Lucidspark – A review

There are a bunch of whiteboards out there you can use to collaborate with your colleagues or to use with your students. There is Padlet, Wakelet, Google Docs, OneNote and more. However, when I saw that Lucid had created their own whiteboard collaboration website I was excited.

For those of you who are not familiar with Lucid they make some great web based applications. Lucidchart (for flow charts and the like) Lucidpress (for dynamic web publications that look exceptional).

I really like what they make and I find their products to be simple yet powerful and most of all effective. This is why I was so excited and let me tell you, Lucid did not disappoint.

Continue reading “Lucidspark – A review”

Episode 184 – HIFLEX

This is a different type of episode.

Today, Patrick interviews Tony DePrato about his HIFLEX set up in the classroom. HIFLEX is a term that refers to students who are in the classroom and also at home and both are learning synchronously. Tony utilizes iPads and a few other items and tools to bring this affordable solution to life.

As always be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcasting app.

To filter or not to filter?

There is a debate out there and it has been going on for quite some time. The debate is whether schools should filter content on student devices. This is a bit more complicated than saying yes or no. For example is the school using a BYOD approach, should schools filter content at school level but not at home should schools monitor but not filter and it can go on and on and on.

I admit, I have flip-flopped on this issue more than once. Usually experience and reflection cause these changes of thoughts, but before we get into all of that let’s talk about what I mean when I say filter.

Continue reading “To filter or not to filter?”

ITBabble Virtual Learning Solution Webinar

I’ve developed a very flexible solution with iPads and some ergonomic tools/devices.   

The main goal was to have tech that was useful all the time, not just during quarantine, and tech that didn’t strain the network with video standards that can’t be handled by personal home networks. The investment would be useful for 3-7 years, or the duration of the equipment lifecycle. The tablet form factor I chose was the iPad, but this could be done with Android or Chromebook tablets.

This model eliminates document cameras, allows for hand writing on paper or real whiteboards, allows for digital whiteboards, and you can ergonomically adjust things so people feel like they are sitting next to someone. 

Teachers can freely move around the room to demonstrate labs and other experiences that are eliminated in most virtual scenarios. 

You can even do choir, band, and art. 

If teachers/hosts have laptops, this allows for  two cameras in every space. Students can flip between the iPad and the host device. 

The conferencing software doesn’t matter. You can use anything for your video conferencing. 

If people need to work from home they just take the iPad, and literally replicate their teaching environment.

This idea can be summed up in a single simple statement: The iPad is a Person in your Classroom.

If you would like to know more, please complete the form below.

Distance Learning and Academic Dishonesty

What is a lockdown browser. Some may be very familiar with these types of browsers while others may never have heard of them. I don’t think the term is used widely, I know a company called Respondus has a product called LockDown browser. So what is it?

Basically, it is a specialized web browser (like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, etc.) that only allows access to a specific test site. No other tabs can be opened, no other windows or programs can be opened, it basically locks the device down until the person managing the test or device allow it function normally.

These are quite common for certain assessments such as College Boards Advanced Placement and other formal assessments and other formalized tests that are usually offered across the country or the world. These tests usually cost money and they often times have their very own app or website that locks down the student’s browser.

There are also companies that offer these to schools for all their assessments.

Distance Learning

So why am I writing about this? Well with Covid and distance (or hybrid) learning there are some talks about how to give assessments to students while they are at home and how to ensure that they don’t cheat.

Well, lockdown browsers are not the answer. While these lockdown browsers are pretty robust and they can be difficult to get around, all a student needs to do is pull out their smartphone, another computer, or tablet to look up the answers. Heck, they can even text their friends with answers. The lockdown browser is just a bump in the road.


This service has a live person who video conferences into a student taking their exam. They proctor and observe the student taking an exam. For an idea check out this video (you don’t need to watch it all) to get an idea on how it works.

This site is definitely more geared for higher education and I find it a bit creepy too though I cannot doubt its effectiveness. That aside it is pretty pricey. I couldn’t find specific pricing details from their site and I do imagine the cost is baed on how many total students you sign up. From what I could find the pricing models works like this:

  • A flat rate for the first hour (I saw prices from $15 – 17.50 from other schools) per student per assessment
  • A cost for additional hours (I saw prices from $5.50 – $7.00 from other schools) per student per assessment

Again, those costs are per student per assessment. So let’s say you have 100 students and the English teacher uses this service and has 4 assessments that are all finished within that first hour. That will run your school (just for English) $6000 USD for that year.

All in the name of getting rid of academic dishonesty.

What can you do?

Am I suggesting that a teacher just lives with academic dishonesty and shrug? No, I think the answer lies with the assessment itself. Create assessments with less knowledge based questions. For example don’t ask a question like “When and where did the Battle at Gettysburg take place?” That is a questoin a student can Google and have the answer in less than a minute.

Instead, ask more open ended questions such as “Who were the most important Union generals during the Battle of Gettysburg and what specific impact did they have on the battle?” That’s a more complex question and certainly a Google search will give some answers but students would need to digest that info in order to produce an answer. My point being, it couldn’t be answered in less than sixty seconds.

Another layer to add on top of better questions is to add an online assessment service like Edulastic (check out my review here). Here you can create assessments and actually watch students progress through the test in real time. You can also schedule the test for specific students at specific times and add a time limit to the test so students aren’t working on it for hours (or days) while they look up answers on their phone or with their friends.

Project/Essay based assessments

Another option is to do essay or at least short answered questions that ask students to demonstrate their knowledge more than just facts. Have them explain processes, events or allow them to draw their own conclusions and have them support it with evidence. These take longer to grade but you do get more authentic answers this way.

Project based learning is also another option. Having students create something that demonstrate their learning can be a nice departure from standard assessments. This can be tricky though.  Make sure students have access to all the resources they need to complete the tasks and of course troubleshooting via email can also pose challenging as it is much easier to see what they are talking about. Maybe meet with them on Zoom, Teams or Google Meet. But it is very hard for a student to cheat on a project that requires them to produce something authentic.

The takeaway

The bottom line is this: Teachers cannot be in the homes of their students and therefore cannot properly monitor a traditional assessment. If you use a lot of these find some other options. If not you can be sure some (if not most) of your students will cheat on those tests.

Keep in mind, the assessment is a way for students to demonstrate their mastery or knowledge working towards mastery of a subject. It is not meant to be a punishment for them or yourself.


Parent-Teacher Conferences Online – The Results!

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how we were handling parent-teacher conferences this year using Zoom. Well, we have done it and . . . it went very well. Here is the overview. The teachers were going to start a meeting and would manage parents entering and exiting the meeting through the “Waiting Room” feature. This feature doesn’t automatically accept participants into a meeting. Instead it keeps them in a waiting room and the teacher can then admit who they need to admit.

We also used a scheduling program to allow parents to book their conferences ahead of time. The conferences ran for a day and a half and individual meetings were 10 – 20 minutes (depending on the grade level).

Preparation for the conferences

We did a lot of preparations before hand. Here is what we did before hand:

  • Collect all Personal Meeting Links
  • Meet with all teachers to…
    • Make sure Zoom is updated
    • Make sure that teachers know how to start their meetings
    • Make sure know teachers know manage participants in the Waiting Room
  • Communicate with parents…
    • Send out the link of meetings for all teachers
    • Send out expectations to parents (have Zoomed installed, test it out, be early to your meeting)
  • Send communications to teachers and parents at least three times a week before the conferences

I think the prep was very helpful. We were able to track the teacher preparations to make sure we met with every teacher and make sure that they knew what they had to do during the meetings.

We also hammered home that if there are serious technical issues then reschedule. Don’t sit there and trying to troubleshoot the problem putting them behind schedule. Since it is Zoom it can be done anytime.

Monitoring the meetings

Since it is all remote and the conferences are pretty short, our tech staff was simply monitoring to make sure there are no wide spread issues. Lucky for us, Zoom provides a bunch of information.

As you can see from the image, we can see who is in the meeting, when they entered, what device they are using and what equipment (even external microphones and cameras).

We can also switch over to the audio and visual data to see how much (if any) data packets were loss during the meeting.


Overall the conferences went quite well, but there were some issues that we encountered.

The first was an audio issue. We had two teachers whose audio was not working with Zoom. Their microphones were working, their speakers were working but they could not hear anything. In fact, Zoom wanted to restart the driver and it prompted these teachers for administrator credentials. Once they were put in, the problem resolved itself.

Document cameras was another issue. We had a few teachers who wanted to use their document cameras to show student work. The problem was that teachers wanted the parents to see their face while the document camera was being used. This feature is currently not supported in Zoom (or at least I don’t know about it).

So what teachers were going to do was to use the document camera software which will allow the use of the document camera and the built in webcam and then share their screen. It’s not ideal but it works. I am not sure how many teachers actually went this route or just used their document camera or just abandoned the idea altogether.

Then there were the expected issues which were network connectivity and user error. Luckily for us, network connectivity issues were few and far between and when they happened it looked like parents just jumped right back into their scheduled meeting.

As far as user error, I know of a single parent who was struggling through a few conferences. For some reason this parent had issues with sound and connecting to at least one meeting. Other than that I have not heard of too many incidents.


I decided to put out two surveys to collect data. One survey designed for the parents and one for the teachers. Here is a link to a copy of those surveys so you can see the questions yourself. I tried to keep the questions short and to the point.

Depending on the results (listed below) it could shape how we approach conferences for the future. Maybe people loved Zoom or maybe they hated it, either way we thought it was important to capture what our community thought about the process.

Teacher Data

Overall the teachers really liked it using Zoom. There weren’t too many negative comments. Here are some highlights:

  • Some teachers got to see both parents (usually they only see one)
  • It easier to stay start and finish meetings, so it was easier to stick to their schedule
  • Meetings started and finished on time
  • It went better than expected
  • You do lose the personal touch of meeting in person
  • It was nice doing conferences from home

I really anticipated the results of the teacher survey to be more mixed. I wasn’t sure if technical difficulties were going to be an issue, but that didn’t seem to be the case at all. 90-95% of our teachers said that the audio and video was good. As it turns out, the teachers (overall) were really impressed with the format.


The final question was whether they would want to hold conferences in person only, through Zoom only or a combination of both. Here are the the results.

Parent Data

This really surprised me. I was really anticipating a really mixed bag. We are not a large school but that does not mean that our parents opinions are all homogeneous. We have some parents who are IT professionals and others who have difficulties with basic computer skills.

But, again, I was taken a back. They (overall) really liked the format as well. Here is a quick selection of comments:

  • Zoom kept things timely
  • In person meetings can run late
  • Transition between one meeting and another was tight
  • As a working parent – this was great
  • The ability to attend conferences without having to take time off work was great
  • Worked well but would prefer in person meetings
  • It went smoothly
  • It was nice that both of us could attend
  • It removes the barrier of childcare

I picked these comments because I thought they made a good point or I saw the comments multiple times.

They also reported good audio/visual quality from Zoom, and of course I asked the big money question about future conferences and here is what how our parents responded.

So as you can see there is a demand to maintain this format.

I guess the question going forward is what will the combination of in person and Zoom looks like?


Teacher Made – Review

Teacher Made is a website that will take a PDF, JPG, PNG, GIF or DOCX (Microsoft Word file) and add interactivity to it such as text boxes students can fill in, multiple choice questions and more. It basically allows you to take a worksheet and make it so the child can complete it on a computer or mobile device and then submit that file. Oh and there is Google Classroom integration

Sounds like a good idea and much of it works pretty well, though there are some short comings. Let’s take a look together.

Getting started

You can sign in with your Google account or sign up with your email address. Both are straight forward and easy to use. If you plan on using this with Google Classroom, I encourage you to sign up with your Google account. This will make this process a bit easier.

The Dashboard

This place is sparse. You really have two options at this point. You can go to My Worksheet were you can work with those already created or you can go to Create Worksheet where you can (you guessed it) create a new worksheet.

That’s it and in some ways this is pretty good. I’ve seen systems where there are so many options and so many actions that it can get confusing and a user can even get lost or forget where their content is!

On the other hand, having a little more organization in the My Worksheet section would be great. Allowing teachers to make folders or tags to help keep certain units together would be nice. I can see teachers making over a hundred worksheets with this service and then having to go sort through them.

I also wish there was a preview of the worksheet. Sometimes that visual cue (especially if they are planning on reusing these worksheets the next year or later in the year) will be very helpful in figuring out what worksheet is what.

There is a timestamp when the worksheet was made, but I was there was more. To be fair though, this seems to be a fairly new service and I wouldn’t be surprised if these features roll out in the near future.

Creating a worksheet

I feel this goes without saying, but you need to have access to a PDF or picture of the original worksheet first. Teacher Made is not a scanning service, that is not what they do, so you need to have a way to scan these documents. There are plenty of ways to do this and the easiest would be to use an app on your smartphone.

For this example I have a simple addition worksheet from the Math is Fun website. I printed it out and then scanned it as a PDF and emailed that to myself.

Now I go to the Teacher Made website, sign in and click on the Create Worksheet link at the top of the page.

Again, I am greeted with a very straight forward and sparse page. Here it wants me to name it and give it a description which I did.

When you upload the document Teacher Made gives you a preview of what it will look like. If you have a multi page PDF it will show each page and you can even select to omit pages which is very nice, but you cannot reorder the pages. Not a big deal, but if you want that ability you would need to do it ahead of time in another program.

Once it is uploaded you can go ahead and Edit the Content. This means you can add various elements to your document to make it interactive for your students.

Here is what this editing looks like.

The toolbar at the top is where all the magic happens. You can add the following elements to your document:

  • Short answer
  • Dropdown
  • Open answer
  • Matching
  • True/False
  • Multiple Choice
  • Checkboxes
  • Hot Spot (used for maps or images where you want students to click on certain areas)
  • Math (you can add fractions, numbers, mixed numbers or Algebra expression)

This is a very robust set of options, but here is where the issues start to creep in.


The box where students can answer. This is a good place to start. Check out the image below.

By default there is no border where students can enter their answers. I have added places for answers for questions 19 and 20 but there is no way for a student to know this.

However, Teacher Made has thought of this. In the Format section there is a way to Set Default Borders and to Update All Borders.

I just wish by default there was a border.

When you add a question type to the worksheet, you also can add the correct answer so Teacher Made will grade it automatically. This is nice, but more on that below.

Some of the choices for questions aren’t the greatest. There are areas where students can type words or numbers and those areas are pretty straight forward. However, when you get to the multiple choices – well, just look at the image below.


OK Those 4 circles are the multiple choice questions. It only adds these radial dots that you can select. There is no way to add text to the choices. So you need to use a text box to make the choices or have it built into the worksheet originally. It just seems a little silly not to be able to add text next to the circles. This is the same for the Checkbox option as well.

I will say that it is very easy to orient the circles. If you want them smaller and vertical that is pretty easy and intuitive.

Deleting these elements from the worksheet is kind of a pain. I think this is just something that should work but doesn’t right now. In order to delete one of these boxes (say my 4 choice multiple choice), I would think that I would select it and then hit the Delete button. Unfortunately this does not work. I need to select it, go up to the menu and select Edit and then select Delete from there.

Not difficult but it is something that slows down your workflow.


Nice features

There are some nice features too. I really like the ability to add your own text box. This is great for adding additional instructions such as show all work. Another nice feature is the Color Block/Eraser. Despite Eraser being in the name it does not do that at all. Instead it will place a white block (with a white border) on the page to cover up unwanted information. For example, if I want to get rid of the Date area of this worksheet I will just place a white block over it.

Let me add the white block

Ah, that’s better.

You can also preview the worksheet and check to see that they auto grading system is working.

I really like this.

That way teachers can quickly experience what their students will

Assigning the worksheet

If you want students to complete the worksheet online you need to go to the My Worksheets section.

From the list each worksheet has an Action button. Click that and you see these options and briefly here is what they do:

  • Edit Content – Allows you to edit the worksheet
  • Edit Properties – Allows you to change the name and the description of the worksheet
  • Make a copy
  • Sharing – Allows you to share the worksheet with another teacher. They can then make a copy for their account
  • Assign
  • Preview
  • Delete

If you assign it to students, they will need Teacher Made accounts. If you are a Google school, they can sign in with Google so that is not hard. If they do not have a Google account there is still a somewhat easy way to do this.

You can add a list of names or ID numbers to the assignment so it will be easy for them to access the assessment. This is pretty simple and clever. A good way to get around a student not needing an account. When it is Assigned it will look like this.

You can see my fake account daisy13579 and on the right hand side you see the link and you also see a way to share it to Google Classroom. The link is really long (which is to be expected). If you are teaching first graders who don’t have Google accounts the link is a problem. Here is what mine looks like:

The best way around this is to use a URL shortener like to make it manageable for people to type in.

If you go the Google Classroom route, it is pretty straightforward. You pick which class you want to post it to. If you have multiple classes I imagine you would go through this process each time.

Then you can pick if it is an assignment, a question, a post, etc.

When you click Go it takes you to the new assignment on Google Classroom. Here you can set a due date, how many points it is worth (if any) and add it to a Topic. All the good Google Classroom stuff. You will notice that it is just a link to the Teacher Made worksheet.


When a students submits their worksheet Teacher Made will grade it automatically (that is if you provided the correct answer for the question). Obviously if it is a short answer or written response, it would be best for you to grade. You can see those submissions in the My Worksheets section. To see a student’s work just click on their score

The green boxes are correct answers and the red boxes are incorrect. When you move your mouse over the box, the correct answers will be displayed next to it.

One thing I do not like is that there is no way to override Teacher Made’s grading. If you wanted to give partial credit, there is no way to do that here as you can in other programs or services.

Also, if you want that score to reflect in Google Classroom you will need to go into the assignment and add it for each student. This is not a limitation of Teacher Made but more of a limitation of Google Classroom.

Another thing to know is that once a student has submitted their worksheet on Teacher Made it will not allow them to go back into the worksheet to make any changes or to submit it again.


Should you use Teacher Made? The short answer is yes! It does solve a problem during this weird time in our lives right now. It allows teachers to transform their physical worksheets into digital versions that students can then complete and submit online.

That being said, there is a lot of work that Teacher Made needs to do. There are some features (mentioned above) that need some tweaking or need to be added altogether to make this a slam dunk.

Just know if you are going to use teacher Made you should know what it can do and can’t do before jumping into it fully.

If you know of a similar service you wold like reviewed then let me know in the comments section below.




Google Form + Google Calendar = Zapier!


Here is the problem. Our teachers want to have a shared assessment calendar. That way they can see what tests are scheduled for each class and know how to not overload a kid. What student wants to have four tests on a single day? Well how to do this?

So we are a G-Suite school and we have the ability to create a Resource calendar. This is just a calendar that no one owns and everyone has the ability to create events. The trick here is that when teachers make an event in Google Calendar they will need to select the calendar when they make an event.

Again, this seems easy enough, but it’s also pretty easy to forget to do that. It’s very easy just to type in the test details and hit Save and not realize it’s not on the correct calendar. You can see where this goes.

Enter Google Forms and Zapier. Here the teacher does not need to worry about that information. The form will capture all the pertinent information and then using Zapier – it will create the event and schedule it on the correct calendar. Oh yeah – it is free too.

This isn’t hard but there are a lot of steps. Don’t worry though – I’ll link the calendar and the form out and the workflow from Zapier at the bottom of this post.

What is Zapier?

Most people know what Google Calendar is (if not it is pretty obvious) and Google Forms, but not everyone knows about Zapier. This is a service that allows you to take two different services and make them work together by creating triggers (or Zaps as they call them). So basically when someone fills out the form, Zapier will take that information and put it into a Google Calendar event and then schudule it automatically. Pretty great huh?

Step 1 – Create the calendar

This would be best if you go to your Tech department and have them create a Resource Calendar. This makes it easy for anyone to view and control. If your Tech department is not open to such requests, go ahead and make a calendar of your own.

Open Google Calendar ( and sign in if need be. On the left hand side you will see Other calendars click the + symbol.

Now some new options will appear. Select Create new calendar.

Now you can name your Calendar and set the appropriate time zone (kind of important that last part).

Now we need to set the sharing settings up. So let’s go back to your calendar list by clicking the left arrow near the Settings 

From the list find your new calendar. Move your mouse over the calendar name until you see three dots. Click those dots.

Now click on Settings and sharing

Make sure that Make available for [your school name] is checked and then save those settings.

Step 2 – Setting up the Google Form

This is pretty easy. Create a new Google Form either through Google Drive or thby going to and you can make your form look like mine below.

Now that your form is created, we need to create a spreadsheet for the responses. This is very easy. Click on Responses at the top of your form and then it will take you to another spot. From here click on the green Google Sheets icon.

It will ask you to name the spreadsheet and that is all you have to do with that!

Google Forms is pretty intuitive, but if you have any issues just let me know and I’ll give you hand.

Step 3 – Set up the Zap: Part 1 – The Google Form

With Zapier, you can sign in with Google and while there are paid versions of the service there is a limited free version that will be more than enough for my needs. So head over and sign up/sign in to Zapier!

Once you hav access to your dashboard, from the left hand side you will see an option to MAKE A ZAP

Now Zapier will start walking you through the process one step at a time. It is pretty fantastic what it can do. So obviously, when someone submits a Google Form so just type in Form to find the Google Form choice. Then select it.

Now it gives you two options. It can be whenever there is a new response from the Google Form or when there is a new response or if it has been updated. I like to go with the later. So it should look like this now.

This part may seem a little weird, but they want you to grant Zapier access to your Google Drive (which is where the form and the spreadsheet live). Go ahead and give it permission and then click Continue.

Now you need to tell Zapier which spreadsheet to look for and which worksheet of that spreadsheet to look at. Since this is from a Google Form, pick that spreadsheet where the responses will be stored and there should only be one worksheet, so it should look similar to mine.

Now it will ask you to test the trigger. If you have no responses recorded this will fail. If you want to see a result. Go to the Google Form and fill it out then run the trigger.

When it finds a response it will show you something that looks a little weird like below.

Step 3 – Set up the Zap: Part 2 – Google Calendar

Now that the Google Form is all set up, let’s move onto the Google Form part. So this is the Do this… part of the Zap. It will want you to pick what app you will use when it sees the Google Form has been completed. From here select Google Calendar.

It will ask you what you want to do. Select Create Detailed Event. This will allow you to provide much more info on the calendar event. Then click the big blue

Then it will ask you to confirm your account. I guess you could post this on another account if you wanted to. Now we get some options and boy-oh-boy are there options. Don’t worry we will just be dealing with the basics.

The good news is that it will pull data directly from the Google Form to populate the particular field. You just need to click the drop down menu and select it. Check out what I did below to see an example.

I basically put the grade level, subject and what the test was about all in one line. Be sure to put a space between those values so it looks nice.

Then scroll down to find the Start Date & Time and the End Date & Time. This will be the same field from the Google Form.

Now scroll down a little further and for All Day be sure to select Yes. This will put all the assessments at the top of the calendar and in my opinion will make it look a little cleaner and easier to see.

Now scroll all the way to the bottom and select Continue.

Guess what – it’s finally made and ready to test. Once it tests, it will ask you to turn on the Zap – go ahead and click that button!

Step 4 – Test it for real!

So I go to my Google Form and fill it out

Now all I have to do is sit back and wait.

With the free plan it can take up to 15 minutes for Zap to take action and for the calendar event to be created. For the paid account it is much faster, but you still need to wait a few minutes for it to actually work, but work it will!

So here is the calendar for October 1

Only as good as…

This is  a nifty tool that can bring a lot of transparency to a school, but of course there is a weakness. That weakness is noncompliance. If teachers forget on a regular basis or just ignores it all together this tool is not very effective.

That is where leadership comes into play. There has to be a driving push and force behind using this to make sure that what teachers, students (maybe even parents) see is accurate so they can plan. It does not necessarily need to be principals it could be department heads or just some people who are looking to improve things.

I’m not going to lie. Teachers have a lot on their plates and remembering this small simple task is not always on the top of their to-do lists.

The Links

Here are all the links needed for you to test this out for yourself. Just fill out the form, wait for about 15 minutes and you should see the details appear on the Google Calendar.

I did notice that the Zap was saying there was an error, but it never failed putting the event on the calendar. I think it has to do with the event starting and ending on the same day. If it works, it works I guess 🙂

Google Calendar:

Google Form: