Persuasive Blog Posts: My Twins Show How It’s Done

Twins Trampoline Post Pic

As my students (and my own children) will attest, I spend a lot of time telling them to apply the skills and strategies they learn in school to the things they are passionate about at home in the real world. I implore them to actively create content using the learning strategies and technology tools introduced in class as opposed to passively consuming content as so many of their peers do for hours every day after school. For example, I encourage them to make their own video games instead of playing someone else’s games after school every day. I suggest that they film their own How-To Videos and post them on YouTube just like the ones that are searched for and watched by millions of their peers. I often ask them questions like, “Do you have a strong opinion about this topic? Then write a blog post about it.”

There are numerous ways to create and share in today’s tech-obsessed world, and as teachers (and parents), I believe we must model and demonstrate how this is done. Our students need to see how easy it is to create and share content with an authentic audience. The power to do this is literally in the palms of their hands.

While many of my students get a glazed look on their faces as I rant about the benefits of actively creating versus passively consuming content, I am aware that I am making sense to at least some of them. I’m proud to report that my twins, Ava and Emma, are in the latter group. They surprised me last weekend when they wrote a blog post using the writing skills and strategies they learned in school to persuade me to purchase a trampoline. Ava and Emma wrote this persuasive post on an iPhone using Notes, then copied and pasted it into Kidblog (a blogging platform that I use with my 6th graders). Ava explained that they chose to post it on the blog because they knew that as a “tech guy,” I loved the platform and they wanted to impress me. And they were right because I was blown away!

They accomplished so much of what I hope my students will do:

  • They wrote for a purpose, authentically. The idea came from them. It wasn’t another artificial teacher-generated assignment.
  • This is an excellent example of real world application of knowledge (writing skills and technology tools).
  • It’s content creation in it’s purest form, and it made a big impact on their audience (me).
  • They had an audience (me) in mind, and a goal had been set and effectively executed.
  • They formulated a persuasive essay using the writing strategies they’ve learned at school and selected the digital platform by which to share it.

Click the image below to read Ava and Emma’s persuasive blog post.

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Click the image below to read their thank you letter.

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Flipgrid for Literature Circles? Yes, Please!

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Flipgrid is a video discussion community that helps teachers amplify student voice inside (and outside) their classrooms. And it’s perfect for Literature Circles. This secure digital platform allows students to use video as a tool to respond to and connect with literature in a collaborative and secure environment.

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Teachers (or their students) can create “grids” for each Literature Circle book group and easily share the links in Google Classroom or on a class website. A join code is generated by the application and can be customized for each book group.

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Students can then submit video responses to chapters read and engage in virtual Literature Circle book discussions from anywhere they are, at anytime they choose. This component is especially powerful for busy middle and high school students!

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Students can view each other’s videos then “like” and respond to them; all within the secure confines of the Flipgrid platform. As you can see, they absolutely LOVE it!

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Teachers can monitor all student activity from the Flipgrid dashboard. Here, video responses can be assessed and feedback can be given to individual students or the entire group.

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Flipgrid is an excellent tool to add to your repertoire of Literature Circle tools. I highly recommend it! In fact, it is one of the tech tools I’ll be featuring in my sold out ISTE 2017 session,

Literature Circles 2.0: Technology-Infused Book Clubs in the Digital Age

on June 27th in San Antonio, Texas.


Would you like to try Flipgrid Classroom for free this summer? If so, use the following code for an upgrade that is good until September 30:


Click the image below to sign up for Flipgrid Classroom TODAY!


P.S. Flipgrid is also an excellent tool for collecting and sharing Genius Hour reflections.

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Student-Created Google Classroom Classes for Literature Circles

Google Classroom for Lit. Circles 2

Student voice and choice are critical components of the Literature Circle experience and these can be greatly enhanced with technology. In my 6th grade class, students are given multiple opportunities to make important choices that drive their learning process within the Literature Circle dynamic.

Four Elements of Choice in Literature Circles

  1. Book selection – Students choose the books they will read.
  2. Job assignments – Students decide which roles they will assume
  3. Chapters read – Students decide how much they will read for the next session.
  4. Digital platform used – Students decide which digital platform the group will utilize.

Google Classroom for Lit. Circles 1

Since they are very familiar with the Google Classroom platform (I’ve been using it all year), students created Google classroom classes for their Literature Circle book groups. I asked them to add me as a co-teacher so I can monitor the class stream for each group. In some groups, one student assumes the role of teacher for the week and then this position is rotated in addition to the roles in the Literature Circles. This allows students to submit digital evidence in the form of Google Docs, BookSnaps and/or any other application chosen. In other groups, all members join as “teachers” for their class. It’s totally up to the students!

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Students post reminders in the class stream and comment when necessary. School appropriate chat rules apply and individuals who don’t adhere to our code of conduct can be muted with their comments deleted if necessary.

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Students are encouraged to select and/or customize the class theme of their Literature Circle Google Classroom class. They can choose from the themes available in Classroom, or upload their own pictures. One group decided to change the class theme each week giving each group member an opportunity to choose it.

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Students post job assignments (with descriptions) to be completed for upcoming meetings. One group even found a Literature Circle job description document and added it to their class stream.

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Students post digital resources including links to Audiobooks and PDFs of their books so group members can complete assigned reading at home even if they leave their books in school. They are encouraged to use the digital tools and resources we’ve used in class throughout the school year. It’s amazing to see how easily they apply this knowledge!

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Do you want to know more about the plethora of digital tools that are available for Literature Circles?


Join me in San Antonio at ISTE 2017 for the following BYOD session:

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Genius Hour 4.0 – Four Pathways to Genius

Genius Hour 4.0

“There exists empirical evidence proving that students who are given the freedom to explore areas based on their personal interests, and who are accompanied in their learning by a supportive, understanding facilitator, not only achieve superior academic results but also develop socially and grow personally.”

Renate Motschnig

It is imperative for teachers to provide opportunities for student voice and choice in the 21st-century classroom. If students have some control over what is covered, they’re more likely to stay tuned in and actively engage in the learning process. Thankfully, there’s a movement that promotes student choice and innovation in learning that has been sweeping the nation. This passion- driven movement, which is known as Genius Hour, or 20% Time, allows students to become innovative creators of content rather than just consumers of it

Selecting a Genius Hour topic is obviously of critical importance.  However, this is not always easy for students. They don’t always know or realize what they are interested in and what they want to inquire about. Thankfully, there are a number of excellent digital tools and resources that can be used to help students select a topic that will make Genius Hour one of the best projects they’ve ever done.

The video below by Jason Silva offers excellent brainstorming tips.

How to Find Your Passion

Students are encouraged to select one of the Four Pathways to Genius below as they begin their Genius Hour brainstorming sessions.


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  1. Create – You want to make/invent something new and share it.

  2. Change – You want to start a movement and make a difference in the world.

  3. Expert – You want to share something you are great at with the rest of the world.

  4. Inquiry You are curious about a topic and want to learn more about it.

    After students choose the pathway to genius they’d like to pursue, students are directed to come up with five essential questions to drive the research process. Since Genius Hour is an interdisciplinary project in our school, students are asked to come up with one essential question in each of the following subject areas:

    1. Mathematics
    2. Science
    3. Social Studies
    4. Student choice
    5. Student choice


    The remaining questions are the students’ choice and do not have to reflect a particular subject area.

    The key to crafting a good essential question is making sure it’s “un-Google-able”. This means the question cannot be easily answered by a quick Google search. This can be quite challenging for students at first and teachers need to plan accordingly. Some students need more assistance with this than others and a key factor for success is making sure you check in with students on a regular basis. They should not be able to begin the research process until their essential questions have been checked and revised if necessary. We encourage our students to conference with a peer before submitting their essential questions to the teacher for review.
    Students are now ready to begin researching their Genius Hour topics using their essential questions to drive the process.

Do you want to learn more about Genius Hour 4.0?

Click the image below to access my Genius Hour Resources page. 

Genius Hour Resources Pic

Click the links below to register for my online in-service or graduate course.

Genius Hour: Passion-Based, Technology-Infused PD/In-Service Course

EDCI 639-009  Genius Hour: Passion-Based, Technology-Infused Learning in the Classroom


The 50-50 Rule of Technology Integration

Technology, when used to create content and connect students with authentic audiences, empowers learners and prepares them for jobs that don’t even exist yet. It is critical for schools to facilitate and promote a culture of content creation. Educators that teach students how to use tech tools to actively create content are EMPOWERING these learners by giving them the skills, strategies, and experiences they’ll need as they move into the future.

To begin, schools must work to create an equal balance of content consumption and content creation in their classrooms. Too many school systems have spent millions of dollars to equip students and teachers with the latest tech tools only to utilize them in the wrong ways.


Rows of silent students completing digital worksheets on their Chromebooks or iPads is not what one would call effective technology integration.  The digital use divide between passive consumption and active creation must be closed!


Teachers in classrooms should subscribe to the 50-50 Rule of technology integration. If students CONSUME content in the classroom for 25 minutes, they then need to CREATE content for the same amount of time in that classroom. For example, if I direct my students to passively consume content by completing assignments in Castle Learning, IXL or ReadWorks Digital, I must allow them to spend the same amount of time creating content using their devices.


This can be done in a variety of innovative ways including creating How-To Videos for Genius Hour projects, making Google Slides presentations for Iron Chef Jigsaw lessons or writing a new post for the class blog. It’s very important to strike this balance between consumption of content and creation of content on a regular basis. It could also include students putting tech devices away for the remainder of the class and making something in a Makerspace-like environment.


What do you think about the 50-50 Rule of Technology Integration? Would you suggest a different ratio? Please write a reply in the comment section at the end of this post.


Going Google in the Classroom

Google For Education is one of the fastest growing learning tools in the world. This past September, our school district enrolled in this suite of free tools for classroom productivity and collaboration. This amazing collection of applications is an excellent resource for educators of all grade levels in all subject and specialty areas. With GAFE, teachers can engage students anytime, anywhere on any device with the following free, device-agnostic, teacher-approved tools:

Google Drive

Google Docs

Google Slides

Google Forms

Google Sheets

Google MyMaps

Google Classroom

Click the image to view examples of student projects created with Google Apps for Education.


Flocabulary: Engage Your Students Like Never Before

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In my role as an instructional coach and technology integrationist, I spend a lot of time in many of the classrooms in my school district.

As I walked down the hallways of the beautiful Broadway Campus of Lawrence Public Schools last week, I heard hip-hop music emanating from the classrooms. And when I peeked into these classrooms to investigate further, I witnessed the following:

6th graders joining in a sing-along about Point of View in literature.

5th graders rapping about Order of Operations in mathematics.

4th graders enthusiastically rapping about food chains in science.

3rd graders bopping to the beat of multiplication facts 0-12.

7th graders dancing to a Current Events video, “The Week in Rap”.

What if I told you there’s an amazing website with a plethora of hip-hop vocabulary videos that facilitates this engagement? What if I added that the videos are aligned to state standards and include supplementary activities like interactive lyric pages, quizzes and graphic organizers?

Welcome to the wonderful world of Flocabulary, a website/platform that is taking the K-12 education world by storm one classroom/hip-hop video at a time. This exciting web-based application blends the coolness of rap with the rigor of vocabulary development. Students are highly engaged and motivated as they view and participate/interact with this awesome program.

Video Topics include:

SAT Vocabulary Review

Test-Taking Vocabulary Words for grades 3-8

Essay writing strategies

Research tips and tricks

Digital Citizenship

Social and Emotional Learning

Financial Literacy


The material is presented in a way that kids today can relate to. The videos are funny and the songs are catchy. Your students may not even realize they are learning as they watch these amazing videos. Try it out today by clicking the link below for a free 75-day trial.

Free 75-day trial

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