Using QR Codes in School

QR (Quick Response) codes are symbols that can be scanned with app-enabled smart phone cameras that can link to almost any form of digital content. I have had QR codes that point to my class website, as well as to my email, posted in my classroom for some time.

IMG_2499In order to create these I used QR code generator on At this point I haven’t used them for much else, but can definitely see how they would become increasingly useful as more and more students begin bringing devices to school that have adopted BYOD policies. Scavenger hunts, content and video links on handouts and projects, various types of enrichment…the limit is pretty much the imagination of the teacher. QR codes give schools the opportunity to use the technology that students are interested in (namely their phones and tablets) to create a more immersive and engaging learning environment.


Using Student Response Systems to Enhance Instruction and Assessment

A powerful way to use devices in the classroom is with one of the many applications that allow teachers to pose questions which students can respond to via their device. This allows for real-time collection of data which can be used for virtually any type of assessment the teacher wishes. I have found that students tend to be more engaged when responding to questions this way, and I like that it also gives me the opportunity to hear from everybody in the class rather than just the few students that regularly raise their hands. When used as a formative assessment tool I am able to adjust my lessons on the fly based on the instant results, which allows me to use class time more efficiently and ultimately results in more meaningful instruction.

I have typically used sites like Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere when I want to generate discussion or get a sense for how an entire class is thinking on a subject. Both sites allow you to create a question (or questions) which are then displayed with directions for how students can respond. Both will display live results in graphical form as students respond.

Poll Everwhere

The Poll Everywhere real-time response screen


The Mentimeter real-time response screen

There are a variety of question types to choose from, and in the case of Poll Everywhere, a variety of ways to have students respond, including a feature which allows you to push polls to a teacher created Poll Everywhere page (this requires account creation). Out of these two sites, I prefer the more streamlined presentation of Mentimeter. I have not made accounts for either Mentimeter or Poll Everywhere, so I’m not terribly familiar with the more advanced features that they offer. My use of both of these sites has been limited to getting a feel for how a whole class is thinking about a topic on either the way into or out of the classroom. For the basic services they offer, both sites are free and require no registration for teachers or students. The time it takes from conceiving a question to getting live results can be as short as one minute. All that is required is web access and a way to display the question.


When I want to drill a bit deeper and get feedback on individual students, my application of choice is Socrative. With Socrative, you create a free teacher account and then choose from two main categories of activities – either single question activities (multiple choice, true/false, short answer) or quiz-based activities. Single question activities are quick to set up and can be used in much the same manner as Mentimeter and Poll Everywhere. Quiz-based activities can be longer sets of questions that can be named and saved for later use. Regardless of the type of activity selected, each teacher is assigned a unique “room number”. Once the activity is started, students can enter the room number by either going to the Socrative website or by downloading the app on their device. Similarly, teachers can run the activity via the website on a computer, or through the app on their own mobile device or tablet. Students will see the first question pop up, and away they go responding to whatever you have set up for them.


The Socrative teacher menu

The great thing about the quiz-based activities is that students can enter their name, and once the activity is complete you can generate a spreadsheet of the results which can be viewed immediately or emailed. This allows you to see how all students in the room are progressing. When students are finished with the quiz, Socrative asks them if somebody else wants to take it. In this way, you can pair up students with other students who might not have a device so that all students can participate. Another quiz feature that my students enjoy is the “Space Race” which puts a few colored rockets on the screen, each representing a team. You can allow students to select the color team they want to join or have them randomly assigned. As they answer questions their rocket moves across the screen, first one to the other side wins. Regardless of how quizzes are used, they are saved, can be used again and again, and can be easily modified or edited. Once a library of quizzes is built up, all you have to do is log in and begin the activity.

Socrative-Space-Race-ScreenshotStudent response systems are an excellent way to engage students and collect data which give teachers valuable information on how their students are progressing. Due to the fact that the applications do all the correcting, student results are available instantaneously, which allows them to get the quick feedback that enhances their learning. At the same time the instant nature of the data allows teachers to adjust their instruction as necessary. If your district has initiated any type of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, then using a student response system application is one of the most important ways that teachers can leverage devices to enhance and improve instruction.


Creating Flipped Video Lessons Take Two – Using Google Forms

For the last month I have been piloting the use of eduCanon with some of my classes. This has allowed me to create and assign content-based videos as homework and monitor student progress. Many students found the video lessons useful, and I certainly liked being able to see which students were completing the lessons as well as when. Unfortunately, about 40% of my students experienced some type of difficulty with eduCanon. Either the video would not load properly when they tried to complete a lesson, it would get to the first question and freeze, or any one of a number of other issues would crop up. Troubleshooting this became a bit of a hassle for me, as we are not a 1:1 school, and students were trying to access eduCanon on a variety of devices and computers using a variety of browsers. I think eduCanon is a great platform when it works, and the application is still in beta, so I have high hopes that they will get the kinks ironed out.

Not wanting to give up my quest to find a way to use out-of-class video in a more engaging manner as well as be able to assess student completion and performance of the assignments, I reached out to my friendly neighborhood librarian who provided me with this list of “8 Good Web Tools to Create Video Quizzes For Your Class” via Twitter. I decided to try using a Google form, which allows for embedding of videos from YouTube. All you need is a free Google account, and then you access all the Google Docs, including forms, in your Google Drive. The screencast below, created with Screencsast-O-Matic, shows how this is done.

Once I created the form, I placed the link on my class blog and had students respond. No students reported any problems accessing the form, watching the video, or completing and submitting the form. Many students also preferred the Google form over eduCanon because of the ability to freely move forward or rewind when playing back the video in order to respond to the questions, which is not possible in eduCanon, as the video remains frozen at a predetermined point once a question is reached. Another advantage is that students do not need to make an account to access the form, but can do so by just by clicking the provided link.

One big disadvantage of Google forms is that the students do not get immediate feedback on whether or not they answered the questions correctly. In fact, Google forms does not actually have any way of indicating a correct answer when creating the form. Instead the student submissions must be graded by comparing each response to an answer key. Fortunately, there is a third-party script called Flubaroo, which can be freely installed within the response submission spreadsheet, that will do this automatically for you (see screencast below).

Another advantage of using a Google form is that you can use the response submission spreadsheet to create reports which automatically generate graphic analyses for each one of your questions. Overall I am pleased with the functionality that Google forms provides for creating video-based flipped lessons. Although there are a few minor shortcomings, these are overcome by Google’s robust platform which is extensively tested and supported.

Creating Interactive Flipped Video Lessons with eduCanon

Since the beginning of this school year I have been using my class website to post weekly assignments to be done outside of school in preparation for in-class learning. A few of the items I have included each week are links to content-specific videos intended to support textbook readings and minimize the amount of lecturing that I need to do during class, which frees up time for more engaging student-centered activities.  This strategy is the hallmark of the flipped classroom concept.  Unfortunately, there has been no way for me to know if and when students are actually accessing and watching these videos, or how much they are learning from them.  Furthermore, for those who do watch them on a regular basis, they are merely passively taking in the content rather than actively participating.

Enter eduCanon – a free site that allows teachers to take any video from YouTube, TeacherTube, or Vimeo and build “lessons” which include questions at set points throughout the video.  Up to eight unique classes can then be created, and the lessons assigned to each individual class.  Students can then create free accounts, add the class that their teacher has created specifically for them, and then complete lessons as they are assigned.  Once a student starts a lesson, they are not able to skip ahead in the video, they must watch the entire thing and only get credit for the lesson when they have completed viewing and have answered all the questions.  Students results are available for teachers to view upon completion.  For a modest yearly subscription fee ($48 right now), teachers are able to search through the public library of lessons which they can then assign as is or edit as necessary, download .csv files of student results, and access a wider range of question types to include in lessons.

Using eduCanon I will be able to assign videos and monitor my student’s progress as they complete the lessons.  The interface is sleek and user-friendly, making accounts and adding classes is simple and intuitive, and best of all the creation of the lessons does not take that much longer than it does to actually watch the video.  I intend to pilot this application in two of my classes during the second semester of this school year, and am excited about the possibilities it opens up for myself and my students.  More to come…


Not sure what to make of eduCanon?  Give it a try from the student point of view: make a free student account, click “Add Class”, search “Mr. Vigliotti”, join the “Test Class”, complete the “DNA Replication” lesson.

Can’t read it now? Put it in your Pocket!

Since us educators are always pressed for time, it is useful to have a way to store all the great content we come across when browsing the internet, Twitter, or over 300 other apps, for when we have more time (yeah right).  Pocket is an application that allows you to save web content to a list that is accessible through an app on your phone or tablet, or on the web.  One of the best things about Pocket is that once content is saved, you don’t need an internet connection to look at it later.  Once items are in Pocket, you can easily share them via Twitter, Facebook, and email.  You can also tag and favorite items for further organizational purposes.  Pocket extensions are also available for your web browser which enables you to save items and then have easy access to them later on your mobile device.  Overall, Pocket is extremely user-friendly and is sure to boost your efficiency while making more efficient use of your online teaching resources and personal learning network.  

Visually Stimulating Ways to Present Information

These days it seems like there is a new presentation creation site or app available almost every day for teachers to try out.  Whether it be comics, videos, cartoons, animations, interactive images, or the myriad of other types of media, any or all of these options have the ability to increase student engagement.

There must be a better way - ToonDooVisual media is undoubtedly a great way to present information.  Comic strips like the one above made with ToonDoo can be used to get a point across or stimulate a discussion.  They can also provide a nice comedic counterpoint to any presentation, and make great openers or closers.  Even better is that students love to make them.  ToonDoo itself offers quite a variety of options in its free version.  Different comic layouts are available and are completely customizable in tons of ways.  You can create characters in addition to the available templates, upload your own images to include in strips, and even use paint tools to further customize the panels of your strip.  Once completed, ToonDoo comics can be downloaded as image files, embedded in websites, and shared via email, Twitter, and Facebook.

It seems like infographics are all the rage these days, and I must admit, I’m a sucker for a good one myself.  Combining the attractiveness of visual images with sleek design and information, a well-made infographic beckons with a siren-like call.

“Come to me, look at me, study me, learn from me…”

Grading PolicyI used Piktochart to create the sample above.  My intent was to show students the different components of their grade as well as to explain how each component is intended to contribute to the whole.  Piktochart allows users to choose from over 100 free templates (more available with a paid upgrade) and then offers a variety of customization options within the template, as virtually all aspects can be altered to the user’s specifications.  Once completed, infographics can be downloaded as image or .pdf files, Tweeted, and shared with Facebook, Pinterest, or Google+.  The tricky thing about creating infographics is having a clear idea of what information you want to present, figuring out how to do it in a concise way, and then presenting it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.  Admittedly, this will come easier to some than others.  Infographics are powerful communication tools, and sites like Piktochart put their creation into the hands of teachers and students where they can be used for a variety of purposes.

Tired of PowerPoint?  Me too (even though I have tons and tons of them and still use the program regularly), but I have been looking for something new.  One of the problems I have with PowerPoint is the tendency to include too much information on my slides and thus my presentations get bogged down and I find myself reading slides more than discussing the topic I am presenting in an engaging way.  I love the way Prezi looks, but I spend a lot of time making presentations, but can’t seem to get the hang of making them come out really great.  Enter Haiku Deck, a sleek slide-based presentation design platform that is free, extremely easy to use, creates beautiful looking presentations, and forces you to be concise with your text.  While it doesn’t have all the intricacies of Prezi, or even PowerPoint, its beauty and ease of use lie in its simplicity.

Haiku Deck is available as an app for iPad or on the web (it’s currently in beta).  There are a few basic templates and simple slide types to choose from, and then you can customize the location of text on each slide.  Image search is built right into each slide and makes inserting high-quality pictures a breeze.  You can also upload your own images.  When your Haiku Deck is finished, it can be shared in a variety of ways, embedded, and even downloaded to work with PowerPoint.  Haiku Deck is a great tool for creating visually stunning presentations that provide a foundation on which to build your discussion of a topic.

ToonDoo, Piktochart, and Haiku Deck are just three of the literally hundreds of options available to teachers and students looking to spice up their presentation with highly engaging visuals.  Their use is really limited only by an individual’s creativity.  Although it can be overwhelming, many of these sites are very easy to sign up for and start using and the novelty-factor will help to engage students.

Phones, Collaboration, & Microscopes

A few weeks ago I came across this post on Instructables detailing an inexpensive way to turn your smartphone into a digital microscope.

I’m always looking for new ways to utilize smartphones in my classroom to enhance student learning, and as a biology teacher, this particular idea seemed like a no-brainer.  Not being the most savvy person when it comes to building things, I sent the video to one of my colleagues in the engineering department at school asking him if we could make this happen.  He thought it would be pretty easy and two days later showed up with the first prototype during one of my biology classes.

Looking at a fern leaf

Looking at a fern leaf

As we explained what the contraption was, students were of course anxious to try it out.  The spent the next twenty minutes crowed around my desk figuring out exactly how to use the microscope, looking for things to magnify, trying different phones and photo settings, taking pictures, and joyously exploring a cool new toy.  Of course, I was thinking about all the possible ways I might incorporate this into engaging learning activities.

The almighty dollar

The almighty dollar

We plan to try and make more of these microscopes, and even possibly have the engineering students work on improving the design, adding features, and decreasing the cost of production.  Reflecting, I’m amazed at how a cool and useful idea emerged on the internet, was so widely disseminated to the point that I saw it, and then how quickly it became a reality in my classroom through collaboration with a colleague.  Watching the students enthusiastically explore also reminded me how important it is to remember that while there are certainly many unbelievable and amazing ways to engage students using web tools and resources, nothing really compares to giving them a hands-on experience.

Onion root cells

A pictured of onion root cells taken with a student phone camera using the microscope and then shared via Twitter using the #mrvigs122bio tag