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Category Archives: App Reviews

Let’s race! Engage your students with Socrative

Socrative is one of my students’ favorite new classroom apps, mostly because of its Space Race game. Socrative is both free and web-based, so you can run it on any system. Its Space Race activity displays a set of rocket ships on the overhead projector screen, while the students compete with other teams by answering a set of questions. As they get a problem right right, their rocket moves ahead. Again, you’d think there was a monetary prize for the winner as your classroom dissolves into shouts and cheers, but pride will do that to you 😉

You can also assign quizzes and exit tickets on Socrative, and because the Socrative interface is incredibly intuitive, I welcome you to dive in and just play with it. If you’d like a tutorial, you’ll also find that in the set of videos below (and if you have never seen Socrative in action, I do recommend watching the second video!), but what I’d really like to emphasize in this post is the Space Race set-up.

Socrative Space Race

The first time I ran Space Race, it worked beautifully, and then the next section dissolved into complete chaos, as I’m sure you’ve experienced with new activities (Physics, anyone?). So whether you’re tech savvy or not, I strongly recommend reading these pointers that I learned the hard way.

  • Socrative requires you to enter how many teams will be playing before you start. Before you launch the game, make sure that only one person from each team is logged into Socrative, and confirm that each team realizes who their point person is. If more people log in than there are teams, the rocket assignment gets totally messed up. Once each team is logged in properly, then hit “Start Activity”.
  • DO NOT let the students choose a rocket color. Let Socrative auto-assign that for you. If not, fights will break out. Seriously.
  • Make sure that the students have a team name picked before you start the game. This is completely irrelevant, but Socrative always makes you enter your name before you start an activity for data collecting purposes. If the teams don’t pick a name, they spend time arguing over this one screen, which slows them down and annoys them later when they’re behind.
  • After you end the game, don’t forget that you have the option to receive the teams’ scores and a list of problems they got right/wrong. This is very handy as you can check if there are questions that the entire classed missed that you should review.

Other things to keep in mind in terms of competition:

  • Remind the students that it’s not who finishes first – it’s who finishes the most problems correctly first. A lot of them will stop when they think they have no chance of winning… but then maybe the first team done actually gets two wrong, so other teams still could win.
  • Some teams believe they have no chance of winning from the beginning, and think they should just quit. If that attitude manifests itself, I have each student submit their work for the problems on a piece of paper after the game. This not only forces them to do the work, but it helps them get back into a good mindset. In fact, once some of those teams actually start working, they do really well!

The videos below will walk you through setting up a Quiz or Space Race, and then launching a race/quiz. It may take some time setting up, but I promise your students will love it 😀

Click here to access Socrative User Guide (with tutorials) as a pdf

Lastly, thanks to my coworker Suzanne for introducing me to Socrative 🙂

Bingo Baker

One of my favorite things about teaching is when I’m reminded that teenagers can still have fun with dorky games, and one of the games my students LOVE to play is Bingo. They are totally obsessed with winning (as if there is anything they can do to enhance the outcome), and they request to play it constantly, especially the kids who “never” win. I may be encouraging a future bad habit, and I won’t be surprised if I see half these glued kids to the slot machines when they’re old enough to gamble, but anything that keeps them motivated to do math problems is worth investing time into.

Prepping for BINGO isn’t too difficult, but the problem is that I don’t want the kids to all have the same card, so I usually have them fill it in themselves, which takes up valuable class time. I was excited to discover this free web-based app called Bingo Baker. This is a very simple tool in which you enter a list of words or numbers, and the app generates random BINGO cards for you.

Bingo Baker homescreen

The Bingo Baker homescreen

Once you hit the “Generate” button, Bingo Baker creates a unique URL which now stores your board (so make sure to bookmark it for your reference! You can just grab it from the address bar). You can print 8 different versions of your card in pdf format , and if you purchase the full app for $9.95, you can print out dozens more. If your class has access to computers though, the real power in this app is through the “Play Online” link, which we’ll check out next.

Bingo Baker option pane

Bingo Baker option pane


“Play Online” takes you to a screen in which your students can actually play BINGO via their laptop or tablet. After you hit “Play Online”, simply grab the URL from the address bar and direct your students there. The best part about the card is that if they hit refresh, it rearranges the BINGO squares, generating a new BINGO sheet on the fly so that everyone has a different card. They can hit refresh as many times as they like if they want to make sure their card is totally unique (because you know you’ll hear complaints of cheating if two people have the same card 😛 ). The students can tap on any square to highlight it so they can keep track of their score. So simple yet so cool!

Bingo Baker Playing Card

The actual bingo playing card

Because I am using this for material review, I will be asking questions to go along with the answers in the squares, so I’ll plan on keeping those in a Google Doc, along with a link to the board in the same file. Better yet, I’m also planning on having the students generate games for me, so I’m a winner too 😀

More posts on games to come soon, so keep an eye out!

Lovin it: Logitech Tablet Keyboard

I just wanted to give some quick love to my latest iPad accessory, the Logitech Bluetooth Tablet Keyboard. I’ve had it for a few months now, and it is pretty boss. I picked this keyboard mostly because I already had a great case for my iPad (and didn’t need a case-board combo), but now I’m convinced a free-standing keyboard is the way to go. Below are a few snapshots that illustrate its awesomeness.

First, it is a full-size keyboard, much like a laptop keyboard, which means no cramming your hands together and typing with squished fingers. It also makes a very satisfying clicking sound when you type.


Logitech keyboard with iPad

It comes with its own hard-shell case, which is really secure. I toss it in my backpack without any fear of the keyboard breaking in two.

Logitech Keyboard in its case

Logitech Keyboard in its case

The hard-shell case also converts to a handy iPad stand. Because the keyboard is not attached to the iPad, you can set it wherever you’d like, which is nice because I don’t necessarily have to be hunched over the screen. I also like the fact that you can orient the iPad vertically or horizontally.

I prefer the vertical orientation, so it

I prefer the vertical orientation, so it’s really nice to have this option!

The stand also allows you to adjust your viewing angle.

You can change your viewing angle to any angle in between as well!

You can also change your viewing angle to any angle in between.

The keyboard has its own on/off switch and takes AAA batteries, keeping things simple, and it was super easy to sync with my iPad via Bluetooth. (You can sync it to any Bluetooth device, actually). I also like that it has media control keys, so you can adjust settings like volume easily.

I actually now prefer my iPad/keyboard combo to my laptop, mostly due to the fact that it weighs waaaayyyy less and I can combine typed notes with handwritten ones. My only gripes about this combo (which have nothing to do with the keyboard) are that the Google Docs app isn’t as robust as its desktop version (but I’ll be patient), and the fact that a touch screen interface is sometimes inconvenient when you use the iPad in “laptop” mode – having a mouse is much easier if your screen is hard to reach. That being said, I think I’m actually going to be using my iPad much more than my laptop when lesson planning next year.

Lastly, the keyboard costs $42.99 on Amazon, which is a great price, especially for the quality of the product. Honestly, I haven’t tried another keyboard, but I don’t think this one will disappoint!

Get organized in Notability

If I were to suggest one (free) note-taking app for my class next year, it would be Notability. Although I’m totally in love with Evernote for my own personal use, I think Notability is ideal for classroom use. In one screen, it allows you to take typed notes and handwritten notes, with several formatting options. In addition, you can take notes on PDFs, Powerpoints, photos, images from the web, etc. You can even layer voice recordings over your notes so a student can explain concepts verbally as well as visually. It’s a great way to incorporate several different learning styles in one document.

Before I show off Notability’s great features, I figured we should establish the most important thing: a solid classroom workflow. My school is going 1:1 this year, and I’m hoping to start off on the right foot. Here’s how I’m envisioning the students note-taking routine in my class:

  • Students organize their Notability folders by class and unit.
  • I organize my student notes on Google Drive by class, unit, and section.
  • Students have access a public folder on my Google Drive to download notes for each unit.
  • Students open or create a new file for each section or day.
  • Files (notes) are either saved to their Notability or uploaded back to their Google Drive (their preference).
Let’s look at getting that set up! The first video will show you how to set up your Google Drive to share files with your students. The second will walk you through getting your students organized in Notability. If you have further questions, leave a note in the comments below.
How to set up your Google Drive for sharing with your students:

How to organize your files in Notability:

July 2, 2014 - 6:52 pm

Tara Komar - Nicole, you rock. I’m just now trying to figure out how to get everything organized for my classes, so this is great. Still can’t deal with the new LMS, Canvas, though–too much new stuff to process. Thanks for this.

August 11, 2015 - 8:33 am

File Naming Conventions » - […] I wrote an earlier post on how to organize your files in Google Drive and load them into Notability if you want to check out how my students receive their notes and worksheets in my semi-paperless classroom. My students deal with around 20 files in an individual unit, which could lead to a lot of fruitless searching and tears come finals week. Good file naming practices eliminate that nightmare. Here’s a screenshot of a typical unit in Notability: […]

How I learned to love Google Drive

I started using Google Drive when it was just Google Docs, and it was just… okay. If you had the same experience, you might have stopped using it for a few years and kept praying that Office would eventually be free. Google has made many changes since then, and this year I’ve been really impressed with their interface updates and come to very much appreciate the ability to collaborate. I finally have a system down so that uploading, accessing, and sharing files is now a breeze. Below are a few tips that have made my transition from my desktop to the cloud a seamless experience.


The Drive homepage

You can drag and drop!
You probably have created folders to organize your files in, but I find that sometimes I forget to save documents in the proper folder. All you have to do is drag that file from its current location to where you want it to be. Of course, that’s not all – you can also drag files and folders from your Desktop into Google Drive directly for upload! You might be thinking, “Uh, duh” but it seriously blew my mind the first time I did it. (I think it’s because that feature doesn’t generally exist on other websites.) Anyway, Drag and Drop saves you a lot of time and headache.


You can either drop files into the navigation window in either the sidebar or main screen.

When in doubt, right-click
Again, I may be a ding-bat, but I didn’t realize a useful menu would actually come up! When I first started using Drive, I would open the file itself to access the “Share”, “Move to”, and “Rename” options. I would have saved a bunch of time if I just tried right-clicking instead. Well, you live and you learn 😛


Right clicking magic.

Use the Search bar
Seriously – if you get in the habit of using that thing when you can’t find something in any Google product, you will save yourself a lot of time (at this rate, all the time you’ve saved may add up to an episode of Sherlock!). And if you really REALLY can’t remember what you named a file, Google not only searches by filename but also by words contained in the file. In the example here, Google will pull up any file that contains the word “math”. Best of all, if you know what kind of file it was or can narrow it down by any other criteria, click on the right drop-down arrow in the Search bar and select what category the file falls under. (And even more fancy search operators can be found here.)


Dear Google, thanks for making searching a thing. Love, me.

Change the color of your folders
This simple thing has made reading my Drive so much easier. Assigning adjacent folders different colors really helps me distinguish the file names more easily. Also, I really like all their color choices!


Look at all the pretty colors!

Share entire folders
I used to share individual files with my students, and either email or post links to every single one on my website. One of my coworkers pointed out this trick that is MUCH less time-consuming. Although each of my Unit folders are private, there is a shared “Student Files” folder in each of them, and I post a link to that folder on my website. My students now have access to ALL the files in that folder. If I need to update the folder with a worksheet, solutions, or any other new file my students need access to, I simply drop it in the “Student Files” folder. This means I don’t have to add or update any links on my page, which makes me less crazy 🙂   I also use this feature for sharing club agendas, meeting notes, and lesson plans. Collaboration is really so much simpler now!


Pay attention to Drive’s file naming convention
You have have noticed that “Unit 10” comes after “Unit 1” and before “Unit 2”. If you want your files to be in the proper order, make sure to name them “Unit 01” that way “Unit 10” comes after “Unit 09”.

I hope this makes your transition to Google Drive a smooth one! If you have any tips, please share them in the comment section. And stay tuned for tips on using Drive’s tools – Documents, Presentations, Forms, and Drawings.