Differentiation in Google Classroom

One of the things missing from Google Classroom has been a way to differentiate assignments for your students.  Until recently, you were forced to assign something to all students or none at all.  That has changed.  You are now able to develop assignments for students with specific modifications or needs and then share these modified assignments with just the students who need them.

It’s very easy to select specific individuals who will receive an activity.  First, create an assignment by clicking the plus sign in the lower right-hand corner of your class’s stream (home) page and select assignment from the choices.  Next, uncheck the All students option and then select the individual students to whom you want to make the assignment.  The video below demonstrates this process.

Matt Miller has put together a more extensive explanation of this feature in Google Classroom.  See his video at




Business for a Better World

Something important happened this past Saturday, and HMS career explorations teacher Sarah McManus deserves a lot of credit for making it happen.  In an effort to learn about entrepreneurship during the third six weeks, her students had to create a business, develop a business plan, research some of the rules of charitable organizations, and then create products, which they sold at their Business for a Better World fair on Saturday.  Shoppers bought tickets, which they traded for a variety of goods at the student vendors’ tables throughout the exhibit hall at the Henderson Civic Center.


Students had to do a substantial amount of research for their projects.  Since they worked in teams, they also had to collaborate with each other in the development of their businesses, their business plans, and their products.  Since each student at the middle school campus has his/her own Chromebook, the tasks involved in researching, drafting documents, and collaborating were activities were easier to accomplish because of their devices.


Mrs. McManus’s class is made up of eighth grade students, and the course does have TEKS (See http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter127/ch127a.html), but students who are not in her class actually teamed up with those who are to assist.


What a wealth of real-world learning opportunities our middle school students were able to experience through this project.  And to make a great project even better, each student chose a charity and the proceeds from the fair (which totaled over $1,700) will be donated to the charities of the students who earned the most tickets at Saturday’s fair.

Using Technology to Help Students Learn Vocabulary

Knowing the terminology in a field of study is critical.  I once tried preparing a Chinese recipe not understanding that a clove of garlic is, “one segment of a head of garlic.”  It would have been helpful to know that, “A single head contains multiple cloves.”  The recipe called for “2 cloves of garlic, minced,” but I added 2 heads of garlic to the pan.


While my dish would have been effective at warding off vampires and werewolves, it was not very tasty.

Too often teachers give students a list of terms and ask students to copy the definitions for these terms down on paper or index cards.  This method has lots of obvious problems.  Students often copy the wrong definition for the word when multiple exist.  Students are merely acting as duplicating machines in transferring words from one medium to another; there is no careful consideration of the meaning of what they are writing.  This type of activity provides no framework or context for why the word is significant to the study.

Fortunately, technology offers teachers and students the ability to study vocabulary in ways that will yield more effective understanding.  Here are a few:

Captions and Dialog Clouds with Google Drawings
Have students find a picture that helps to illustrate the term being studied.  Have students create captions or dialog clouds within the picture to demonstrate their understanding of the term or terms.  Here is an example of an image that demonstrates the meaning of the word minuscule:


I found the image of the two ants using Google search.  I then imported the image into Google Drawings and added the callout shapes and text boxes.

Adobe Spark Videos
Adobe Spark offers your students an easy way to record themselves talking over words, pictures, and videos.  For an overview of Abobe Spark, see my previous blog entry at https://hendersonisd.wordpress.com/2016/11/05/an-overview-of-adobe-spark/

To see some examples of how kindergarten teacher Monica McNew’s students used Spark to record their sight words, visit https://spark.adobe.com/video/46JzUlUw5SO9b and to create examples of alliteration, visit https://spark.adobe.com/video/YpFfzIAxXPCbQ

Why not allow your students to record themselves defining and, better yet, explaining vocabulary words?  They could locate images to help with their explanations.  They could then post their videos on an unlisted YouTube channel or on their blogs or web sites to share with others.

Here an example of an Adobe Spark video explaining the word minuscule.

Dramatic Enactments
Students can act out their vocabulary words and then record these explanations using a mobile device or a laptop.  Students could easily do this with their own devices.  Lots of high quality video recording and editing apps are now available for free.  Both our middle and high school campuses now offer green screens for use in recording videos.  Our students also have access to video editing applications like WeVideo on our district-issued Chromebooks.  Screencastify is a great Chrome extension for capturing video from both the screen of the computer as well as the web cam.  Here is an example created by students at Irving High School in Irving, Texas:

One of the best web sites/apps to use for helping students to build vocabulary is Quizlet.  Students can access Quizlet via a web browser on any device or through Quizlet’s iOS or Android app.  Quizlet allows students to build study sets, which are basically two-sided cards, much like 3×5 index cards.  Students can access these sets of cards on any of their devices, and they can share their card sets with others.  In addition to the cards, Quizlet offers several ways that students can master their vocabulary sets, including a quiz over the words, matching games, and a game called Gravity in which students must protect the planet from incoming asteroids by defining words correctly.  Teachers can also create sets of cards and share them with students, but I feel that students will remember words and meanings better if they create their own cards.


Quizlet even keeps up with the words with which students have experienced problems so that students can focus on these trouble words.


Quizzes Using Kahoot! and Quizziz
Quiz sites can provide healthy competition for students, and vocabulary can be integrated into your quizzes in applications like Kahoot! and Quizziz.  Here is one way the Kahoot! question builder could be used to ask questions about vocabulary:


Notice that images (which help many students with recall) can accompany your questions.


Google Tour Builder

Google Tour Builder is a tool that allows users to pin locations on Google Maps and to add pictures and narratives to these pinned locations.  Users can also go on tours that were created and shared by others.  This tools is accessible via a web browser at https://tourbuilder.withgoogle.com  To see an overview of how to use Tour Builder, watch the video below.

To see an example of a tour, visit https://goo.gl/EASJhH

You could allow your students to use this tool to…

  • map the locations from a short story or a novel and provide details about the role each locale plays in the story
  • demonstrate understanding of the geography and culture of locations around the world
  • relate information about their hometown or the locations where their ancestors once lived
  • highlight important geological features, such as volcanoes, oceans, and islands
  • highlight important man-made landmarks

An Overview of Adobe Spark

How are your students

  • telling a story?
  • reporting an event?
  • explaining a process?

Adobe Spark (https://spark.adobe.com) is a free product that offers three apps that you and your students can use for these needs and others.  Your students can create these products directly within a web browser or they can use the apps that are available for iOS and Android.  Spark allows your students to create a Post, Page, or Video.


Spark Post is the simplest tool to use.  It can be used to build graphics like those that you would see on social media.


Creating these graphics is super easy.  Students simply upload their own images or choose from the available pictures, fonts, and colors to build their graphics.  Adobe will even make recommendations when you move the green dot around an inventive style suggestion wheel.


Spark Page is a tool for creating a page of multimedia that can be shared via social media, email, or can be embedded on a web page.

The user adds the content one element at a time, including photos, text, links to web content, buttons, video, photo grids, and glideshows.  Adobe offers a large variety of stock photos to use on your page.  As they are added, items appear one atop another in a vertical presentation.


Adding content is very easy and the design process is done in large part by Adobe for you.  You just click a plus sign to add an item and choose the item you would like to add.  Here, I add a video clip from YouTube.


You can see the finished product of an Adobe Page I created at https://spark.adobe.com/page/Mco6LPbgYCoTc/

Spark Video is the most powerful of the tools.  It offers your students an easy way to tell a story with audio and images.  It begins with creating a title and choosing a template for the story to be told.


From there, you add pictures, icons, and text to slides.  My favorite part of the Adobe Spark Video editor is the audio recording feature.  To do a voiceover, simply click and hold the microphone icon and speak.  If you don’t like what you recorded, simply hold down the button and try again.  Adobe offers a wide variety of background music clips, and ducking (the automatic reduction of the volume of the music clip during the voiceover) is automated.


To see what a finished Adobe Spark video looks like, visit https://spark.adobe.com/video/DHmgNTjV26Oer

I highly recommend that once your students get the pictures they want to use in the order they want them to appear in the video, have them write a script.  This will ensure that their thoughts are more organized and that the narrative will flow better and sound more professional.

Like Post and Page, simply click the Share option in the Video app to finalize the link and to choose how you want to publish.  You can even download the finished video to your device.


With the intense focus on testing, I worry that we are losing opportunities for students to show what they know in our classrooms through their creativity.  Students should be creating artwork, graphics, video, and other products to demonstrate their knowledge of all subjects.  Now that most of our students have access to a device, these types of projects are easier than ever to do, and Adobe Spark is one the easiest tools for creating multimedia that I’ve ever used.  The hardest part of using this product with your students might be helping them create Adobe accounts.

An Overview of Google Keep

Google Keep is a note taking application available for Google Chrome and for mobile devices.  You and your students can use it to stay organized and to record important information.  In this video, I provide an overview of the Keep interface as well as some of the basics of using the application.