Thing 22: Teaching & Learning with Primary Sources

As an English teacher, I have always tried to incorporate primary sources to help my students build a foundation for the context of the literature we read. After the Common Core Learning Standards were published, primary sources, became that much more important in the classroom.

In my English II course, students look at the idea of fear through a historical and biographical lens to answer the following question: Has the idea of “freedom from fear” changed over time? To do this, we analyze two speeches. The first is a speech from President Franklin Roosevelt, “The Four Freedoms Speech” and the second is from President Barack Obama when he welcomed the British Prime Minister in 2012. As two primary sources about what can be a very nuanced topic, my students often struggle with this assignment so Thing 22 was a perfect choice!

To get some inspiration, I read Richard Byrne’s 5 Online Activities for Teaching with Primary Sources. Byrne suggests creating an online discussion of a primary source using Google Docs. While I like this idea, I’m not sure how I could make it work for students taking a self-paced course. Maybe it’s possible for me to have a document open for students to comment on that is grouped by students and groups can be made when students reach this module of the course. I could also consider using Padlet to have students write down their first thoughts. The Library of Congress recommends getting students to engage with primary sources by helping them see key details. I could post a question on Padlet similar to the ones they recommend: What powerful words and ideas are expressed? and What feelings and thoughts does the primary source trigger in you?

As part of my exploration for this task, I also browsed the World Digital Library. I like that the site gives you the ability to search by place, time period, topic, and medium. I searched for The Great Depression and found a photo and song recording by Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin.

Great Depression.PNG

Sunny California, Primary Source from the World Digital Libary

Not only did I appreciate seeing such a wide variety of primary sources and source types, but I loved that the page could be read to students (double +)!

Thing 30: Online Learning & DIY PD

I chose this as my final task because it will allow me to reflect on what I learned from this workshop and to also plan for the upcoming school year. This is my second time participating in the Cool Tools Workshop and I am always amazed at how much I learn and how inspired I get from the possibilities that these tools bring.

Here at RCSD, we are very lucky to have an IT Department dedicated to bringing us great



professional development opportunities to take our teaching to the next level. One goal of the department is for teachers to use the SAMR Model. It’s really important to me that my students have meaningful learning opportunities in the classroom that have a clear purpose. I am hoping to keep challenging myself to modify and redefine learning tasks so I can achieve that goal.

With that being said, the digital world is constantly changing. There is always something new to learn! So I have made a promise to myself to look at the learning tasks within my new Spanish I online credit recovery course (it launches this Fall) and provide students with meaningful learning opportunities that will also teach them 21st Century skills. It is my hope that I will integrate Google Drawings, new tools to gauge formative assessment and provide feedback, and virtual learning experiences for my students. I hope to also incorporate these tools into our English courses and Literature Through Film.

This brings me to my plan for next year. I would like to explore Kasey Bell’s Shake up Learning text and take her Dynamic Learning Workshop. I would also like to dive deeper into the needs of my students with IEPs and look at how digital tools can help them to reach their learning goals in my classroom. A coworker and I have been brainstorming about this and really want to ensure that we are doing the best we can to meet our students’ needs remotely because we rotate through buildings each week. While another member of our team is always there, we feel that we can be doing more.

I am also going to challenge myself to read or watch one educational piece of media each week. Whether it’s a teacher on a YouTube channel, a podcast, a teacher blog, or an article, I want to ensure that I stay “in the know.”

Thing 24: Google Drawings

Google Drawings is the one tool I feel most intimidated by in the Google Suite. I used to not see a purpose for Google Drawings besides modifying an image or creating a shape. Then, I saw a teacher use Google Drawings to create a template and knew I needed to get on the Google Drawings bandwagon.

For this task, I experimented with templates that were already created by teachers to get

Zombie Template

Digital Magnetic Poetry Using Google Drawings

some inspiration for my own courses. The first was a spoken word poetry template by Shake Up Learning author Kasey Bell. I had NO IDEA I could do something like this in Google Drawings! This would be a great exercise for my students taking Spanish I when we work on writing sentences, answering/asking questions, and use possession in writing.

Students could even use a previously created template to label, which is fantastic because I have been trying to find a way to create an interactive digital notebook for my Spanish students and I think Google Drawings could help foster this.

I also visited Jocelynn Buckentin’s website to search for some ideas that I could use with my English classes. She presents a lot of great ideas on ways to use Google Drawings in the classroom. For example, she suggests using the application to mark up images to show students the process for something. This would be great when I’m trying to teach my students how to use a new tool.

From this page, I was also given the brilliant idea of using Google Drawings as an alternative to ThingLink. While I love ThingLink, I don’t love that you have to pay for

Flower Stamen

GoogLink Created By: Eric Curts

the premium version and I think using Google Drawings would deliver the same effect but still be familiar to students and not a brand new “instruction” of another digital tool.  

I tried the GoogLink by Eric Curts that shows the parts of the flower. It was clear, organized, and still had the pieces a ThingLink would have. We have used ThingLink in the past for my Literature Through Film but I am going to try Google Drawings next year.



Thing 13: Augmented & Virtual Reality

Okay…so I know I went backward but I had to fit this tool in since AR and VR are literally everywhere these days. This post is going to focus on Virtual Reality because I feel that is most transferable to my content areas (so far). To get started in virtual reality, I looked at Google Expeditions.

Let me first just say I love that Google doesn’t charge for every application. I also love that there are so many options for classrooms to experience an expedition from smartphones, tablets, and VR viewers. Google has also been kind enough to provide a Google Sheet that lists all of their expeditions with a summary, content area, and grade level(s).

It was easy to download to my phone and even easier to navigate. I appreciate that students can join the expedition and explore the location themselves or be guided by the teacher or another student. I chose the expedition for Machu Pichu and loved that I could see key features of the area including its architecture and agriculture.

This gave me a lot to think about in terms of how I could use this in my classroom. Since I teach ELA and Spanish, the idea of getting students on virtual field trips is really appealing. Just considering Spanish alone, expeditions in VR will give my students such a better sense of a place and its significance to Latin American culture than a simple photo can. I don’t just need to use a pre-made expedition either. I can create one or my students can complete research and create a learning experience for their classmates. If I were teaching about Shakespeare, students could attend an expedition about the Globe Theater to help build a foundation and understanding of how Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed. The opportunities here are truly endless.

Thing 18: Student Assessment & Feedback Tools

Since my students and I spend 95% or more using technology, ensuring that my students can demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways is important. It’s also crucial that I can use the collected data to reflect on my own teaching and make changes to upcoming lessons to ensure my students are meeting their learning targets.

For this task, I practiced with a couple of different assessment tools. For the beginning of this workshop and many of the other PDs I have completed this year I have used Padlet. I Padlet Post enjoy this tool because everyone can see the responses and users have the ability to add images, comments, upload files, and even add videos to their posts. I think this is a great assessment tool to use an exit ticket or for a bell work because it is supposed to be quick and easy. Also, Padlet is formatted in a way that is easily viewable and can be projected on a screen for the entire class to see.

Google Apps for teachers have become a daily necessity for my students and I. Since we have our own LMS system, we don’t typically use Google Classroom. However, we do use almost every other app from Google for every course taught at the Virtual Academy. One tool I chose to explore more for formative assessment was Google Forms.

For my initial credit course, Literature through Film, I created the following exit ticket to assess students’ understanding of our study of archetypes. To see a copy of my Google Form, please click here. I think Google Forms is a great option for exit tickets because it gathers the data into a Google Sheet. I can see student responses and sort, filter, and look for patterns in student understanding. The class can also look at this information to review any misconceptions or to consider character archetypes we may not have thought about for specific characters. This year in particular, a lot of students tried to argue that Mildred was an “innocent.” If you’ve studied archetypes and read Fahrenheit 451, you might think that Mildred falls into the archetype of the “regular person” far better than an “innocent.” This was something that we spoke about in class and students had to defend with textual evidence and analysis. As a teacher, it’s most important that students can prove a point with evidence even if I may not agree with it. During the review of this exit ticket, it was hard for students to truly advocate for Mildred as an “innocent” with a significant amount of textual evidence.

Exit Ticket

Exit Ticket for Lesson 6.08 in Literature through Film Course




Thing 12: Final Reflection

What a year it has been. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these ten months fly by. We have fifteen days of instruction left before final exams and my students are in their final push to complete their courses. On a personal level, participating in this Cool Tools PD has been eye-opening, a little bit terrifying, and encouraged so much planning for the Summer.

I feel that I am on a good path to implementing what I learned this year and hope to learn a little more next year. Having a Twitter account and Facebook login for work has really helped to build a greater sense of community for our staff and students. It’s been great to applaud student achievement and help everyone stay connected even though we don’t get to see each other that often. This is something I hope to continue and expand on throughout the next few months.

I plan to create a class blog for my English classes that will give tips and suggestions to help students for each lesson and assignment. This blog will be home to buncees, flipgrids, curated resources, and teaching scaffolds. I hope that once created and uploaded, these resources will help fill in any missing gaps from the course and provide the additional supports my students sometimes need.

This PD has also encouraged me to refine our Independent Reading Module for English I and II. Right now, students complete journal prompts, a visual presentation, a book talk, and a written analysis of their book. I would like to give students the option to use some of the digital tools from this PD to demonstrate their understanding of the book. It would be wonderful for students to create a podcast or record their book talk so that it can be shared with students across the District, which might spark a greater interest in reading or discussion about a shared reading experience.

I love online learning, but this course was difficult at times because I work best with deadlines. Earlier in the year, a coworker and I came up with due dates for our assignments, but without a hard deadline, I didn’t stick to them. It was also a little overwhelming at times because there is so much wonderful and useful content in this PD. Digital tools are constantly evolving and it feels like as soon as you “catch” up, you’re already ten steps behind again. Since this was my first time participating, I wanted to stick to the first ten tools (I will have to revisit tool ten at a later date). In a way, this was a good thing because I was able to expand my knowledge and understanding on topics like presentation tools and blogging.

Overall, this has been a wonderful experience and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Thing 9: Databases and Search Tools

I spent much of my college and post-graduate work learning how to use databases and search tools. As a dual major in English and Spanish, gathering sources and writing essays was a weekly (and sometimes daily) task. On a professional level, I often use the ACSD, NCTE, and ACTFL databases for up-to-date pedagogy and curriculum ideas. I’m also a New York Public Library card holder and have access to a wide variety of research tools. But when it comes to the classroom, I usually have my students use our good friend Google.

As I began to browse through the databases listed on the Cool Tools for Schools Blog, I realized how many great options I have to use with my students. I was most fascinated by InstaGrok and Carrot Search because of their visual layouts. As much as I love Google, these two sites present information in completely new and different ways.

To experiment, I used the same search term for both sites and chose to search metaphor. I found both sites to be user-friendly and databases that would appeal to my visual learners. When using InstaGrok I receive a definition and had the option to see key facts, websites, videos, images, concepts, and even take notes. The huge plus? I could share my grok across a variety of platforms including Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook!!! I also appreciate that students have to do a little bit of “digging” to find the


Grok result for metaphor.

information they need when using InstaGrok by clicking on different words and tabs. How often do students, or we as adults, go to the first few links we find on Google and end our search? Pretty often, at least for me.


At first glance, Carrot Search is very similar to Google; you type in your query and receive a list of results with a link and a small blurb. When you look closer, you can sort your results by folders, circles, or a FoamTree. Then, your sorting feature pulls of the results based on the link you click!



Carrot Search for metaphor with FoamTree sort.



These two databases are definitely new tools I would like to share with my students. However, rather than just list them along with databases they are familiar with, I would like students to learn how to use them with specific assignments. This would most likely be in our first module (for all English courses). This way, students will have guidelines and supports to get the most out of each and determine which database works best for them academically.

Thing 8: Screencasting and Screen Sharing

One of the pitfalls of teaching in a virtual setting is not seeing your students every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, and I constantly tell my coworkers that this is the best teaching experience I’ve ever had. However, I’m one of those people that want to be everywhere and do everything at the same time, especially when it comes to teaching. So what do you do when you can’t physically be in the same building with your students every day? You make it work.

Over the past two years, VAR staff and I have used every possible resource we could find (that was free) to help us communicate with our kids and each other. When it comes down to a phone call, a text, or daily emails we are on point. It gets a little trickier when we need to talk directly with students. That’s where screen sharing comes in.

The Rochester City School District serves almost 30,000 students each year and approximately 11,500 of those students are in high school. When you consider that in combination with the technology our students have access to (i.e. PCs with or without webcams, Chromebooks) some things work for some schools and some don’t.

My biggest struggle this year has been getting to my students on a weekly basis. In my department, I pull double-duty as an English and Spanish teacher (and did I mention I am the only Spanish teacher?) and am virtually scheduled at every building we provide credit recovery to. It keeps me busy, but I do feel bad that students don’t see me as often as they want. The solution to this was It was free and was supposed to bypass the red tape from Google Hangouts, which students cannot access with their accounts.   When communicating with co-workers or vendors, it’s worked great. But we still found red tape, lots of red tape.

Not every computer lab had computer monitors with webcams, which meant we needed webcams to be ordered; we also needed headphones with mics. Through trial and error, we determined that students could save an application like to their desktop and use it, but students on chromebooks had to get access from the IT Department at Central Office (essentially unblocking the app or extension).

This wasn’t as big of a problem for our English courses because most of our staff were already familiar with the content and how to navigate them. This year, students recovering a Spanish I credit had a course from a different vendor and the navigation was completely different. While we recorded videos and made handouts to help students learn how to navigate this it would have been so much easier to show them either in person or through screen sharing.

I was hopeful that I would find a solution and explored ScreenLeap and ScreenLeap worked on a student account with a chromebook, which was a huge success. It took just a few moments to set up and was easy to use. However, the lack of audio conferencing really negated the ease of use and at $15 a month for premium features, it’s not a great deal. When we tried, we came up against the same system blocks, which was unfortunate because it was easy to use and I loved the chat feature. I also used the application on my iPhone and loved that I could take over with a mouse on my screen or type. The only negative was the price point.

Screen sharing is one of the things I plan to tackle this summer so that students have an effective, cost-efficient way of communicating with their meaningful contact teachers. It would benefit the entire department to be able to chat with students from a remote location and show them our screens so that they can visually see, rather than just getting directions by email or phone.


Thing 7: Audio Tools

So many of my students find speaking about a topic easier than writing about it. Before a project or a larger writing piece, I try to get my students to “talk it out.” I find that they understand the assignments better, include more evidence, and go into the assignment feeling confident. So I was excited to come across some audio tools that would help students demonstrate their understanding in new ways.

Since our courses are digital, we use a lot of the Google Apps Suite. I have searched for speech to text extensions in the past but did know I could get speech to text directly in a google doc using Voice Typing until today. I still need to test this with a student account but I am hopeful that our students in need of a tool like this will be able to use it. Google Docs Voice was very easy to use and picked up my speech quickly.

Google Voice

Google Voice Typing in Google Docs

I also experimented with FlipGrid and know this is a tool I want to use next year! In the VAR, students are placed in a course section by school. So technically, I could have anywhere from three to seventy students speaking on a discussion board that are in the same building but don’t ever work together on their course in person. FlipGrid would be great to allow students to hear and respond to their peers’ opinions.

It took me several tries to record my post before I could upload it, and even then, it wasn’t perfect. I would definitely have guidelines for students and a google doc for students to answer their question and/or jot down notes to use as a reference while recording.

FlipGrid Example


Thing 6: Curation Tools

If there was ever a cool tool lesson made especially for me, then Thing 6 was it. I am always on the hunt for resources; whether it’s interior design, recipes, toddler crafts, or education, I love finding and saving all types of media. I am a huge fan of Pinterest and use it daily. However, it wasn’t until this lesson, that I realized that I was actually curating. I had always just considered it an “informal” way of digitally scrapbooking things I wanted to come back to without making dozens of bookmarks. Now, I have a brand new perspective.

To add to that perspective is the idea that I can teach my students how to curate and why it’s important. I was struck by just how much the world our students are learning in is changing on a daily basis. Our students are living in the Digital Age, and these skills are just as important as any other content-based skills we teach in a classroom. Joyce Valenza argues, “[m]uch of what students now need is dynamic and feedy and cloud-based…We can guide students through the process of setting up parking lots for the development of archiving the inquiry process…” (22). Most of my teaching emanates from student interests and connections. For example, when I teach Romeo & Juliet, I often work to help students make connections between a Shakespearean tragedy and their own coming of age story. I always begin my unit by determining what learning goals I want my students to be able to achieve by the end. However, it is their classroom discussion, reflections, and guidance that gives meaning to our work in the classroom.

My teaching has shifted drastically in the past two years because of the nature of my work. My students do not see me every day and at times, they can become frustrated taking a course somewhat independently and completely digitized. The discussion of curating in the classroom also helps to reinforce what I consider to be the most important part of research: finding and evaluating sources. For our English I and II OCR courses, students have to complete a research module. This would be the place to teach my students how and why to curate.

For this lesson, I decided to focus on curating from the education side and explored the Civil Rights Movement (covered in English I, Module 3) and used BlendSpace. It was very user-friendly and it was easy to find videos, images, and sites without having to open other tabs (always a plus). I also really appreciate the quiz option in this tool. I think I would definitely use this for assignments to help students build background knowledge on a topic, but I wouldn’t have them personally curate with this tool.

CRM - TES image

My project at the beginning.






Works Cited:

Kasman Valenza, Joyce. “Curation.” School Library Monthly September-October 29.1

(2012): 20-23. Print.