Using Digital Assessment Tools to Customize Instruction


There is nothing wrong with traditional paper-pencil or a show-of-hands student assessment. However, if you challenge yourself to try just one electronic feedback tool, you might be surprised at its efficacy and accuracy. Electronic assessment quickly collects student response, allowing the teacher to analyze and act upon student understanding and to effectively design instruction. There are quite a few free reliable electronic systems available. Below is a small collection of free web-based digital assessment tools.

polleverywherePollEverywhere is a student response system. Students are able to anonymously text their replies to questions allowing the teacher to adjust and differentiate instruction and address misconceptions. Polleverywhere may be used “real-time” during class or remotely in a flipped setting, allowing teachers to assess student understanding prior to class the next day.

Quia_logoQuia is a password-protected web-based platform that allows teachers to browse a teacher-created library or create their own self-grading quizzes as well as other learning activities, such as flashcards and word scrambles.

saspathways1 SAS Curriculum Pathways  provides interactive, standards-based traditional, virtual and home schools resources incorporating formative and summative assessments and can be differentiated to meet a variety of curricular, instructional and technology needs. Teachers can create and automatically grade custom multiple-choice quizzes which provide automatic feedback on student understanding.

diagnoser Diagnoser is an assessment tool for classroom instruction. This interactive program provides teachers with continuous formative assessment and feedback on student thinking, understanding or misconceptions; which in turn inform instruction. Students receive feedback as they work through their assignments and teachers are able to view reports that detail facets of their students’ thinking about an assigned topic.

edmodoEdmodo is a password-protected system that connects learners with other students, teachers, parents, administrators and publishers in order to share resources within the class setting or globally. Teachers are able to continue classroom discussions online, provide assignments and to quiz or give polls to track student understanding, confusion or frustration. Students may earn badges based on performance or behavior.

schoology1Schoology is a password-protected cloud-based learning management system (visually similar to facebook) for K-12 schools and higher education institutions focused on collaboration allowing users to create, manage, and share academic content. Teacher resource tools include attendance records, online grade book, tests and quizzes, homework drop boxes, use of rubric assessment and Google Drive integration. There is an option to purchase the school-wide enterprise package.

powermylearningPowerMyLearning is a collection of tools that personalize instruction and support student-driven learning in and out of school. Academic games, videos and activities are tagged by subject, grade and are aligned to common core state standards. The activities (from publishers like PBS, Discovery, National Geographic, Khan Academy, and Scholastic) have been vetted by a team of experienced educators through a multi-step review process and are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and others. Common Sense Media rates PML with 4 (out of 5) stars.

Snow Days v. Digital Tools

Researching the three branches of the United States government can be pretty dry stuff. Enter: digital presentations. Eighth grade students utilized a digital presentation format of their choice (e.g. iMovie, Movie Maker, Google Presentation, Prezi…)  to explain and describe the three separate and independent U.S. branches of governmental power and their functions; the legislative, judicial and executive branches.  They needed to explain “separation of power” and “checks and balances,” which prevents tyrannous concentration of power.  Project criteria included incorporating the different responsibilities, requirements, terms, legislative and election processes in addition to an informative video or audio link and images. 

Not many of us Virginians had heard of the “Polar Vortex.” Sounded ominous. The students thought it wondrous as they enjoyed unusual snow days off from school. Some had never experienced or seen snow.



Using collaborative digital presentation tools encouraged student interest and helped to promote student learning and creativity .  .  .  and allowed students the option to continue working on their project.  While not mandatory, it was interesting that some did continue to collaborate.

B.Y.O.D. :: Google Drive :: Google Docs

We are all too familiar with ever-tightening budgets. Our middle school incorporated a B.Y.O.D. program three years ago so instituting the use of Google Apps for Education was an appropriate fit. Students in grades six through eight collaborate on a variety of educational projects using Google Drive and Docs.

WHAT is Google Drive? It’s a free cloud-based storage system that allows you to keep your documents, photos, videos, and other files online. Whenever you place files on Google Drive, they are stored on internet servers rather than your computer’s hard drive. You can then access those files from any computer with an internet connection or even a mobile device, like a tablet or smartphone. Drive even allows you to share your files with others.

gdrive1How To Create a Google Doc: Log in to Google.  Select the (1) Goggle Drive icon (upper right corner, looks like a 9 little squares).  Then, select the triangular (2) Google Drive icon.







Next, select the red CREATE button. Click on DOCUMENT (or you can select any of the other choices). A new document window will open.





You will need to rename your document (file name). Type away!



Google Docs Collaboration: One of the best features of Google Docs is that you can collaborate; everyone can edit the same file at the same time. There is no limit to the number of free collaborators you can add to a document. It’s pretty basic – you just click on the blue SHARE button located in the upper right corner and type in the recipient’s email address. You decide if they can just view or edit.

15 FREE Science Apps for BYOD

Through the use of digital tools, teachers are able to create new ways of transferring knowledge. Implementing a tactile and engaging BYOD program at school could help transform the way students learn. An effective BYOD program will include students of all abilities and meet their learning needs. A student can use his/her tablet, mobile, iPad or camera webcam to research, record, create video or art, and read a library book – as well as to experiment or learn in a science lab.

I am ALWAYS looking for FREE instructional tools and ideas. Implementing the use of educational science apps is a cost effective way to increase my students’ access to technology in an ever-tightening school budget. I’ve started a short list of a variety of FREE science apps. I’d like to see the list grow, so please feel free to add to this list. It is important to note that while many prefer to use their own familiar devices; schools have the responsibility to provide an adequate technology loan supply to meet the needs of those who cannot afford these tools.

 3D Brain: Rotate and zoom around 29 interactive structures in the brain.  Features information about color-coded brain structures and functions, brain injury, the brain’s relationship to mental disorders and links to modern research.

3D Cell Stimulation and Stain Tool: Video library, cell structure, etc. Learn, explore, rotate and zoom cell structures. Find out about cell structure functions and relationships to other components of the cell. Create and share your own cell image.

Biobots Under the Sea Rescue:  Learn about marine creatures, their unique adaptations and navigate around obstacles in order to plan an underwater rescue of mechanical animal robots located in an earthquake-damaged sea museum.

NASA App HD: Explore NASA. This app resource features over 157,000 images,  live streaming of NASA TV, on-demand videos, current news and feature stories, satellite tracking, countdowns and more, for all things space-related.

Hurricane Track: Atlantic tracking application offering  live radar animations, projected 5-day hurricane and cyclone paths, potential cloud formations that could evolve into cyclones, local forecasts, tropical weather summaries and more.

Mitosis App: AAAS: Interactive guide allows you to explore, read, listen and quiz yourself about the process of cell division. Includes a glossary.

Molecules: View and manipulate 3-D renderings of molecules. Rotate, zoom in or zoom out and pan the molecules using your fingers. Structures may be viewed in ball-and-stick or space-filling visualization modes.

Periodic Table of Elements Basic: Standard color-coded periodic table of the elements. Provides atomic number, chemical family, boiling and melting points, chemical state, etc.

Planets: 3D guide to the solar system. Features gamma spectrum, 2x resolution for Mars and Venus and landscape rotation on iPhone & iPod touch.

Smash Your Food: Virtually smash cheeseburgers, sodas, pizza and other foods to learn their sugar, salt and fat content. Cool sound effects, video, personalized nutrition tips and health challenges.

Spacecraft 3D: N.A.S.A.’s augmented reality program allows users to interact with various spacecraft used to explore our solar system. Pretty awesome. Free.

Space Images: Search, rotate, save and share NASA/JPL’s videos and hi-resolution images of space, stars, galaxies, planets, weather on Earth and much more.

The Periodic Table HD: Color coded table of elements: name, density, electronic configuration, atomic number, melting point, etc. Free.

Weather by Apalon: Weather live. Real-time weather conditions, alerts, seven-day and 24-hour weather forecast, “feels Like” temperature, wind direction and speed, humidity and precipitation, wind chill, etc.

Weather Channel: Weather live. This app features HD weather backgrounds, full screen customizable weather maps, state flu and pollen level forecasts and severe weather alerts.



Digital Citizenship & Responsibility

In October, two colleagues and I presented at the Tidewater Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools Teacher Conference. Our B.Y.O.D. breakout session focused on implementing the diocesan technology standards, modeled on the NETSž*T.  The energy was palpable as the participants whipped out their e-readers, mobiles, tablets, laptops and immediately began to experiment. It was awesome. Promoting and modeling digital citizenship and responsibility seemed to cause the most confusion to those educators who used little, or were relatively new to using, technology in the classroom. After a roundtable discussion and sharing we compiled the following links and ideas. We’d love to hear what others are doing…

All Digital Citizens Poster: Common Sense’s elementary age level poster helps teachers to guide students to make safe, smart, and ethical choices while online.

Bibliography Generator: Use MLA and APA online bibliography generators, Easy Bib and BibMe,  for all types of sources.

Digital Citizenship and Responsibility Chat: Students use a back-channel chat room to reflect upon online etiquette and safety on sites like Chatzy and Today’s Meet.               

Digital Etiquette: BrainPop! video, quiz, and other activities about online etiquette. Some free, subscription needed for other features.     

Digital Footprints: Being e-safe relies on selecting appropriate privacy levels, knowing how to behave online and understanding the risks of using the Internet and mobile technologies. This video helps students understand digital footprints and how to represent themselves properly through grammar, tone & material. (Slow loading)

Learning Lab’s Digital Safety: Elementary level Watch/Try/Apply method of teaching students about online safety.

Library Learning Commons: Copy-right friendly sources.

Voki: Create (or allow your students to create their own) a simple voki PSA stating the “Golden Rule” of digital citizenship behavior, safety and responsibilities. Present to your class via the SMART Board.

Edublogs Student Challenge: Great Student Examples. Perfect starting point for teachers to implement class blogging.   

ipl2 Librarian: Large information and resource compilation.   

Perdue Online Writing Lab (OWL): Writing resources: avoid plagiarism, cite sources, safe practices.

Plagiarism.Net: Free online tool to check for plagiarism. Includes spell checker.  

The Plagiarism Checker: Free and paid subscriptions. Check student works for possible plagiarism.

21st Century Wedding

My daughter and her fiancé rent a small 1930’s cottage-like home in the middle of an alpaca farm and wanted to use this setting for their DIY fall wedding. We walked the site, looked at the “quaint” out buildings and decided upon a shabby vintage-country theme. Organization and visuals proved problematic as Brianne Pink and Brian Blue (they both pronounce their names: “Bri-en”) live one hour away from us.

My daughter and I had fun incorporating my school’s 21st century learning approach and her young ‘mad skills’ by planning much of the wedding using a variety of digital tools. This is surely “a sign o’ the times.”

Below are just some of the digital tools we used. Using these tools made for a pleasant, easy, anywhere-anytime experience.  The best part of it all? Our children said that their special day was everything they could have hoped for!

Pinterest: A great source for inspiration and sharing. Provided us with most of our ideas.

iPad and iPhone: Texted pictures back and forth saved time, guessing and money between Brianne, Brian, the caterer, her dad and myself.

Wedding Wire:  One of many, many ‘wedding planner’ sites out there. WW provided local officiate and vendor reviews, a guest list generator and an interactive website generator (including interactive RSVP response, online hotel reservations, Google maps for directions and guest’s music requests).

Zazzle: Brianne and Brian used the interactive customizable site to create their invitations.

Google docs and calendar: We shared collaborative check lists and coordinated dates.

DIY websites: Her dad constructed a ceremony arch using directions found online. Brianne Pink found an applesauce recipe and free personalized label designs for her favors.

Craigslist: For seating we were able to purchase inexpensive hay bales along with afghans and quilts for coverings. I found a notice for free wood stumps which we set at the end of each aisle topped with potted mums placed in metal coffee cans tied with raffia.

Groupon: Provided a variety of local vendor discounts.

Etsy: Brianne found hand-crafted boutonnieres, extra ribbon for her bouquet and a DIY cake topper kit.

Personalization Mall: The couple used card stock and a personalized stamp pad to create a unique “advice/best wishes guest book” where guests could leave best wishes and advice.

Instagram and FaceBook: Instantaneous sharing of the day with far away family and friends.

 Shutterfly: Family and friends were able to upload and share photos and create customizable album books.


Virtual Fieldtrips – Great Value

In March, I happily accepted the invitation from our 2nd grade class to participate in a virtual fieldtrip, “Coming to America: Ellis Island.”  Scholastic and the National Park Service joined forces in an effort to allow students from across the country to visit and follow the same path as the immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island from 1898-1924. Students learned about the history of the immigrant experience as new arrivals to America traveled through the Baggage Room, Registry Room, Stairs of Separation, and the rest of the island.  This free live webcast was viewed by 1.5 million students in over 455 classrooms, auditoriums, or small groups.  During the webcast, students texted or Skyped great real-time questions from all over America.

To prepare, our students researched text and web resources and located Ellis Island on a wall map and via Google Earth. It was a great half hour. Our 2nd grade students realized that arriving with hopes and dreams, bringing new foods and traditions, these early immigrants helped to develop the culture of their America today. They were made aware that an important piece of America’s history still exists and that their peers from other schools had some of the same questions or comments they had. Through this experince, the world just became a little more accessible and “flat.”

In today’s realistic classroom, virtual fieldtrips provide students with an equal playing field by allowing students the opportunity to “visit” locations regardless of demographics, distance, or expense. The opportunities are endless. Students may go back in time, travel through space, or swim the depths of the oceans. And the best part is that research has found that well thought out and planned virtual fieldtrips enable students to acquire the same cognitive and affective gains as a real life visit. (Buettner, 1996; Goldsworthy, 1997) An entirely new world of experiences will be opened to all students as they experience firsthand the potential of the Internet as a valid curricular device.


QR Codes in Education

This is my third post about QR Codes. Evidently, they fascinate me. QR codes are starting to draw a lot of attention as a unique and interesting digital tool. Originating in Japan, the QR code makes it easier for users to view web pages or videos, read text messages, etc. Using QR is economical and ecological as it saves time and paper. Imagine the potential uses in today’s classroom.

Integrating QR code use into a lesson supports student learning by tapping into a concept embedded in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) known as multiple means: allowing for the versatility of teacher creativity and the differentiation that students need. This tool’s versatility has the potential to increase instructional effectiveness by allowing the teacher to captivate, engage, and motivate students in lessons as they have never before. It allows for alternate means of representation of materials and expression of what the student has learned. When something fun and different is embedded into a core lesson, students are more motivated and excited to learn – but most importantly are likely to remember the material.

Where are QR codes being used now?
QR Codes are ubiquitous.  They are being used and appearing everywhere: movie trailers, magazines, T-shirts, consumer product packaging, geography coordinates, contact info, photos, URLs, airline ticket boarding passes, realtor signs, on store mannequins, personalized department store gift tags, videos, company contests, bus schedules – just to name a few.

Ways to Use:
Assessment: QR codes can be used for obtaining instant feedback. When students scan the YES or NO code, a pre-written SMS goes to an SMS service which can be accessed by the presenter via a web page.  Students can follow up and answer open ended questions by SMS text messages. This saves a lot of time, quantifies the results, and maintains anonymity.  Add QR codes to presentations so that students may further review topic.  To save time and paper, students turn in multiple digital projects by placing several QR codes on one sheet of paper. Survey stakeholders.

Information: Post QR code posters around campus providing information about student displays or podcasts, school directories, or to encourage community feedback. Teachers can embed QR codes into PowerPoint slides, course material, handouts, syllabus documents, webinars, class downloads, and onto whiteboards. QR codes may provide access to student-directed virtual fieltrips, foriegn language verbal prompts, scavenger hunts or calendar events. An awesome example: Periodic Table of QR Codes by David Bradley.

Great Digital PR: Visitors and other stakeholders scan QR codes placed around school campus to find out about school news. Add QR code to school newsletter for further, in-depth reading.  Include QR code for school info video in community newspaper.

blue: student blog; pink: vokis & glogster; green: video

 How to Scan or Create QR Codes:

Consumers access the codes via free QR reader applications available online. Cell-phone cameras, webcams, iPads, etc. serve as scanners. Hold your smart phone or iPad, etc. up to the QR code and scan to read content. There are various platforms for scanner downloads: iPhone/iPad: QRAFTER or iNigma. For the Droid: QRDroid or BeeTagg and Blackberry: QR Code Scanner, BeeTagg.

Create your own QR code using a free generator. A variety of applications are available to track, measure, and view the success of a QR code: Kaywa, ZXing Project, QRStuff, BQRious, iGoogle, or MyQRCo.  When generating QR Codes, you should try to keep the information embedded in the code as simple as it can be, and this is where URL shortener (e.g., TinyURL,,, etc.) come to play. However, consider that such services are not always available at some Wi-Fi hotspots, harness and share the data, or may be blocked as spam.

Pros and Cons:

Pros: QR Codes are very quick and easy to use; usually costs nothing; provide instant feedback; students are more likely to remember material; provides access to information for absent students; schools save when they allow BYOD.

Cons: Some students may not be able to bring their own hand-held device, smart phone, etc.; monitoring appropriate student use of equipment may prove difficult; smart phones are also the target of hackers who are releasing malicious codes for different mobile platforms.

Antivirus Protection:

It’s a good strategy to preemptively install a good antivirus solution for our mobile device to avert any catastrophe. A sample of anitvirus providers: AVG for AndroidESET Mobile Security,  NetQin Mobile Security,  or Kaspersky Mobile Security.  

How do you use QR codes in the classroom?… at


Helpful Resources:

Mr. Benson’s QR Code Tutorial (video)

40 Interesting Ways to Use QR Code in the Classroom

Cybrary Man’s QR Codes Page 

National Blue Ribbon Celebration

Several faculty, admin and I recently returned from a wonderful two- day stay at the stately Omni Shoreham in Washington, DC. What a fantastic hotel.  A true Washington institution, the Omni Shoreham has hosted inaugural balls for every president from FDR to Bill Clinton, the Beatles first U.S. visit to DC, and Julia Roberts while filming the Pelican Brief.

 On November 14-15, the Shoreham was the host for the 2011 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award Celebration.  Educators from around the country attended and shared fresh ideas from communication between school and home, positive discipline, to promoting your school.  In one session, school principals shared how their school (or district) promoted community engagement and support.  In a ‘round table’ format, they discussed the challenges schools face in striving to engage the community and families.  Some strategies principals used were:

  • 100% Conference Attendance; including teachers or admin visiting a parent’s place of work
  • The Las Vegas school district provides Night Care as many parents work the casinos
  • 6-Way Communication with home (i.e.: telephone, Facebook, Twitter, school newsletter, class webpage, ATD alerts…)
  • Random Happy Phone Calls to parents each month 
  • Monthly free Parent-Child Activities to promote community

Besides the different breakout sessions; attendees also enjoyed great food, night tours of Washington and received a NBRS flag and plaque for their schools.

 The next day, back at SOS, the celebration continued with our students and faculty.  Students arrived to school wearing jeans and school polo shirts (instead of their uniform) and received a surprise NBRS T-shirt.  Other activities included a school-wide panoramic photo shoot in the gym, a movie, activities with “prayer partners,” attending a midday sock hop, and a celebratory gathering for the teachers after school.  Congratulations to everyone for their hard work!