Preparing for Distance Learning in such a short time was quite the whirlwind! We had a lot of resources to curate and publish in very little time - that goes for teachers and DLCs! It also afforded us the opportunity to explore (and experience) a brand new tool in Canvas called Studio. After designing our Distance Learning PD Course in a matter of days, we came to rely on it. Now that we have some room to breathe and reflect, we think it can be your new best friend for distance learning. It’s a fantastic tool to bolster the accessibility of your videos, deliver seamless formative assessments, and can even be used as a powerful creation/collaboration tool by students.

Canvas Studio is a video platform built into Canvas. It allows teachers and students to upload videos they have created (or grab videos from YouTube) and create video-based discussions or quizzes. Elementary teachers might be thinking, “but my students aren’t using Canvas...” Well, you are in luck! You can still upload media to Canvas Studio, generate closed captions, and share the video link through Seesaw. (Note that captioning is the only tool available if students are not in Canvas.)

As instructors in the Distance Learning PD Course, we inserted Studio media into Announcements and Pages all over the course. One of the biggest reasons we used Studio was to automatically generate (and edit) closed captions for our videos to increase the accessibility of our tutorials. In addition, we can view analytics of who watched our videos and how long they watched. This can help us edit our media in the future if we determine there are portions of the videos that could be cut or are confusing. We also turned on Comments so that participants in our course could ask questions and respond to each other to increase collaboration and comprehension.

Here is a screenshot from one of our Announcements that included a Studio video.

Teachers can use Canvas Studio as a means to disseminate screencasts and instructional videos in their courses or to formatively assess student understanding by inserting multiple choice, true/false, or multiple answer questions. If set up correctly (see step 3 of this guide), you can even include these grades in the Canvas Gradebook. And because your videos are stored in Studio rather than YouTube or Google Drive, you know your students won’t run into Internet filters or privacy issues! Yes, there are other methods for formatively assessing students that offer more question types, but the seamless nature of Studio working with Canvas is a huge benefit for students and staff.

The true power of technology in classrooms is when it is in the hands of our students. That’s right, students can use Studio just like you!

Students can upload media to Studio and either submit it for assignments or embed it into Discussions. When submitted to an assignment, it does display the video in the SpeedGrader and allow teachers to comment on their video. This could be a great way for you to give feedback that is time stamped so students know exactly what they need to fix in their video. 

Studio videos show up in SpeedGrader, allowing teachers to give time-stamped comments and feedback.

Another application for student-created Studio videos is adding commentary on a YouTube video. How could students use comments to demonstrate learning?

  • Complete a film analysis commenting on different aspects of a scene from a movie.
  • Identify the narrative arc in short films.
  • Identify skills that are used by professional athletes in sports clips.
  • Translate a video that is in another language.

Let’s take this one step further, shall we? Students can create quizzes in Studio; just like teachers. What are some ways students can use this feature? Take any of the previous examples and have students create quizzes for their classmates. These can be inserted into a Discussion response so everyone in their class can attempt their quiz.

We hope that after looking at Studio, you find a way to incorporate it into your distance learning toolbox! 


Minecraft Magic

Since the release of Minecraft: Education Edition (read about it here), I see it used everywhere. Students are using it for fun and teachers are using it with students to give them a creative and collaborative way to demonstrate their learning. But before we get into how it’s being used in classrooms, I have a little story.

Working in the Learning Commons at West, I often overhear student conversations in the morning and see what they are doing on their iPads. One morning before school, a student came into the Learning Commons and ran over to two other students. He said, “Hey! Want to build a huge castle in Minecraft and then blow it up?!” They all seem genuinely excited about the idea and then spent the next thirty minutes collaborating on a castle with the intention of just destroying their work immediately. In another instance, a teacher told me that her students begged to help classmates finish their projects when they had finished their own.

So what does this say about our students?

  • They are really good and fast at building in Minecraft.
  • They know how to work cooperatively and collaboratively in Minecraft.
  • They are perfectly happy “wasting time” in Minecraft with no discernible goal.

So what if we gave them a goal? Why shouldn’t we tap into that passion, creativity, and engagement? If you give it a chance, you will experience strong engagement, a high attention to detail, and some seriously hard work from your students. Take a look at a few examples of ways teachers have been using Minecraft: Education Edition in Shakopee Schools. For more lesson ideas, look here!

3rd Grade Language Arts:

Students created a house for a character from a story they had read. In the house they included things their character would have and use. Students also created a book cover for a recent book they read. When they were done, students used the built-in screen recording features of the iPad and included a voiceover. Finally, they submitted their videos in Seesaw. You can find these activities and more by searching through Minecraft Classroom Build Challenges. Some of the options under Language Arts include create a story setting, design a book cover, and build a treehouse.

3rd Grade Math:

Students were learning about multiplication arrays in Math. They used a pre-created lesson and world to build arrays with their partners to practice multiplication. When they were done, they had to write out the math equation for each array on a slate (chalkboard) in the Minecraft world. This allowed them to see a virtual manipulative to visualize how multiplication works. Screenshots of the completed slates were sent to the teacher via Seesaw.

7th Grade Life Science:

Students in Life Science explored the extinction safari world to learn about ecology and the impact of humans on the extinction of certain species. Students then responded to some questions in a Canvas discussion about what animal they would like to see recovered and why as well as what impact it might have on our ecosystem today.

8th Grade Earth Science:

Students created a model of the Rock Cycle in a Minecraft world which included an exploding volcano. They had to use different types of rocks and create geological layers. When they were all done, they AirPlayed their iPad in front of class to demonstrate their understanding of the Rock Cycle.

New Semester

As we have a new semester that is just days away, now is a great time to be getting our ducks in a row in Canvas. Remember to import your content from previous courses (don’t forget to remove due dates), get those CoLD home pages ready to go, publish your courses, and adhere to the Secondary Canvas guidelines!

Each month, Canvas releases a new update to the product that includes bug fixes, new features, and updates. Both of these updates will help you as you prepare for the new semester. You can read the release notes here.

New Ways to Create

The primary method for creating and editing content in Canvas is through the use of the Rich Content Editor. This is where you write instructions, link to websites, upload files, or embed videos. Here’s what it currently looks like.

The New Rich Content Editor has a simplified look with some useful new features. Click this link for a detailed list of all the functions of the Rich Content Editor. For a video guide, click here. The biggest change you will notice is the Links, Files, and Images tabs on the right are now located within the Rich Content Editor toolbar.

Here are some highlights of features that you will find especially helpful:

  • There are now different types of text formatting. This will help you emphasize specific written directions for students.
  • You can upload images directly to the Rich Content Editor using a drag-and-drop interface. This is especially helpful if you have a lot of images that you want to include into individual quiz questions. 
  • You can upload videos (such as screencasts) directly to the Rich Content Editor. Students also will have additional options for playback with this media player such as increasing or decreasing the playback speed.

New Ways to Share

Canvas is a flexible program that gives you multiple ways to obtain your goal. Sometimes this can be overwhelming because there are so many ways to peel the orange. Below you will find a summary of the ways that you can share and move content (assignments, pages, quizzes, etc.) in Canvas, with a description of when these features come in handy.

Where to Store Content:

Current Courses: These are the courses that are automatically generated for you for the current term. These are your live courses that students access daily. You will always have access to your current courses and last year’s courses, as well as any Master or Sandbox courses that you have requested. Courses more than a school year old will be archived every June.

Master Courses: Master Courses are used by a PLC to place common assessments and assignments that everyone plans to use. They never are archived. If you have too much old content or need to clean house in your Master Course, contact a DLC.

Sandbox Courses: Sandbox Courses can be created for you by submitting a help desk ticket. You can have one Sandbox Course for every different course you teach. A Sandbox is a great place to store your personal course content long-term as they will never be archived.

Ways to Share Content:

Import Course Content: Most users go to Settings, Import Course Content, and then copy their previous courses. This is a great way to move your entire course to a new semester or year, or back up your course at the end of a semester to a Sandbox Course.

Canvas Commons: Canvas Commons is a repository of Canvas content items or course that you can share with our district or people outside of our district. We recommend only using this feature if you intend to share something outside of your PLC or school. Using Canvas Commons to share content can largely be phased out for most purposes because of the introduction of the Direct Share feature.

Direct Share: Direct Share is a new feature as of 1/18/20 that allows you to share an individual assignment, quiz, or discussion. “Send to” allows you to share content directly to colleagues who can then choose what course and Module they would like to place that content in. “Copy to” allows you to move content from one course to another course you are a teacher in. This features also lets you choose which course and Module where you would like to place the copy.

"Send to" is a great way to share with colleagues.

“Copy to” is perfect for quickly transferring content from one course to another.

Minecraft in the Classroom

Something really interesting happened on November 20th, 2019. Minecraft: Education Edition was added to Self Service for students and staff to use. Without any information being provided, students immediately starting using it, especially at the Middle School level. Less than 24 hours later, the app was temporarily pulled from Self Service so we could inform staff and students that it was available and how it could be used. Once pulled, students at West Middle School started a petition to have it brought back. As of the writing of this post, the petition is up to 281 signatures.

So what is the lesson we can learn from this? That kids LOVE Minecraft! And as educators, anytime we can tap into the passions and interests of our students, we should jump at the opportunity. 

A principal (and parent of a Minecraft-obsessed son) once described Minecraft to me as "digital LEGOs." It is a space where students can solve problems, collaborate with peers, and be creative. The sky is the limit for what students can do inside a Minecraft world. So how can you use it with your students? Let's start with a video.

Interested? If so, I highly recommend going through "My Minecraft Journey" to get trained. It will walk you through how to use Minecraft: EE with students. From there, I'd recommend checking out the Minecraft: Education Edition website. You can find lessons for many subject areas and Hour of Code activities to get ideas or use the templates they have created. Here's a list of a few ideas to get you thinking about the possibilities:

  • Have students recreate a historical event, battle, or city in Social Studies.
  • Have students use one of the biome templates to explore an ecosystem and interact with wildlife in Science.
  • Have students explore perimeter and volume "physically" by walking around in a world that has various shapes. Once students have identified the shape's volume and perimeter, have them construct someone of their choosing and identify its perimeter and volume.
  • Taking that last example further, one school had students create a digital replica of their new school addition that was going to be built. Students had to use blueprints for the new additions, do unit conversions to convert feet into meters, and then build and problem solve together.

To pull it out together, your students can either use a screen recording or share the world with their teacher using a link. If they screen record, they can include a voiceover so you can hear them explain their new learnings. 

All the features mentioned thus far can be used on an iPad. On MacBooks, teachers have more administrative tools so they can monitor student use, turn on/off features and in-game events, and track progress. This is called Classroom Mode. Click here for more information. Hopefully Classroom Mode is coming soon to iPad! In the mean time, I would recommend using Apple Classroom to monitor student use.

Behavior Disclaimer: I know this is probably in the back of your mind so let's address it! In the event that a student is misusing their iPad or MacBook (whether it be a game in Safari, Minecraft, the camera, etc.) the same classroom expectations apply. Keep records of student behavior, discuss at PLC/team/academy meetings, and hold them to consistently high standards. Refer students to admin as necessary. 

iPadOS 13 is Here!

iPadOS 13 is now available for our students and staff to install!

One question that people often have when new updates drop is; should I update or wait? The answer for all school-provided devices is yes! Updates are blocked until it is deemed that they are ready for everyone to use. As of the writing of this blog post, iPadOS is at 13.2.2 so many of the bug fixes that were included in 13.0 have been fixed. And because apps get updated in order to work with the latest operating system, it is advisable to keep your iPad up to date.

Now that we have that out of the way, what are the new things that you might want to know? Below are a few highlights. For a really deep dive, check out this video.


In the past, when you visited a website using Safari on your iPad, you were sent to the mobile version of a website by default. No longer! When you go to a website, you will be viewing the desktop version from now on. A few examples of how that impacts us are that you can edit Google Docs directly in Safari, websites look more like they do on your MacBook, “new” Google Sites is editable on iPads, and many other websites will act as if you’re on your MacBook. Another feature that was added is a downloads manager. This is awesome because you are able to download files from websites such as YouTube Audio Library to get royalty-free music or image/video sites such as Pexels to get video footage for green screen projects. (And for our Middle School students, FlexTime Manager works flawlessly when trying to register for a session. No more glitches!)



Opening two apps into Split View has been available for awhile now. iPadOS 13 adds the ability to have two windows of the same app open side-by-side. For example, if you want to view two different websites in Safari, now you can! Another feature that was added is called Slide Over. It can be used to glance at other apps like Reminders or Calendar and it can also be used to drag and drop images and files into other apps.

Dark Mode

Dark Mode is all the rage these days in the tech world. When you turn Dark Mode on, many apps will display white text on a black background or just have a generally darker appearance. Dark Mode does save on battery life on your device and is better on your eyes than turning the brightness down to save battery. To turn it on, open Settings and tap on Display & Brightness. You can turn it to Light, Dark, or Automatic. Automatic will change you to Dark Mode from sunset to sunrise or whatever schedule you want. You can also add Dark Mode as a button in the Control Center. Click here to learn how to add buttons to your Control Center.

Photos and Videos

There are a number of great editing features now available. Probably the most useful feature is that you can now crop a video and straighten it. This helps if the video you recorded has a little too much in the background or it was shot on an uneven surface. There are also a number of photo features and updates. Check them all out in the video below.


You can now install Fonts on your iPad. They don’t work system wide, but they do display in a number of apps such as Keynote, Pages, Notability, etc. We currently don’t have any apps for students to use but teachers can install apps using the App Store. Some apps to check out are iFont, Font Diner, and Fonts. To learn more about how to use fonts, check out this guide.

It's Getting CoLD Outside!

Winter is coming! This means that it is about time to start planning for potential Connected Learning Days (CoLD). This blog post is your one-stop shop for all your CoLD-related resources. Be sure to check out the videos and directions below and explore the "Additional Resources" linked over on the right.

Note that this is intended for secondary staff as elementary staff have a different level of expectations.

Here’s a quick overview of getting set up for a Connected Learning Day:

  1. Import the CoLD home page template from Canvas Commons.

  2. Create your assignment and link it to our home page.

  3. Set your CoLD home page as the home page for your course before the school day official starts.

This video will walk you through every set up step or you can see the written directions below.

Import the CoLD Home Page template from Canvas Commons. Open Canvas, click on the Commons button on the left, and then search for Cold home page. Click Import/Download and check the box next to the courses you want to import the template into.

Edit the template to include your course title and name. Enter your email and press the space bar after it so it is hyperlinked.

Create your assignment. It is recommended that you make a Module and include all of the CoLD Assignments that you use throughout the winter. Link the assignment to your home page so it is easy for students to find exactly what they should be working on. To link an assignment to your home page, highlight text on your home page and then use the Links menu on the right to link to other items in your course. If you are looking for some fun ideas for CoLD activities, check out this blog post and scroll down to "Inspirational CoLD Lesson Ideas."

Winter 2019, you will see a significant change to the Rich Content Editor (the place where you type your directions in Pages, Quizzes, Discussions). Check out this video for a detailed walkthrough.

When a Connected Learning Day is announced, change your course home page to the CoLD home page. Open your course, click "Choose Home Page," and select to use your "Pages Front Page." Click on "Change" to find the correct home page you will need for that day.

Email Etiquette

Email. It is essential to the functioning of any workplace but it also can add a lot of stress to our already busy days. The sheer volume of emails we receive daily can be daunting so I thought it would be good to go over a few etiquette tips that will help everyone and give you tips on how to manage your inbox. If we all do our part by following these etiquette tips, we will all be happier!

Email Etiquette:

  1. Keep your message brief and to the point. Explicitly call out the action that is required by the person receiving the email. Novels are never your friend. 

  2. Use the subject line as intended. The subject line tells the person receiving your message what your message is all about. Include the audience for the email if you think some people will not need to read it such as “8th Grade Only” or “Advisors Only.” Conversely, do not write your entire email message in the subject line. 

  3. Create a signature. Your signature should include your name, title/position, and location. Not only do signatures look more professional but they can help avoid confusion when you are sending to people that don’t know you.

  4. Use the “send later” function of Outlook 2019. Outlook added this feature so you can now send an email later. This is great if you are answering something late at night or over the weekend if you want to respect the work-life balance of your colleagues. If it can wait until Monday or the next day, you can schedule it to send then!

  5. Don’t reply to an email with an unrelated question. If you are replying with a question about that email, click reply. If you want to ask that person a question that does not pertain to their email, create a new message. This keeps the conversation separate and allows you to organize your emails by conversations, which saves on confusion.

  6. Don’t use reply all. This function basically never makes sense for large organizations. CC people that might want to know your answer to the question but otherwise avoid this at all costs. If you need a flowchart to make this decision, click here. Save the inbox of your colleagues and just say no to “reply all.” 

  7. Avoid unnecessary replies. If you aren’t advancing the conversation, it’s okay to not reply. As long as the person in question knows that you received their message, it may be unnecessary. If no further action is required, do everyone’s inbox a favor and end the conversation.

  8. Use work email for work. I love Girl Scout Cookies as much as the next person but emails should be for work-related functions. Keep the advertising to a minimum.

Managing your Inbox:

  1. Mark messages unread or flag them. When you open an email you don’t have time for in the moment, flag it so you know to come back later. 

  2. Prioritize. If an email is going to take you a while to respond to or the information is important and you need to internalize it, wait until you have time to read and respond. 

  3. Use the “Focused Inbox.” This directs newsletters and other large-scale emails to a separate folder. This allows you to focus on important conversations and worry about the ads and newsletters later.

  4. Arrange your Inbox by conversations. This will arrange your messages into threaded conversations that are easier to follow and reply to. This is a great way to view emails but it depends on whether people adhere to #5 listed above by only replying to your email with questions related to the topic of your original message.

  5. Use Folders. Create folders for information you know you will want to go back to. Delete items in your Inbox that you don’t need. 

  6. Create and use distribution lists. If you plan to email a group of people within the district fairly often, create a distribution list that only includes the people that need to receive your email. The district has also recently created more well-defined email lists so that you are zeroing in on your target audience.

EdTech Update 2019

Summer is a time when many edtech companies announce and release updates to their products. Below you will find a list of updates to many of our DLC-favorite tools. Be sure to click on the links included in each paragraph to learn more about these new features and reach out to a DLC if you are looking for support on using these tools in your classroom!


Canvas has a number of amazing new features coming out in the next 6 months including a new rich content editor that is more sleek and easy to use, enhancements to Assignments, and more New Quizzes functionality. In the meantime, a few features you can enjoy now are that when you “message students who” haven’t turned something in the Canvas gradebook, you can choose to message Observers (parents) at the same time. For our Elementary and Middle School Canvas users, the Student app has seen significant changes. Click here to see GIFs of these updates in action as the assignment submission process is way easier and faster.


Seesaw (E-5 Only)

Seesaw has added a number of creative tools that allow students to create new artifacts of their learning. Students can upload multiple pictures to create a collage, annotate pictures with highlighters and drawing tools, and add labels to any picture. You can also change the background for drawings to include things like graph paper. The new shapes tool allows you to add math manipulatives, arrows, and speech bubbles. All of these features can be used to create engaging Seesaw Activities for your students.

Microsoft Outlook

Email is something we all deal with everyday. The Microsoft Outlook 2019 Mac app has released a couple of nice features that should help us save time and even help us with our work/life balance. Have an important email you want to make sure you send but you don’t want to bother your colleagues on the weekend? There’s an update for you! You can now schedule Outlook emails to be sent at a later time. Get a lot of distracting junk emails? Check out the Focused Inbox. The Focused Inbox sorts your email into two inboxes: “Focused” and “Other." Focused is for important emails sent directly to you and Other will include promotional emails, newsletters, etc. Just be sure to check the Other inbox occasionally in case something important ended up in the wrong inbox.

iMovie (iOS)

The iOS iMovie app saw an exciting release in June. There are now 80 options for soundtrack songs (instead of 7) and you can do Picture in Picture and Green Screen directly in the iMovie app without the need for an additional app. Green Screen by Do Ink is still a superior green screen app, but having this functionality built into iMovie is another level of convenience and means less app juggling for students.

Adobe Spark (iOS and Mac)

Adobe Spark (Video, Post, and Page) has become one of our most popular and heavily used suite of creation tools. For Mac users, they have released collaboration features that allow you to add collaborators. You cannot have multiple editors in at one time, but it’s a definite improvement. For iOS and Mac users, they added a number of animations and stickers that can be used to create professional designs and videos. 


Flipgrid is one of the best tools in the edtech scene and they just keep getting better! This summer, they launched a new camera that allows you to add a whiteboard screen to videos, upload videos and images from your camera roll, and add stickers/emojis. They added a number of partners that have pre-created topics you can use with students. And lastly, Flipgrid AR! This feature easily generates QR codes to each video submission in a topic so you can print them out so others can watch them. This is perfect for art projects, posters, or word walls. Watch the video below to see it in action!


Many teachers use Edpuzzle to create video quizzes for their students which are done independently. Edpuzzle recently launched Live Mode which allows you to present the video to the class and students respond on their own devices. Edpuzzle also created an LMS integration with Canvas so now you can create Edpuzzle lessons and assign them to your Canvas courses. This makes enrollment in your Edpuzzle classes way easier and incorporates their scores into the Canvas gradebook.

Kahoot and Quizizz

Kahoot and Quizizz are really fun and useful formative assessment tools. Kahoot added a new editor and question types. Quizizz added a Team Mode for collaborative review sessions. Both tools have made it much easier to create assessments quickly and are worth another look if it's been awhile since you've utilized these tools.

Book Creator (iOS and Web)

Book Creator added some nice creation tools. They added an autodraw feature to improve your sloppy drawings and additional pen tools and ink options to add a little creativity to your projects.

Self Service

A number of apps were removed from Self Service over the summer because they either have not been updated in years, had similar features to other apps already available in Self Service, or no longer worked. We also added an AR/VR category and Wellness category so be sure to check those out. 

Summer Learning!

We would like to hear from you on this blog post! Submit to the Padlet below to share your amazing ideas and resources with other staff. FYI - The Padlet is moderated so your posts won’t show up until they’ve been approved.

Summer is a restorative time for educators. We’ve put in a lot of work over the course of the school year and summer serves an essential purpose of helping refuel and reinvigorate us. When the school year ends, we are suddenly relieved of the daily pressures of planning and delivering lessons, attending IEP meetings, supervising hallways, and the 7,000 other things we accomplish in it day. Summer can be a great time to think about how we can get even better at our craft and reflect on struggles we’d like to avoid next year.

Professional Reading - Books and Blogs

There are so many great books out there! After you reread Harry Potter for the ninth time this summer, what book are you going to pick up? We would like to hear from some of you. Share your favorite book suggestions to the Padlet below. Don’t have time for a book? Reads some blogs or listen to podcasts!


Am I the only person addicted to podcasts? Podcasts are great because you can be doing something else while you listen such as driving, exercising, yard work, or chilling at the beach! There are so many great educational podcasts out there. They can teach you about your subject area in greater detail, edtech, teaching strategies, and creative ideas you’ll be excited to try out with your students. Here is a list of some great educational podcasts. Post your favorites in the Padlet below!

Professional Development Opportunities

Attending conferences and professional development sessions can be another great way to learn. And without the pressure of students coming into your room the next day, summer gives us time to digest, reflect, and implement our summer learning from conferences. If you find something to attend, it is possible that your building has available professional development funds. Budgets are tight but it never hurts to ask if your administrator can pay for your registration.

SORLA - June 17th-20th

MNCodes Scratch Camp - June 19th and 20th

Bloomington’s Student Centered Showcase - June 18th

Powerful Learning Conference - August 7th

Southwest Metro Professional Development - August 12th-15th

Twitter Chats and Hashtags

Twitter is still very active in the summer. New edtech tools get released or updated, blogs are posted, and Twitter Chats (live discussions on Twitter) are happening all the time. Check out this website for a schedule of Twitter Chats and resources on how to engage with them. You can also follow Twitter hashtags for summer conferences such as #ISTE19 for the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn from others on Twitter!

Facebook Groups

For those of you that are avid Facebook users, there are tons of great Facebook groups out there where you can learn about specific topics in education. Facebook's notifications make it a much easier conversation to follow as well. Join some groups and share your favorites in the Padlet below!

Fishbowl - A Safe Online Network for Teachers

Fishbowl is a brand new app that has a ton of promise and it’s very easy to get started. Download the app, create an account, select what industry or discussion groups you want to join, and then post questions and responses to people from across the country. Fishbowl is unique because it addresses a big problem many educators have with social media: a lack of privacy. When you are on Twitter, everything you Tweet can be seen by anyone else. Asking tough and honest questions can be very difficult at times. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their struggles in their career field with complete strangers. Fishbowl identifies me to other users as Middle School Teacher in Minnesota without sharing my name so I feel like I can be honest with my questions and responses. Definitely check it out!

During this summer, be sure to take some time to unwind, relax, and recharge. Set some goals on what you'd like to learn more about. When you are ready to dive in to the wealth of resources available out there, a great place to start is the list below. Have a great summer! 

Made with Padlet

My EdCamp Adventure

I want to share a story with you which I think explains a lot about me as an educator. It greatly changed the course of my career and influenced me to become a Digital Learning Coach. More importantly, I hope it convinces you to join us at Shakopee High School on April 27th for Edcamp Twin Cities!

In the Spring of 2012, I was a 2nd year teacher at Shakopee Middle School teaching Social Studies. Having just found out that I would be moving buildings and grade levels to start teaching geography, I knew I needed help finding resources to expand my horizons. So what’s the obvious next step? I joined Twitter, of course!

After following some edu-famous educators on Twitter, I stumbled upon something called Edcamps. Edcamps are “unconferences” where the participants create the schedule for the day based on what they want to know, share, or discuss with other educators from the area. After doing a little searching, I was excited to hear that Edcamp MSP would be taking place just a few weeks after I joined Twitter. Check out my very first Tweet back in 2012!

Twitter 101: always have a hashtag or no one will notice your tweet.

EdCampMSP was awesome, to say the least. I did not feel like I had much to share as a 2nd year teacher, but I quickly realized that if you are passionate about something, you have a voice that others should hear. I made some long-lasting connections that day from other districts, vastly grew my Twitter PLN, discovered amazing tools like Flipgrid and Earthducation, and learned how to leverage YouTube to curate playlists around topics for my course. More importantly, I learned how to learn about new resources through Twitter and my newly discovered PLN.

I left EdCampMSP feeling so empowered and inspired and I want everyone I know to share in that experience. EdCamps are incredible opportunities for educators to collaborate and learn from each other. Everyone has ideas and expertise to share. But EdCamps are only as good as the participants that attend. That’s why I encourage you to come to EdCamp Twin Cities hosted at Shakopee High School!

To register, click here. Check out our website here. Follow @EdCampTC on Twitter!

Do your students enjoy games and puzzles? Do you want those games and puzzles to reinforce the learning experiences in your classroom? Are you looking for a way to engage your students in a fun, exciting way?

Enter BreakoutEDU!  

Breakouts engage students in current classroom content while participating in collaborative tasks requiring critical thinking and problem solving. Success with a breakout depends on students’ abilities to communicate effectively with one another toward a common goal.  

In Shakopee and across the globe, teachers are implementing (and even creating their own) breakout games. It is truly a win-win for students and teachers.  Students get excited when they see the little black boxes and love working to beat the clock. Teachers like that students are using deductive reasoning skills and solving content-based clues.  Oftentimes the success of the group relies on student abilities to communicate effectively and work collaboratively.

Breakout EDU trailer:

How do I get started?

First you will want to decide what your content-specific goals are for the breakout.  If you have not implemented a breakout before, we recommend you submit a DLC request so that someone can help walk you through the steps. DLCs do have access to a wide-variety of a pre-made games that are available with a subscription to the BreakoutEDU platform. There are also free "user-generated" breakout games that you can find by creating an account on the breakout platform. Oftentimes, we can use those games to meet your goals. DLCs also have breakout kits including boxes, locks, UV flashlights, and more.  

I found a game, now what?

Every breakout has a variety of clues that will need to be printed and cut out. Additionally, many of the games use tools like UV pens and UV flashlights to disguise clues from students and increase the rigor of the challenge. As you prep the game, we highly recommend that you work through the challenges and understand how they will be solved.  Because as your students work through the game, you may need to provide a hint to the class.

Once all of the clues and materials are prepped, you should find appropriate locks for your game and set the codes to match those in your game. Often times there are 2 locked boxes in the classroom. One of the boxes will contain a tool (red lens filter or UV flashlight) that is needed to solve one of the clues. Clues prepped? Locks set? You are ready to set-up the classroom and hide clues or hang up materials in the classroom.  

Can I make my breakout digital?  

You can search the Breakout EDU Digital Sandbox to find already-created digital breakouts for many subjects and grade levels. Teaching your students about the United States? Check out this Google Site; it has a digital breakout for the 50 US States.

I have done a breakout before. How can I make my own clues?    

BreakoutEDU has game-creation templates to help you organize a game you create. We highly recommend using them as a way to organize your game as you build it. It is also very beneficial to use as you facilitate the game or use it in subsequent years.

We have also compiled a list of websites you can use to create clues. View that here:

“The bad news is that time flies, the good news is you’re the pilot.”  This quote comes from Michael Altshuler, a successful businessman, and I believe it summarizes what I know about time.  For a teacher, time is precious. You only have so many minutes in a day to plan lessons for students. I have compiled a list of resources that teachers can use to minimize how long you spend searching for instructional ideas, and maximize your time.  

  1. I love listening to Podcasts. There are so many shows that are meant for teachers that can provide you with ideas for lessons.  In addition, you can do other things while listening, like washing the dishes, working out, or driving the kids to their activities.  Here are some shows that are worth checking out:

    2. Did you know that Facebook can also be used as a resource to get teaching ideas and access to lesson plans? Here are some groups that are definitely worth following:

   3. Pinterest can be a very valuable resource to search and find teaching ideas.  However, you can also find yourself in a rabbit hole trying to find a certain idea.  That is why it is smart to follow a few accounts that you know are educators. Here are few Pinterest pages that are worth the time investment:

  4. Talking about relevant topics in class helps to increase students’ engagement.  Check out Google Trends to know exactly what is current and popular.  This site summarizes what are the most searched topics on Google.  Using Google Trends can spark great ideas for teachers to design discussions, debates, or find articles for students to read.  

  5. PBS Learning Media is another great resource for teachers to find ready-to-use lesson plans.  Activities are standards based and available in all sorts of different grade levels and content areas.  Why reinvent the wheel folks?!

 6.  Finally, Twitter is one of my favorites sources to find great ideas.  If you have something specific you are looking for, use a hashtag with that specific topic to filter through Twitter.  Or, try the advanced search feature to narrow down the resources.  Here is a list of educators that are excellent to follow:

Education has changed for the better through technology.  Now teachers have access to thousands of different resources to help develop strategies or create lesson plans.  It can be very overwhelming and time consuming if you aren’t looking in the right place. Hopefully my six suggestions will help you navigate the waters and save you some of that precious resource we call time.  

Written by: Jeff Jackelen

What's Your Story?

We use stories all the time to convey information to our students. This is an incredibly effective strategy because our brains are designed to remember stories. Once you add visuals to that story, you have a recipe for a truly memorable experience. Taking that a step further, when a student is able to synthesize information into the form of a story, they truly are demonstrating mastery of a topic. With the help of digital tools, storytelling can be even more fun and creative!

Think about how students in your classroom can emulate the work of professionals. Creating an authentic experience engages students and can spark their creativity. You can provide parameters to create structure while allowing students choice for how they tell their story. Below are a number of different styles of videos that your students could use depending on the purpose or audience of the project your students are creating.

Common Craft, RSA Animate, and Whiteboarding: Common Craft is a type of video where small paper cutouts are used to explain concepts “in plain English.” One great example is their video explaining Google Docs. RSA Animate uses whiteboard drawings to illustrate a story. You’ve probably seen this famous example that uses Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk as the voiceover. Students can emulate these explainer-style videos using stop motion and a whiteboard or paper cut outs. Here’s an example of a whiteboard video made by teachers.


Crash Course: The Crash Course Youtube channel houses tons of videos created to teach topics in history, science, literature, and more. These fast-paced videos are a great model for student projects. Crash Course stories engage the audience by combining animations, green screens, voiceovers, and live action video. Shakopee High School students created similar videos using a combination of tools to emulate Crash Course-style videos. Here’s one example.

Epic Rap Battles of History: If you’ve ever seen an Epic Rap Battle of History, you know they’re a little rowdy. While it’s tough to find a school-safe example to show students, the concept of an Epic Rap Battle can be an engaging way to have a debate or compare and contrast two topics. Here is a student-created example comparing Lowell Mill Girls to Newsies.

Note Card Confession: Note card confessions are a non-verbal, yet highly impactful way of telling a story. You write out a story on note cards and record one notecard at a time with a camera. Adding music is a nice touch as well. This storytelling style was made popular by the movie Love Actually. Here’s another example that circulated around Facebook a few years ago. Students can use this storytelling technique to take on a persona and share their understanding of an emotionally charged event like this first-person retelling of the Trail of Tears.

Other IdeasIn addition to the professional examples above, students could create video documentaries, public service announcements, personal narratives, love stories, or biographies. There are so many great examples to use as models!

Once you select a video style, make a plan to scaffold student work. For any video project, it is highly recommended that students create storyboards and scripts before they record anything. 70-80 percent of the work in creating high quality projects happens during the planning phase. Once students have a thorough plan, it’s time to explore digital tools. Below is a list of tools and the devices they work on. Each of these can be used in some fashion to create a video project.



MacBooks* and Chromebooks

Stop Motion: Stop Motion Animator

Animation: PowToon, My Simple Show, Squigl

Slideshows: Keynote*, Google Slides, Book Creator

Editing: iMovie*, Adobe Premiere Pro*, Adobe Spark Video

Screen Recording: Loom, QuickTime*


Stop Motion: StikBot Studio, FlipaClip, iMotion, Stop Motion Studio

Animation: ChatterPix Kids, Puppet Pals HD, Toontastic 3D, Puppetmaster, Sock Puppets, TextingStory Chat Story Maker

Slideshows: Explain Everything, Adobe Spark Video, Book Creator, Shadow Puppet EDU

Editing: iMovie, Clips, Green Screen by Do Ink

Screen recording: Screen Record iOS, Explain Everything

Remember that the DLCs are here to support you. If you have any questions about how you and your students can use these tools, want help scaffolding your project, or just want to brainstorm, be sure to request a DLC!

Shakopee experienced our very first...and second and third... Connected Learning (CoLD) Days of the winter! Our trial by fire (brought on by a polar vortex) allowed us to see how e-learning could work to extend learning opportunities and supplement face-to-face instructional time with students. The goal of utilizing CoLD is to continue the learning happening in our classrooms even when the weather doesn't cooperate. This also allows us to avoid losing vacation days or adding class days in June.

For our very first attempt, it went well!

At the elementary level, students completed SABERS Boards at home. While students have iPads to use at school, these activities were tech-free as we cannot guarantee equitable access to technology when students are at home. Teachers provided options for students to showcase learning across all curricular areas. Students could complete activities independently or work together as a family.

At the secondary level, starting the semester out with Connected Learning Days brought unique challenges to teachers and students. Many students had not met their teachers and were unfamiliar with expectations in their courses. Due to schedule changes, courses in Canvas were not always accurate creating some confusion for students about which courses to participate in. While the timing was out of our control, we know this is likely not to happen in the future and students and teachers responded well to the challenge.

To learn more about the experience, we have summarized parent feedback and lessons learned. Keep reading to read about some inspirational CoLD ideas!

Parent and Student Feedback

Many parents reached out via email, social media, and phone to share feedback about how CoLD went from their perspective. We heard many parents appreciated the structure and purpose that CoLD assignments brought to their homes as they knew to expect that their students had something to work on. They appreciated that while students could not go outside due to the extreme temperatures, they had productive learning activities to keep them from wasting the day away. One parent, while generally supportive of everything her students were asked to complete, was concerned that her daughter had a three page paper to submit that was due the next day. Upon further investigation, she realized that the two paragraph assignment her teacher gave her was so fun and engaging, the student chose to write that much!

Many curious parents expressed a desire to follow along with the assignments in Canvas to see what was expected of their children. Here are directions for parents to sign up as Observers of their children in Canvas.

Another critically important piece of feedback we received from parents and students was that some of the directions in Canvas were difficult to follow. And sometimes there were no directions about what (if anything) should be electronically submitted. Creating a CoLD module with a small list of assignments or quizzes is a great way to organize CoLD activities for students. Be sure to link activities directly from your Home Page so students know exactly what to do and where to go. While it’s not likely that we will experience three CoLD days in a row again soon, we do want to ensure that students see clearly delineated directions for each CoLD assignment. Be sure to provide a location for students to submit work if necessary. Check out this very simple yet effective CoLD Home Page. Remember that the goal is to keep students in Canvas and reduce the number of clicks they need to make to find an assignment.

Inspirational CoLD Lesson Ideas

While supporting secondary teachers remotely, DLCs got a glimpse into some really creative and meaningful assignments across a broad range of subject areas and courses. Here is a list of a some activities we thought were pretty neat that may provide some inspiration!

  • Many teachers provided menus of options so student could choose activities they prefer. This definitely increased their engagement in the tasks.

  • Teachers created Canvas discussions or Flipgrid topics so students could introduce themselves and build community before they met face-to-face for the first time.

  • To start the semester, teachers created digital quizzes, assignments, or reflections around the course syllabus - activities that they normally would have done in class.

  • Students created video submissions through Flipgrid based on prompts provided by teachers. Teachers can set up Flipgrid in Canvas and adjust the topic/prompt when the time comes!

  • Teachers used screencasting tools (such as QuickTime or Loom) to simulate face-to-face interactions and provide direct instruction or visual/verbal directions.

  • Teachers used Edpuzzle to turn short videos or screencasts into interactive formative assessments or flipped lessons using video instructions and formative quizzes in Canvas.

  • Students went on virtual field trips to museums using Google Arts & Culture

  • Students completed activities focused on the 6Cs: Creativity, Collaboration, Cultural Responsiveness, Communication, Character, and Critical Thinking. Examples: Use critical thinking to evaluate bias in a favorite TV show, movie, or video game. Use pictures, clipart, and online resources to draw or create a symbolic representation of learning from a past unit.

  • Students performed exercises or fitness tests and worked on goal-setting in PE.

  • Students wrote narratives about the polar vortex in English.

  • Science experiments utilized the extremely cold temperatures.

  • Band students found a video featuring their instrument that featured a new technique, amazing performance, or inspiration then shared their video and reasoning in a Canvas discussion.

  • Social Studies students created timelines using Sutori.

  • Psychology students examined the stress of a CoLD day using course vocabulary to explain how stress levels change in different ways as a result of the same event. They posted video responses in Flipgrid.

  • Art students watched videos of MN artists then reflected on what inspires the artist to create, observations about how they work, and how successful their work is.

  • Math students completed an assignment in Desmos - they viewed slides explaining quadratics then analyzed trajectories of basketball shots: Will it hit the hoop? Students made predictions, manipulated graphic overlays to see exactly where each shot would land, and analyzed class results.

  • Many teachers included extensions to their assignments for students who wanted to learn more!

Some teachers created multiple-day assignments.

  • English students watched a TED Talk and wrote a reflection in a Canvas discussion, then returned to read and reply to fellow students the next day.

  • FACS students took an interest inventory, researched a related career, located a virtual tour of that profession, then submitted a link to the virtual tour with a summary of their learning based on provided prompts.               

  • Criminal Justice students looked at capital punishment and historical punishments and then completed a Canvas discussion one day and a discussion via Flipgrid the next.

Next time inclement weather hits, parents will be connected, teachers will feel prepared to provide clear directions to engaging activities, and students will keep on learning!

It’s been an exciting year in Shakopee Public Schools! Recently, DLCs have helped with some really exciting and engaging projects where students have been creating digital stories such as Crash Course Videos and Podcasts to demonstrate their learning. While creating these projects, students are in desperate need of images, video footage, music, and sound effects to emulate the work of real professionals such as John and Hank Green of Crash Course Videos and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcasts. And while it might be easy to do a quick search or try to rip videos from YouTube, we want our students to know how to create original works that can be published to the web for everyone to enjoy while respecting the rights of musicians and artists. There are tons of sites that allow you to download royalty-free music and high resolution images. Below are just a few of our favorite sites.

Music and Sound Effects

For music and sound effects, YouTube has compiled the YouTube Audio Library. You can filter their library by genre, mode, instrument, duration, and attribution. Click here for more resources.

Videos and Images

Pixabay is one of the best sources for free images and video clips to use for projects. In order to access it, students have to use the safe search Pixabay site and enter “guest” for the username and password. Click here for more resources.

If your students use iPads and want to be able to download songs or videos from any of these sites, they will want to use Documents by Readable. Using the browser in that app, you can navigate to websites such as YouTube Audio Library and download MP3s. From there, you can open downloaded files into other apps such as iMovie, Garageband, or Anchor. Watch the video below to learn how to use Documents.


Our next blog post will focus on a number of other engaging digital storytelling project ideas that you and your students can create. Stay tuned!