students to have access to in school. Unblocking YouTube allows more direct access for students to learn from teacher-selected videos.

At this time, the YouTube app is still not allowed. If you see a student with this app installed, please have them uninstall it. Students should only access videos that you choose for them to view.

Why have students watch videos on their iPad instead of a teacher showing the video to the whole class?

While showing videos to the whole class is a great teaching tool and allows for class discussions, there are times when individual consumption of content is more appropriate:

  1. If you do a “station” activity, watching a video could be one of your stations. Rather than reading directions for a lab or station activity, you could have video instructions for students to view at each station (just like the Dharma Initiative for all of you LOST fans!)
  2. You could create “extra help” videos for students to view only if they get stuck while doing an activity. Forget how to use a microsocope? There’s a video for that!
  3. Videos make for great extension work. Students who have already mastered the content could view videos with more advanced material. Already know about protons, neutrons, and electrons? Maybe they want to learn about quarks!
  4. In science, it’s easy to find different videos that teach the same content. Some students may prefer one video’s style versus another. You can post the different videos and give them the option of which one to watch.

The best way to share all of these videos with your students is to embed them right into your Schoology course.

Benefits to embedding YouTube videos

When it comes to showing videos on YouTube, the biggest concerns for teachers have always been the “recommended videos” and user comments, which we all know can be very inappropriate. When you embed the video directly into Schoology, both of these elements are removed. Students get to enjoy the videos without any of the distractions.

How to embed videos as Schoology course materials

Step 1: Go to a YouTube video that you would like to share with your students.

Step 2: Click on the “Share” button located below the video.

Step 3: Click on “Embed”.

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Step 4: Once you click “Embed”, you will see the embed code appear below. Copy this code.

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Step 5: Go to your Schoology course.

Step 6: Click on the folder in your Materials where you want to save the video. (I have a folder just for videos.)

Step 7: Click on “Add Materials”, then choose “Add File/Link/External Tool”.

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Step 8: Click on “Link”.

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Step 9: Paste the embed code in the box next to “Link/URL:”.

Step 10: Add a title for this video.

Step 11: Click the “Add” button.

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Voila! The video is now embedded for students to watch.

This is how the videos look on a laptop. When you click on a video name, it begins to play the video directly in Schoology…

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Now, here is what the videos look on an iPad. When a student clicks on a video name, the video begins to play directly in the Schoology app…

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Students can expand the video to play full screen. If they click on the subtitle icon on the bottom right of the screen, they can adjust the subtitle settings. Closed captioning is turned on by default.

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How to embed videos as Schoology course materials

If you are interested in embedding YouTube videos directly into an assignment, that’s possible as well. Read this support article for information on how to do this. A few reasons why this might interest you:

  • You can add questions in the assignment for students to answer after they watch the video to check for understanding.
  • You can share multiple videos and written texts in the same assignment, allowing students to do multimodal comparative analysis.


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The #HourofCode is Coming!

It’s that time of year again folks. December 7-13 is Computer Science Education Week!

As our lives become more and more dependent on technology, the need for students to learn how this technology works increases. Countries around the world are beginning to implement computer programming in all grades. The Hour of Code is a global initiative that hopes to expose tens of millions of kids in over 180 countries to one hour of coding (computer programming) over the course of this week.

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My students participated in the Hour of Code last year, and they really enjoyed it. Code.org has a list of tutorials you can choose from for students to experience for one hour. This year, they have new tutorials focusing on Star Wars and Minecraft. There are options for both iPads and laptops.

Click here to read my science class blog post from last year to explore all of the Hour of Code options I made available to them. You may want to give your students options like I did, or you may want to have them all do the same activity. Either way, I think this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce kids to something new. (You will notice we held our event a little late. I opted to do it for the two days before Christmas Vacation.)

If this isn’t all cool enough, every event organizer will receive a $10 gift card to Amazon, iTunes, or Windows Store as a thank you!!