Apr 10

The Best Way To Setup Your Classes In An LMS:

gradinggroupsThe best part of having a learning management system (LMS) is the community of learning it helps teachers create. After talking to some friends in my PLN about LMSs in general and Schoology, my LMS of choice, specifically, I was surprised to learn just how many teachers aren’t creating the best community possible for their students. Many teachers aren’t setting up their classes effectively in their LMS! Here is how to group your classes in Schoology, or any other LMS, if you have more than one section (period) of the same subject:

I teach three periods of English II. To increase community, I did NOT create three separate classes in Schoology. As you can see below, I created one big class!


When you have loaded all of your students into one big class, the next thing you want to do is add students to grading groups by period! So while I have all 74 kids in one giant class, I can also work with them by period.

Finally, my class is gamified. My students work in Guilds all year. One of the best things about Schoology, is the fact that I can put kids in more than one grading group. So after I group students by period, I also group them by Guild. Take a look:


So what are some of the benefits?

One Big Class: One big class allows students to interact with all of their peers across all of your periods instead of just the peers that happen to be in their class. I have 74 students across my three sections of English II. Now, when I assign a class discussion or assignment on Schoology, students are interacting with all 74 of their peers that I teach instead of just who is in their class. When I post an update, I have 74 students giving feedback for all to see. It’s great…

and important! Just because students aren’t in the same class doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to interact or work together! Working with someone who is not in the same building as you is a 21st century, real-world skill that students need to develop. Grouping all of your students together in one big class lets them develop this skill. Sometimes, I will even group a student with a student who isn’t in their class. They must complete an assignment asynchronously with a peer that they won’t physically see. That’s taking collaboration to the next level: the real-world level.

One big class is great for me as well. I only have to do things once on Schoology. I don’t have to copy work or updates to more than one class. I don’t waste time flipping to each and every class and checking separate classes discussions and assignments or posting updates. I was talking to a teacher who had nine periods! Nine! He made nine separate classes in Schoology even though it was the same subject! I asked him how much time he wasted flipping from class-to-class checking discussions and how often he forgets which classes he has checked and which ones he hasn’t. He just sent back a frowny face.

Grading Groups By Period (and Guilds If You’re Into That Kind of Thing): I hear you. You’re saying, “I teach the same subject, but my classes are different levels? I can’t group them together!”


Even if your same-subject sections (alliteration FTW!) are of different skill levels, you should still group them together in one big class! Last year, I had two low-level classes, one college-prep class, and one honors class. Since students were grouped by period, if I wanted to assign a certain period a specific assignment, it was easy! I just assigned it to that period using Schoology’s Individually Assign feature. Don’t be fooled: just because it’s called Individually Assign doesn’t mean you can’t assign it to specific Grading Groups. See:


Remember when I said this year I assign students a partner to work with that wasn’t in their class? I did that last year too, but I assigned a higher-level student with a lower-level student.

Additionally, you’d be surprised at how the quality of a low-level student’s contributions to the community increases when they see the good quality contributions being modeled by honors students. Moreover, passion is contagious. The passion of some of your students will rub off on others. Also, in my experience, I’ve always found my low-level students were motivated when I told them they were being grouped with honors kids and being treated as equals. Especially after my beginning-of-the-year speech where I tell my low-level students, “You were put here by mistake! This is the year we show them!” I was always impressed with how many students took that message to heart and tried to prove me right.

What I’m trying to say is this: if the biggest advantage of an LMS is the community and culture of learning it helps me create, the second biggest advantage is the ability to differentiate instruction. Think about it:

One big class —-> Grading Groups by period —-> Grading Groups by Guild —-> the individual student.

I am able to reach my students on different levels and differentiate their instruction at every stop along the way. Even though students are different, setting up your LMS this way allows everyone to learn together while still getting the individual instruction that they need all while making my life easier. If that is not the definition of a win-win, I don’t know what is. Man, do I love #edtech!

So try creating one big class in your LMS and then breaking them into Grading Groups from there. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

Until next time,



Mar 29

Mail Bag!

CastDan Wade, from Webb City Middle School, sent me a couple of questions about my classroom Alternate Reality Game (ARG). I’ve received a lot of similar questions lately, so I thought I would throw my answers up on the ol’ website to help as many people as possible.

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Mar 21

My Backchannel (R)evolution

BCCWebSiteBackchanneling is when an audience has an online conversation about a presentation or lecture as they are watching it live. This is meant to turn listening to a speaker into an active process. Backchanneling allows audience members to chime in with their opinion on a topic or speaker, share resources, and is said to increase participation and grow community. Using a specific #hashtag to Tweet your opinion on a presenter while watching The Oscars or talking to your friend via Facebook chat about The Walking Dead episode your both watching are forms of backchanneling. So, clearly, backchanneling in the real world is popular, but what about the classroom?

Some teachers have been brave enough to allow students to backchannel while they are lecturing. This is usually done with a backchanneling program displayed via projector alongside the teacher so both teacher and student can see their comments as the lecture goes on. The teacher may answer the questions as they appear or comment on the students’ thoughts as they see fit. Backchanneling is said to improve classroom community, attention span, and make lecture more interactive. I’ve never tried allowing students to backchannel while I lectured, and I don’t know if I ever will; I’m not sold on the idea. Thus, backchanneling has never had a place in my classroom… until now!

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Mar 05

These Are The Things I Can’t Do Without

AppsWe are a little more than halfway through the school year, so I thought it would be a good time to update my list of must have things! Almost everything on here is free, they all make my life easier, and, most importantly, they enhance my lessons and improve my students’ learning. These are the things I can’t do without:

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Feb 21

The Flipped Classroom™ Is A Lie

By Elementsunleashed on Deviant Art“Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for shore.”

On Schoology, I took part in a group discussion started by a teacher who had flipped his classroom. He seemed like a great guy. He seemed creative, hardworking, and personally invested in his students’ success. The kind of teacher you would want your kid to have. Unfortunately, he had been asked by his principal to stop flipping his classroom because it wasn’t “working” for a minority of his students. Some kids weren’t doing well. These kids, this teacher stated, probably wouldn’t be doing well regardless of how he taught his class. He wanted to know where he went wrong.

I felt really bad for him. He talked about how he tried to do all the right things. He held them accountable for watching the video at home, made DVDs (using his own money) for students who needed them, and planned fun activities in class just like all the books and sites probably told him, yet some students still struggled; some even rebelled. This guy seemed like a great teacher. He was before he flipped his classroom and still will be after he un-flips his classroom (shame on that principal!).

Where he went wrong, I think, is where many teachers go wrong in education: they think implementing something in their class is a guarantee. I think he bought into the hype of The Flipped Classroom™. Flipping your classroom is not a silver bullet. It is not that anyone one thing that will solve all of your problems in the classroom; that any one thing doesn’t exist. Flipping your classroom will not make you a great teacher, nor will all of your students fall so in love with The Flipped Classroom™ that they all become model students.

My classroom is flipped, but it is not a The Flipped Classroom. In fact, if you came into my classroom and asked my kids what it was like to learn in a flipped classroom, they would look at you like you’re nuts because I’ve never even said the words flipped, flipping, or flipped classroom to them. Why? The Flipped Classroom™ is a lie.

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Feb 14

Gamify Your Class Level I: Xp Grading System

1upI believe every good, gamified class must have a Total Points, xp grading system. The xp system will be the foundation of your gamified classroom, so it should be the first thing you do if you want to gamify your class! Here is how I made my Total Points, xp grading system while still staying within the confines of my districts percentage grading policy. Warning: there will be math!

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Feb 02

Techspo 2014 Presentation

I had a great time at NJASA’s Techspo conference. Since many of you asked, I’ve uploaded my presentation for your viewing pleasure. I’m not sure how useful it will be since the presentation is mostly pictures. If you need anything explained, feel free to leave me a comment. Here is the live website for my classroom Alternate Reality Game, TwentyTwenty!

Jan 29

How To: Make an SSTV Puzzle

Apollo_11_first_stepSSTV, or Slow-Scan Television, is a picture transmission method, used mainly by amateur radio operators, to transmit and receive static pictures via radio in monochrome or color. Most famously, SSTV was used to send back some of the first pictures of Space and the Moon. The most famous picture being this one from the Apollo 11 mission which shows Neil Armstrong descending a ladder to become the first human to step onto the surface of the Moon.

I used SSTV to make the final puzzle to end the first act of my classroom Alternate Reality Game called TwentyTwenty. After solving a coded riddle, and entering the answer into one of my character’s websites, students were given another coded message and this sound file. The coded message told them the weird sound they were hearing is something called SSTV in the Scottie 1 frequency. It took them about two weeks, but they eventually figured out what SSTV was and how to solve the  puzzle. They turned the sound file into a picture, sent the picture to the main character, and brought Act I to a close!

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Jan 23

Proof Of Concept

CastOne of the big changes I’m most excited about this year is my classroom Alternate Reality Game. Briefly, my students are the main characters in a yearlong, real-world, classroom video game. Revisit this post if you need a refresher. I will catch you up on our story so far by sharing the recap “The Narrator” wrote for my students on their TwentyTwenty Schoology discussion thread after completing Act I.

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