All posts by Keith O Sorensen

Keith Sorensen has been a school technology integration specialist and a district technology director during the last eleven years. He has presented at Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) Conference, Illinois Education and Technology Conference, and Southern Illinois Technology Showcase. He has also participated in several EdCamp Chicago events. Some of the titles of his presentations include “The New Technology Toolbox: Building Your Classroom Around Five Key Technologies,” “We DO need more stinkin’ badges (to increase student motivation),” “Personalized Professional Development; What, Why, & How,” “Digital Portfolios for Every Learner,” “Empowered Education, Innovation Made Simple,” and “How Long Does It Really Take to Build a 1:1 Program?”

Storing Your Usernames and Passwords In One Place

If your high school is like ours, then your students probably have several different usernames and passwords to view their grades, check their email, store their documents, or download an app.  Who doesn’t forget their password from time to time? We all do.

One very easy way for our students to keep track of all of their passwords is to write them down once and then take a photo of them with their iPads.  Our school issues iPads to every student which makes this our best solution. Other schools might have their kids type their usernames and passwords into a single document and save it to their Google Drive account. The most important thing to remember is that the passwords need to be in a safe place where no one else can see them, and they need to be stored in one single place with a password or passcode that you will not forget.

Take a screen shot or photo of the following chart. Open the chart in Notability, write or type the answers to each of your accounts, and then save it someplace safe like your Photo collection, your notebook in Notability, or your Google Drive.

  Username /
Log In Name
School Computer Sign In    
Google Drive / Gmail Account    
Schoology Account (to access your courses)
Infinite Campus Account (gradebook)
Mastery Manager Account (for tests)
Apple ID (for downloading and updating apps)
Amazon Kindle Account (optional – to download 300,000 free books)
Public Library Overdrive Account (optional – to check out eBooks)  

Backing Up Notability to iCloud and Google Drive

Notability is the #1 app that we purchase for students each year because it allows our classrooms to be completely paperless and it integrates with the three main tools of our one-to-one program: Schoology, Google Drive, and iPads.

Notability often has a big problem when an iPad gets a software update. After nearly every iPad update it appears as if a student’s entire notebook has disappeared. Panic often ensues when a student thinks she has lost her entire AP Calculus notebook.

Backing up Notability to two different locations is one way to ensure that you never lose your notebook. Here’s how.

Location #1: iCloud

Every iPad user can automatically back up data to iCloud for free. “Automatic” is the best part of that sentence. An iPad will back itself up when it is locked, plugged in, and connected to Wi-Fi which is usually every night for most people. To set up automatic back-ups to iCloud, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Notability app
  2. Tap on Settings (the gearbox) at the bottom of the screen not3a
  3. Tap on iCloud
  4. Slide the iCloud slider to on (it will change colors) not1

Location #2: Google Drive (or Dropbox)

A second location to store files helps to ensure that no data will ever be lost. Notability can back up to Google Drive, Dropbox, and several other locations. I recommend backing up data to Google Drive over all the others because it offers the greatest amount of free storage, it is easy to use, and because so many students already have a Google account in high school or are provided an official Gmail account by their school. To set up automatic back-ups to Google Drive, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Notability app
  2. Tap on Settings (the gearbox) at the bottom of the screen
  3. Tap on Auto-backup not5
  4. Tap on Google Drive
  5. Sign in to Google Drive if you have not done so already. Use your personal Google account if possible. Your school Google account  will be deactivated shortly after you graduate.
  6. The destination folder will likely be /Notability/ by default. You can change this but I do not see a need to do so.
  7. There are two file formats that work best: Note and PDF. If you plan on using Notability on an iPad in the future then you should choose Note. The only way to truly recover your notes and put them back into a Notability notebook is to choose Note. However, if you want to just have a copy of your notes that will be accessible on a computer, iPad, or cell phone then you should choose PDF for the file format. not4

If the directions change please post a comment and we will update this post.

Send Messages To A Specific Member Group In Schoology

Schoology allows you, the teacher, to send messages to one or more entire groups within your class. Do you want to send a message only to the parents but not the students? You can do that. Do you want to remind your students to bring in a family photo for their Mother’s Day project but you don’t want the parents to see the message? You can do that.

s2I am a coach and I use Schoology as my web page for the high school lacrosse team. I post updates all the time, and they are viewable by everyone – students, parents, and the entire public. There are some messages that I only want to be read by the team members such as rules for riding the bus, and there are other messages that I want only the parents to read such as asking for volunteers to help with the end-of-the-season party. I can use Schoology to target messages to my specific audience very easily.

To send a message to one entire group:

  1. Go to the course in which you want to send a message (you can only send targeted messages one course at a time)
  2. Click on Course Options in the left-hand menu
  3. s1Click on Send Message
  4. Choose the group who will receive your message – Admins (teachers), Members (students), Parents, or All Members (everyone I just listed)
  5. Enter a Subject
  6. Type your Message
  7. Add files or URL links to your message (like a class syllabus or a game schedule)
  8. Click Send

When you send a message to an entire group it is treated as a direct message between you and each person. If someone replies only you will see their response.

Want more information? Go to Schoology’s Course and Group Messages page. You can also learn more about the parent features in Schoology by viewing their How Do I Use Parent Features In My Course or Group? page.

Top Recommendations For Creating Digital Age Assessments

Why do we assess students?

Teachers should assess students on a regular basis.  But why? According to the National Education Technology Plan, “Most of the assessment done in schools today is after the fact and designed to indicate only whether students have learned. Little is done to assess students’ thinking during learning so we can help them learn better. ” Assessing students on a regular basis and using that data to change the way we instruct our students will lead to academic improvements.

Is there anything else pointing towards the need for more assessments? Yes. Standard #2d of the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T) states that teachers should, “provide students with multiple and varied formative and summative assessments aligned with content and technology standards, and use resulting data to inform learning and teaching.” A paper-based assessment is no longer good enough. A variety of digital-based, authentic assessments are needed today.

How often should we assess?

According to Project Red‘s study of 997 schools where new technology implementations were occurring, online assessments should occur at least weekly. That’s one assessment per subject per week at a minimum.

One easy and effective way to assess on a daily basis is to use Exit Slips.  At the end of each class, ask your students to answer 1-3 questions to help you gauge what they learned that day. The results let you know how to begin class the next day. If you taught synonyms and antonyms for 40 minutes, but a majority of students still don’t know the difference between the two, then you should circle back on the topic the next day to correct their misconceptions. Waiting until an end-of-unit test will be too late.

 Top recommendations for creating digital age assessments

We have several suggestions for creating digital assessments. Two guidelines we used when coming up with these recommendations are that the resources should be free (or low cost) and they should work across multiple platforms (PCs, tablets, iPads, Chromebooks, cell phones). Students should be able to just jump in and start taking the assessment in less than 30 seconds, so all of the choices do not require an additional username and password.

  1. space raceSocrative (free) is by far the most widely used student response system in our school district. It has the basic question types (T/F, Multiple Choice, Short Answer) and works on all platforms. Two places where it stands out is the Space Race game feature and the Exit Ticket function.
  2. Kahoot (free) is very easy to use and has a clean look to it. Where it stands out is that users earn more points based on how quickly they respond. It’s a competitive review system that provides the teacher with formative data.
  3. quizlet (2)Quizlet (free and paid) is essentially a supercharged online flash card system. Teachers AND students can create a set of flash cards to quiz others. Where it stands out is that it offers several games that provide users with a score. Scatter and Space Race are very popular games. Teachers will have students practice a set of flash cards until they get a certain score (4,000 pts) or time (under 25 seconds), and then each student takes a screen shot of their qualifying result and submits it to their teacher.
  4. Schoology (free and paid versions) is an LMS that offers six types of questions and has excellent analytic tools. The benefit is that students who are already using Schoology have no additional learning curve – the quizzes are available from within the courses they are already a part of. The limitation with Schoology is that you cannot use it for assessment on its own; it works effectively when you are using it as your LMS.
  5. Nearpod (free and paid versions) is a presentation and assessment tool all in one. It is unique in that whatever is on your screen is also what is on your students’ screens. When you move from one slide to another, the slide changes on all of your students’ screens, too. Students cannot get ahead or fall behind – they are exactly where you want them to be. The teacher builds in assessment questions throughout the presentation to get feedback throughout the lesson. This is not an assessment-only piece of software; it is used in conjunction with a teacher-directed presentation. A huge drawback is the cost. The free version gives you a small number of presentations; if you are going to use Nearpod regularly you will need to pay the $120 annual fee.
  6. Poll Everywhere (free and paid versions) is a fairly basic polling system that lets your class respond to multiple-choice questions. It does not allow for individual scoring or statistics, but it does allow for quick data collection on your class as a whole.  There is a limit of just 40 users per poll unless you pay the $50 annual fee.
  7. Google Forms (free) look like an online survey. They are easy to fill out, but they are not visually appealing. Google Forms offer many features to collect and analyze data. The drawback is delivering your assessment to your students. Students need the exact URL (or Google-shortened URL) to take the assessment, and you have to know a little bit about spreadsheets to be able to analyze the data. If you’re a competent Google user go ahead and try Google Forms, but they are not as quick and easy to create and deliver as the other ones listed above.


The National Education Technology Plan summarizes our need for better assessment best: “There is a difference between using assessments to determine what students have learned for grading and accountability purposes (summative uses) and using assessments to diagnose and modify the conditions of learning and instruction (formative uses). Both uses are important, but the latter can improve student learning in the moment (Black and Wiliam 1998). “


Assessment: Measure What Matters <>

National Education Technology Plan <>

National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers <>

Tech Tuesday: Quizlet, Google Forms, and Formative Checks <>

Backing up photos from your iPad to Google Drive

Storage is a big concern for iPad users – there simply isn’t enough storage on the iPad. You need to move your photos off your iPad to clear up space for new photos, videos and apps.

Storage is also a problem when it comes to backing up your iPad. Apple only gives you 5GB of online storage for free. The best way to back up your iPad on a regular basis is to back up all your data and settings to iCloud except for your photos and videos – those need to be stored elsewhere. That’s where Google Drive comes in.  Google gives users 15GB of storage for free (students get 30GB), which is perfect for backing up photos from the iPad.

Before you start, you will need to know your Google Drive account information (email address and password), and you will need to have the Google+ app installed on your iPad.

Now let’s begin.

  1. First, open the Google+ App on your iPad (or iPhone or Android phone) and sign  in using your personal Google account. IMG_0152
  2. Next, tap the Settings button in the top right of your home screen. It looks like a gear. In the picture below, it is the gear icon at the top of the photo of the old church.IMG_0153b
  3. Next, tap the Camera and Photos setting. IMG_0161
  4. Next, tap Auto Backup under the Camera heading.
  5. Move the slider next for Auto Backup to On (which turns the slider bar a green color). There are other settings on this page that you can ignore at this point but you should consider changing later. To learn about each of those settings, go to Google’s Help Forum page. Click the Back arrow when you are done with this page.
  6. With Auto Backup turned on, several new options appear on the Camera and Photos page. Auto Enhance tells Google to enhance each photo. I leave this turned off because I want to have the original photo that I can choose to modify later. Auto Awesome is literally awesome! It will add effects to your photos where it finds it to be appropriate. Have a photo of you outside with snow on the ground? It will add falling snow to your photo – literally, animated snow will continue to fall. Awesome! You still retain the original photo because the Awesomed photo is created in addition to the original.

That’s it! All of your photos will back up each time your iPad is connected to Wi Fi. They are stored online so all of your photos are still accessible on your iPad, but now you can delete the originals to clear some room for other things on your iPad.

Refer to Google’s Help Forum page titled Turn Auto Backup on or off for more information on all the settings related to backing up photos from your iPad. These directions will work with other devices, too, including your cell phone.

What is the story behind the Blackbird?

il_570xN.227149509According to old Norse mythology, two blackbirds were sent out each morning by their owner to learn about the world, and each evening they would return to tell him everything they heard and saw. Everything he knew about the world was learned from his two blackbirds.

That’s the basis of Blackbird Learning – that we can help bring a world of information related to one-to-one learning back to you.