K-12, Teaching Tools

How to Do More With Less Screen Time

I’ve observed a disconnect between the length of time schools and districts are requiring distance learning teachers to be on screen (many expecting it to be the entire school day) and the number of daily hours that parents and teachers believe to be beneficial to virtual learners (definitely not 6-8 hours). In my latest post for the NEO blog, How to Do More With Less Screen Time, I’ve offered some “workarounds” to avoid or combat screen fatigue. I hope that some of the suggestions are helpful.

My previous NEO articles have been:  How to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in Hybrid or Virtual Classrooms, Top Ed Tech Tools for DifferentiationFrom Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve EducationApplying Universal Design for Learning in Remote ClassroomsHow Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

Next month’s NEO post will be a fun surprise with many entertaining ideas. I can’t wait for you to see it!

Photo by Lena Helfinger on Pexels.com
Teaching Tools

Student questions during live videoconferencing

One of my friends mentioned to me that her daughter was participating in a live school session from home while some of her classmates were also in the teacher’s class. At one point, the teacher disappeared from her videoconferencing screen while the rest of the distance learners remained, wondering what to do. When it was clear the teacher didn’t realize the disconnect had happened, one of the virtual students finally texted a friend in the physical class to tell the the teacher.

Another teacher shared on Twitter recently that he began his class with “a big bang”, gesturing profusely and full of zeal, only to find out after he finished his intro that his audio was muted.

These are the real, understandable issues that happen during live online instruction, especially when the teacher is responsible for students in the physical and virtual classrooms simultaneously. It’s frustrating for all of the participants, and I’ve been looking for practical solutions in my social media feeds. It seems that the only common element I can find is that you should have a plan that everyone (students, teachers, and caregivers) is aware of – because it will happen.

Though technology problems were what first brought this to my attention, another obstacle to overcome is privacy. We all know students who are reluctant to ask for any kind of help, but are especially reserved in public. Although some conferencing tools, such as Zoom, have chat windows, that can be set to private, not all have this option and, of course, they won’t work if the video connection is lost or frozen.

Here are some of the ideas I’ve seen, but I would welcome any more suggestions in the comments section for this post or on Twitter (@terrieichholz):

  • Some teachers give out Google Voice phone numbers to caregivers. Similarly, others are using the Remind app.
  • Students can use Classroom Q, an app and website where students can use a “Join Code” and add themselves to a queue to ask questions with the press of a button.
  • In hybrid classrooms, some teachers suggest that you assign one or two students to monitor the live feed in case there is a breakdown.
  • Have a standard Google Form where students can type in their names and a quick comment or question. (Benefits of this are that you will have questions on a spreadsheet in order, and you can keep a log of questions.)

This is all I’ve seen so far. Any other advice out there?

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

Teaching Tools

7 Useful Chrome Extensions for Teaching Virtually

Yesterday, I added a wonderful video from Esther Park to my Virtual Breakouts post. She demonstrates the process she uses for breakouts when she uses Google Meet, and mentions a few very helpful extensions that can be added to the Chrome browser. I thought I would list those, and a few others, for you today.

Before we get to the extensions, I do want to remind you that extensions have the potential to contain malware and spyware. If you are using a district computer, be sure to get permission from your tech department before installing one. The same advice applies if you want students to install one. If you are using a personal computer, here are some tips on how to determine if you are looking at a safe extension. Particularly pay attention to the permissions that you are asked to grant when you install an extension. Weigh the benefits of having the tool against the risks you are taking if the creator has malicious intentions. As this article recommends, “Here’s how to stay safe: Use as few extensions as possible. If you don’t get much use out of an extension, uninstall it. “

I am cautious about extensions, but there are certainly ones that I use regularly. That being said, here are some that you may want to try yourself:

  • Esther Park recommended two extensions that are super useful when doing virtual breakout rooms in Google Meet. One is the Tab Resize extension which allows you to open tabs in Chrome for each breakout room, and then select how you want them displayed on your screen – enabling you to see all breakout rooms at once. The other is Mute Tab, which allows you to mute the tabs quickly so that you are not hearing discussions in all breakout rooms at once. Here is a list of extensions that may specifically help with Google Meet.
  • Page Marker is a nice extension for you to use when you want to draw/annotate on a website. According to the description, it was developed by a high school student.
  • Screencastify is a free extension to create short videos of something you are demonstrating onscreen.
  • Mote allows you to leave voice comments and feedback on shared documents.
  • One Tab can save you from having students type in different URL’s during the same lesson. Open the tabs in your browser, and share to web page. All of the tab links are on one web page, which you can share with your students.
  • Record to Slides was created by ClayCodes, and can be used to record video directly to a Slide in your presentation.

While there are many other extensions out there, I chose to stick to a few tried and true ones helpful for teaching virtually for this post. There are many more extensions, and there are a lot that can help students as well – especially with reading and writing online. I encourage you to investigate these for yourself, but to remember the cautions I mentioned above.

Example of One Tab Extension being used along with Page Marker extension
Teaching Tools

Google Jamboard

UPDATE 10/27/2020: For a curated list of Jamboard Templates and Ideas, visit this Wakelet (contains a list of Jamboards you can copy and use right away!)

When I first started reading comments on social media about using Google Jamboard, I immediately, well, Googled it. The first result took me to a site selling a physical interactive whiteboard, which confused me as most people seemed to be using the tool from their homes. Then I realized that while there is a physical board by that name, it is designed to be used with the online tool – also called Jamboard. Happily, the online tool can be used with any device (you can even download an app for it for mobile devices).

Jamboard is similar to Padlet, where multiple contributors can add text, drawings, and images to one whiteboard on the screen. However, Jamboard is completely free, while Padlet is limited to 3 “padlets” before you have to choose a paid version. If your district uses G-Suite tools, including Google Meet, Jamboard is worth using (check to make sure it has been turned on by your district administrator).

As I’ve been working on some curriculum that includes interactive Slides, I was interested in Jamboard because it is another Google tool, and that it allows for drawing. There is not an easy way to add drawings to Slides, (though it can be done, just not directly on the Slides), so I could see how a teacher may use a Jamboard instead of a Slides presentation for student contributions. You can also add Jams to Google Classroom. One feature missing from Jamboard, though, is being able to access a revision history – which you can do in Slides. If your students decide to have a little unsanctioned fun on the Jamboard, that can make it difficult to identify the culprit.

If you decide that Jamboard might be a good fit for your situation, there are plenty of ideas out there for using it with your students. Here are a few resources:

Stop and Sketch Template for Google Jamboard by Kris Szajner

Teaching Tools, Videos

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.

K-12, Student Response, Teaching Tools


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!