Connecting in the Classroom with Google Hangouts and Skype

See how two teachers at McCord Junior High are using digital technology to connect their students to the world outside.

Each Chromebook in the classroom is a window. Teachers and students can use those windows to look into art galleries around the world, observe animals in the wild and in the zoo in real time, and even walk along the plaza outside the Taj Mahal. But, more importantly, those windows can connect us with each other. Technologies that take advantage of Internet connectivity have cropped up in recent years to become household names, with Skype and FaceTime leading the pack. These apps allow us to talk with each other without the separation of audio-only discussion. We can see each other, in pairs or in groups, and react to body language, facial expression, and more.

In Sylvania Schools, teachers are beginning to take advantage of this technology through Skype and Hangouts, Google’s video communication platform. Packaged with everything else in our Google accounts, Hangouts is easily accessible and simple to set up. What these programs are doing in our classrooms is impressive.

Take the example of Kate Strausbaugh, McCord GATE teacher, and her eighth grade class. Students had read Joelle Charbonneau’s dystopian novel The Testing, and Kate wanted them to connect with the literature as an individually created work on a more intimate level. So, she contacted Charbonneau and asked if the author would be willing to talk to her students about the creative process involved in writing a novel. Charbonneau, who enjoys meeting and talking with her young adults fans, readily agreed. All that was left was set up.

This is where Skype came in. Kate set up her account in Skype and requested to be friends with Charbonneau. They scheduled a time, and Kate arranged for all of her eighth grade students to gather in class for the discussion, meaning that some were excused from other classes. Kate needed to make sure everyone could see and hear each other, so she secured a webcam, microphone, and speakers to enable the Smartboard to feature Charbonneau. Students would see her on the Smartboard and she would see them as a group.

At the same time Kate and I were setting up and testing the connection, she sent a form to her students to solicit questions in advance. She received over one hundred questions, from “How are you today?” to “What was your hardest scene to write in The Testing?” to “If you could tell your younger self anything when you started writing, what would it be?” The class was set and ready.

Kate’s GATE classes speak to Joelle Charbonneau through Skype.

On the day of the discussion, Kate called Charbonneau through Skype, just as simply as one would make a phone call. The author picked up, framed by a Christmas tree and decked out in red. The cheer of the scene was matched by her exuberant and genuine nature, which made each student smile. The rest of the class period was spent in comfortable and enlightening conversation as Charbonneau told the story of her development as an author and answered the students’ questions. Through that conversation, she explored the challenges she faced with early rejection, noting that she “got really good at it.” She made the students laugh when in describing her first novel she noted, “I wanted to make people cry, but the only thing that people would cry about was all the hours they wasted by reading this book.”


The activity succeeded beautifully, and in doing so, the technology disappeared. Students, teacher, and author soon forgot about the Internet-based technology connecting them and immersed themselves in the connection, an opportunity for students to explore literature in a manner rarely done in classrooms.

Just as rare was the success accomplished through Google Hangouts in Marla Pawlowicz’s sixth grade English classroom, also at McCord. One of Marla’s students, Brenden Behan, was staying home while undergoing chemotherapy, so he was looking at weeks of being separated from his class. Before leaving, he had done the work for a Great Americans research project and presentation. Unfortunately, his absence would prevent him from presenting the work, and he very much wanted to present his work.

Marla thought that a solution must exist to Brenden’s problem, so she asked for help with a distance connection. Just like Kate, she worked with me on gathering hardware necessary to turn her classroom desktop into a audio/video connection, and we tested the connection with Brenden in advance. The process was simple: Marla logged into Google Hangouts through her school account and invited Brenden to a hangout session through his account. Brenden accepted and the connection was made. He could see and hear us, and we could do the same. In fact, with the connecting computer being the Smartboard computer, Brenden’s image was larger than life on the big screen in front.

Two days later, that larger than life image greeted students in second period. Brenden’s peers were overjoyed to see their friend back “in” class; each one waved and said hello. After the happy greeting, the class got to work. Brenden shared his screen with Marla, which meant that the Smartboard displayed what he was seeing on his Chromebook at home. In that way, he was able to display his Google Slides presentation, advance through the slides, and speak his part. The students in the class watched the presentation in virtually the same way they would have had Brenden presented in person. At the end, they applauded with quite a bit more vigor than a standard presentation would have earned. Brenden’s pride was obvious.

Sixth grade students watch Brenden’s presentation on the Smartboard as he delivers it from home through a Chromebook.

And that may have been the end of the story, but Brenden had one more surprise in store. When asked whether he wanted to keep the connection open to participate in the class, he readily agreed. He was able to hang out for the rest of that period and he has continued to do so for most class periods since. Marla and Brenden’s peers have come to see Brenden’s distance connection as commonplace now, and they love that they miss their friend just a little bit less.

Two stories at McCord Junior High School, two successes for simple digital technology connecting students to others. As Marla notes, “This is truly an exceptional (and easy to use) educational tool that is easy to use in any classroom!” As these tools become more familiar and comfortable in our classrooms, they disappear and the windows they open connect our students to a world that has become increasingly smaller.

Teacher Showcase: Island Web Showcases with Claudia Fischer

Check out how students are beginning their exploration of the new Google Sites in French!

Anyone who knows anything knows that a world language program does not simply acquaint its students with an unfamiliar language. The teachers of Spanish, German, French, and Chinese in Sylvania Schools take their students on virtual (and sometimes actual) explorations of world cultures, histories, and geographies. They help students feel what it’s like to roam the countryside of Castilla-Leon or visit the waterfall at Saut d’Eau. That dimension makes world language education truly rich. But, the ever-apparent fact that we live in Northwest Ohio, with limited opportunities to visit these faraway countrysides provides world language teachers with a recurring challenge. How can they bring their students to those distant regions of the world without actually going there?

Of course, technology has been providing answers to this question for generations, and recent developments in Internet technology have brought a variety of opportunities to world language teachers. From Google initiatives like StreetView Treks and Cardboard to simple video conferencing tools like Hangouts and Skype to interactive websites, new or improved tools exist to make the world a little smaller and acquaint Sylvania students with their cousins in distant lands.

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Claudia Fischer, Northview French teacher, is using some of those simple tools to help her students explore the geography of French-speaking nations. Claudia has taken the newly-revamped Google Sites and guided her students through the creation of their own showcase websites for the island communities of Haiti, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, and Guadeloupe. On the websites, students posted images, videos, and descriptions of geographical and cultural characteristics of their chosen island nation, but the sites provided expanded opportunities as well. Students used pages in their sites to demonstrate their grasp of vocabulary and reflexive verbs. Students received a grading rubric and explored a model example site produced by Claudia. Through in and out of class work, they developed the sites and shared them for fellow students to peer review.

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Last year, Claudia’s students created paper brochures to explore their chosen island, but Claudia notes that “You can add so much more to show what you have learned than in a brochure.” The sites created by her students represent a small step in terms of web design, but they have jumped miles ahead of the paper brochure stage. Many of Claudia’s students had never built a website before, and even more had not yet experimented with the new Google Sites. Now, with this initial experience, students are ready to continue in multimedia web design, allowing them to explore their world in ways that paper never could offer.

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The development of Google Sites is simple. Check out this sample site to see the possibilities, and then read the SDL Resource Introduction for more help!

Student examples



St. Barthelemy

Teacher Showcase: Edcite-formatted Exams with Katherine Jensen

Check this out to hear about Katherine Jensen, Northview math teacher, adminstering semester exams in Edcite for better AIR test prep.

PARCC and AIR tests have caused their due portion of stress and anxiety for all of us, but after years of adjustment, they’ve also led to some noticeable instructional changes in our classrooms. One such change, which Sylvania teachers are adjusting to more and more every day, is the implementation of digital tests and quizzes. Going digital allows students to become used to completing challenging work on a Chromebook. But, of course, that only really helps them prepare for AIR tests if the digital activities push past the traditional multiple-choice model of assessment. Assessments that include drag and drop items, graphing tools, sentence select interactions, and more are necessary to really prepare students for the tests. Google Forms doesn’t do the trick, and the rest of the free and premium digital landscape is pretty scant.

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An Algebra test item with the equation editor function

But, Katherine Jensen, math teacher at Northview High School, is figuring out how to solve that problem and give her students digital assessment experience. This past semester, Katherine developed her exams for her Algebra I and College Prep Math students through Edcite, the free digital assessment platform that offers nearly seventy different digital question types, many of which are explicitly aligned to AIR, PARCC, and Smarter Balanced state tests. She used three to four different question types per exam to give her students a variety of interaction with math tasks. So, this year, instead of bubbling in Scantron sheets, students were clicking mice. Instead of drawing with pencil on graph paper, they were plotting points and dragging lines on digital coordinate planes. The impact ranged from null to huge.

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An Algebra test item with the graphing tool function

On the null end, Katherine did not notice any appreciable difference in grade results. Students were demonstrating the same sorts of mastery they demonstrated on paper exams. In the middling range, Katherine was grateful to avoid fussing with Scantrons, both in organization and grading. She and her students received instant feedback on structured response items, and Katherine also had instant access to detailed and user friendly grade reports. The tests were also much simpler to modify in the case of errors or improvements; changes are instantly available to students with no worries about returning to the photocopier or announcing changes. On the huge end, students were interacting with the same digital tools they will use when facing their AIR tests in March and April, but they weren’t doing it in some detached, artificial test preparation environment. They were doing it in the course of regular instruction, a seamless approach to state test prep.

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An Algebra item requiring a written response

Katherine is excited to continue with digital assessments through Edcite, and she’s already developing more. While she admits that the learning curve for Edcite content development may seem steep, once question types are learned, creation become simple. She’s interested in learning from some minor problems with the exam (like students using the x for multiplication instead of the x for variables in the equation editor) and adding more writing activities. Whatever course her work may take, one thing’s for sure. Her students will walk into a testing room better prepared to succeed than many of their peers around the state.


Teacher Showcase: Student Video Production with Tracy Donnelly and Kristen Ireland

Our new digital playground makes student video easier than ever before. Check out how two Northview teachers are doing it!

This post is rich with links for extra help and examples. Check ‘em out!

If you want your students to explore a topic through research, fully examining the issue from a number of perspectives and addressing diverse questions, you assign a research report, right? Or maybe, a presentation? Sure, those approaches are straightforward and familiar. They’ve also become a bit outdated. The research report, as traditionally assigned, lacks multimedia components. The presentation, as traditionally executed, lacks audience engagement. Neither takes advantage of the tools available to students in our current technological landscape.

That’s why Health teacher Tracy Donnelly and Zoology teacher Kristen Ireland, both teaching at Northview High School, have opted out of the traditional approach and opted into student video production. Their students have presented research on topics within the curricula through short video documentaries that make use of interviews, narration, titles and images, clipped YouTube content, dramatic re-enactments, and more to mimic a television documentary style. That style has been developed and refined over generations, but the tools at the students’ disposal are pretty new. Students use WeVideo, a free, web-based video editor, to assemble and arrange content produced by themselves and/or captured from the Internet. They use their smartphones to stage and record interviews and dramatizations. They capture images in simple manners and rip YouTube content with more sophisticated approaches. They use WeVideo tools to create captions, titles, and more.

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A playful video exploring nutrition pits a student against “Darth Diabeetus” in single combat.

The result? Let’s look at Tracy Donnelly’s health class first. Here, students gather into groups to explore a chosen topic in the curriculum, such as nutrition or bullying. They conduct research to develop a written script. The script then leads them in the creation and cultivation of video content (as well as a formal research paper that Tracy requires). Some students come to the task with more experience and lead the group in the video execution; others learn fast from their guidance. All work on their smartphones and Chromebooks, discussing the content and the video development as they go. The result? Some videos are whimsical and inject their topic with a dose of humor. Many, such as this one, feature students exploring the issue in the context of their own school community. Others go for serious inspection of emotional issues. Often, students mix fact-bearing title images with dramatizations of those facts. The execution is varied, but each video showcases the play of students in a medium that they enjoy playing with.

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The beauty of the jewel anemone shines forth through the title screen.

The same goes for Kristen Ireland’s students in Zoology. This year, Kristen assigned a video project in lieu of a final exam. Make no mistake, the assignment was rigorous, but like Tracy’s Health project, students explore video development as their means of expression. Through documentaries on octopi, red scorpions, sea anemones, and more, students record voice-over narration, create titles, edit video, and insert images to answer the research questions asked in the assignment. Each video is an effort to address each requirement of the grading rubric and demonstrate the ability to engage in scientific discourse on animals.

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Interviews with peers exhibit the student producers’ exploration of their immediate community.

Students have been recording videos to satisfy class project requirements since video cameras became inexpensive enough for schools to buy. So, in a sense, nothing is new here. And, when examining these videos, you may see that students are a bit rough in their video production skills. But step back a check this out in perspective. Now, each student has access to video camera technology at virtually every moment, and all of the footage from that equipment is incredibly portable and flexible. Now, a library of unimaginable hours of video content lie at students fingertips, ready for cutting and integration. Now, cloud technology enables portable collaboration and presentation. None of those current qualities was true even five years ago in our schools. As teachers begin to understand these facts and encourage their students to play with the possibilities, new media of expression will emerge to complement traditional approaches to assessment. As students increasingly face these challenges, their ability to communicate with the semantics and syntax of video will blossom. It’s a colorful, dynamic world of sound and vision. And it’s just ahead.

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Captions merge with audio to express researched information.

Teacher Showcase: Interactive Video Instruction with Anna Drake-Kotz

Leave 20th century TV behind with Anna Drake-Kotz and Edpuzzle interactive video instruction!

We may have grown up on television, but our students are growing up on YouTube. And while that may seem a difference with little significance, it’s not. The video content on YouTube is more diverse, portable, and functional than television broadcast. It often comes in short chunks, and those chunks serve a specific user purpose. Search and recommendations serve content based on viewer characteristics much more responsively than television. YouTube is truly television for a different age, and as we grew up expecting audio-visual stimulation in our world, our student expect that and so much more.

Enter Arbor Hills teacher Anna Drake-Kotz. Anna teaches sixth grade science, and she has been a strong user and advocate of interactive video instruction through the platform of Edpuzzle. You may have attended her professional development session in October of 2016, and if you did, you’ll be familiar with the lesson she’s running on this late start Wednesday in December. On this day, Anna’s students are continuing their study of matter, with particular attention to pure substances, mixtures, and their qualities. But, rather than lecturing or reading from a textbook, the students are learning the concepts through interactive videos Anna has created in Edpuzzle.

Anna’s sixth grade learning targets

Here’s how it goes: Anna finds instructional video content that she likes. Today, she is using short videos from Crash Course Kids. She uploads those videos to Edpuzzle, which enables her to create questions embedded in the video themselves. Then, she shares those videos with her students through Google Classroom. The students log in and watch the video. At planned points of the video, the playback stops and Anna’s question appears. The student must answer before moving on. Results from these quiz questions flow directly to Anna’s teacher dashboard in Edpuzzle, where she can see results, reset videos for students, and plan for further instruction.

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The Edpuzzle dashboard here shows assigned videos and their progress in completion by students.

But why do this instead of a traditional lecture and discussion? After all, those traditional approaches, with the right teacher, can be dynamic, engaging performances that capture students’ attention. But, the approach Anna is developing here will not only meet her students in a learning mode with which they feel comfortable, but will also fuel further instructional change. Anna could assign the videos for homework to create a flipped classroom approach. Instead of assigning students traditional text reading at home, an Edpuzzle video could be assigned. Students could then report to class ready to explore the concepts actively, and Anna could use the results of the Edpuzzle quizzes to modify her instruction. Moving direct instruction to this mode offers other benefits as well. Absent or homebound students would not miss out on direct instruction. Also, all students are required to engage themselves with active thinking during the instruction. Interactive quizzes and the Internet technology that serves them provide such clear and flexible benefits that they should be considered vital tools in any modern teacher’s tool box.

Especially when the resource is so simple to use for both the teacher and the students. Edpuzzle integrates with Google Classroom, so classes can be created through importing from Classroom and videos can be posted directly back to the Classroom. Teachers can search for publicly shared videos on Edpuzzle, curating material rather than creating it. Videos can be created through sourcing YouTube content, which is vast and valuable. Teachers can customize content as well, even including their own voice over (as Anna once did to clarify one of the video’s discussions of states of matter, a topic net broached until next chapter).

Anna guides her students through the simple Edpuzzle login process.

Today, the students are seeing the benefits. As they complete three interactive videos of approximately three minutes each, they work at their own pace, sometimes disappearing silently into the work, at other times collaborating with peers. All the while, Anna floats around the room, helping students as needed and monitoring completion. The dashboard fills the Smartboard in the front of the classroom, so Anna can monitor progress at a glance. This instruction finishes quickly, which is perfect for the shortened period today, but it leaves students ready for the applied lab practice with chemical reactions scheduled for next week.

The work Anna is doing here today may seem simple, but its impact is huge. Developing interactive video content like this gives students more control over resources for learning while maintaining Anna’s guidance. In the YouTube age, it just makes sense.

Linked Resources

Anna’s PD Session Page from the Sylvania October Inservice


Edpuzzle YouTube Channel

Also, search for Anna’s videos on Edpuzzle

Teacher Showcase: Mastering Fluency with Tim Nottke

To support his students’ reading fluency, McCord teacher Tim Nottke has embraced Fluency Tutor, an amazing digital solution. Check out his story!

In a quiet McCord room where the harsh florescent lights have been filtered to a calmer blue, seventh grade student Tyler sits and introduces himself to Anne Frank. He does so by reading an informational text passage about the historic girl and her struggle, but meeting her is only incidental to the real task on Tyler’s agenda: reading fluency. Tyler is enrolled in an essentials English class where we works on developing his reading fluency. As he reads, he reads the Anne Frank passage aloud to his Chromebook through a program called Fluency Tutor. All of that might sound a bit straightforward, but Tyler’s teacher, Tim Nottke, describes the digital process as a “night and day” difference between his current reading instruction and previous approaches.

Mr. Nottke opens class with instructions for both whole-class and individual work. One of those individual tasks is Fluency Tutor recording, for which students need little to no direction.

“Before, I would have to take a kid back and listen to him read. I would be able to get about one done per class period, and it took away instructional time.” Now, the game is totally different. The student accesses Google Classroom, where they click on the reading passage link. This opens Fluency Tutor and the passage the student is assigned to read. The student clicks “record,” reads, and clicks “stop.” That recording immediately appears on Tim’s teacher dashboard (in fact, a notification window even appears to him if he’s logged into Chrome-he can see the instant a student is finished, even if that student is working in another room).

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The dashboard is where some powerful tools lie at Tim’s command. At a glance, he sees data about classes overall, such as their total reading time and average Lexile proficiency. A single click brings him to his student list, where he can see individual student data. The most important data there is the WCPM, “words correct per minute,” and he can see graphs for progress on that score.

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Some of that data is generated automatically by Fluency Tutor, but the rest is generated by Tim’s review. Take Tyler’s recording, for instance. Tim will listen to it while looking at the text and mark each word that Tyler misses, indicating the type of problem Tyler demonstrated with the word through a simple pop-up menu that appears when Tim clicks on the word. Once Tim has assessed the entire recording, Fluency Tutor compares the WCPM to the simple WPM, or “words per minute.” Tim can even add simple evaluative statements to the recording, such as descriptions of the pacing or enunciation. All of the statements are pre-generated and require no extra typing, just simple clicks to select. Within minutes, Tyler’s profile is richer with evaluative data, which will help Tim build IEP, keep parents informed, re-evaluate, and make other instructional decisions regarding learning. That control of data and ease of assessment has convinced Tim that this approach is light years better than the traditional. He’ll never go back.


And Tyler likes it. He notes that this method is easier and faster than previous approaches to verbal assessment. I note that his ability to separate himself into a calm environment, without the pressure of a live observer seems to put Tyler at ease and allow him to perform his best. It’s a quality of performance that Tim will have easy access to for the end goal: helping Tyler become the reader we all know he can be.

Note: Fluency Tutor is available for a small fee per teacher per year.

Teacher Showcase: Talking to a Thesaurus with Holly Welsch and Diane Long

At McCord Junior High School, Holly Welsch and Diane Long bring Amazon’s Echo into the classroom for word study.

Teachers Holly Welsch and Diane Long have built a strong co-teaching bond over years of teaching English at McCord Junior High School, but today, their relationship seems to have broken down. The women are insulting each other in front of their students, with Holly calling Diane a “fossil” and Diane shooting back with “antique.” They point at each other and turn their backs in disgust. Of course, the students barely notice. They get the joke. Holly and Diane are merely having some fun with synonym brainstorming.

Diane and Holly model the development of synonyms for their students.

Today’s lesson in seventh grade English focuses on a couple of dimensions of language: synonyms and connotations. Holly and Diane want their students not only to be able to substitute overused, vague words with powerful, precise ones, but they also want them to grasp the fine distinctions among those words. The little faux fight staged at the beginning of class prompted students to consider synonyms for “old” and which of those synonyms is harsher than the other.

The activity runs pretty simply: Students review a homework assignment on language. Next, Holly and Diane model the act of synonym finding and connotation ranking. Then, students gather into groups with an assigned word to do the work themselves on assigned words. Finally, they present their results to the class. It’s a straightforward lesson plan.

Holly talks with a student group.

But what’s really cool about the activity today are the little touches that make it more engaging, fun, and modern. Holly and Diane ask students to find synonyms in three ways, and none of those ways requires a paper thesaurus. First, they brainstorm among their group. Second, they consult Echo. Third, they check the online resource of

Right now you’re thinking, Wait. What’s Echo? Echo is the new voice-control device sold by Amazon. Connecting Echo to a device allows you to use that device with your voice. You can walk up to it (or near it), say “Echo,” and give your command. So, if my Echo is hooked up to my smartphone, I can ask, “Echo, what’s the weather like today?” A soothing female voice will let me know the day’s forecast. Most people are using Echo devices at home to enable voice command around the house. Diane saw a demonstration for classroom use and bought one for her room. Today, when the students need a synonym, they approach the device and ask, “Echo, what are some synonyms for ‘hot?’” Echo replies, “Here are some synonyms for ‘hot’: ‘blistering,’ ‘scorching,’ and ‘on fire.’” The students copy the words onto their worksheet.


After collecting synonyms from the three sources, students pick their top nine and add them to the original word. So, those words blistering and scorching are added to the hot list, which also includes words like boiling and thermogenic. Students then rank the words from most to least powerful and write them in order on paper towels (Yes, paper towels. This brilliant touch gives students a presentation list they can unroll.) and present them to the class.

Students copy synonyms given to them by Echo, sitting on the table to their right.

So, what’s the value here? Why bother spending money on a device like Echo and integrating it into traditional learning? Our students are preparing themselves to live and produce in a world mediated by digital technology. They will rarely (if ever) consult limited paper resources to find definitions, synonyms, antonyms, or etymologies. They’ll consult Internet-based resources. Even more, they will probably consult mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, and every major technology player, from Google to Microsoft to Apple to Amazon, is pushing hard into voice integration. Our students will talk to their phones and their cars and soon their homes. They will learn to enunciate for greater efficiency and to call up a library of command words and phrases. It’s the world of the future, but it’s happening around us right now. Holly and Diane have brought that glimpse of tomorrow into their McCord classroom today, and each student in that classroom has learned a little more than the standard lesson on language. They learned how to use the Internet as part of their living, breathing, and speaking world.

A student group consults and prepares to write words on their paper towel roll.

Teacher Showcase: Recording Visual Imagery with Heather Chiapetta

At Northview, Heather Chiapetta helps her students build comprehension of visual imagery through their own voices.

It’s Friday, and Northview just finished a homeroom-based safety drill, so the students walking into Heather Chiapetta’s fifth period Academic Strategies 2 class are understandably riled up. They spread around the room, talk cheerfully and randomly (including several questions about whether I am a sub or a student teacher), and jump in and out of their cell phones. The bell rings, and Heather focuses them on a bellringer revision activity: “Edit the sentence: ‘THe Homeroom activity he was fuun?’” After their excited discussion of the egregious errors in the sentence, Heather gets to the real work of the day: using verbal skills to demonstrate comprehension of imagery in literature, a task that will merge SIM strategy with Chromebook technology.

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Heather opens with activity instructions.

Heather is helping her students develop an understanding of descriptive writing and author’s purpose through a straightforward technique: She finds a text and marks it every so often with a dot that indicates a stopping point. The student reads to that point and stops. Then, he or she discusses the descriptive imagery presented in the text and adds to it with their own visualization. So, for instance, if an author just wrote “The sun rose over the mountains,” the student might comment on what color that turned the mountains and sky, or what the clouds looked like, or the temperature of the air. The point is for students to engage with the text through their own creativity, not merely to expose their eyes to the words.

Heather is running the activity with the support of a Chromebook app called MicNote, a simple tool that records a student’s voice while allowing them to take notes on an associated document. The students speak directly into their Chromebook microphone, producing a file easily shareable with Heather through Google Drive. Heather then responds to the recording with an analytical grading rubric.

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Students work individually and collaboratively.

Today, the students each grab their text, an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pull a Chromebook from the cart, and find a comfortable place to record. This is not the first time Heather has run the activity, and students need little prompting on the work. In fact, the students set up for their work amazingly well, shuffling off the post-homeroom frenzy. Silence descends as someone waits for the first student to begin recording, but as soon as that student does, the rest follow suit.

Student Recording


The recording seems timid, a sharp contrast to the students’ earlier gregariousness, but no student stops. No student fails to complete the activity. And, even more than that, no student needs serious support in understanding the activity. The technology does not take center stage. Heather’s SIM strategy holds that position as each student considers what they wish to add to Rowling’s descriptions.

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Several students angle the Chromebook microphone to themselves for closer reading.

As I’ve discussed in previous teacher showcases, employers have reported a need for better verbal skills in their employees. Heather is seeing that and acting on it. Her classroom is becoming a space where students that love to use their voices for socialization and play use them for critical reflection. But, instead of the intimidating environment of whole class discussion or student presentations, the MicNote work here allows and requires each student to find their own voice and make it work.