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Category Archives: Tech

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 ūüėČ

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 ūüėÄ

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

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

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: […]

An ode to my first educational app, Educreations

Educreations is the tool I use to create my flipped classroom videos on the iPad, and I LOVE it. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s super easy to use, it’s free(!),¬†and it gets the job done. Its ease of use gave me the confidence to flip my classroom, and I hope it encourages you to try out a new educational app.

Educreations works by recording what you’re writing and typing on screen in addition to your narration, and I would like to emphasize that your face¬†will not¬†appear in the video (promise!). You can read the details on how I flip my class here, but in a nutshell, I give the students skeleton notes that they are to fill in while watching the video, and I use those notes as my script. To start making your own video, you simply select a pen color, hit the record button, and go! There is, of course, a little more that you can do than just that. The image below highlights all of Educreations’ tools.

Below is a more detailed explanation of some of the featured whiteboard tools –

  • Pen colors: You have black, blue, red and green as initial options, but if you double tap one of the colors, you get another six! The additional options include white, gray, brown, orange, purple and yellow.
  • Insert text: You also have all the above mentioned color options available for typed text. You can resize the type within the text menu, and if you select the hand icon (next to the T), you can drag the textbox around.
  • Add image: You can add an image from your iPad’s Camera Roll, Dropbox, or a specific web address, or you have the option to take a photo and insert it. As with text, the hand icon will also allow you to move images around your screen.
  • Erase: If you tap the eraser icon, you can use it to erase any ink on the page. If you double tap, it gives you the option to clear the page completely, clear the ink only, or clear the voiceover you recorded and keep what’s on the page.
  • Change background: You can change the “paper” you’re writing on to lined, graph, or a coordinate plane.
  • Done: The Done button will publish your movie, but it also gives you the option to start over completely.

Although I think Educreations is awesome, there are a few drawbacks (that you can workaround):

  • You can’t back up to a specific point in time to fix a single mistake you made recording; instead, you’re forced to restart completely. There are a few ways I work through this though:

    • Pause – pause is your best friend while you try to gather your thoughts and figure out what you’re going to write/say next. (The Pause button appears after you hit Record.)
    • Skeleton notes – I give my students skeleton notes to fill in, so I use an already filled in version as my script. It keeps me on track!
    • Keep videos short – No one wants to watch a long video anyway, so be as concise as possible, and if you do have to start over, it’s not completely depressing.
  • Videos are hosted solely on Educreations website, which is both a pro and a con, in my opinion. If you don’t have a class website, you can simply direct students to your Educreations feed or email your students a direct link to the video you want them to watch. On the flip side, Educreations does not provide a very intuitive search function specifically for your feed, so your students may have to do a little work to find a title if you don’t give them a direct link.
  • Lastly, you can’t add in other types of media, such as videos or quizlets. This¬†may not be a concern if you’re new to recording your lectures, and I think the tools Educreations provides¬†will get you going well enough until you figure out what your needs are.

If you’d like to see it in action before you give it a shot, check out my video below. This is my first time setting up this new screencasting system (Screencast-O-Matic), so forgive me if it’s a bit rough!

If you’re trying your hand at screencasting, this is a great place to start. I hope you enjoy working with Educreations as much as I do!

If you have an iPad, you need to buy the Maglus Stylus

Before I write another in depth app review, I figured I should stop myself and do a hardware pitch first. No, it’s not a promotion for my favorite device, but instead it’s for a tool that takes your tablet’s capabilities to the next level – the stylus. If you’ve used an iPad as a whiteboard, notepad, or doodle pad, you’ll notice that it’s way harder to take handwritten notes with your finger than with a pen, and then you might try a stylus and notice your writing isn’t that much better. I’ve been using my iPad for the last year to record my flipped videos, in which I could use large, clunky strokes because the narration made up for any lack of clarity, but I didn’t do much else with it. As a note-taking tool, the iPad was just too hard to write on. I tried doing some research on better styluses, but there wasn’t anything on the market at the time that suited my needs, so I gave up on the endeavor immediately.

Finger drawing

Fingers are not meant to be pens.

I surrendered too quickly, it turns out. A few weeks ago, I saw one of my coworkers, an English teacher, write on his tablet with what looked like a pen. I tried to contain my excitement but instead immediately bowled him over with questions, so he showed me some examples of his writing. The strokes were incredibly fine and controlled, making it easy to annotate over PDF papers and Powerpoint presentations. I thanked him and immediately jumped on my laptop to check out product reviews.


The Kensington Virtuoso, a generic stylus, and the Maglus Stylus

My coworker uses an Adonit Jot Pro, and the Adonit ends in a metal ballpoint protected by a small plastic disc, which is how it writes so finely. Although this works well for him, I tend to use a lot of pressure when I normally write, so I was worried I’d snap the disc and scratch the screen. I chose to purchase the rubber Kensington Virtuoso Stylus instead, and was fairly happy with my choice. It had the weight of a normal pen, the nib was fairly small, the rubber didn’t stick as long as I didn’t press down too hard down on the screen, and all of my longer handwritten documents were not only legible, but neat. It also included an actual ballpoint pen on the opposite side, which came in handy quite a bit. I began to use my iPad a lot more and started taking most of lecture notes on either GoodNotes or Penultimate as opposed to using the Elmo or overhead projector. I decided to try out at least one more stylus though just to convince myself I was 100% happy with my purchase, and I’m so glad I did because it turns out the best stylus was still waiting for me!

Handwriting samples

FInger writing (green), generic stylus (purple), Kensington (blue), and Maglus (orange). Notice how much smoother the writing is in the last sample and the lack of drag marks present.

The Maglus Stylus is it. It writes so smoothly that I can’t imagine that there’s anything better. What sold me? I’m glad you asked:

  • The rubber doesn’t stick to the screen at all, so you don’t get any drag marks at the end of your stroke.
  • It’s astonishingly precise. You have the ability to make incredibly detailed marks and flourishes with it.
  • It’s got some weight to it, which I find makes it easier to write with. It’s also shaped like a carpenter’s pencil, ¬†and I thought that would be awkward, but it fits in my hand perfectly. (I also loved to do carpentry with my dad when I was a kid, so maybe nostalgia has something to do with it…)
  • Oddly enough, I actually use less pressure when writing now because of its weight and screen conductivity. My hand is super happy after a full day of drawing math diagrams and symbols.
  • Lastly, it’s made writing on the iPad super fun! This may sound nerdy to you, but if you’re a teacher, you’ll appreciate this – writing on the iPad with a good stylus is like writing on a whiteboard with every size and color of Expo marker at your disposal. It makes the office supply curator in me jump for joy!

A parabola I sketched in GoodNotes.


A doodle I made in Penultimate. This is about the highest quality drawing I can produce on paper. Looks about right on the iPad ūüėõ

If you use a tablet at all, buy this immediately (or tell us about another stylus you own and love!). Thirty-five bucks may seem awfully steep for a “fancy e-pen”, but it’s worth every penny. It will expand the capabilities of whatever tablet you own. Plus, you’ll be saving even more on paper and additional writing utensils ūüėČ Happy doodling!

Edited to add: If you are interested in purchasing the Maglus stylus, click on this link and enter MAGTEN for a 10% discount on your order!