ADE Institute Highlights #ADE2014

photo367 Apple Distinguished Educators from 31 countries met for five days in San Diego, California last week, and I was honored to be counted among them.  This year’s institute was a unique experience because each of us wore a “learner hat” all week as we became “citizen scientists”.  Incredible off-site experiences were balanced with on-site workshops and time for collaboration.  And food.  Lots of food.  ;-)  Thanks to all who planned every meticulous detail of a truly memorable experience.

My 45 seconds of fame on the big screen at #ADE2014!


To catch a glimpse of memories made, check out my first ever “sketch note” created with Paper by FiftyThree and embellished with media thanks to ThingLink.  Click around to access resources… especially if you teach science!  Here’s to the lifelong learners and friendships that make being an ADE an every day event.

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*NEW* ThingLink for Video

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 9.20.59 AMI just got back to Austin after two weeks in Pennsylvania and New York visiting family and friends.  I hope your summer also affords you opportunities to relax, disconnect from devices, and reconnect with the people you care about most!

Since I’ve been on the road, I haven’t been a very good student of this summer’s ThingLink Teacher Challenge.  No pressure though!  The ThingLink Teacher Challenge is a weekly free summer PD opportunity that you can join at any time, or just lurk to get ideas on ways to use ThingLink this fall with your new batch of kiddos.

This week’s ThingLink Teacher Challenge was to create a flipped lesson and give the brand new ThingLink for Video feature a try.  Instead of first using this new tool to teach a math lesson (I told you I’ve been a bad summer PD student), I created a fun re-cap to highlight an amazing ride from my visit to Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Park.  (Never been there? You should go!)  I’ve always been a coaster and thrill-ride fanatic and my 9-year-old son seems to have the same itch.  That’s us on the Black Widow!

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ThingLink for Video was simple to use.  First, I did some minor editing in iMovie.  I uploaded the video to YouTube, and entered the YouTube URL when prompted by ThingLink for Video.  Then, I was able to drag “nubbins” into the video at specific spots, making them visible for 5, 10 or 15 seconds.  Every nubbin forced a URL to be entered, even though I wanted a few of the nubbins to show text only.  ThingLink for Video limits the number of characters that are visible for each nubbin as well.  Since the nubbins defaulted to black font and a black background, I tried to customize colors using this.  The background changed to red, and the font changed to yellow (which is much better) but I didn’t enter values that were supposed to result in red or yellow (odd).  Maybe there’s another way to adjust the color on the nubbins and text?  Suggestions welcome!

I think ThingLink for Video has classroom potential.  I wonder if I might prefer using EdPuzzle instead because it affords assessment opportunities?  Perhaps each tool will have a place.  Check out my first ThingLink for Video project below.

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iPadpalooza 2014 Highlights #iplza14

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This year’s iPadpalooza “festival of learning” was a real treat.  How can anyone summarize in a blog post what it was like to be there? Thankfully, we have #iplza14 on Twitter to help us all reminisce, and to help you gain insight even if you were only there in spirit.


Sharing what you’re passionate about isn’t always pretty. However, my childhood orthodontist would be pleased.

While I didn’t attend the entire iLead Academy on Day 1, I had the chance to represent Hill Country Middle School at a “poster session” prior to the opening keynote from *THE* Sugata Mitra.  It’s always fun to connect with educators in person with whom I’ve connected only virtually prior.  For me, conferences learning festivals such as iPadpalooza have become less about the session titles and more about spending time hearing from educators whose work I follow, respect, and admire.

Here are a few examples of those great professionals.  Check out session resources (select the plus sign nubbins), and be intentional about getting connected with them.  Follow the #iplza14 story, as well as the highlights in my own Storify below. Thanks to all who were involved in the iPadpalooza #bigdeal ideas… all the way down to the tiniest details involved in planning this fantastic event.  And while you’re at it, mark your calendars for June 23-25, 2015!


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I already know what I want to do on the first day of school.

My (former) students are probably still sleeping on this fine Sunday morning, and here I am, thinking about the first day of school in August.  It’s not entirely my fault.  I just had two days of PD with (THE) Dan Meyer and my wheels are turning.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.38.10 AMI’ve been an avid follower of Dan’s for years, but having him stop through our district to work with us in person sends a powerful message (in my mind).  We’re all learning how to incorporate PLCs, iPads, and big ol’ district semester “common assessments” (you better “cover” half the curriculum by the halfway point in the school year… or else!) while still maintaining strategies and problem-solving tasks that sometimes make a pacing guide little more than a (theoretical) suggestion.

Having Dan come to work with our math faculty makes me feel like I have been granted permission to do more of what I know works with kids in my teaching.  I feel empowered to set aside the pacing guide a little more, and though time will inevitably *still* be my enemy, I’m not going to let it rule my classroom quite so much, or use it as a reason to *not* do what my kids need.

I’m going to be brutally honest here.  I created this resource two years ago and I have never used it with students.   And that makes me sad.  So, as part of more typical beginning of the year routines, I want to make this task our first assignment of the year.  I want students to start day 1 of my classes seeking curiosities and relevance, making connections to math and “the real world” of a middle schooler, encouraging the simple but powerful idea of questioning, all the while very intentionally introducing a model for problem-solving.

Here’s a sample of “The Math Cam” template at work.  I created it.  It’s time to let kids do something with it.  I can see this as a strategy to use throughout the school year.  I see value in students’ sharing their photos with one another, formulating questions about each other’s pictures… and seeking answers to those questions.Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.28.35 AM


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Generalizations in the Shower

During a quick shampoo, my 8-year-old son starts sharing a “pattern” that had *just* occurred to him.  He starts explaining a beautiful mathematical truth and I beg him to repeat it once he rinses off.

Here is his explanation of his pattern, expressed one way asScreen Shot 2014-06-03 at 8.08.57 PM


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After I finished recording the video, he asked for a calculator, and promptly tested his pattern with bigger numbers.  Upon pressing ENTER he said, “YES!” with a fist pump.  “You see?  It works!  It’s minus 1, see?  I knew I was right.”  It was also quite fun to watch him ponder place value for his second calculator example.  He typed several numbers, erasing them before hitting ENTER because he knew they weren’t correct.  He confidently pressed ENTER once he realized that 99,999 is between 99,998 and 100,000 (he carefully counted those zeros!)

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I talked him through the algebraic notation shown above, and his matter-of-fact response was, “Hmm.  Yeah, I get that.”

I kind of believe him. :-)






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Students Use Book Creator to Author Mathematics: Part 2

For our last day of class with a “normal” schedule (today), I met with my students in our school’s 21st-century learning space.  There’s a sampling of flexible furniture, a corner with stadium seating, iMacs, a big-screen TV, an Apple TV, tables that also serve as white boards… chairs on wheels, couches with charging stations… it’s a great space!

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Students’ first task today was to finalize their multi-touch math books and submit them to me.  Since some student groups were able to virtually turn in their books last Friday, I was able to embed their .ePub files on my teacher website, and use each unique URL to share all of the books in a ThingLink.  Student groups downloaded and read no less than five books authored by their peers.

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I Think I’m Going to Break ThingLink

Blue, green and yellow “nubbins” in the ThingLink will provide .ePub files that are viewed quite nicely in iBooks.  Since this was our first Book Creator experience, and it wasn’t “graded”, I learned a lot about how I might change this sort of task for next time (when it *will* be “graded”): 1) I’d definitely create a very specific checklist or rubric.  This time, I wanted to see what features students gravitated to when few requirements were given.  I’d like to see more variety as far as tools and apps for content delivery from some student groups.  We’ll do a better job next time to take full advantage of this being a multi-touch book with interactive features.  I also need to do a better job of “quality control”.  I hate to say, “It must be so-and-so number of pages with such-and-such media” but these kids need that kind of structure.  Some projects are great, and some are sub-par. 2) I’d provide a structured way for peer review before submitting the books to me.  This time, *I* tried to intercept errors (if you download a few books, you’ll see I didn’t omit them all this time and wanted to feature student work for the sake of discussion even with errors). 3) I’d have a specific list of math book topics for students.  Whether I generate the list, or we create it together, it will be less of a free-for-all next time.  We’ll author books for a specific purpose (Preparing for semester exams in December?  For STAAR testing? As a summarizing project each quarter in replacement of a traditional “test”?) Do you have checklists or rubrics to share that might fit a task like this?  Any advice or suggestions based on your own experiences?  Feel free to share in the comments section.


Thanks to Dan Kemp for featuring this project on the Book Creator blog!  


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Students Use Book Creator to Author Mathematics: Part 1

This year, my students noticed that I often say, “You’ll never see that in a math book.” Some of the topics we explore take a twist.  For example, when students solved systems of linear equations using elimination, I called it the “I Wish Method”.

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If I’d ask students to tell me their wishes for this system, they’d say, “I wish the coefficient of x in the bottom equation was -4.”  Or, “I wish the coefficient of y in the top equation was -3.”  Then, students “make a wish come true” by multiplying the equation they choose by the appropriate number. Simple, and silly maybe, but they sure do seem to “get it”.  They understand that they have choices, and it gives them a sense of where to start.  Students affectionately call this a “Yencafied” lesson strategy, and often add a hashtag (#yencafy) in their notes. :-)

imagesFast-forward to this glorious time of year, when “big tests” are over, and we feel a sense of relief and accomplishment.  I mentioned to my classes that I’d been thinking about this “never-see-that-in-a-math-book” theme, and I decided perhaps some of these strategies “should” show up in math books… and that these books should be authored by them.  They loved the idea!  Enter the versatile Book Creator app.

Day 1 (15 minutes)

I showed students these examples created by 6th graders and shared by Dan Bowdoin, and they were immediately up for the challenge.  I asked them to assemble themselves in groups of 2 to 3 students and they began brainstorming.  I didn’t want to overly-structure the task, as this was students’ first experience using the Book Creator app, I wanted them to “own it” and I hadn’t planned to “grade” the books.  However, in every class I had one or two students with the inevitable questions:

Student:  “Is this for a grade?”

Me:  “Whether it is or is not, will my answer impact the way you plan and create your book?”

Student: Pondering. “No.”

Me: “Then run along! :-)”


Student: “How many pages does it have to be?”

Me: “As many as it takes for you to communicate what you’d like your readers to know.”

Student: Unsatisfied.

Me: “How about between 4 and 6 pages?”

Student: Satisfied.

Since I introduced this idea at the end of a class period, students only had about 10 minutes to brainstorm.  I asked them to download the free version of Book Creator, and come to class the next day ready to write.  Some student groups immediately claimed topics, while other groups needed some help.  I expanded my original intent to include either a topic that has never been seen in a math book (and they were going to change that!) OR… just choose a math topic you like or feel comfortable talking about.

Day 2 (50 minutes)

At the start of Day 2, I demonstrated key features in Book Creator.  It’s so simple to use!  Want to add something to a page?  Select the plus sign in the upper-right corner of the screen. Want to edit that thing you just added?  Select the element, and press “i”.  Also sensing that students needed more structure, I shared a quick graphic organizer to help students plan their books.  I also encouraged students to consider media and apps that would showcase their creations as interactive eBooks.  Does “video” mean only using the Camera app?  Or could we use Explain Everything?  Tellagami?  PhotoSpeak?  Could images be photos of problems worked in a notebook?  On a whiteboard?  Something jazzed up using ImageChef?

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 8.19.18 AMStudent groups assembled and the buzz ensued.  I distributed iRig microphones to student groups who had ideas for video and audio elements.  Not only do these mics greatly reduce background noise, but they bring out student personality in a BIG way.  Put a microphone in an 8th grader’s hand, and you’ll see a new persona!  Throughout the class period, I circulated and checked in with students, and pretty much let them run with it.

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Day 3 (50 minutes)

Day 3 was this past Friday.  Most student groups were able to submit their ePub files to me by the end of class.  I set up an assignment in eBackpack where students could upload their completed books.  As I circulated, I was able to open each book on my own iPad using iBooks, look through it, and offer advice (especially if mathematics was incorrect or key vocabulary was misused).  Students then edited and resubmitted their books to me.  My iBooks Library is looking more festive than ever!

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After school, I uploaded all the ePubs to my teacher website on a “hidden” page.  This process provided a hyperlink for each book… and if you read my blog at all, you’re probably not surprised to know I embedded these ePub book links in a ThingLink! :-)  On Tuesday, my classes will meet in our middle school’s new 21st-Century model classroom, which is a seriously decked-out learning space.  Using the ThingLink, students will have the opportunity to download and view one another’s books.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Teacher Report Card: An Annual Google Form

thephotoThis is the second year I’ve used a Google Form “Teacher Report Card” with my students. To access a sample report card, and learn about those who inspired me to try this type of feedback, go here.  I love the looks on students’ faces when I tell them it’s their turn to grade me – oh the power!  And why shouldn’t students feel empowered to share their voices with us… about us teachers?  I love reading the praises and stings, and being able to process the feedback to keep doing what seemed to work, and tweak the things that didn’t go so well.  Reflection is a healthy process for teachers, and there’s no one better on the planet to ask than the students with whom you’ve spent so many glorious hours.

What I found to be THE MOST INTERESTING responses this year were the answers to “What did you like BEST about this class?”  This was an open-response item in the Google Form, so students could elaborate and I analyzed their answers for patterns and themes.  Being middle school students, I thought for sure a social aspect, or possibly the technology component would be in first place.

Not even close.

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.50.18 PM My former principal Jackie Santanasto is right on target when she says, “The single most influential factor on student learning is the classroom teacher.”  It’s fascinating, humbling, and for me, a bit unexpected in this 21st century we’re living in.  Thankful to have been a positive influence on another crew of kids.

Some responses in the raw (jazzed up using
























My FAVORITE response to, “How can the class be improved?”






Me too, kiddo.  These desks-with-a-metal-bar-attached-so-you-can’t-even-move-them-side-by-side-because-the-bar-makes-it-impossible-to-get-to-the desk’s-seat are the death of me.  Traditional rows make me sad, but they are pretty much the only thing I can do with these sorry desk-chair-combos.  We collaborate in the hallways, on the floors, and generally in spite of them.

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Teacher report card, anyone?  If you’re brave enough to give it a go, I’d love to hear your feedback.



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Radical Nearpod Art

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 6.36.33 PMThe element of “play” can be a powerful part of learning.  Several weeks ago, my 8th grade algebra students solved radical equations through a Nearpod lesson found here.  When I designed this NPP (Nearpod Presentation) I created the “radical dude” character using Keynote to reinforce that the independent variable is under the radical symbol.  Little did I know he’d get many make-overs during our lesson.

During the Nearpod lesson, students first witnessed a specific, worked-out example.  Next, students had to work out a somewhat similar example using the “Draw It” feature in Nearpod.  For the first problem or two, students stuck to the work at hand, sometimes admitting that they had just zoned out and didn’t expect to be held immediately accountable. ;-)

Once students understood my lesson pattern (I do… now you do…) the “radical art” ensued.  Students swiftly solved each radical equation so that any extra time they had left could be spent embellishing the “radical dude” on the slide.  I was in hysterics, and so were they as I “launched” anonymous student work samples to all of their screens.  Yes, our priority was the algebra… but the playful cartoons made the lesson truly fun.

Enjoy this “radical art” collage, created with Canva.   It features some of my favorite radical make-overs.

Nearpod Radical Art






Follow-Up: I displayed this “Radical Art” on the screen at the front of my classroom today. Students went crazy!  Immediately, they crowded around the screen to find their included masterpieces.

Currently in class, we’re working on a Book Creator project, and one group chose “Solving Radical Equations” as their book topic and wanted to include this art in their eBook.  I told them to search for it here, or in my Twitter feed.  When I told them they’d been retweeted at least 11 times (at my last glance) and that they went “viral” on Twitter, there was an immediate buzz in the room!


Then one of my students found this image on Twitter.  She looked at me, completely perplexed, and asked, “MRS. YENCA!?!  WHY DO YOU HAVE *SO* MANY FOLLOWERS?!!?”

Ha! ;-)

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Student Voice, Screen Casting and Explain Everything


Watching Explain Everything student videos on the big screen.  Made with ImageChef

Having iPads redefines many elements of teaching, learning, and assessment.  These past 2 years, I’ve experienced a learning curve not unlike that of a brand spankin’ new teacher.  This year I’ve begun to make the shift from technology-empowered teacher to a teacher who empowers students more.  It takes time, but when I let go and give more control to the kids, I’m not disappointed.  On the contrary, I realize that I didn’t know what I didn’t know about my students.  The more I learn about them and their thinking, and the more I impart this feedback to them so they know themselves better, the more we all understand the mathematics.

Sometimes, this process isn’t pretty.  They’re wrong.  They have misconceptions.  They generalize things they shouldn’t.  But knowing they’re doing those things presents true opportunities for learning, for communication, for mathematical debates, and for deeper understanding.  Student voice in the mathematics classroom is SO IMPORTANT in this learning process.  It’s not about the iPad, really.  It’s about making student thinking something we can see… and hear… and process… and discuss… and when necessary, revisit and revise.

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Reshan Richards, fellow ADE and creator of Explain Everything

“Screen casting” is a great way to use the iPad to capture student voice.  On occasion, I’ve used the Explain Everything app with students, but the workflow of gaining access to these videos was challenging.  Generally, students recorded the videos on their iPads during the first half of class, and we attempted to watch them on the “big screen” at the front of the class during the second half.  This was a great start, but when the bell rang I had nothing to show for their efforts.

Now that our district has access to Mediacore, I’ve begun making screen casting part of class more often.  We also *just* got a few iRig microphones for iPad, which block background noise so multiple student groups can record simultaneously in one space.  Screen casting is an AWESOME way to encourage student voice, but logistics such as workflow and noise can’t be ignored.  There’s also a bit of a learning curve with the Explain Everything app itself, which is why some students simply choose to use the iPad camera instead.  Again, it’s not necessarily about the iPad or the app, but capturing thinking.

Here are some recent samples from my Algebra students.  Prior to the STAAR End of Course exam, student pairs chose released problems from last year’s test to work and explain.  Watching the process of students creating these videos is fascinating and fun.  They plan who’s going to say what.  If they goof, they insist on recording the video again.  They soon realize that a 1-minute video may take 30 minutes to create.  They say things that make you go “Hmmm?”  They reveal a creative, often dramatic side of themselves that otherwise might go unnoticed in math class.  They’re forced to consider correct academic vocabulary.  They solve problems in a variety of valid ways that not everyone may have considered.  They reveal misconceptions.  They’re even wrong.  But every video has value for discussion.  That’s our class culture – mistakes are learning opportunities.  Errors are very, very valuable.  Students watch their own videos repeatedly, and can’t resist watching their friends’ videos too.  There’s instant buy-in because it’s all about themselves and their peers.

This review was completed before we had our new noise-blocking mics, so excuse the background noise.  Now that I have an established work flow, and some snazzy mics, I think screen casting will gain more presence in my practice.

How are you using screen casting and student voice in your classroom?

Check out another Explain Everything screen casting example from my colleague (and my son’s teacher this year!) Laura Wright here.  Integrating mathematics concepts and the Iditerod?!?  How cool is that?

Looks like Dan Meyer is seeing value in capturing student voice in the raw.


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