Making iPad & Google Docs work with Paperport Notes

Google docs and the iPad are not always on speaking terms.  This has caused me no small amount of frustration because the two are both very powerful tools for learning.  If only they got along better.  

Recently a co-worker (Thank you very much Brian Harlan!) showed me Paperport Notes.  While there are many note taking aps, Paperport notes features Google Docs functionality as well as being compatible with many other Aps.

It accomplishes this by having a built in web browser.  A pdf file stored in google docs can be accessed through the browser and edited in Paperport notes and then reloaded to google docs and shared with the teacher. This makes the distributing and collecting work through Google Docs with the iPad.  A complete workflow process within Paperport Notes looks like this:

It IS possible to use this program to import materials from Google Docs and edit them in other note taking aps such as Notability or Penultimate.  The workflow is cumbersome but it is possible but probably not practical.  It looks like this:

While I’m excited that it can be done, in order to be effective in the classroom this will need to be much easier.

A Call for More Blogging

When I first became active on Twitter I would have put the odds that I would ever Blog solidly at Zero.  I had no desire to put work out there for criticism, nor did I feel that it was my place to share what I was doing in the classroom as if it was a standard to be achieved.  I simply wanted no part.Fast forward a few years and now I find blogging to be a powerful part on my own professional development. The thought process in organizing a post and the thinking that goes into sharing it helps me to organize future lessons and review others that I have taught.  Sometimes when I am teaching a lesson that I wouldn’t share, I ask myself “why not?” and then try to make it so.  It tends to elevate my work.

Similarly, I have really grown from reading about what others have done in their classes.  I have found inspiration in blogs that I would have laughed at before.  I teach high school, but it is amazing what you can learn from the blogs of elementary teachers.  I teach in the US but I find the blogs of teachers around the world help me to teach viewpoints and opinions without my own patriotic bias. I teach Social Studies but have improved the integration of writing and technology by finding people who have streamlined procedures in their classroom that worked for me.


So I would like to make this plea for the teachers out there who have hesitated to do so to start a blog.  Share to your level of comfort. Post what inspires you.  Don’t feel obligated to post daily or even weekly.  Your growth can help others to do the same.

The following are two google docs that will help you follow others. Feel free to add to them and find others to follow.  I look forward to hearing your voices.

Education Blog Master List
The #SSchat Blog List

What is #sschat? I’m glad you asked.

Since I have been a part of #sschat I am frequently asked “What is it that you do?” or “How does this group work?” I love the opportunity to answer these questions because I am so proud of our little “can do” group. The short version of my answer is “We help teachers to get what they need and to make their lives easier.”The long version goes more like this: “#sschat is a collaborative group of social studies teachers who work together to create materials, discuss teaching, integrate technology and problem solve. We learn together and talk about the direction that education is moving, talk to experts, crowdsource materials and share our best lessons. In the last two years a culture of sharing has developed. Imagine if some of the most passionate teachers you know were to get together and share the best materials they have. That’s #sschat.We meet on Twitter every Monday night at 7 pm est. If you would like to join us just follow the hashtag #sschat. New participants are welcome to join the conversation. Some people feel more comfortable just following along with the conversation but that isn’t necessary. Each #sschat is dedicated to a particular topic. and all participants share their thoughts on the topic, relevant links and their experiences. If you would like to get an idea of the topics we discuss, we keep our archives here, on the #sschat Ning website.

We have become well known for our crowdsourcing. Members vote electronically on a specific topic and then during the chat share all of their best resources and methods for teaching that topic. The end result is an incredible compilation of materials. These online crowdsourcing documents are better than any google search because they are teacher tested and honed over years before they are shared. I have heard many times from #sschat participants that before they worried about finding materials to use. Now they struggle with which of the amazing lessons that are shared best meets their needs. Here are are a few examples of crowdsourced topics:Cold War Crowdsource
World War II Crowdsource
Best Tools for Social Studies Teachers

What is truly amazing about #sschat though is the support that is offered on a daily basis. It has grown into a community that goes far beyond our simple one hour chat. It is a constantly available source of answers and advice. There is always a conversation happening. Whether you are a new teacher creating new materials or a master teacher looking to try something new, #sschat can help.

Being apart of this organization has taken my learning to new places. It is the most powerful professional development I have ever experienced.

Using Real Time Data to Improve Student Learning

Anyone who is involved in education know that there is an increasing emphasis on accountability and data.  More and more evaluation documents require both teachers and schools to show definitively and tangibly that the students have met learning goals.Yet for the classroom teacher this isn’t anything new.  What teacher isn’t taking steps to find and address areas of need in their classroom?  In the past this has taken the form of polling the class, exit slips and pop quizzes.  Typically the teacher collects these after class and then compiles the data for each class.  When everything works out as planned the teacher returns the next day with an idea of what needs to be clarified and who needs remediation.  The downside is sifting that information and finding meaning in it often takes a long time, sometimes more than just one day and might get pushed back a day or two. By the time the information is sorted the class may have moved on and clarifying and remediating means stopping the flow of the current lesson to reach back.  That is, if the information was accurate.  One of the most frustrating parts of this process is getting smiles and nodding heads when we ask the class if they understand, only to find out later that their understanding was shaky at best.
This year I started using Socrative,  a free assessment Ap for mobile devices, in this role.Using the Teacher Ap. a teacher registers and creates a “Room”.  Students need only open the Student Ap and enter the room number provided by the teacher.

The teacher has the option of controlling the pace of the quiz or allowing students to work at their own pace.

Regardless of which method the teacher chooses they can monitor the progress of each student as they complete the quiz.  The teacher portal will show you what question each student is on and how many questions they answered correctly and incorrectly.

I have used this to check on students who might be struggling with the format or wording of questions and to check in on students who seem to be working slower than usual.  For objective questions, students receive immediate feedback on their answers.  It is also possible to add short answer questions to the quiz in order to look for deeper understanding.
When the students have completed the assessment the teacher has the option of  either emailing of downloading the results.

The results are generated in the form of a spreadsheet.  This makes it simple to aggregate the data over time, both with pre and post tests in each unit and in tracking learning objectives over the course of the year. The results are also color coded with correct answers appearing in red and correct answers appearing in green.  This was fantastic in class for processing results quickly and modifying lessons accordingly.

Within seconds of finishing the quiz in class :

  • The students have received feedback about their performance
  • I have a color coded chart of how the class did collectively allowing me to take corrective action on the spot.
  • I have that information organized in a report that can use to show the progress of each individual and the class collectively.
Socrative saves me time, gives students immediate feedback, helps me to make better, more informed decisions and, is helping me easily gather the data that the job demands.
Cross posted on

Fact Checking our Textbook- Source Analysis and Critical Thinking

When I think back to how I used to use worksheets and textbooks in class I am a little embarrassed.  I hand them the book, they move info from the book to a sheet, then I collect the sheet. Awesome, now we are all smarter and I have a pile of grading to do.  How could I have ever thought that was ok?

In the last few months I have focused on creating frameworks that create opportunities for critical analysis in class.  I want them to be generic enough to be applied to different content. I’d like to have several but have the students repeat each of them enough that the students can become efficient in each process.

When I arrived at my Chinese Revolution Unit in early May, I decided to try a Textbook Fact Check.  At this point we had already studied several revolutions. I felt comfortable letting the students gather and process the facts of this unit.  I wanted them to use those facts to evaluate how history is written.  I began this Fact Check assignment by asking the students if the person telling the story matters?  I talked about some current events and how political parties have different views about the same facts.  Students brought up examples of competing perspectives on facts. Some of the things they mentioned were Holocaust deniers, groups in the Middle East, different religious views about the truth, and people testifying in court.  Once we had talked about these competing perspectives I asked so “What is the textbook’s perspective?”

Then we looked up who wrote each chapter and briefly searched their background.  Then students were grouped and assigned sections of the textbook to fact check.  I gave them this guide for what they should look for:

Bias- either positive or negative.
Errors- anything that could be shown to be false or is presented in a misleading way.
Omissions- Things that were left out (but explain why it might have been left out.)

The students were to collaborate, create a presentation of their findings via Google docs which they would share with that class.

Here are some examples of the final products they produced:

Example 1
Example 2
Example 3

These aren’t necessarily the best but represent a variety of ways the students went about the assignment.

I was very pleased with this assignment because it made clear which students were thinking critically for themselves and which students were simply repeating information from the book.  The class discussion was full of unanswered questions and avenues for further learning. There was debate about the conclusions that were made.  Students did a lot of in depth reading and had the freedom pursue avenues of thought that interested them.  I did not lecture. We had long discussions about our sources and which ones were trustworthy.  The lesson took us to places we hadn’t been that the textbook hadn’t taken us before.

I still have a lot to do in order to put the students in charge of their learning.  I realize I will have to work more on evaluating sources and more activities on identifying perspective but this was a step in the right direction.

A helpful book in this process has been “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel Willingham.  It discusses the cognitive processes involves in learning and memory. It will get you thinking about the work that you assign and how you structure your lessons.