Going where this girl hasn’t gone before!

Photo Credit: Martin_Heigan Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin_Heigan Flickr via Compfight cc


With a whole week’s break from most of my children’s activities, without having to plan lessons or do a bunch of marking, and with a night off of class, on February 17th, I looked forward to having time to relax… uhhhhhhh, no… scratch that.  I looked forward to being able to dive right into all of the amazing blended learning and ed tech tools that I had not yet had time to explore. (Typical teacher, I know!)  

Sure, I could have used some R&R but, after weeks of reading so many fantastic blog posts, and after several opportunities to gain wisdom from Tony Bates, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the blog prompt for the break.  I wanted to “DO BLENDED LEARNING”.  I wanted to actually create some blended learning opportunities in my own classroom.  Yes, of course, I’ve been incorporating various ed tech tools and “moments” into my teachings this past school year (thanks to everything I’ve learned through EC&I 833 and 834) … but I wanted to do more.

Until now, I’ve been easing my way into the blended learning environment … my hesitation emerging as a result of some self-doubt … as a result of my fear of not getting it right.  But then, I read Natalie’s post.

I really appreciated the quote that she included by Fischer about blended learning being a “process of innovation”, rather than an “event”. Thinking of blended learning as an event – as I had, in some ways, been doing – made me feel that I would either get it right, or I would get it wrong. The idea of “creating” a blended learning environment through trial (and error) seemed much less daunting!

Kyle was also helpful in this regard, as his post included an article called 6 Disadvantages of Blended Learning by Scott Winstead.  Winstead’s six harsh criticisms of blended learning / flipped classrooms forced me to consider some possible areas of concern regarding this endeavour. Two of the criticisms that were mentioned were “teacher overwork” and “plagiarism/credibility”.

Addressing the “Teacher Overwork” Criticism of Blended Learning/Flipped Classrooms

My experience has shown me that, to make a really great lesson (or series of lessons), teachers often have to invest many, many hours.  In most cases, the students are able to complete the tasks – whether they be online, hands on, or on paper – quite quickly, compared to the time put in by the teacher.  For example, the ThingLink that I recently created for my Law 30 class likely took me more than an hour to make, but students could have easily finished it in twenty minutes.  So, why would I work that hard for such a short student experience?  Well… I hope that it was effective and memorable for the students AND I hope that I can use it again with future Law 30 classes.

I can’t disagree that preparing for a flipped classroom isn’t time consuming for a teacher – just as creating Socrative questions, developing Aurasma augmented reality experiences, or making up a Google survey all take time.  But, if students are engaged by these interesting ed tech tools, the time saved in dealing with classroom management issues or chasing down incomplete assignments would more than compensate for extra teacher “input time”.

Addressing the “Plagiarism/Credibility” Criticism of Blended Learning/Flipped Classrooms

I have to admit that I’ve wondered how many students cheat in “online learning environments”. Is the number comparable to a regular classroom environment?  Is it higher?  It just seems so much easier to share assignments, plagiarize ideas, etc. when a

Photo Credit: vozach1234 Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: vozach1234 Flickr via Compfight cc

teacher and classmates aren’t present – and when there’s little to no face-to-face interaction.  My gut feeling tells me that “cheaters are cheaters”.  The same students who would steal copies of old exams, hide cheat notes on an eraser or inside their watch band, etc., are the students who would have someone else complete online assignments for them or simply copy other people’s work to submit it as their own.  

With so many people committing to lifelong learning – whether through face-to-face classes, traditional online education, MOOCs, or just YouTube videos – I would like to think that cheating has subsided.  Perhaps people are beginning to enjoy the process of learning – and are no longer simply focused on finishing. (This is coming from a Master’s student – and is being shared with Master’s students – so those in high school or the undergraduate world may be of a totally different mindset!)

Ready to Try This!

As I read each critical point, I felt quite confident in my ability to dispute the author’s beliefs.  Kyle, too, was able to poke holes in the author’s skepticism about blended learning and flipped classrooms.  This only brought about a greater feeling of confidence in my ability to have success (or, at least, do little harm!) in trying some serious blended learning in my own classes.

And Then I Struck Gold …

If only my husband had shared my enthusiasm when, at 9:30 pm on a Saturday night, cup of tea in hand, I exclaimed with pure joy about having discovered Catlin Tucker and her list of “Favorite Web Tools”.  I was practically beside myself when I actually checked out a couple of her recommended tools, including CommonLit and EdPuzzle.  Three hours later, I pried myself away from my computer to find sleep for my screen-drained eyes.


Big Thumbs Up for CommonLit!

CommonLit is an amazing site that includes stories, questions, quizzes, related text, and other media for teachers in most subject areas.  Stories can be selected based on theme, title, or related texts and are categorized by subject area and by grade leve.  I chose stories that involved struggles or challenges and limited my search to the 9th and 10th grade levels.

20170228_220828I was so surprised to find some of the stories with which I was already familiar included on this site.  One story was “The Sniper” … a civil war story that takes place in Ireland.  I’ve just finished working on this story with my students, so I looked at the “paired text” options that CommonLit identified.  I was happy to see several other war-related stories that would match up very nicely with “The Sniper”.  The story that I chose to use was “A Horseman in the Sky” – another tragic tale of civil war.   (I already have two other “paired stories” saved in my “Favourites” folder on CommonLit.  One of them even has a video that can be shown to provide more background information to the students!)

The students liked the format of CommonLit, but the story, itself, was very difficult to 20170228_222008comprehend. It was written in the 1800s and, although the vocabulary and footnotes helped to clarify things, my students still found it to be quite a challenge.  I loved, however, that they were able to complete everything online and that I could see their progress and their success at answering the multiple choice questions.  Thankfully, we have a face-to-face class tomorrow, where we can reconnect and discuss the more difficult parts of this story.

(Love blended learning!)

Here are a few things that I really like about CommonLit:

  • It was so easy to create my teacher account and set up my class(es)
  • I could have students join my class by sending them a link
  • I could easily assign different stories, poems, etc. by clicking “Assign Text” while viewing that piece of writing
  • While reading the text, my students could click on little bubbles positioned near challenging words in order to view a definition of the term
  • Each story, poem, etc. includes questions that the students must answer by the assigned date
  • Questions for stories are either “text-dependent” (in multiple choice or short answer format) or “discussion” questions (longer format)
  • This is great for blended learning environments because the text-dependent questions can be completed online, at home and submitted to the teacher through the CommonLit platform, while the discussion questions are meant to be shared in class
  • For each poem/story, there is the option to have the story read aloud right on the site (note:  it is a rather mechanical voice!)
  • There’s a “guide for teachers” to help share some deeper insight into the stories
  • On my teacher page, I’m able to see the progress of each student in the class
  • It’s free!

If you’re curious about CommonLit … here’s a link to the FAQs page!

EdPuzzle… You Go with Videos Like Milk Goes with Oreos!

With CommonLit in my back pocket, I decided to create more blended learning opportunities for ELA 10 (as this is basically a “new prep” for me this semester, after not having taught it for about 9 years!).  Thankfully, I came across EdPuzzle.  In an effort to have the students consider challenges that they might face in the years ahead, I selected a video called “Introducing Gen Z”.  I want to use this video in a new part of my “Challenges of Life” unit … basically showing the students some of the preconceived notions that people might have of them. I want them to question the accuracy of the beliefs about Gen Z.  This video shows the differences between what employers believe Gen Z’ers are like … and how the Gen Z’ers actually perceive themselves to be.    The video was about 3 minutes long, but I have trimmed it down to 2:41.  I added an introductory audio clip, explaining the purpose of the EdPuzzle.  I also added “audio tags” (questions) to help the students engage in the video – rather than simply “viewing it”, as they might view a television show.  The EdPuzzle wraps up with a five-question quiz that the students complete right on the EdPuzzle site.  (We have not yet reached this part of the “Challenges” unit, so I don’t have any student feedback to report at this time.)

Here are a few things that I really love about EdPuzzle:

  • It’s easy to create your own teacher account
  • This ed tech tool lets teachers add questions, activities, quizzes etc. to videos
  • The bank of videos is QUITE enormous, as it includes postings by sites like Khan Academy, TedTalks, YouTube, National Geographic
  • Teachers can trim the videos to focus on only the parts that they want their students to view
  • EdPuzzle walks you through the entire process, with help videos all along the way
  • If you can’t finish everything in one sitting, just save it to your account
  • You can share your EdPuzzles with students by sending them the link or through Google Classroom
  • You can set the EdPuzzle to “not allow skipping” so that students have to answer all questions before finishing
  • Students type their answers to the quiz at the end of your EdPuzzle and you can view them from your EdPuzzle account
  • It’s free!

Here is my final EdPuzzle regarding “Generation Z”!  (I wasn’t able to embed this.)

Mrs. Armstrong’s Generation Z EdPuzzle

Adding audio notes:

Video showing the view from a student’s account:  

Video showing how to share the EdPuzzle:  

Next up on my list of things to try …  Audacity, Movie Maker, GoAnimate, VideoScribe, Touchcast…. and the list goes on, and on, and on!!

Let me know if you’ve given EdPuzzle, CommonLit, or any of these other great educational technology tools a try!  I’d love to compare notes!

Thanks for reading  🙂


12 thoughts on “Going where this girl hasn’t gone before!

  1. Wow, Nancy!! I’m applauding you right now. I’m so proud of all your hard work and pursuit of these new tools. I am learning so much from you and I will give both EdPuzzle and CommonLit a try. Thanks for always being so inspiring in your writing. Keep up the great posts!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great work Nancy! I am also very impressed with your ambition and willingness to try using new online tools! I have never used EdPuzzle or CommonLit before, but after reading your blog post this week, you have definitely spiked my interest! Thank you! You have given me a lot to think about!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing your resources and enthusiasm (it’s infectious). Your quote from Fischer is a great reminder that blended learning is not an event but a means for an authentic learning experience. Keep up the great work. I enjoy reading your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to worry about students plagarizing/sharing work, but I haven’t found it much of a problem (even with formative assessments). I usually preface assignments by saying, “sharing work will do nothing for you when you’re doing exams or if you plan on going to post-secondary.” Students seem to really get it and understand they need to understand the content, for the most part.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the post- very informative. I liked Kyle’s article as well- for every positive there is a negative depending on the lens you are seeing it through. There is no doubt for me that the issue is with my literacy- but I am happily finding that it is easier that I first thought. As teachers we have to be willing to learn if we expect our kids to!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nancy! You should have titled it Boldly Going… Star Trek Reference!!

    Anyways, I forgive you! Thank you for providing a great review of these two! I haven’t explored either, and CommonLit might not be a game changer for me in the science realm, but both sound great and I am adding them to my ‘check out’ list. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great list of tools from Catlin Tucker! Thanks for sharing. I have to be patient with myself when I see a giant list like this, and understand, like you, that creating a blended learning environment should be a gradual process. If I never try, I’ll never see the benefits. And I think there are many.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow! Looks like you’ve been busy! I have never heard of CommonLit before but it sounds like an awesome tool for English class. I had started using EdPuzzle and I LOVE it! Feedback I got from the students was positive too. I’ve been integrating questions into my flipped math lessons and LOVE getting the feedback right away so that I can see who is ‘getting it’ and who may be struggling. If I may, I would suggest using GoAnimate or VideoScribe for your summary of learning. I used videoscribe for one course and it was really fun to use. You can only use it for a trial period and then you have to pay for it, so keep that in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Winds of Change… | RBerry867

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