Self-Paced Classrooms

So, this is something I have very little experience with, but have always wanted to try. My dream class is one of those beautiful flipped classrooms where students go home and watch these well made videos, taking notes on their own time and preparing ahead of time so that they can walk into my classroom ready to go on a super amazing lab or class discussion/question and answer period filled with knowledge and ready to have an intelligent discussion while I just wander around and facilitate the whole thing. And then I realize I’ve been taking DayQuil for the last seven days because it’s cold and flu season, and I work in a germ soup pot.

I want to try flipping my classroom, but I’m planning to start on a small scale before I whip it out full scale. I teach exactly ONE AP science course. And we’re a group of five (six if you include me) embarking down our way to the test on May 1st. If we’re able to stick to schedule, we should end up with about four weeks to prepare for the test after I finish covering all the material. I thought this would be a good opportunity to try a little flipping. So my goal is to set up a sort of self-paced course that my AP students can work through at their own pace to review the material we’ve already taught, stopping at various points to have them self assess or take a practice AP exam to gauge their progress and what they need to work on. Preferably, I’d like the review material (video, pdfs, images, etc.) to remain available to the kids to go back and review as many times as they’d like before the exam in May.

So, I’ve had a couple ideas about this that I discussed with a friend over a glass of iced tea last night. And since I have little or no experience with flipping a class I’m not sure what to go with.

My first thought was to go with an iTunes U class. I’m very much an Apple device person, and everyone in my current class has an Apple device which makes this an attractive option. However, the future of this possibility is a little murky. My school works on a BYOD program, and I’m not entirely certain an iTunes U account is going to be the best option.

I looked into an Udemy account, which does offer the ability to create a free and private course like I’d want my kids to have. However, I’m not sure how I feel about the platform. I read a few blog posts that had the system as slow loading and heavy on memory usage for the student. Not sure what to think of that.

I ran across a website called Teachable where courses can be made, but I’d prefer not to have to pay a monthly subscription fee to provide a review to my AP Chemistry students. And the same problem comes with Thinkific, another side for making self-paced courses. I also found a service called Courseminded, but I haven’t gotten to far into research on that one yet.

So, I’ll be looking for advice, experiences or thoughts on the whole process from anyone who has used any other service to flip a classroom and make it at least to a certain extent, self-paced.

Keep working smarter,



Why I Should Never Write an Online Quiz at 5 AM Again…

Typos… the bane of my existence. Why is it that no matter how many times I check over something, I never see the typos until I’m in the middle of class and a sophomore points out that I put two decimal points in one number and left out the letter i in every other word on the paper? I blame lack of coffee at five am when I decided to get out of bed and write a quiz because I couldn’t sleep any longer.

Yesterday morning, not withstanding, I woke up as Mr. Teacher left for work at five in the morning with a burning desire to write a quiz before I had any coffee and to do it on Google Forms. So, if you didn’t know Google Forms is a free service from Google for making forms that are able to be filled out online. Google will tally the results and present them to you in several different forms including charts, graphs and spreadsheets.

There is an option to create a quiz that the application is able to autograde for you, with choices from multiple choice, checklist, dropdown menu, short and long text replies, file upload, linear scale and a multiple choice grid. I’ve used the program to create polls before for voting in various clubs and organizations I’ve been involved with around school. But I ran through some tutorials last week about how to use it to create quizzes. You can create a very traditional quiz, and provide an answer key for Forms to auto-grade students responses on the multiple choice, dropdown and checkbox questions.

So here’s why I shouldn’t have written this quiz at five AM. I marched into school, super confident that my Physics students were going to have a blast taking an online quiz with almost automatic feedback about their responses. I sent the link out to them in their Google Classroom account and sat back to wait for the magic. And then the first person turns in their work… And no magic. Because I’d screwed up the answer key. She got the first question right, and I’d marked the wrong answer in my sleep deprived haze. The gorgeous thing about it was, all I had to do was go into the application on my laptop, edit the key, and it automatically updated her grade in the results.

The next kid turns in their work. I’d thought I was clever, and used checkboxes to give questions that had more than one correct answer, assigning one point for each correct answer. It wouldn’t give him credit because he’d checked only 2 of the 3 correct answers. I went into the individual results view, looked at his response, and noticed that I had the option to go in and give him partial credit. Now, this idea kind of ruined my autograde mojo, but it relieved me that I was going to be able to give him 2/3 possible points for the question. It also meant that I was going to have to go through the rest of the student responses as they came in and give out partial credit for partially correct replies. However, it was a fairly quick process. Even if I hadn’t used autograde, assigning point values for quiz questions was as simple as clicking a box up or down to change the points earned for each question.

Now came the trouble of letting kids know what their updated grade was. I started clicking around, trial and error style as my science brain is known to do. And during my experiment, I found the option to “Release Grades” to the students in the class. The app informed me that it was going to email grades to the email they’d logged into the form with. Lucky me. I clicked off and let everyone who’d turned in the quiz so far have their updated grade and listened to the little dings of notifications from the students who’d forgotten to turn off the sound on their devices as they received a wave of automated emails.

I’d also included a blank multiple choice question with only one possible answer choice. So this was the point at which I was no longer evaluating the app, but considering investing in a coffee maker for my home office instead. However, I thought I would update everyone with how things went.


  • Google Forms is super simple to use. Easy as typing the question and a list of answers for multiple choice questions and clicking a single box to assign points and assign correct answers for auto-grading.
  • It automatically links up to Google Classroom and Google Drive for sharing with students if your school or you use the Google Apps for Education Suite.
  • Even if you don’t use Google Apps for education, the Google Drive account needed to use the app is FREE to sign up for. And anyone with a Google account can access Google Forms.
  • Google Forms are shareable via a link, so no matter what app you use to share information with your students (Edmodo, Google Classroom, Moodle, Blackboard, email, etc.) it’s simple to share a link to the quiz.
  • You can turn off the quiz and allow it to refuse accepting responses or even displaying the questions at your own discretion.
  • Results are saved in a variety of forms, including a spreadsheet that makes it easy to post grades.
  • If you use Google Apps for Education, you can limit students to one response each and record their login information as they respond.
  • Lots of formatting options to give your quizzes or polls whatever sort of look you want.


  • Autograde only works for specific question types.
  • If your question has more than one correct response or requires you to be able to assign partial credit for answers, autograde isn’t going to work for you. However, you have the ability to allow students to see their grade immediately OR to wait until you release grades for them to see.
  • This whole suite of apps works best if you and your students use Google Apps for Education or all have GMail accounts. It’s a little more difficult to collaborate and share things back and forth without it, but it is workable.
  • This app is good for questions where students aren’t going to be required to show their work, unless you force them to work things out on paper, take a photo of it, and submit their work via the form as a .jpg file, which sort of seems like more work and defeats the whole purpose of a paperless classroom. So, it may lend itself more to some subjects than others.

Feel free to let me know what you think of Google Forms down below or if you have any questions. I’ll be running through a tutorial sooner or later on how to create a quiz in the app for those of you who are curious and want to try it for yourselves.

Keep working smart,




So you might be asking yourself, what the heck is a Nearpod. And I have to admit, I was asking myself the same thing a few months ago when I attended the South Carolina Science Council conference back in October. As usual, I’m always in attendance for a technology related session at one of these conferences, and I was hoping to score some cool new ideas. I walked in the room, and the teacher had a pretty small projection going on at the front of the room against a pretty small screen in a decently sized lecture hall. Of course, the only seats available by the time I got there were at the back against the wall, and I had pretty much written myself off as not gathering anything useful from this particular session. (Hey, it happens, right?)

The first part of the session she sent us all to a webpage called Nearpod to log in with a code on the screen projected at the front of the room, and my screen magically turned into a presentation device which she controlled. I saw every slide on  my iPad screen just as it was on the board, was able to participate in a polling session with the rest of the group and able to answer questions about the topics she was discussing with the group. I pretty  much forgot everything else she presented during the session and ran back to my home school and signed up for a free account.

Nearpod’s biggest feature is the ability to screencast from the teacher’s device to the students’ devices through a simple interface, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The most attractive part of the entire site for me has been, and continues to be, the ability to assess students during the middle of a lesson. You have two options when assigning assessments in a Nearpod presentation. If you’re a plan-ahead type of person, questions are easy to imbed in the presentation. You have a choice of question types including open-ended, poll, quiz (multiple choice), drawing, fill in the blank, and a memory test (card matching). There is also a new feature called “Collaborate” where students can send in text and a photo about a topic, meant for brainstorming about a lesson. The fill in the blank and memory test options are available with a Gold membership only. The platform also offers the ability to ask questions during the middle of a presentation, giving you the choices of open-ended question, draw it, and true/false, though the last two are reserved for Gold members as well.

One of the nicer features of the service is that is is able to link up with an existing Office 365 account. It can import Sway presentations and imbed them in a Nearpod slide show. It can also convert existing PowerPoint presentations into Nearpod slide shows which you can then embed questions into. The platform can also embed YouTube videos, videos imported from your computer, audio, .pdf files, live Twitter streams, and VR from the Nearpod site which work with Google Cardboard devices.

Once your lesson is setup, it can be shared with students via email, social media, copied link or Google Classroom accounts. You can also share a lesson live in class with a code given out to students. There are options for student-paced presentations that can be assigned to be completed on student’s own time and live lessons for a classroom lecture.

I’ve had students try this service on various devices, everything from iPhones and iPads to laptop computers and Android devices. It has worked pretty much seamlessly on every device I’ve attempted it on, including my Windows and Mac computers. There is an iPad/iPhone app that’s available, but it is only for viewing Nearpod presentations. Creating presentations must be done directly on the Nearpod website that is accessible in any browser. I’ve tried it in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge.

One of the appealing things for me and some fellow teachers was the ability to see which students are logged into the presentation and which students have left the presentation window to look at other windows on their device. I’m sure it’s going to be no surprise to many of you that students will look at things on their iPads/phones/laptops in class that perhaps aren’t teacher approved. This helps notify you in case that happens. There is a status bar at the bottom of the screen that changes to red if anyone who was logged in to the presentation leaves it, even temporarily.

I’ve found that Nearpod has improved student attention and time on task, as well as given me a chance to ensure that all students are participating and paying attention in class with the whole class response system that’s built into the platform. It’s also a great option for flipped classroom, where videos or powerpoints along with audio can be loaded into the system and students can be quizzed after viewing with multiple choice or extended response questions. The system also offers auto-grading for multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, freeing up some of the time you may have spent grading formative assessments in the past. The results of each lesson are downloadable at the end of the presentation or any time you’d like with student-paced presentations.

Some of the downsides, I have on a few occasions had problems with lag between my device and the students, or question sets not appearing on a few student’s devices. The problem has been super rare, however, and usually reloading the page on the student’s browser has solved the problem. This platform also seems to be for older students, though the person who showed it to me originally was using it with upper elementary aged children (4th-6th grades). It’s a good tool for lecturing and formative assessments as well as flipping the classroom, and the VR field trips included in the site are a great option for schools with VR headsets. Some of the better features are locked for only Gold users. The storage space available to a free account is also highly limited, along with a limit on total file size for free users, which means you may be forced to delete some of your lessons to make room for new ones after a time. The slide editor on the site is also a little clunky, making slides that look amateurish and are hard to edit. I prefer uploading pre-made PowerPoints to the site.

Accounts on the site are free, only requiring an email address to sign up. You are also given a one month free trial of the Gold features, as well as an option to extend the trial to a second month when you fill out a survey that’s emailed to you near the end of the first month with the service. After that Gold is available at a cost of $10.oo per month, billed annually, which amounts to $120.00 for 12 months of the service. There are also school and district level options for Gold membership that vary in price depending on the size of your school and district and come with some other benefits like an increase in storage space and professional development at your site.

The option also exists to buy pre-made lessons from their catalog of presentations. The topics are pretty wide ranging, though they aren’t comprehensive at the moment, and the catalog is growing with new lessons being created by experts and uploaded every day.

Overall, I really like the site, and I’ve been trying to lobby for my school to purchase a subscription for all our teachers when we can. I highly recommend it. The interface is pretty intuitive and easy to learn, and there are several video tutorials available on YouTube. The staff are friendly and helpful and readily available through the chat option on the site should you encounter any difficulties, and the $10.00 a month price tag isn’t outrageous if you have to shell out for the site yourself, though I haven’t yet. I’m still chugging along on the free account quite happily.

Feel free to let me know what you think in comments or through email, and keep your eyes peeled for a future video tutorial on creating a Nearpod presentation from yours truly on my YouTube channel.

Keep working smart,



We Have iPads, Now What?

A lot of schools have implemented 1-to-1 device programs for students in the last few years. Everything from textbooks to note taking has gone digital. And I see teachers all over the country taking off and running with the new devices.

Then, I see others a little lost as to what all of this is about. Teachers who embraced the technology program, but unable or unaware of how to implement it effectively. Students get lost in a sea of bells and whistles and games, and the technology becomes a distraction instead of a tool.

My goal as a blog is to connect teachers with services and content to make their lives easier and not harder, to turn technology into the tool that takes a classroom to the next level. Posts will range from topics on iPad/Android apps available for teacher use, along with reviews, to whole class technologies like interactive whiteboards and classroom response systems. I will be using and posting honest reviews of as many technologies as I possibly can for each of you, along with pros and cons of the given system.

Stay tuned! I look forward to interacting with as many of you as possible and showing you how to work smarter and not harder.