Sunday, March 9, 2014

NCTIES 2014 -- "Back Channeling and Formative Assessment"

Richard Byrne and Jennifer LaGarde pictured here both spoke on formative assessment

Richard Byrne is a former teacher of Social Studies and Language Arts from the state of Maine who speaks world-wide about a variety of educational technology topics.  He writes a hugely popular blog ( ), and has developed apps and a number of other educational technology tools. Richard Byrne's presentations including this one on back channeling are available here:  

Jennifer LaGarde, Ryan Redd and Kate Tayloe also presented on this topic of digital tools for formative assessment.  LaGarde is librarian extraordinaire and "trouble maker" in the media community.  Her award winning blog, continues to educate and inspire. Ryan Redd is a rock star Math teacher and instructional coach, and Kate Tayloe is also an instructional coach in New Hanover County.  Their presentation is available here:

Back Channels are essentially chat rooms for the classroom or other setting.  For example, we use a tool called today's meet ( at our monthly technology meetings in WS/FCS.  Tech Facilitators post questions about what is being said in the meeting or reminders to others in the room about resources related to what is being presented without interrupting the flow of the meeting.  Richard pointed out that "back channeling" has been going on long before 21st century technology as students have passed notes in class for as long as students have met in classrooms.  The difference is the "notes" now are public for everyone to see.

What are the benefits of back Channeling and/or formative assessment?

1) Students who might ordinarily not speak up in class, may feel more comfortable participating.
2) Students who don't get called on or when they do say "someone else said what I was going to say" have an opportunity to participate.
3)  Students who might be embarrassed to ask a question for example about health might be more willing to ask in this type of setting.
4) You can assess class knowledge in a snap shot with many of these tools and adjust instruction as needed.
5) Several of the tools let you send files & pictures to the students as they interact and students can return items like drawings from a white board platform.

What do you need to do?

  • You would need to establish a "room" or session ahead of time on one of the sites below
  • Students would need to have some type of electronic device to interact with the room.  It could be a smart phone, laptop, tablet, computer, etc.
  • Establish clear rules of digital etiquette for the sessions.  Richard Byrne mentioned telling his students something like: "Don't ever say anything you wouldn't say to your grandmother in church"

Ideas for Using Back Channeling or formative assessment in class:
  • Let's say you have a guest speaker visiting your classroom.  In addition to having students come up with good questions prior to the speaker's visit, have them interact live as questions may arise from things that are said in the conversation and can be posted in the forum.
  • Students performing a science lab, cooking in CTE class or perhaps doing a PBL in any subject could report observations/findings for everyone to see in the back channel room
  • Using a tool like Infuse learning, you can send an image, graph to student devices for them to analyze and make observations or even draw something.
  • Other ideas:  


  • Ideas for reviewing digital etiquette with students:Digital Etiquette:
  • Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers by engaging their classrooms with a series of educational exercises and games. It is simple and take seconds to login. Socrative runs on tablets, smartphones, and laptops
  • Infuse Learning  is a free student response system that works with any Internet-connected device including iPads and Android tablets. Infuse Learning allows teachers to push questions, prompts, and quizzes out to students' devices in private virtual classrooms.
  • Padlet was formerly wall wisher and is a virtual wall that allows people to express their thoughts on a common topic easily. It works like an online sheet of paper where people can put any content (e.g. images, videos, documents, text) anywhere on the page, together with anyone, from any device.  Richard suggested it for posting Youtube links as they will show on padlet without all the mess of youtube suggestions, etc.
  • Popplet is is a tool that allows users to visualize ideas. Teachers and students can create graphic organizers, timelines, and many other forms of visual organization.
  • Kahoot  allows learners to both respond and create with any device that has a web browser and works over wifi or 3G/4G, creating a variety of trusted learning spaces.
  • is a very easy to use online recording site that allows you to save audio creations for a variety of uses.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

NCTIES 2014 -- And the award for the most inspiring session goes to...

On March 6-7, 2014 I had the privilege of attending The North Carolina Technology in Education Conference in Raleigh.  (NCTIES) To answer critics who might something like: "There again are those teachers out there wasting our tax payers dollars", I spent over $500.00 of my own money (hotel, registration, gas etc.)  to attend this conference and will bring new knowledge back to teachers and students in our schools.  With budget cuts to education in North Carolina, there is no longer monies provided for this type of staff development. I feel sad for our profession that I feel the need to even bring up this issue.

That aside, I had a fantastic experience, and learned so many things from the brilliant speakers and fellow attendees.  I often say to folks who attend workshops/conferences that it takes time to process and you have to start by just trying one or two things (not all of them at once).

If I had to give an award for the most inspiring session I encountered it was with Kevin Honeycutt ( ) and his talk on "Building Entrepreneurs".  The concept revolved around teaching students to use ideas to make real businesses and actually make sales giving them real stakes in educational products.  

Some of Kevin's memorable lines (paraphrased here)

  • "It's not evil to make a living"
  • "Teaching in juve is like teaching in staff development--everyone in there is angry"
  • "You can sell a kid a life in an  hour" Salesmen can make the best teachers.
  • No child left behind is no child left untested 
  • "China real" iPhone. 20$
  • "If you have a good idea now have another one--You have to invent something all the time". --We are not teaching inventiveness in America anymore
  • "There always has to be an audience for kids - without stakes their work is meaningless"
  • People used to say about America:  "You don't know you can't, you just do it"  Have we lost that?  How do we fix it?
  • We need to be teaching kids to: "Learn to love to learn"
Things to look at from Kevin's session: