Templates for Newcomers

I’ve been pulling together a series of posts regarding Explain Everything as a format for creating templates. In that series I’ve attempted to expand on some methods to create templates, and established a space to share those templates with others. You can read those posts here:

Creating Templates With Explain Everything

Sharing Templates with Explain Everything

Let’s take that workflow, and apply it to an urgent need within our school system. We currently have a growing population of Syrian students attending our schools; many of whom do not speak English, and require assistance in learning the English language.

With that need has emerged requests for a number of different “apps” that may help to support this learning. Finding apps that will assist Arabic speakers to learn English, that don’t contain advertisements, and that are aimed at older students, rather than toddlers learning English as their first language, is a difficult task. It can also be costly.

This offers an opportunity for our students to help these new Canadians by creating “apps” to assist them in transitioning into our schools. For example, some of the apps being requested involve topics like the first 100 words an English language learner might be required to know. What if our students were to contextualize this need, with an EE template that contained pictures from around their school of common objects (hallway, door, washroom, pencil), with audio or video of the item name being pronounced. In schools where bilingual (Arabic/English) students exist, those items could be named in both languages.

Because these files can be created, uploaded, downloaded by others, augmented, and then uploaded again, we have an opportunity to crowd-source this work, building upon each others’ creations across classrooms, or around the board.

Literacy apps: that teach the letters of the alphabet, sight words, basic English phrases; numeracy apps: that cover the names of numbers, and basic numeracy vocabulary — these are all within the scope of what we could create using Explain Everything as a platform.

Can our students develop resources to help our Syrian newcomers? I think we can contextualize resources to help create specific supports, that can help welcome these students into our schools. I think we can do a better job than the apps I’ve currently been able to locate within the iOS app store. I’m hoping you agree, and that you and your students will take some time to help create resources that might be of service to fellow students, new to this country, attempting to make a new life here in Hamilton.

Creating Templates With Explain Everything

This is turning into a bit of a series of posts to properly cover templates in Explain Everything. I’ve just finished writing a post on how to share these types of resources in a centralized location.

Sharing Templates with Explain Everything

Once I had created that centralized space, I realized I needed to create a template to test out the process to see if it worked. In some of our Levelled Literacy Intervention (LLI) classrooms we have explored using the iPad, along with a couple of different apps, to explore a more tech-rich delivery of that program. One of the activities in LLI involves using a cookie sheet and magnetic letters to explore word patterns. The app that we used initially for this has since increased in cost, but you can read more about the benefits here:

Look at them go!

I’ve taken the concept of that app, and created a template in Explain Everything. I thought it would be worthwhile to detail the steps.

I knew I needed letters that could be manipulated within the 2016-02-04_15-40-49app, so I went out to Google Images, filtered by imagery with reuse rights, and found an image of the letters I needed.

I then took that image into Pixelmator (a photo editing app for Mac for those of you not willing to pay the exorbitant cost of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription service) and used the magic wand tool to erase the background, providing me with an image with a transparent background. (If anyone has a great free app that does this, please share it in the comments. I would love to be able to suggest something to complete this entire workflow from an iPad).

Once I had a transparent background, I was able to take the image and complete the rest of the work directly within Explain Everything, using the Insert Photo, and accompanying photo editor functionality.

I first needed to import the letters one at a time from the transparent png file into the Explain Everything canvas. I used the editing tools within EE to crop each letter out of the image:

Once that was completed, I locked the bottom instance of the letter in place, and created a duplicate of the letter:

Once that was done, I was able to take the duplicate and make copies of it. In the following video, you’ll notice I initially set the letter above and to the left of the locked instance of the letter. When EE creates a duplicate, it creates that duplicate lower, and to the right. My aim was to create a stack of 20 letters aligned on the initial locked instance:

Once the letters were all duplicated, I exported the project to Google Drive, changed the permissions of the file so that anyone with the link could view it, and then uploaded it to our our TLE Resource Repository. You can also download a copy of this particular file here:




Sharing Templates from Explain Everything

We refer to them as “templates”. Explain Everything refers to them as “projects” in the export page. You could refer to them as .xpl files. Regardless of the label, once you start to consider Explain Everything as an application with its own file format, rather than merely a vehicle to create screencasts, some additional super-powers emerge.

There’s a great site called Explaining Understanding that collects examples of this type of file, leveraging a community of educators who upload them to cloud storage services like Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox, and then make the projects available for others to download and launch within the Explain Everything iOS app (probably Android too, if someone wants to chime in with confirmation of device agnosticity®). Although the content on that site is great, I find searching the site a bit cumbersome, as the resources tend to be linked within blog posts, rather than easily searchable in a database.

A few weeks ago we completed some initial professional development with homeroom teachers in grades 4 and 5 who received kits of 7 iPads for their classrooms as part of our Transforming Learning Everywhere vision, in which classrooms are equitably provisioned technology to help create inquiry-based learning opportunities, accelerated by technology integration. One of the break out sessions was on how to create these templates, so potentially we have cultivated a group of teachers looking to create additional materials in this way, with no centralized means of sharing them. Enter the Commons: the blog we created to help users navigate the PD day now sits somewhat dormant, although our instructional coaches have been leveraging the differentiated break out sessions detailed on that site to run additional workshops out at their school, so the site needs to stay up.

It seems like a perfectly good location to share some of these templates.

I’ve created a submission form to help with this work. The form allows template authors to share a description, screenshot, and link to their xpl file. There are a few steps in order for this to work:

  • you need to create and export the xpl file from Explain Everything and store it in your Google Drive
  • In Google Drive, in order for others to be able to access the file, imageyou’ll need to change the permissions to “Anyone with the link can view” or “Public on the Web”. This is a bit problematic on an iPad because currently you can’t change permissions within the Drive app beyond the “Anyone at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (enter your GAFE domain here) with the link can view”. We want to be more public than that, and share our creations more widely without the additional need to log in
  • Once loaded (I’ll be attempting to keep up with the moderation of these items), the links in the database will prompt the end user to download the file, and open it in Explain Everything, providing a personal copy of the template that the student can then manipulate, edit, record their thinking, and potentially render as a final video explaining their learning

The submission form populates a Resources page on that TLE website, searchable by category, title, or alphabetically.

iMovie Isn’t Redefinition

Tim Kivell and I presented today at the Hamilton Wentworth Principals Conference, summarizing lessons learned after three years orchestrating PD plans for the schools directly involved in the technology facet of the Transforming Learning Everywhere initiatives here at the school board. These are the slides we presented, but slides can only tell half the story, so I’ve attempted to expand on the ideas shared to provide context.


The presentation explored the SAMR model as a mechanism for assessing the depth of technology integration within the classroom. Our presentation chastised the infographics found on the internet that attempt to quantify apps on the SAMR ladder. Our thinking being, that the app in and of itself does not guarantee an elevated position. Google Drive, when used (incorrectly) merely as a word processor similar to the desktop version of Word, could be categorized as substitution. The tool itself does not immediately equal elevated status; it is through the process of sharing the document created with other editors and commentators — preferably before the task has begun — allowing for ongoing assessment of the process, that makes the task one we might consider “Modification” or “Redefinition”.

Product becomes secondary to process. Using an online post-it program, if that collection is never re-visited, is no more efficient than using paper and pencils, and may actually introduce other facets that further complicate the creation of the product (connectivity issues, passwords, etc). This is where substitution — although a necessary first step — is a step backwards if we linger there for too long. It’s the process that makes the task more relevant, more rich, and more engaging. Having the “post-it” board available after the class has been dismissed — and after the type A personalities have commandeered the conversation in class — provides opportunities for those more introverted students who have now had opportunity to consolidate their thinking, to share with their classmates. This is an example of where technology provides a functional improvement.

As we assess our efficacy in the classroom, we need to ensure we aren’t getting carried away with shiny new tools that merely substitute for more traditional tasks (the app trap). Technology that isn’t being used to modify and redefine what is possible, is missing out on the true value of technology integration.

From SAMR, we shifted to the second part of our presentation, which explored TPACK as a means of measuring effective professional development planning for teachers. We acknowledge that there is an initial need to address the individual facets of TPACK: Technology, Content/Curriculum, Pedagogy; but feel that the more time we spend on the outer edges of that model, rather than aiming for training that addresses all three areas simultaneously, misses the mark. In our example, we use iDoceo to address how we could simply cover the creation of a checklist, or we could explore the deeper facets of assessment triangulation, knowledge of curriculum, and the ways in which technology can assist us to better knowing our students, when we focus beyond teaching the tool.

There is no questioning the fact that this is more difficult. It is far simpler to have someone come in and teach how to create a Google form; but if the example provided is a multiple choice question investigating the colour of the sky (red, blue, green?), then we have missed an opportunity not only to address how to ask good questions, but also how one might use this tool in the context of the curriculum.

What does this mean then for staff professional development opportunities:

  • There is a need to differentiate for individual strengths and needs
  • There is a need to avoid “whole class” instruction in similar ways that we recognize is ineffective when teaching children
  • There is a need to contextualize learning about technology, or about effective pedagogy, within the context of the specific curriculum being delivered by each learner
  • There is a need to offer choice, so learners can address individual deficits, and explore personal growth targets

When we began this journey three years ago, we struggled through ballroom style training sessions, delivered by external partners who didn’t understand our needs. Our more recent PD opportunities offer choice, and attempt to operate within the centre of the TPACK diagram: addressing effective pedagogy, within the context of curriculum, accelerated by effective use of technology. There is a momentum from these sessions that seem to suggest we are on to something.

Liberating “Liberating Genius”

Angela Maiers and Mark E. Moran have written a fantastic guide for implementing Genius Hour in the classroom. The guide walks you through the first 20 days of exploration, plotting out in an easy to follow guide, how best to prepare students to think deeply, explore their passions, and launch into what will be a passion-based project. It is required reading for teachers looking to add this component into their classroom, which should be the majority of us. If you have a OneDrive account (think: outlook.com, live.com, msn.com) you can hit up this link to get your own copy.


The problem emerges if you only have a OneDrive for Business Account (which is everyone at HWDSB, along with any other educational institution that subscribes to Office 365 as their email provider).

<Nerdy_Aside>: OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are two completely separate services. Unlike Google — which shares infrastructure between their commercial Gmail/Google Drive offering and Google Apps for Edu — Microsoft’s commercial and business tools don’t play nicely together. In some apps, you can identify which service you are looking to use, but in others, you are forced to a Microsoft Account login page, where your organizational account will fail: it’s like trying to sign into Twitter with your Facebook credentials. This is the case for the Liberating Genius book at the above link</Nerdy_Aside>

I have an @outlook.com email address, so I could access the document; but when I started thinking about how to distribute the guide out to teachers within the board, asking them to sign up for an @outlook account when they already have a board-provisioned O365 account that can open OneNote (the software used to access the file in OneDrive (confused yet?)) seemed like a roadblock.

I thought perhaps the solution was to upload the file to my board OneDrive for Business account, and share it in that way, as a link. Getting the file into my Board OneDrive was an adventure that required a Windows machine (not my customary axe), an exported OneNote.onepkg file (a kind of proprietary zip), the OneDrive for Business Desktop Sync tool, and a few other hurdles between network drives that I’m still not sure I could navigate with much more aplomb a second time around. I won’t bore you with the gory details other than to say I lost count of the number of times I muttered something about how much more seamless this would be if I was working in Google Drive. Remember all I’m trying to do is create a read-only document so that you can create a copy.

I put the notebook up into my OneDrive for business folder and then created a shared link:


If you click on that link, you should be taken to OneNote Online, to a read-only version of the file. If you just want to read the book, then you could stop here; but the app is so superior to the online experience, you really should pull this into your own OneNote app.

In the top corner you should see an Open in OneNote link to open the document in the OneNote app. From this point forward I’m plotting out instructions on how to get this document on an iPad. It’s probably easier if you are living in an MS-centric world, although even on a Surface, I struggle between the disparate accounts.

When you are creating the template so you have your own copy, the section headings are as follows:

  • Liberating Genius
  • Days 1-7 Accepting Your Genius
  • Days 8-13 Accelerating Your Genius
  • Days 14-20 Acting Through Collective Genius
  • Genius Hour

Why go to the trouble of creating your own editable copy? According to @lbayne out on Twitter — who was incredibly helpful in getting this sorted out — the whole point of putting the document is OneNote is so you can mark it up, add sections, delete sections, and make it your own. I think that is awesome, and would love to explore using OneNote to create PD materials in a similar way (once distribution isn’t such a headache) .

At this point you are probably wondering if it’s just easier to create a new @outlook.com email account, which perhaps it is. I know that the last thing I need in my life is an additional email account, so I hope this process is helpful to some of you.

Google Slideshow Templates on iOS

Google has come out with some snappy new templates that you can use in the different tools within Google Drive. The problem is that they are quite difficult to get at from an iOS device. On a laptop, in a browser, they pop up as an option when you create a new slideshow, but in the app, you are stuck with the blank, boring default template.

I trust that soon this will be rectified with a Google Slides app update, but in the meantime, I’ve been playing with a workaround:

  • I created a copy of each one of the templates and put them in a Google Drive folder called Google Slide Templates (creative, eh?)
  • I made that folder Available so anyone on the internet can VIEW those templates. This will allow you look through the templates to decide which one you like
  • I created a separate document in that folder called Make a Copy and listed all the theme names with their share link
  • I changed the end of the URL provided by Google Drive from Edit to Copy. This will automatically create a copy of the presentation in your Google Slides folder


The one functionality I was hoping for was the ability to force that copy open in the app, rather than in the browser. Once you create a copy of the template you want, you need to close the browser and go into the Google Slides app to edit the presentation. I had hoped that changing the https:// to googleslides:// would pull this off, but it seems I can’t force open the app, and force create a copy at the same time.

Here’s the Google Doc with the copy links:


Props to @hdoyle0483 for the inspiration to find a solution.

New School Year – New PD Plan

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Henry Ford

Professional development strategies should always be in a constant state of refinement. Just as we are called as teachers to follow the child, and differentiate our strategies to meet their needs — regularly checking in to gauge understanding and plot next steps — professional development should be in a similar state of revision.

Last year, very early in the year, I wrote a post over on the HWDSB 21st Century Learning team blog entitled Components of a Transformed Learning Environment.

This post spelled out some key thematic elements that we saw as being crucial in our strategy to transform the learning environments within HWDSB. What we realized quite quickly, is that although initial themes like Classrooms Norms and Digital Citizenship could be applied to all grade levels and teaching situations (and should be revisited throughout the year), once we branched out into ideas like establishing a Digital Wing of the Classroom, the options opened up quite substantially. Depending on the goals of the teacher, and the lessons they were attempting to “accelerate with technology”, this meant that for some this resulted in a the usage of a new web 2.0 tool (Mindomo for mind mapping, as an example), while for others this represented a new blog, a new Twitter account, or a deeper understanding of the HUB. Because of these divergences, there was no way we could deliver any of this in large groups, and still meet the varied needs of our learners. We took the remaining components and brought the learning to the school division and department teams.

What we also found was that these sessions had a tendency to initially focus on the How-To of a given tool. Paul Hatala has written a post on that same department blog explaining the route these How-To sessions can take to become more. It’s a shift we look for in all our interactions, and one I would like to explore in greater detail this year:

Inquiry had been a single component within this first model; but we also recognized that it was referenced in every session we offered throughout the year. Along with Student Inquiry being at the centre of everything we were doing, we also realized that the character-building ideals we were promoting through the push to be responsible citizens in a digital world, meant that we would need to constantly revisit the themes in the 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy: which we had based on the work of the Good Play Project, and specifically the Our Space Materials. Thus the components were revised again.

These themes still resonate, but the ideas that Paul plots out in his post invite us to explore some of the ideas around “the tools” vs “the pedagogy” and how we can explore the opportunities that exists when we blend learning, to change our practice. It isn’t about one or the other, but how they are intertwined that should be of tantamount importance in our work. I write about this in more detail in a post entitled It is About the Technology.

So how do we measure success, and how do we approach PD planning for  our third year exploring TLE. For this, I think that the TPCKTPACK-new model might provide a measure for us to ensure that we aren’t only learning a tool, or only learning more about a specific content area, or only learning about a pedagogical model. These items don’t exist in a vacuum, so we should be presenting sessions in which the interplay between these three forms of knowledge are explored. Although the immediate need may be expressed as a desire to learn more about one facet of these three areas, if we want to move beyond a surface understanding of inquiry, accelerated by technology, we need to ensure that we are always pushing towards the centre of this graphic (click on the graphic to learn more about TPCK).

It should be noted that an understanding of each component is required in order to move towards that centre, so although what we might consider “basic” training in all three areas is still required, we can use our learning time more effectively when we find ways to draw in all three knowledge areas (Technological, Pedagogical, and Content).

We should always look for opportunities to introduce these overlapping ideas, particularly as members of the Leadership and Learning team working in schools. Our work as an interdisciplinary team should result in the agility necessary to wear these many hats, and to confidently explore learning opportunities where, content, pedagogy, and technological knowledge converge.

The other element we have consistently seen is that changes in practice happen when teachers learn in small groups. It happens when a learning culture begins to emerge in the school so that learning continues beyond the half-day session with an Instructional Coach or Consultant. It happens when trust exists within the school, such that a lesson-study model of learning becomes part of the cycle; and teachers get into each others’ classrooms and learn from one another. In situations where large groups are necessary (e.g. keynote speaker opportunities), we should find ways to still honour the experiences of those in attendance: not everyone is at the same place, or needs the same things. Just as we differentiate for our students, our PD should leverage the concepts behind emerging models like ed-camp, to provide choice and differentiation within the larger collective group.

All of this is just a collection of my thinking at this moment, bound to change as we continue to work with innovative teachers who push us to think deeply about how we can better meet their needs. As support staff in a system that has pledged to move towards a different model of instruction, I am renewed — as September is prone to do — and excited about our next moves.