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Google Sites for Interactive Class Content: Jennifer Levy

Jenni2 Reviewer: Jennifer Levy

Position: Social Studies Teacher

School / District: New Milford High School, New Milford, NJ

Number of Students in District/School: 3,300

Product: Google Sites, COURSEsites.com by Blackboard



To create an interactive website that provides course content, contact information, homework, class newsletters, syllabi, permission slips, classroom rules, SAT and college admissions information, and allows students to submit work directly to me.


Students are able to access the website easily, parents are able to check student progress, and my supervisor can view what I am doing in class both daily and monthly.

Learning Curve:

Google sites, along with Google docs and Google forms from Google, are very easy to use. You need to allocate some time to create your website, but you can always save it and come right back to it where you left off. You do not need to know anything about programming to do this. I have been able to edit and set it up without issue.

How We Use It:

Students go onto the course website during class to fill in online questionnaires, take quizzes or tests, or finish up non-essay related homework. At the beginning of the year, students submit their contact information and a little about themselves to the website.

Using Google forms along with the website has enabled students to take tests and polls. I have even used it successful to launch mock APs, SATs, and HSPA format exams. It does best with multiple choice or short response questions. I can program it easily to create spreadsheets and target individual student and class weaknesses. Your student answers in a Google spreadsheet  is similar to working in an excel document, but in my opinion it’s better, because you don’t need Windows Office software.

What's Ahead?:

Goals for the future...

Using my website to have students submit their essay-style homework to a central database (like a cloud) without having students email me, as well as using the new Blackboard COURSEsites.com to help accomplish this.

Easy Back Up: Nick Johnson

NickJohnson Name: Nick Johnson

Title:  High School English Teacher

School: Alexander Hamilton High School, Los Angeles

Product: Mozy


Like everyone I have lost files that should have been backed up. I have done a lot of writing over the years and before I had Mozy I lost 83 pages of a piece I had been working on for months. I never wanted that to happen again. I started using Mozy at home and school at the same time. I set Mozy for auto- backups every day. A few years ago I had a big crash over the summer. All my lesson plans and every file since I started teaching in 1999 was on the computer, but with Mozy I was able to get it all back.  Also, if I change or throw away a version and then realize I want an older version- I can check Mozy to see if that version was still there and it was easy to go and find that.

Learning Curve:

It was really easy to get started. It’s been a while since I first set it up, but even in its early stages Mozy had a windows format where files came out of folders to find things easily. If I changed or threw away a version and I realized I wanted an older version- I could check Mozy to see if that version was still there and it was easy to go and find that. Just deciding what should be backed up was really simple to do. I set it all up in 15 minutes.

How I Use It:

I use Mozy to back-up all my lesson plans for the semester. For example, I do a poetry unit that has hundreds of documents, including poems and audio files linked to word documents so students can read poems and hear the poetry out loud. I also store student work- past and present. Most of our students are inner city kids who don’t have a printer at home- they bring work in and store it on my computer so I have a folder of their work so their work is always backed up. 

What’s ahead?:

I haven’t used Mozy’s new mobile app seriously yet but that’s something I’d use more for personal use. Right now I can’t think of a scenario where I would need to look up a lesson plan when I wasn’t at home or school. But the mobile app is easy to use- it worked right away and it was easy to use and find files right away.

I want Mozy to take up as little of my life as possible- which is really how it is most useful to me. It’s just in the background of my consciousness. I just want to know all my files are safe no matter what.

Reviewers Notes:

Having a backup system in place is so important because computers can be stolen and they can break down. The files on your computer are more valuable than the computer itself- having them only on your computer is crazy. Teachers really don’t write things down these days now so it’s just on the machines and they need to have their work safe. I have Mozy set for auto backups every day, which makes it so easy to save and protect my files.

SMART Goals: Principal Jessica Johnson

JjReviewer: Jessica Johnson Smart

Position: Principal

District/School: Dodgeland School District/Dodgeland Elementary, WI

Number of Students in District/School: 820/375

Products : SMART Board 680, SMART Slate WS200Scholastic's READ 180


Our school district goals are to increase student engagement and increase student learning. SMART Boards are a classroom tool that helps us achieve both goals. 


3 years ago, our first SMART Board was  on a stand and portable so all teachers could try it. At first only a couple had interest, but it didn’t take long for several staff to ask for more to be ordered. We purchased 6 additional SMART Boards and placed them in 4th/5th grade classes for teacher collaboration.  We purchased more with ARRA Stimulus funds. Teachers love having a SMART Board with the height adjustable wall mount .

Learning Curve:

Training is a must. I would highly recommend training teachers as in-house trainers. One of our teachers completed the official SMART training, so she is our resident expert. Experienced SMART Board teachers offer differentiated staff development: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Teachers share ideas at our “Tech Tuesday” sessions.
Scholastic Read 180
How We Use It:

There is really an endless use to the SMART Board: PowerPoint presentations, Google Earth/interactive  maps, virtual field trips, Skype chats with others around the world, modeling how to edit/revise, capture class notes, digital story telling, interactive game show activities for review, interactive activities throughout lessons, morning procedures (lunch count/attendance), literacy/centers/Scholastic Read 180, and even recorded lessons for substitutes.

What’s Ahead?:

We have purchased additional SMART Boards for the remainder of our classrooms and will be training staff at our in-service. In the future we would like to add document cameras to our classrooms.

Students Pass the Tablet

  Mrs. Arias in action with her TABLET!
Lisa Arias

Position: Tech Leader/Math Teacher

School / District: Learning Gate Community School, Hillsborough County. Fla.

Number of Students in District/School: 191,000/550

Product: ELMO CRA-1 Wireless Tablet/Slate


The goal was to introduce Project-Based Learning by creating and recording math tutorials using the ELMO TABLET. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation generously helped fund the project.


Administrators said students gained technology confidence in project-based learning experiences. Students liked using the tablet from their seats and showing everyone how they solved problems, and teachers liked the classroom teaching mobility.        

Learning Curve:

Right now, I can easily pledge how user friendly the ELMO TABLET is, but at first, for someone not used to using technology, it took repetition and practice to become confident. Now, the only challenge is to remember charging the Tablet battery!

ELMO Technical Support’s patience and guidance were key to my success.

How We Use It:

Because our math textbook is online and resources are in PDF or Word, we use the ELMO TABLET just like a mouse to access lessons. We then use the annotation tools to model the steps needed to solve the problems. Teachers can circulate throughout the room at the same time, so “pass the tablet” is easy for student input.

What's Ahead?:

Using the ELMO TABLET for daily instruction, as well as teacher and student-created math concept tutorials.

Assistive Technology Creates Independent Learners

Saywire GarzaReviewer: Sally Garza
Position: Upper School Technology Director
District/School: Lawrence School, Upper School, OH
Number of Students in School:  225
Products:  Saywire, Read & Write Gold by Texthelp, Kindle for PC App with Accessibility Plugin


Lawrence School serves students with learning differences, many of whom need assistive technology to read or as a prosthetic processor to make reading an easier task. Our technology goals are to offer tools that allow students to become independent learners, and collaborate and communicate outside of school for school and social purposes.


Once students and teachers are trained it is very easy to use the tools. Saywire has allowed our students, middle school students in particular, to do school work and keep in social contact with their peers in a safe environment. The school monitors within Saywire.

Learning Curve:

Most of the software is fairly intuitive to learn, requiring training for staff but not as much for students. We do about 15 minutes of technology training for each staff member each week on specific tools in Read & Write Gold and Saywire to make it easier to use.

How We Use It:

Using the Kindle App for PC with Accessibility Plugin with Read & Write Gold (assistive technology software) allows books to be read aloud by the computer for students with dyslexia and other visual processing issues. Then students post reviews of the summer reading book in Saywire, the school online learning community as well as post their projects about their books.

What’s Ahead?:

We are going to expand the Kindle App Library to all students in the Upper School. We are also continuing to use Saywire in our classrooms for class/course pages, and incorporate it into “Calamity Days” plans for online school days through Saywire for weather cancellations.

Blog Back To School: Cynthia Alaniz

CACynthia Alaniz
Blog Back to School
: 4th Grade Teacher, Team Leader
Denton Creek Elem. School, Coppell ISD, Coppell, Tx
Number of students in district/school
: 10,000/507

On the first day of school in classrooms everywhere, teachers explain procedures, calm anxious students, and create excitement for the upcoming year. We also answer many, many questions such as, Where do we line up? Do we have homework? And how do we check out books? But in my classroom students will also ask, What is a blog? 

I began my foray into classroom blogging last year, so the lessons are new for me, too. After a full school year of independent study, reading tech tips, and maintaining a weblog, I am now more familiar with blogging and the lessons I now must incorporate into my usual beginning-of-the-year list. Blogging has had a great impact on my instruction. Because I have seen its power to generate excitement among nine-year-olds, I incorporate this Web 2.0 tool daily.

My classroom blog helps me build a classroom community.  I use it to communicate with parents, and to promote literacy, develop writing skills, and enhance content knowledge.  We recap our learning of the day, making it available to students who are absent, or those who need clarification.  We respond to books, comment on topics, and share our learning. One Web tool has so many uses!

But as with any other tech tool, I must model its use.  I first teach how to access our blog from a link on my school webpage. Once I show my students how to access the blog, I have them create bookmarks to it on our iPod Touches. (With the help of a QR code posted right outside my door, the blog is accessible to any parent, staff member, or guest with a smartphone.) 

After showing students how to access, I introduce its features.  Here I use terms such as post, comment, sidebar, and blog archive. For some, this will be the first experience with a blog. I show that a post can be various lengths, can incorporate links and pictures, and may have one author or several.  Above all, a post must be interesting!

On the first day of school, we will write a post together, and I will compose in front of them, modeling my process and thinking.  (As a writing teacher, I have ulterior motives. Blogging helps me nurture voice, create excitement about composing, and offer topic choice.) As we chronicle events, procedures, and science experiments, our blog becomes our own digital notebook---one that doesn’t tear, wrinkle, or stain. I will unashamedly and unabashedly use our blog to teach revision, idea, process, and organization. 

Our blog will extend our shared physical space into a virtual one. Together, the students will write, edit, and maintain the blog as a shared, co-authored publication.   Our learning goes beyond the calendar, beyond the clock, and beyond the four walls of our classroom.

Interactive Classroom Field Trips: Dr. Chris Craft

 IN3916b 41704_892690345_8249_nReviewer:  Dr. Christopher Craft

Position:  Teacher/Tech Leader

District/School: CrossRoads Middle School

Number of Students in School: Approximately 1,000

Products: InFocus IN3916 Interactive Projector by InFocus


The goal in implementing the IN3916 Interactive Projector was to move beyond the traditional interactive whiteboard approach, which requires both teacher and student to physically touch the board to interact. We wanted to provide a flexible solution that was more compatible with learner-centered pedagogy by using a solution that was not so limited. The IN3916 makes any surface interactive, from walls to floors to tabletops. This allows our students to interact with any surface during the learning process.


Everyone that has seen the IN3916 in action adores it. Teachers comment that it’s nice not to have to be the center of classroom attention all the time. Since the 3916 allows the teacher or student to interact with content from anywhere in the room, the learning is the center of attention.

Learning Curve:

Since the 3916 does not require any drivers or calibration, installation and implementation were as simple as plugging the device in. There’s very little training required as the interaction with the board and wand is very similar to a popular video game system—so most users are familiar. And since the 3916 obtains an IP address from our network, any computer in the classroom can project through the 3916 quickly and easily—without having to connect any wires or cables.

How We Use It:

One of the most popular uses of the 3916 is for modern day cartography. With Google Earth and the IN3916, we can take virtual field trips to anywhere in the world. One day last year, I put a large piece of showerboard on the floor and aimed the 3916 and projected onto the board. We gathered around on the floor and took turns taking interactive field trips to different countries in Central and South America. And since we were so close to the content, it really made the learning come alive.

Reviewer’s Notes:

The IN3916 also has a high quality audio system built into the device. We can use the speakers when playing video content and do not need external speakers. The room-filling audio allows a class full of students to hear what is being played.

What’s Ahead?:

We are looking at a larger scale implementation and searching for new and innovative uses for the device.

Art and Tech Synergy: Corinne Takara

Corinne_TakaraReviewer: Corinne Takara   

Position: Art Education Specialist

District/School: Alum Rock Union School District/Horace Cureton Elementary School, San Jose, CA. 

Number of Students in School: 572 

Reviewer's Note:
The entire 5th Grade class of 69 students participated in the project.

Products: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Repper Pro, and VoiceThread

Reviewer’s Project Notes:

The You are Here Street Banner Project is designed to engage in exploring community identity and geometry through photography and digital pattern design. The patterns created by the students were printed as digital textiles and used as ‘furoshiki’ (Japanese eco-friendly wrapping cloths) and as textiles for public art installations. The final expression of the project for the Cureton Elementary Students will be large street banners for the Street of Alum Rock, San Jose, CA.


Through The You are Here Street Banner Project I hope the children have a strong positive experience of being active creators and curators of culture rather than passive consumers of mass culture. I also believe that it is important to engage students in art technology tools as a way to expand their computer literacy. Being exposed to the synergy of art and technology which drives Silicon Valley hopefully will excite these students on the edge of Silicon Valley to continue to pursue learning technology tools, explore art and possibly a creative career. I am also hoping that with an application process in place and banners up, students from other schools will submit student designed banners in future years. An underlying goal was to engage students in a project that really valued process, collaboration and communication in a creative forum.


Students were proud to share their knowledge of pattern design as they taught others about the radial pattern project and they learned to collaborate in creating though provoking art for their community. The school board members and the Alum Rock Education Foundation honored the project by presenting a Certificate of Appreciation at a Board meeting. The principal, Jason Sorich, was very supportive of the project and selected the fabrics to be displayed in a Visual and Performing Arts Display at the District Offices. The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs has been supportive of the project from the beginning when I contacted them in the fall of 2010. They offered a special forum for the students to present their designs at City Hall.

Learning Curve:

At the beginning of the school year, I requested that my school district install Repper Pro and allow access to VoiceThread on school computers. The tools were easy to use. Voicethread really requires headsets as once the audio responses are playing, the room can get very noisy. I had intended to have students upload and download photos they took from either Flickr or Picassa through a link on the project website, but since the District does not allow access to these sites, I used USB memory sticks to transfer images onto and off of each computer. Luckily I had the support of students who were in the Mouse Squad program. These students helped me to transfer images before and after workshop sessions. Finally, we got a site license for Repper Pro. This was necessary as only the Pro version enables high enough resolution seamless tile saving for the textile printing. Studio Ludens, the creator of RepperPro, offers free educator site licenses if you contact them via e-mail.

How We Use It:

Using VoiceThread, students peer critiqued other students pattern creations and written explanations.  Using this tool, students wrote comments or recorded their voices to share with the students of the other state. Next the Cureton Elementary students ventured out into their community to capture images using digital cameras and single use cameras. These photos were then used as source images in RepperPro software as students created digital pattern designs for their banners. In teams, students printed out their digital photos and patterns and collaged them to create 8x2 foot banners. Artist statements for the banners were written and drafted in Word for their presentation to the Alum Rock Village Business Association. They will be using a PowerPoint presentation for their banner submissions and present to the approving city board for banner design.

What’s Ahead:

For the upcoming academic year, I am in the process of designing a collaborative project, Slot Shelters, which will include Cureton Elementary, and will expand our explorations of community through pattern and photography. Slot Shelters will explore the design of slot building cards and the downloadable deck of cards will grow as more schools and students participate. There will be a Google Sketch Up online collaboration and Voicethread collaboration with students internationally.

Here is the rough draft of the Prezi which will be used to solicit grant funding to bring the project to life: http://prezi.com/wogjefkryjw-/slot-shelters/



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Best in Tech Today are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.