Instagram in the Classroom: Making Lit Relevant and Enhancing Learning

We all know that there’s a lot of power in social media.  In the classroom, my goal is to use social media for the good, with a purpose.  If students begin to use social media with the purpose to enhance their learning, then they will learn good uses of social media.  Instagram is an engaging tool–it provides a visual and written space to share as well as allows for collaboration.  Here’s the assignment/rules for our use in class.

Here are some student examples!

Instagram in the Classroom

Here’s how I have seen this small, out-of-class tool enhance learning:

  1. Students think symbolically about their reading
  2. Students continue the conversation about the text at home, on weekends, at all hours
  3. Students collaborate with each other, offering comments and encouragement
  4. Students allude to posts in class discussions, making connections and thinking critically
  5. Students make the texts relevant–they see things around them that remind them of the text and think deeply about it
  6. Students are engaged in the material in interesting ways

At the end of each text that we read, students complete the following assignment to practice their close reading skills.


Don’t Suffocate When You Integrate: Integrating technology doesn’t mean technology all the time

It’s easy to feel like you should constantly be using technology in the classroom, especially when you’re a 1:1 school.  The students have the devices, you have devices, the classroom is equipped with devices, and you keep seeing all of these amazingly innovative projects and lessons in your PLN.  So, you create lesson after lesson with technology as the center of those plans.  In this little blog post, I want to encourage my fellow tech-loving teachers to take a moment and remember that there are many ways for students to reach their goals (and your goals).  Technology is an excellent tool for learning, but it’s not the answer to learning.  We have to remember that skills can be acquired in many ways, and to approach the skills from various angles might be most effective.

I love our iPad program.  I have seen my students grow tremendously as creative young women as they have created multi-modal iBooks, wrote and designed graphic novels, and made iMovie trailers.  The iPad in the English classroom has made a tremendous difference in their creativity, problem-solving skills, and collaboration outside of the class.  Students amaze me every day with what they create on those little devices, and I see that they can explore the world via technology–from research to video conferencing to publishing to collaborating.  But, I also know that many of those tremendous projects began with moments of “iPads down.”  I have noticed that the creation happens on those iPads, but the ideas often stem from face-to-face conversations, writing on the walls with dry-erase markers while moving around the room, and just quietly thinking.  Balance, I have found, is key to good technology integration.  

My students are happiest, and I think most successful, when there is movement and flexibility in the way that they learn.  There are moments when they are up and moving, moments when they are working with their technology, and moments when they are sitting and sharing with a classmate.  Although I believe that consistency is important in regards to their workflow, note taking, and organization, I don’t think that “consistency” means a one-faceted classroom with one technology all of the time.  

Let’s not suffocate the technology or suffocate with technology.  Let’s use it when it allows our students to be better thinkers and stronger innovators.  And let’s use our other tools in the toolbox when the time is right.  

1:1 iPad Program Showcase

About halfway through our first year of being 1:1, we decided to document our work and take a “pulse” of the faculty and students.  Here’s a brief video that demonstrates how the integration of technology in our classes has started to transform the ways that our students learn and our teachers teach!

How I Went Paperless Without Knowing It

Trimester 1 recently ended, and when it was time for me to have to print my advisees’ progress reports, I realized that I didn’t have any printers installed on my laptop that I had received at the close of the last school year.  Almost four months into school and I hadn’t printed anything?  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I run a paperless classroom as well as a paperless life.

And, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense: we are a 1:1 iPad school, we use an LMS (Learning Management System), and we’re a Google Apps school.  That pretty much covers the once-needed paper.  However, with this realization came my next question to myself, is this a good thing?

My answer is yes.  It’s good.  It’s REALLY good.  Here is how I went paperless (without knowing it), and here is why I think it’s a good thing, for both my students and me.

Adopting a Learning Management System

I have used an LMS of some sort for years–Blackboard, Moodle, and a little bit of Edmodo.  But, I never had used them to their full potential.  The combination of being 1:1 and having an LMS has transformed not only my students’ learning and my teaching, but also our use of paper and records.

This year, we began using Schoology school wide.  It “rocks my world,” as one of my students said.  Because the Schoology iPad app is quite good, especially compared to our old LMS, Moodle, distributing and collecting materials have become seamless.  My students have access to all course content 24/7 on Schoology.  They also drop all of their papers/projects into Schoology.  Once a student’s assignment is turned in, I open it in Schoology on my iPad, send it to Notability, grade it, and drop it back to her in Schoology.  The benefits?  1. It has eliminated printer excuses 2. I’m a more efficient and effective grader on my iPad 3. Most importantly, I think, is that each student has a digital portfolio. They can’t lose anything! And, every revision in addition to my comments are saved. 4. Paper saving.

I also use Schoology, among other apps, to quiz and test, which saves paper.  I also use the Schoology Gradebook–paper saver.

In addition to students dropping papers/projects/homework in their Schoology dropbox, they also often engage in digital discussions as they complete their reading at night.  So, all types of homework, whether you want it to be collaborative work, writing, or projects, can be created or dropped in the LMS.

Using Google Drive for More than Storage

I’m a Drive junkie.  I use it for everything–all my teaching documents, my presentations, meeting minutes, department documents, etc.  My students and I also use it regularly in and out of class to either collaborate on documents, engage in group projects, take class notes, share study guides, brainstorm ideas, and more.  This has cut down on “print and share.”  Students find the real-time collaboration and the easy sharing and organizing extremely useful.

1:1 iPad Program

I write often about the benefits of being 1:1.  One benefit is certainly the ease of not needing paper, regardless of your learning style.  One major reason we decided to go 1:1 was to cater to multiple learning modalities.  If you’re an auditory learner, you can record lessons and discussions or listen to your iPad read to you.  If you’re a person who learns best by typing, easy; if you’re a person who learns best by hand writing, easy.  If you’re a non-linear thinker and need to create layered notes, documents, or projects, easy.  There is so much creation that can be done on the iPad, and it is so easy to share work, that we don’t ever seem to need paper.

The students are often thrilled to not have such heavy backpacks now that all of our coursework is accessible on the iPad, and most report that they feel more organized on their iPad than they did with binders and paper.  It certainly took a lot of teaching to get to that point of organization, but we got there, and we are paperless!

With Subtext, the classroom is brought home

I’ve been thinking about Subtext for about a year now–I’ve played with it, I’ve discussed it, but I never committed to using it in class until now, mostly because I wanted my students to feel comfortable with all of our school-wide core apps before I introduced another one. A few weeks ago, I decided to populate my Subtext group with the short stories from my “Women Writers of the World” unit, and we were off!  In a nutshell:  love.  it.

Here’s what I did, and here’s what I’ve seen Subtext do for my students’ reading and collaboration skills:

1. First, we had a discussion in class about what it means to “read actively.” This is not a new phrase, as we often talk about reading actively, so this was more of a reminder.  Students discussed the importance of not just annotating while reading but also asking questions, looking up vocabulary, recalling information, and simply stopping and thinking.

2. Then, we talked about how when we are busy with so much homework, that we often skip most of #1 and skim.  This is bad, they all decided.

3. Thirdly, I introduced Subtext to them, expressing that if they want to make sure they’re accomplishing #1, and therefore becoming stronger readers (and writers), then this will be a good tool for them.  All were on board to try it, and, well, they loved the owls that pop up on the screen when you open the app.

4.  After a short digression about how owls are “so in” right now, we began reading our first short story in class and played with all of the Subtext tools.  With a little guidance from me, they picked it up in less than 5 minutes.

Every night, here’s what I have my students do:

1. Answer all of the questions that I have already posted throughout the story (~3 questions–some discussion questions, some multiple choice, and, coming soon, a poll).

2. Write and publish 2 discussion questions as they read and make public to the class.

3. Answer 2 discussion questions of their classmates and make public to the class.

4. Highlight (and tag if they wish) and keep private.

Here’s what I find when students come to class every day:

1. My English classroom has been brought home.  Students have a smart, thoughtful discussion on the text with each other every night.

2. Our conversations in class are even more thoughtful and complex because students have already thought deeply about the text.

3. Questions about plot have almost diminished; the majority of our conversations are more in depth because their plot questions have been clarified by reading other students’ answers to questions.

4. Students take ownership over their thoughts.  They come in already proud of what they’ve accomplished with the text, and they are ready to contribute in discussion.

5. We have a lot to discuss that stems from what they did the night before.

Here’s what I wish Subtext could do:

1. Handwriting.  Some of my students still love to write in the margins, and I don’t blame them.  This is an on-going struggle with some of my students when we use eBooks in general.

2. Audio. One thing I love about using Notability and Explain Everything, although not eReaders, is that students can record discussions or add audio to their writing.

Overall, I’m thrilled with the app, especially when reading short stories.  The students don’t mind spending more time reading with these shorter stories.  I also see Subtext being valuable when reading articles and/or essays.

Holler with any questions!

App Review: Vernier Physics App, taking Physics to another level

My colleagues are fabulous.  They are fabulously brilliant, and they do fabulous things every day in their classrooms. I didn’t get to see many other classes when I was full-time teaching English, but as Head of Academic Technology, I have been fortunate enough to engage in other disciplines and see firsthand the work that teachers and students are doing throughout the school.

There are a number of physics classes that are using the Vernier Physics app, from freshmen to senior classes.  One of our Physics teachers, Sarah B, gave me her opinion on the app:

The Vernier app allows us to analyze the motion of an object directly from a video. The app initially collects position and time data, which it then uses to determine the objects velocity and acceleration. This data is then graphed and presented so that students can directly compare position vs time graphs with velocity vs time graphs, yielding a much more interactive experience with the data. Often graphs seem abstract, but the presence of the video puts the graphs in context, which allows students to draw more meaningful correlations in the data.

What’s even more exciting is that not only do the students find this app interesting and engaging when studying physics, but they also find other uses for it.  One of our star dancers, Emily, used this app to video her dancing and graph her height on a jump.  She gave me her opinion on the app:

I like the vernier app because it takes physics to another level. While working on a lab, I used the Venier app as another way to analyze my data. So, I wasn’t only plugging in data into equations and graphing them, but I was also analyzing a video and the graphs that the video produced. I also like the fact that the Venier app is not only applicable to a “physics experiment” but I’m also able to apply it to my dance and analyze a dance movement.

Check out two videos of Emily using the app–one for class and one for her dancing:

Very cool!

Students Teaching Students Grammar, with the iPad

Teaching grammar is tough.  Learning grammar is tough.  For the past few years, I have found that when students are responsible for teaching each other grammar and punctuation rules, they learn better.  This year, I decided to use the iPad as a way to do this.

For this assignment, each student was assigned a grammar or punctuation rule (semicolon, comma splice, colon, apostrophe, etc).  Using the app Explain Everything, each student taught her rule.  This allowed students to learn from each other as well as learn from the videos that they now have access to 24/7 at home.  At the beginning of every class, we play one video, do the practice activity, and discuss (it takes about 5 minutes).

Here’s the assignment and a student example:

Explain Everything Grammar (and Punctuation)

Using the iPad app Explain Everything, you’ll be responsible for teaching your classmates an assigned grammar or punctuation rule.  

You can see a “How To” video of Explain Everything, created by students Fiona and Caroline, here:


Slide 1 needs to include the following:

– Your first name and last initial (no full last name)

– Name of your grammar rule, written and spoken

– Definition of your grammar rule, written and spoken

– 1 example of correct usage, written and spoken

Slide 2 needs to include the following:

– You need to give 3 wrong usages and fix them on this slide, written and spoken

Slide 3 needs to include the following:

– You need to give 3 correct usages and explain why they are correct, written and spoken

Slide 4 needs to include the following:

– 5 exercises for your classmates to complete; the exercises in this slide should include incorrect usages that your classmates have to fix

Slide 5 needs to include the following:

– 5 more exercises for your classmates to complete; the exercises in this slide should require your classmates to write 5 correct sentences using your rule.

NCTE National Convention: “Close Reading, Curation, and Annotation in a Digital Age”

Come see me present at NCTE!  My particular presentation is called, “Explain Everything Eyre: Bringing the 21st Century Reader into a 19th Century Novel, Using the iPad App Explain Everything and the Novel Jane Eyre.

NCTE Presentation: “Close Reading, Curation, and Annotation in a Digital Age”Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 8.13.04 PM

5 “big things” and 5 “little things” you’ll want to know when starting a 1:1 iPad Program

Any new program is going to be filled with some surprises, some good and some bad.  Now that we have fully implemented our program, after a year of piloting and planning, I thought I’d share some things that worked for us and some things that I wish I knew ahead of time.  Here are some “big” things to keep in mind as well as some “little” things that are just good to know!


1. Overplan trainings.

You know what they say about assuming!  Even the most “techie” person needs training and time to learn how the iPad works in a school setting.  Creating more time than you think you’ll need for faculty and student training is key.  Overplan!  In addition to teaching basic functions and core apps, you’ll also need to engage in pedagogical discussions, teach the technical pieces for classroom use (how to project the iPad, for instance), and spend a lot of time on workflow.  Workflow and app fluidity take a lot of time and practice.

2. Put a support structure in place before beginning.

This has been instrumental in our success so far.  See our structure here:  Technology Teams and Structures

3. Get students involved.

Who better to run an iPad program than those who it impacts the most?  Empower the students and let them be the driving force.  Midway through the year last year, I started the group called the “Ed Techies.”  A year ago, it was a group of 25 students who provided me with feedback and ideas for the upcoming 1:1 program.  Now, it is a group of 85 with an Advisory Board of 10, five “Task Forces,” and a “Tech Tank” that acts as a student help desk.  I will write more about the “Ed Techies” soon, and I hope that they will soon be contributing to this blog!  Stay tuned!

4. Balance pedagogical time with practical time with faculty

Teachers need to know why and need to know how.  We, as teachers, know what works and what doesn’t in our classrooms, so although we are interested in new ways of teaching, we are also critical.  It is important that the pedagogical as well as the practical are covered.  To do this, we have engaged in a wide range of trainings and professional development.  For instance, we have invited the fabulous Edtechteacher to our school for two full-day workshops, which focused more on the “why.”  We learned and practiced apps in fun workshops like “Technology Speed Dating.”  We offer regular “Tech Talks,” run by our Educational Technology Facilitators (ETFs), and we integrate tech discussions in department and division meetings.  We come at it from every direction so faculty know the why and the how and are consistently supported.  This is an ongoing process.  My hope is that it will never end!

5. Maintain passion and enthusiasm

Like anything in education, passion and enthusiasm go a long way.  I am motivated by those who are engaged in what they do and who have a true passion for it, and I have seen that make a difference in morale.


1. International Apple IDs

One thing we did not think about was that our large international student population would have to switch to the United States Apple store.  We wish that we sent this information to students before school started and had made those changes before app training began.  It caused some chaos when we began classes.

2. Charging stations to alleviate anxiety

Although the expectation is that students come to school every day with their iPads 100% charged, both students and faculty have had some anxiety about battery life.  So, we have set a few places as “charging stations” where students can plug in while they work.

3.  Make use of screen

One of the tiny things that our Middle School has required (Upper School has not required, but we did recommend) is having students make their screen include their name and email address, in addition to their passcodes.  This way, if an iPad is found unattended, it is easy to see whose it is!

4.  “How to” videos as supplements

Although videos should not replace hands-on workshops, they certainly are good supplements.  I try to follow up trainings with “how to” videos.  See some here:,,

5.  Teaching troubleshooting to students

As I mentioned above in the “big,” student empowerment has been important to me.  I am now realizing that teaching troubleshooting should be a part of that too.  I am hoping to teach students tricks to “make it work” when something goes wrong.

We are still learning, but these are 10 “bigs” and “littles” that I hope you find helpful!

Pages on iPad: The Basics

New to Pages on the iPad?  If you want a little help figuring it out, here are two “How To” videos.

Our students love Notability for taking notes in class, annotating documents, and creating projects, and they use Google Drive for collaborating and storage, but many of our students wanted a Word-like app for the iPad to type their papers.  Pages is a good option because it is simple and intuitive, and, most importantly, it works well with many other apps.

And here are a few “challenges” to get you familiar:

Pages Challenges  (1)

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