All posts by Kathleen Carr

I am a Grade 4 teacher at Avon Public School in Stratford, Ontario, and a Teacher-Technology coach with the AMDSB.

Building Learning Around Questions

One of my Sunday morning routines is to scroll through Twitter… scanning the posts of the people that I follow –  many of whom work in education all over the world.  Yesterday, I kept coming back to this graphic – and found myself wondering, “What would the school day look like, if these questions drove the agenda?”  – I won’t pretend to know how to organize a day, with 31 different learners (I include myself in that number), all with different goals and interests, strengths and needs, levels of maturity and self-regulation –  all pursuing their own agendas, but I do wonder if it would work – would everyone learn? be engaged, on-task, & motivated?  What do students need to effectively direct their own learning? questions-1oh207m

Student-Teacher Communication Enabled by Technology

Yesterday, I was privileged to be part of a very sweet exchange, via the “chat” window in Showbie,  with one of my Grade 4 students.  This wasn’t a ground-breaking conversation, no breakthroughs or major discoveries were made… it was just, as the speech bubbles on our respective screens suggested, a “chat” – but it brought home to me how technology facilitates student-teacher communication, and helps us build relationships with the kids in our classrooms.

Allow me to  set the stage for the conversation shared in the screenshot below:  As we prepare to dig deeper into problems that require multiplication and division of whole numbers, my Grade 4’s have been working on mastering times-table facts.  Many of them have met the challenge head on, drilling their multiplication tables whenever they have a spare moment,  playing card games that require them to master the facts, and they are enjoying seeing their efforts result in increased speed and accuracy.

On Tuesday evening, knowing I was going to be away at a meeting on Wednesday morning, I sent each student a brief note in his/her Showbie account, commenting on their progress and making some suggestions for next steps.   There’s a strong element of “cheerleading”  in my message – which is intentional – multiplication facts are not, by their nature, very exciting…. I’m doing my best to pump them up 🙂

The child whose “voice” is featured in the screenshot below started texting me, via her Showbie account, about the work she was doing at school, while she was in class in Stratford Wednesday morning, and I was in a meeting room at the Education Centre.

This is a conversation that likely would not have occurred face-to-face at school – the classroom is too busy, the day too full of activity, sometimes, to allow for exchanges like this one.  Also, this child would not likely  have said to me, in person, the things she said in the text messages.  In the past when I’ve commented positively on something she’s achieved, or praised her efforts, she shyly ducks her head, gives me a smile, and whispers “Thanks”.  But communicating via text on our iPads gave her a degree of confidence she sometimes lacks in face-to-face conversations – allowing her to say things like “I’m really proud of myself!”

Here’s part of the exchange.  Since Showbie chat windows order themselves from most recent to least recent, I cut & pasted them in the order that I actually received them, so that you could read from top to bottom, instead of bottom to top.IMG_1742

I am really enjoying the many ways in which technology allows me to communicate with my students, and finding it helps build relationships,  especially with the somewhat quieter, more reserved kids who are less likely to work to get my attention at school.  No matter how important I understand it to be, and how much I try to spend time with everyone, I know that I don’t converse with every child as much as I should… technology doesn’t replace face-to-face conversation, but it helps fill a gap.

Using Google Drive to Streamline Documentation of Student Learning

This blog post, will, I think, have a bit of a tone of the confessional to it…that’s right – I’m going to admit to doing the same thing, poorly, not to mention repeatedly, for the past 20+ years…. Why do this, you may well ask? Well… besides the fact that confession is, allegedly, good for the soul – I’m sharing this because I think I have finally come up with a system that approximates the one I’ve been using (badly) all these years, but this one actually seems to work!

Every August, not to be dissuaded (or informed, even…) by past failures, I dutifully set up “The Binder” – “The Binder” is a massive (3 inch minimum) file – with dividers that allocate a section for each student.  I always started off well (in August, by myself, with no actual students around to distract me from the work I was trying to do…) – I’d write each kid’s name on his/her tab, insert the page of notes I took while reading the OSR, add a section for Contact Information and… (here comes the confession) – for most kids…. except for running records, and the occasional note from a writing conference, that was as populated as their section of the binder ever got.

My intentions were good (aren’t everyone’s?) – the plan (which never changed, despite how ineffective it proved to be, year after year) was this – I was going to record all of my anecdotal observations about what my students were learning and doing at different times during the day, and store them in the binder. 

Why didn’t it work?  For lots of reasons – like most teachers, my days fly by in a whirlwind of activity; if I actually have the opportunity to sit down with a student and work 1:1 with him or her, I feel like it’s more important that I listen to the kid – have a genuine conversation with him, without the distraction of writing down what was being said. 

I tried various methods – sticky notes on a clipboard  – which worked wonderfully – IF I could read them (my handwriting is illegible at the best of times, never mind standing in a classroom, being jostled by students vying for my attention),  IF I remembered to put the kid’s name on them, IF what I wrote made any sense to me 3 hours later when I read it again, IF  I actually got around to sticking it in “The Binder”, and  IF I ever managed to write about anyone other than the same 5 kids who seemed to occupy 90% of my time.

I tried selecting 5 or 6 kids each day to be the focus of my note-taking ventures… read as “Wow…. that was amazing – sorry kid, too bad it’s not your day to be noticed!”.  I tried to force myself to take 30 minutes at the end of each day to write notes – no doubt there are those of you reading this who are far more disciplined than I am – but I couldn’t make myself do it – by then, the memory of what I had observed had faded, and I often couldn’t remember exactly what I had wanted to write in the moment.

Now… that was such a long lead in, I fear I’ve set myself up to make a “grand reveal” – and worried that I may let you down.  The system I have developed, over the past few weeks, for recording my thoughts and observations about what my students are doing during the school day, is not revolutionary, nor is it flawless… but it is much easier than what I have described up to this point,  and for the time being, I am actually using it – that, in itself, makes it a big improvement on “The Binder”.

For those of you who read this far, who are still interested in what this system is…. I’ve described it below.

I’ve included screenshots to illustrate what I’m saying,  but using “made up” folders, rather than the actual ones I use for my own students, so that I don’t violate their privacy by publishing their names here.  If you need to enlarge any of the screenshots to read the smaller print – just double click on them.

Set up a Folder in Google Drive for your class, then create sub-folders within it – one for each student (I know… I know… sounds suspiciously like “The Binder” – the similarities are there… it’s in the use of the thing that the differences emerge.)

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Within each sub-folder you can add additional folders – the trail of “breadcrumbs” is noted at the top of the page:Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.36.05 PM

Adding the folders is easy – click on the red “NEW” button and then select what you want to create from the drop-down menu.  

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.38.21 PMYou can also upload existing files and/or folders from your computer.

Once you’ve set up your folders in Google Drive, make sure you’ve added the Drive App to your iPad.

Throughout the day, take photographs of your students while they’re engaged in learning.  Try not to take dozens – be selective – consider why you’re taking each photo – what is the student doing, saying, demonstrating, that you want to capture?

At some point each day, take some time (I can usually get this done in 15 minutes or less.) – skim through the photos (this is why you don’t want dozens of them).  The images will spark your memory – especially if you were very purposeful in taking the photos.

Open up an Explain Everything project on your iPad.   Tap the “+” button to insert an object, and tap “Photo, Video or File”.

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Select (and edit, if you wish – I usually crop out everyone except the one student I was focused on when I took the picture) the photo you want to add – it will appear in your Explain Everything Project

Tap the “A” to add a text box, or the Pencil, to add a hand-written note: (I’ve covered the student’s face to protect his privacy on the NGL blog, but wouldn’t need to do so to place it in his folder on my Google Drive)


Repeat this step with each photo that you took during the day, that you want to preserve and add to a student’s file.

When you’re done with the photos you’ve taken, delete them from your Camera Roll, so that you know where to pick up when you start again tomorrow.

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Tap the “Export Project” button on the bottom right corner of the Explain Everything screen.

You can choose to export the project as a video, PDF, image or Project – I usually choose PDF, as PDF files are the most easily transferrable from one platform to another.


Before you export to Drive, select the slide you want to export.  If you export all the slides as one document, you will have many different students’ photos in each student’s file.  To avoid this, export the document one slide at a time – by selecting the slide you wish to export.


Once you’ve selected the slide you want to export, tap “Confirm” in the top right corner – this will take you back to the Export page.


Tap the icon for Drive – this will take you to your Google Drive (assuming you have signed into Drive on the App on your iPad) – from there, you can select the folder where you want to send the PDF – In this case, I selected the Geometry folder belonging to the student who appeared in the Photo. (His name has been blacked out to protect his privacy).


I then delete the photos from my camera roll, and the project from Explain Everything, to preserve storage space on my iPad.  After all – I don’t need to store any of it on my iPad – it’s all in my Google Drive.

It seems like a lengthy process when it’s all written out, but once you do it a few times it’s very quick.

I take a half dozen (ish…) photos each day – and it takes me less than 15 minutes to drop them into an Explain Everything Project, annotate them , and file them in the folders I have created for each student on Google Drive.  I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks, and my “virtual binder” has far more documentation in it than any of my  “real” ones ever did.  I’m hoping the notes I’ve taken there will be useful to me when I come to write reports – I know they’ll be useful during parent interviews.

Give it a try… and if you have any questions, (or if you make any discoveries) – please, send me an e-mail.

Stella’s Stunners – Non-Routine Problems for Grades 6-12

One of the prevailing themes at the Ed. Tech Teacher iPad summit that the NGL Tech Coaches had the privilege of attending in November, was the concept of “indispensability”  – that sought-after state of being able to do something that is not only key to being successful in your job, but that also cannot be done by someone (or something) else in a more efficient, less expensive manner.


“Am I indispensable”? – I guess it depends, to whom and in which context I pose the question…and honestly, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to ask it out loud… but it is a question that bears asking in a society on the cusp of another industrial revolution.  We find ourselves in a world where technology allows us to do for ourselves many things that, previously, we would have paid someone else to do for us – pump and pay for gas; scan and pay for groceries; edit and produce video recordings; send files, images, and documents to anyone, anywhere,  in a matter of seconds… the list grows longer as advances in computer technology abound.

In the not too distant future, the best-paying, most secure, most satisfying jobs will be reserved for those who can corner the market on indispensability – that is, who can do things that computers cannot do faster, more efficiently, more accurately and with less expense.

Of course, there are many things that human beings, with their instinct, intellect, emotional intelligence and nuanced communication skills can do, that machines will never be able to do.  One of the many skills that humans have that computers cannot be programmed to mimic, is the ability to solve non-routine problems.  Non routine problems are those that cannot be solved by the application of a set of procedures (an algorithm), but instead require the application of a range and variety of strategies  or “heuristics” that may lead us to a solution… we engage in “non-routine” problem solving when we don’t know what to do, where to begin, or if an answer may even be found.

Non-routine problems “are presented with no hints as to what methods or skills will be needed to solve them. Some may seem to have insufficient given information or even contradictory information. They are not straightforward, and it is not always clear that they even have a solution. Thus they are intended to leave the solver not knowing, at first anyway, what to do. Note that the problems society faces — providing a trustworthy voting process, feeding the world, getting out of Afghanistan, or cleaning up oil spills — reflect exactly this sort of quandary, problems where we do not know, at the outset, how to go about solving them, or whether they can be solved at all.”  (Crawford, Rudd.  What Students Can Gain From Problem Solving.  Retrieved from

Connie Ransberry (Grade 4/5 teacher at Milverton P.S.) recently shared with me an outstanding resource on the topic of non-routine problems.    Check out “Stella’s Stunners”  (link below) – a collection of Non-Routine problems,  with sample solutions,  posted by the Ohio Resource Center :

Stella’s Stunners – Non Routine Problems for Grades 6-12Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 2.17.16 PM

Go Formative

While at the Ed Tech Teacher iPad Summit in Boston, one of the  presenters (Greg Kulowiec) introduced us to an online assessment tool called Go Formative – Initially,  I wasn’t overly interested in it – it seemed to do essentially the same things as Nearpod, which I use regularly, and I didn’t see a reason to learn a whole new platform.  


A few hours spent playing around with Go Formative and now I see how much more this platform offers than I originally thought.

What does Go Formative offer that I use all the time in Nearpod??

  • I can still create all the same types of questions that I use in Nearpod, (Short Answer, Multiple Choice, Draw It or “Show Your Work” as  it is called in Go Formative)
  • my students can still access the assignment with a code (rather than having to set up an account and log in)  although there are other advantages to having students log in and join your classes
  • Like Nearpod, Go Formative keeps electronic versions of student answers stored in my account, so that I can go back and revisit them any time
  • I can still place an image on the student canvas and have students draw or write on top of it

So…. What does Go Formative (which is completely free) offer that is not currently available in the free version of Nearpod?

  • students can proceed through the questions at their own pace, rather than wait for me to send them each question
  • I can see student work “live” – that is, I don’t have to wait for them to submit it – I can see what they’re writing, typing, drawing, etc. as they complete the task, and intervene if I see a need
  • I can provide written feedback, and assign a grade if I want to
  • I can share assignments with other teachers (a feature that appears to be available in the free Nearpod, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it )
  • I can add multiple and varied reference tools, anywhere on the assignment – that is, I can add an image, (which I can also do in Nearpod, but I can only add 1 reference image per question), a video (adding YouTube Videos is only available in the paid version of Nearpod) or a reference document if I want students to be able to access specific information when completing the task
  • I can export results to a CSV 
  • I can share student work anonymously to be used a springboard for discussion

It’s not a case of either or… I will still use Nearpod  when I want to be in complete control of what appears on my students’ devices,  and when I want to share student work directly to the iPads.  (Go Formative allows me to project student work to a Smartboard, but doesn’t have the “Share” feature that Nearpod has that sends student work, anonymously, directly to other users logged into the session.)

I’m still an avid fan of Nearpod, but  Go Formative offers a host of options that I want to access when I’m engaged in assessing my students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts.

Check it out at – the main page has a link to video tutorials – 1-minute explanations of how to use the various features.


ExplOratorium has two Apps available (for free) on the App store – Colour Uncovered and Sound Uncovered.  Both offer interactive activities that explore the science of sound and the science of colour, with detailed explanations that pop up when you tap on the “What’s Going On?” question mark icon.Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.36.20 PM Screen Shot 2015-11-04 at 1.36.53 PM