Category Archives: Environment Conducive to Learning

UDL series: English Language Arts


This post is the first of a six-part series dedicated to the educational technology resources available for teachers and students to use to offer the best universally designed learning environment possible. There will be resources to provide multiple means of engagement, representation, action & expression.

For more information on universally designed learning environments (UDL) please check out the UDL guidelines site.

ENGAGEMENT – the goal is to have purposeful learning and motivated students.

  • BreakoutEDU – an immersive learning experience like an Escape Room experience but set up for the classroom. The experience can be hands-on or digitally interactive whereby groups of students must solve various riddles and find clues to complete or “breakout” of the experience. Teachers can buy Breakout EDU kits and the platform of lessons. There is also a great template for teachers to create their own learning experiences (and students can even create ones too!) Great for any age, any subject area and even for staff. If you really like this type of learning I highly recommend joining the BreakoutEDU Facebook communities as well.
  • Chrome extensions such as
    • Bitmoji – create your own avatar! Drag those images into GDocs as part of your comments on student work. Use them on top of other images/text in a Google Slide. Make a visual story, spruce up an email or grab attention in a newsletter.
    • Grammarly for Chrome – the free version auto-checks for spelling and punctuation.
    • Power Thesaurus – a nice option when building vocabulary skills and searching for different words to use in writing.
    • RW4GC – Read&Write for Google Chrome has a variety of tools – text to speech, talk&type, dictionaries, highlighters, PDF reader, website reader, vocabulary list builder, etc. A subscription is required.
  • Rubrics – a great rubric allows students the opportunity to strive for a target. Co-creation with students helps them take ownership of their work as well.
  • YouTube Playlists such as TED-Ed. Creating Playlists and sharing them on a classroom blog/website/GClassroom gives students the opportunity to rewatch key concepts whenever they like. TED-Ed has a fantastic set of video clips that teachers can utilize and also embed questions for student responses.

REPRESENTATION – resourceful and knowledgeable students.

  • Book Creator for Chrome – this infamous book creation tool for iOS is available in Chrome. Free teacher account has 40 books in the library that can be used. Students can add text, images, audio, and video. A fantastic way to showcase student learning.
  • Differentiated Reading Sources such as
    • Newsela – differentiated reading articles in a variety of subject areas. Ability to change the reading level automatically (5 different levels). A great way to have ALL students reading the same information but at their level. Grades 3-12. Teachers create a free account and students sign up with a code.
    • Tweentribune is much like Newsela, however, its interface is a little busier and does have a few more articles in Grades K-2 (not many but it does have some).
  • Summarizers like
    • Litcharts – online literature guides with a summary, themes, chapter reviews, character information. A solid backgrounder for students. Mainly for middle and high school years.
    • Sparknotes is similar to litcharts. Advertising is a little annoying but the information is good.
    • 60 Second recap is the brainchild of a quirky librarian that recaps middle and high school years books in video clip format. Teachers can use this to introduce, to recap, to review.
    • Thug Notes YouTube Playlist – a raw version of how novels could be reviewed. Does contain inappropriate language yet the explanations are brilliant at the high school level. Highly recommend teacher preview.
  • Online Reference Centre (Alberta access only)
  • – supported by the National Council of the Teachers of English this site has a wealth of lessons, resources, student interactives, etc.

ACTION & EXPRESSION – strategic and goal-oriented students.

  • Booksnaps with Google Slides, images, Bitmoji chrome extension. Take a text and showcase important information, facts and/or gems.
  • Google Suite apps for education allow school divisions to provide a safe, collaborative, engaging and personalized environment.
  • Hemingway Editor is a desktop app that allows students to see how their writing can be analyzed in order to improve. The free version gives an overview.
  • National Novel Writing Month
    • In the month of November, students can work on their writing via The goal is to write 50,000 words (or a novel) in 30 days.
  • New York Times Learning Network has an amazing array of resources from writing and image prompts to discussions to graphs to comments and even contests.
  • Screencastify chrome extension provides the opportunity for videoing content on display. Easy to use and it save directly into GDrive (and even YouTube).

Just try ONE of these resources in your next ELA class. It WILL make a difference to your students engagement.




Using a Growth Mindset During Tragedy

This past weekend has been an especially hard one emotionally for me. I am speaking of the Humboldt Bronco’s bus tragedy whereby 15 people were killed as they made their way to a playoff hockey game in Saskatchewan. Both my children are in sports and we often travel to games whether by motorcoach or car. We also indirectly know some of the hockey players and two of them attended schools in the school division that I work in.

Image from Silvia Pecota Studio

This post sheds the use of a growth mindset in the face of tragedy. I find that Jack Canfield succinctly shares ways in which we can deal with disasters. This can easily be used in any environment to help anyone.

How to deal with overwhelming emotions (via Jack Canfield):

  • take a deep brief and that whatever you are experiencing this too shall pass
  • be patient with yourself
  • be patient with others
  • forgive yourself
  • use ETF tapping (video below)
  • practice gratitude


  • to make it easy for myself, I created a Google Keep note and started to type down things that I’m Grateful For… I used Canva to create the .png image. I find I like Google Keep since it is available on my smartphone, on my laptops so that if something pops up, I can quickly add via voice or text the already created note.

Now check out the ETF Tapping Therapy video below:

The ETF tapping therapy looks like something that I could possibly use more in the work that I do to support teachers who support students.




Get Techy w/Cultures

Social Studies teachers will really like these resources! From some amazing interactives to the unbelievable photography, students will be able to compare, communicate and reveal more about the world around them.

  • Dollar Street is a Gapminder project with a visual framework for understanding different standards of living within and between countries. Today they feature more than 264 homes in 50 countries. In total, they have more than 30 000 photos, and counting! Dollar Street sorts the homes by income to see how people really live. A great way to make comparisons between cultures. Watch the TEDtalk.

  • If It Were My Home 

    Use the country comparison tool to compare living conditions in your own country to those of another. You can also use the visualization tool to help understand the impact of a disaster. The Pakistan Flood and BP Oil Spill are currently featured.


Don’t be Wasteful!

In Alberta, students in grade four study Waste and Our World where they look at their local, national and international environments and see how they can make a difference in being eco-friendly.

There are a variety of resources available for this unit for teachers and students to interact with. What I’d like to point out is how teachers can structure this unit so that students not only consume the pertinent information but that they also have time to collaborate and then create/demonstrate their learning.

Background information

The village of Kamikatsu in Japan has taken their commitment to sustainability to a new level. While the rest of the country has a recycling rate of around 20 percent, Kamikatsu surpasses its neighbors with a staggering 80 percent. After becoming aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide associated with burning garbage, the town instated the Zero Waste Declaration with the goal of being completely waste-free by 2020.

Possible Tasks

  • 7 Day Household Waste Challenge and then make a copy of this Google Form to tally the results. How can your home, classroom or school become a Zero Waste environment like Kamikatsu? Post your findings and ideas in an online environment to get feedback from other experts and/or classrooms around the world.
  • Make A Difference Presentation template – create a Zero Waste proposal for your teacher, your Principal, the Superintendent, the Mayor or even a local community store. Post this to a classroom blog or other online environment.
  • Videoconference with various Waste Management experts, other schools who have or close to Zero Waste
  • Waste and Our World Action Plan
  • Waste Reduction Challenge



The Power of Yet

First grade reading - small group breakoutPhoto: Flickr by woodleywonderworks

As a fan of Carol Dweck, especially her research and books on Growth Mindset, I really enjoyed getting know who C.J. Luckey was via an e-newsletter. (Love his last name!) What a great experience to have a hip-hop artist and teacher (C.J.’s wife) combine their perspectives on growth mindsets and develop a down to earth musical extravaganza as way to reach students (and even teachers).

I had never heard of C.J., but to read about his experiences (see Mindset Works’ blog) just drew me in to his new E.P. entitled C.A.P.S. (Celebrating All Persevering Students).

The growth mindset has been a blessing to me. In many ways it has inspired me to change my perspective in life. The capacity to learn is a gift, the ability to learn is a skill, the willingness to learn is a choice. Learning is a choice I want to be intentional about making every day. 

~ C.J. Luckey

Using his gift of music, C.J. is teaching students some powerful growth mindset concepts in the learning environment. I especially like the simplicity of the message in the first song – The Power of Yet.


What do you think of C.J.’s message? How do you think students would react to this video? Do you think that they could come up with a multimedia message themselves (audio, video, poster, GSlide presentation, dance, meme, etc.) to share what they know about a growth mindset?


Spotlight on Strategy: 25 Things You Didn’t Know



SOS: 25 Things You Didn’t Know is a teaching strategy that allows students to explore resources and filter out important details. Students identify new information from media resources and share the information in order to create a collaborative list of facts.

NOTE: the link goes directly to a Discovery Education account. If you do not have a license for this resource, feel free to contact @DiscoveryEd for more information. If you would like to try out this fantastic instructional strategy, check out some of the ideas below!


When looking at a new concept or topic, have students break down the ideas and share it then with the whole class. Gather students into 5 smaller groups and either share the specific resources for that section OR have them research it on their own. It is important to set up the expectations beforehand. Do you want multimedia information, print materials, etc.? And how many of each? Would you like the list of references? Once the groups are put together and they have the materials that they are needing to digest, ask each group to create a list of at least five things that they did not know about their assigned concept or topic. Have them share it via a collaborative tool such as:

  • Google Slides – assign each group ONE slide to showcase their give things. Ask for images, text and video if that is what you are looking for. Once all groups have their information on their slide, the whole class can have the information as a study tool after each group has presented.
  • Padlet – create a Padlet whereby each group can have a title and then add one sticky “note” per idea that they find. You should see at least 25 new sticky notes that may contain text, images, video, etc.
  • Adobe Spark (teacher needs to sign in) Post or Page could be created and students can then input their findings. A unique link would be created.
  • If you want it text (and list based), you could share a Google Keep note with each student and one person per group would add their item to the list. Each student would end up with at least 25 listed items! Teacher could add an intro image.
  • Realtime Board (free edu version) allows up to 30 people on a board to draw, work with images, post videos, mark up PDFs, write notes and comments using stickers.

Overall the idea of having students digging into the curriculum and sharing with their classmates is quite appealing and makes the content a little bit more memorable. Once can even review the 25 Things You Didn’t Know at the end of the unit of study to see if students know them all, found out some new ideas (think KWL) or still have some questions.



Google in the Classroom: Holiday drawings, Whisper and Choice Boards

No matter what season, content area or grade level, Google Suite Apps for Education have a variety of supports and resources for students to use in the learning environment.

  • Whisper is a free Chrome extension that lets teachers message their class as whole or individual students without interrupting the work. Notifications show up on the student machine as a browser notification that can be viewed in the moment or any time later.