All posts by engagetheirminds

TOM – Teaching Online Masterclass

One of my favorite online resources, iCivics, has joined with Adobe, Participate, and ClickView to offer a series of free professional development videos about online teaching.  TOM (Teaching Online Masterclass) includes short (less than 2 min. each) videos produced by Makematic featuring advice given by staff contributors from all over the world.  The various categories include such themes as “Technology as a Tool,” and “Digital Well-Being.”  The one that I imagine many teachers will jump to is, “Pedagogical Strategies.”

Course overview from the TOM manual

Different people will find different TOM videos to be helpful to them.  For example, I liked the idea for giving video feedback online – using a screen casting program to record as you look at what has been submitted and commenting during the process – but the one on “Think, Pair, Share” did not tell me something I didn’t already know.  The good news is that the videos are so brief, that you can spend 15 minutes on the site and feel like you’ve learned something during that time.

TOM also has a PDF manual that goes into a bit more detail about the backgrounds of the contributors and the videos that are available.  The manual includes a link to a Padlet with more resources, as well as information for how to sign up to receive their research, how to get involved with their blog, and an invitation to join their group on LinkedIn.

Once teachers have a chance to develop reliable routines, and the technology becomes more robust, they will want to learn more about the best pedagogical practices for this medium, and TOM can help them do that.


Today I am posting about a product that technically would never had made it on this blog if I didn’t break some rules sometimes.  First of all, it’s a tool for making worksheets.  Yuck.  I know worksheets are a necessary evil sometimes, but they are way, way overused to give students busy work.  Secondly, to get the most out of this tool, you will need to pay for a subscription.  I try to recommend free tools because I know teachers pay for too much already out of their pockets.


This subscription ($35.99 for a year) is a great deal for all of the features you will get – the features that also make this the most powerful digital “worksheet creator” I’ve seen.  If you don’t believe me, try the 14 day trial.

In many ways, Wizer is comparable to a Google Form on steroids.  In both of these, the teacher can create questions, push it out to students, and receive grades and reports on their responses.  But here are the ways that it’s different:

  • It currently interfaces with Google Classroom, Edmodo, and Microsoft, so you have two more option than you do with a Google Form.
  • You can design the worksheet to look much more visually appealing.
  • You can use any of the teacher-created Wizer worksheets to tweak to use as your own. Or, if you like inventing the wheel, make your own from scratch.
  • There are over 10 different question types you can use, including: Drawing, Fill in the Blanks, Label an Image, Sorting, Open Questions.
  • You can record (audio or video) instructions as well as text.
  • Students can respond using audio or text.
  • Students can design their own worksheets.

Here is an example of a worksheet for Tuck Everlasting that I found in the Wizer Community.  You can see what the Teacher Dashboard looks like below.

Wizer Teacher Dashboard

Now I think you’ll admit that those are pretty good options.  But the one that’s the game-changer, the one that made me decide to blog about Wizer, the one that is an incredible deal for $35.99/year is the option to differentiate within your worksheet.

With “The Awesome Plan,” teachers can create Learner Profiles for each of their students based on ability, interest, preferred learning mode, whatever you want.  You can create rules based on those categories.  Then, when you create a worksheet, you can use alternate questions for different Differentiated Instruction groups.  For example, do you want to have Fill-In-the Blank questions?  Some students may need a word bank, and others may not.   If you have all of your Learner Profiles done, you can just select with a couple of clicks who gets the word bank and who doesn’t.  Do you have some students who can answer open-ended questions, and others who need multiple choice?  Assign alternate questions!  You can see a quick video example embedded below.

Initially, you will have to do some work to get your Learner Profiles in order.  But imagine the simplicity of creating assessments once you’ve got your information loaded.  If you’ve got students who have their own devices, this tool could make your life much easier – without sacrificing the engagement of your learners.

If you are someone who has used Wizer, please share your feedback!

Anti-Racist Resource Guide

I apologize that I have been “off-the-grid” for the last couple of weeks, but I am resuming my schedule of publishing at least one blog post each week committed to anti-racism.  Today’s awesome website, the Anti-Racist Resource Guide, is brought to you by Victoria Lynn Alexander, who is a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland.   As Alexander explains on the home page, “Within this guide, please find a variety of resources to explore practical ways to understand, explain, and solve seemingly intractable problems of racial inequity, white supremacy, police violence, and injustice.”

The site is well-organized into categories, as you can see from the screen-shot below.

Topics to be found on the Anti-Racist Resource Guide website

Each button will lead you to a concise document that offers numerous links and suggestions for that particular sub-topic.  The documents are concise and thoughtfully designed with meaningful information and examples.  Alexander plans to continue updating the site as new resources become available.  There is a lot to unpack here, but Alexander does a great job at keeping it from becoming overwhelming.

Just in case you missed my other posts specifically targeting racism, here is the list so far:

Also, for more amazing anti-racism resources, check out the Live Binder curated by Joy Kirr.


SEL and Community Building With Slides

In yesterday’s post about Virtual Breakout rooms, I mentioned that students who don’t like this virtual version of small group work feel awkward, especially if they have not built connections with the teacher and their peers before being thrown into small groups.  Today’s post offers you some resources to help your students with some of the social-emotional aspects of being in school in order to begin building those bridges.


If you have the version of PearDeck that allows for “Draggable” responses, you can have your students show their current emotional status using a Google Slide like this one created by Stephanie Rothstein (@Steph_EdTech) and her student teacher, inspired by her LEAD Pathway Co-Chair, Rachel Peters (@lghspeters ).  (You can also make your own hack for draggable responses by: making this your background or creating a master slide with it, creating your own dot, copying and pasting it numerous times until you have enough for the class to drag when you share the presentation.)

stress check

If you don’t have the full version of PearDeck, you can make your own hack for draggable responses by: making this your background or creating a master slide with it, creating your own dot, copying and pasting it numerous times until you have enough for the class to drag when you share the presentation.  You can also find some more SEL templates from PearDeck that are free to download here.

Copy of Social Emotional Learning Templates

For a Google Slides Choiceboard on SEL, try this one from Pathways 2 Success.

Do you want a virtual calming room?  Lindsey Denbo (@denbo_lindsey) shared the template for this amazing Slides presentation:

Calming Room Slides with Links from Lindsey Denbo

Community Building

Ester Park (@MrsParkShine), who I also added to my Interactive Slides post because of her bank of templates that can be easily adapted for many uses, has this fun sign-off questions template.

Sign Off Question

You can also find various Check-In templates on Mrs. Park’s site, as well as interactive games.

Speaking of games, check out this clever Quarantine Lucky Charms game from John Meehan (@MeehanEdu).  You can find more templates with games here.

Did you create a Bitmoji Classroom?  Many teachers are allowing their students to create Bitmoji Lockers.  Due to age and access issues, some teachers are giving students banks of Bitmojis to choose from.  Adding some personal flair to their own projects, and sharing them can give the teacher and their classmates insight into individual personalities so they can discover commonalities and unique attributes in each other.

PearDeck also has free Community Building Templates, which you can access here.

If you have any other SEL or Community Building ideas for virtual learning, please share them in the Comments Section!

Virtual Breakout Rooms

One technique that many teachers involved in distance learning right now are using is to use virtual breakout rooms, where students are in smaller groups with some sort of task to discuss and/or complete.  Some of the Interactive Google Slides that I shared yesterday could be helpful with this.  One use for Zoom breakout rooms that I’ve seen being shared quite a bit is to have one Slides presentation that is shared with editing privileges to the whole class, and small groups are assigned particular slides to work on in their breakout room.  The big advantage of this method is that the teacher can turn on grid view on his/her computer, and see what work is being completed by each group on their slide.  Some teachers are color coding their slides to make them even easier to distinguish.

I’ve seen a lot of breakout room celebrations on social media from teachers – but older students seem to be less impressed.  If you do a search for breakout rooms on Twitter, you will see that a lot of college students despise them, and are finding creative memes to share their contempt. (They are quite vocal and often comical about their feelings!)

I spoke to a few high school and college students to learn more, and the consensus seems to be that expecting small groups to speak to each other in a virtual room is awkward and everyone ends up being reluctant to speak.  A few of the comments I saw on Twitter referred to racist comments and other derogatory statements that were made when the professor wasn’t monitoring the room.

A lot of the problems that appear in virtual breakout rooms are similar to the ones we have in the physical classroom with small group work, especially with older students.  They become more self-conscious, and don’t feel safe sharing with a group of strangers.  They don’t want to take the lead in the conversation because they may appear “uncool” if they show interest in academics.  Just as we need to do in person, we should establish connections and develop norms before throwing students into a group with unrealistic expectations. On Twitter, Theresa Wills (@TheresaWills, shared this model, suggesting a gradual release.


A good example of beginning in the low stakes stage would be to develop connections using something like this “Frayer a Friend” from @sarahjteacher.

frayer a friend

Having a straightforward process for convening to breakout rooms and returning is essential.  If you are using Google Meet for breakout rooms, @ajchambers suggested using a slide like the one below, where students can click on the color of their assigned breakout room. (Google Meet is rolling out breakout rooms this fall, but you can find “hacks” like this one by doing a Google search.  Daniel Kaufman (@KauDan721)  also has a YouTube video with an explanation and a link to a template here. There is also an extension you can add to your browser to create breakout rooms, but I have not used it so I can’t say how well it works.)

google meet breakout rooms

Mollie Safran (@afsocialstudy) offered this suggestion, allowing students to choose a breakout room depending on their comfort level with a topic.

choose a room

The extremely productive Esther Park (@MrsParkShine) recently offered the following template on Twitter (you can find more of her free templates on her website):

google meet work room
by Esther Park (@MrsParkShine)

In addition, Esther Park has released an awesome video showing you tips and tricks for managing breakout rooms with Google Meet and a couple of helpful chrome extensions.

SlidesMania just added this template by Stephanie DeMichele (@sdemichele) for teachers who want to create virtual station rotations:

Click here to go to the template!

Jen Roberts (@JenRoberts1) created this spreadsheet tool to help teachers create automatic breakout groups for Zoom.

Do you use OneNote?  You can find Breakout Templates for OneNote here – provided by @jlo731 and @SalleeClark.

Assigning roles can help alleviate some of the stress once students are in a breakout room. How to Use a Breakout Room Notetaker from Shana Ramin (@ShanaTeaches) gives instructions and a template you can copy on how a notetaker can be helpful in virtual breakout rooms.  In this document from Stanford, it is suggested to even assign the role of “first-to-speak!”  Here are a few other roles from the same document, and methods for assigning them:

  • Assign roles to students. Assigning roles will help students start the conversation and support equitable participation. Possible roles include first-to-speak, note-taker, reporter, timekeeper, equity monitor, or questioner/devil’s advocate.
  • Randomly assign roles or select students with an equitable prompt. This may have the added benefit of acting as an icebreaker. Examples include assigning or selecting the person: whose first name is closest to the end of the alphabet, is wearing the shortest sleeves, whose birthday is coming up the soonest, whose hometown is closest to campus, etc.

One of the high school students I spoke to mentioned that it would get awkward when they finished their task before the time was up and they would all just “stare at each other” in the room, so you should address what they should do when their assignment is complete, and exit strategies as well.

Here are a few more resources on virtual breakout rooms that I highly recommend (some of these have ideas for breakout room activities, and some also give more ideas for facilitation):

Some parting thoughts:

  • Think carefully about your reason for using breakouts, and set the stage so they will be successful and meaningful.
  • Different platforms may have more or less features for creating and monitoring breakouts – and technology is changing quickly to meet the current demand.
  • It’s always great to practice first with a willing partner – significant other, best friend, your own children – so you can iron out the kinks before you use it with an entire class.

Interactive Google Slides Templates

With many schools beginning the 2020-2021 school year virtually, a lot of generous educators have been sharing interactive templates to use with Google Slides.  I have been bookmarking sites as I find them on Twitter, and I thought it would be nice to have a curated list here.  I am also sharing this link, which I think is a huge game changer, on how to update student Google Slide Decks after you’ve already shared them in Google Classroom.  (Video by Jessica Wilding)  Remember that you will need to make a copy of each presentation in order to use it and edit it.  Since there are a lot, I tried to put some examples next to each one to give you some idea of what is included in each set.

  • Templates and Games created and shared by @EtownScience (Each slide in this original presentation can be clicked on to access a presentation you can copy and use.) Includes Scrabble, a Netflix template, and many more!
  • Templates created and shared by @KrissyVenosdale. Includes Fridge Poetry and Post-It Notes with a few others.
  • Interactive Slides for any Content Area created and shared by @TheresaWills.  Includes SO MUCH, like collaborative math manipulatives and Would You Rather.
  • Open Middle Problems slides by @DanShuster, adapted from the Open Middle math site created by @RobertKaplinsky.
  • Graphic Organizer Templates created and shared by @DrCDMendoza. Includes Venn Diagram, Cause & Effect, and others.
  • Eduprotocols Templates adapted from the books by Marlena Hebern and Joe Corippo, slides created by @HistorySandoval and @MrsByarsHistory
  • Depth and Complexity Slides adapted from the work of Bette Gould and Sandra Kaplan, slides created by @Venezia_Megan. Includes the icons and thinking prompts with areas to enter responses.
  • Google Slides Templates curated by @HistorySandoval. Includes Hyperslides, a TED Talk viewing guide, and more from various contributors.
  • Notebooks, Manipulatives, Choice Boards and Games created and shared by the incredible @SlidesMania.
  • Free Templates from Mrs. Park (@MrsParkShine) Includes several types of Check-In templates and Learning Stations Menus.

Let me know if you have any other collections that I should add!  Also, remember you can quickly make your own slides interactive by using one of my favorite tools, PearDeck!

Templates and Games Agenda
One of the many templates included in the collection from @ETownScience