Let’s Recap That

For those of you who are in 1:1 classrooms, you really need to check out  Recap. I teach high school students, and my rural Missouri classroom is not 1:1 yet, so I have used it sparingly so far, but I see the power and possibilities it presents. Once I have an established way for students who do not have internet access at home or a smartphone to complete assignments using Recap in my room before or after school, then I’m “going all in.”


The very first time I used Recap in class was an eye-opening experience. I’ve seen videos of elementary and middle school students using it, so I was completely unprepared for the shyness a majority of my sophomores displayed. Yes, in the age of Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, I watched my three classrooms of sophomores experience shyness in front of the camera.  They don’t mind being silly in front of the camera, constantly, in their daily lives, but ask them to talk about literature and, well, they freeze. Weird.

My first assignment for them was something less demanding than what I plan to use in the future because I wanted students to feel comfortable using the website before I slapped a deeper question on them. My students take notes every time we read in class, and the notes are simple. They write down a question, quote, and then a comment (QQC) on that day’s reading, so my first Recap assignment was for them to share their QQC, and they could read it to the camera right off their notes. They were still nervous, which fascinated me.


See how they avoid looking directly at the camera?

So when you try it for the first time with students, consider going easy on them.  It is a standard practice of mine to make the first time with a new technology something students can handle without additional stress. For some students, the idea of trying anything new involving technology is completely out of their comfort zone. I always have a few who grumble “Why can’t we just do a Powerpoint?” 

So how do you get started? Well, sign up (you can use your google account) and then create and assign a question or questions to a student, a group of students or the entire class to be answered during or after a lesson. You can decide video length, and the maximum is three minutes, while the minimum length is one minute.  There are students who will struggle a bit to talk for one minute, and then you’ll have students who can’t seem to get their point across in under three minutes.  So far, I’ve capped my assignments at three minutes, but I tell students that they may stop after one minute if they have fulfilled the assignment question or directions.


Before using it in class, test it on a Chromebook iPad, tablet, or the device you plan to use, making sure that it has a camera, microphone (built-in, doesn’t have to be separate), and make sure that the Recap website isn’t blocked by your school’s filters.


The Recap default title is dated, and then you can type in your question or record yourself asking students what you want them to answer, or instructing them on what you want them to do for their Recap.  It easy and doesn’t take much of your time.  Another great benefit to using Recap is that students will not need a separate login to use it. They can log in to their email if they have a Google account, and then simply click to Sign in or Up with Google.  You can also have them join classes with  a Join Pin.

You are likely to have one student in your class that can easily figure out the recording process, but if not, feel free to test it as a student (log in as one) so that you can also guide them. We discovered that students can re-record until satisfied, but once they click out of that, they can’t go back and edit.  That’s it! It is really very simple, and once all of you are familiar with it, it becomes a quick way to assess students.


There’s always a few students who aren’t shy, ever.

Each Recap will want you to select a due date. Keep in mind that once the deadline has passed, late students can’t complete that assignment. Since I make all of my students complete all of their work to the best of my ability, I simply create a “copy” of that assignment, and then my late students can still complete it.  This also helps if you want to deduct points for the assignment being completed past the deadline. I haven’t done that yet, and I’m not sure I will with this type of assignment, but this does make it possible.


Recap lets you get an overview of how each class is doing as a group or dig into individual responses for formative assessment. You can also share individual responses with other students, parents, and educators, or show a daily review reel in class. My classes begged me not to show their videos to anyone, mainly other classes, so I did promise them I wouldn’t.  I did tell them that I would share with a few teachers to show them how great this tool is for reflection and assessment. They finally agreed that they would not be embarrassed if I showed other teachers.

What are you waiting for? Give Recap a try. You’ll learn things about what your students are thinking that may surprise you.


Bottle Flippin Ideas

Kids of all ages around Missouri (and maybe in your area and I’m just not aware) have been overtaken by the incredible urge to drink just over half of their bottled water and then spend the next several hours flipping it.  Yep. Bottle flipping has become all the rage in my area. My son’s 10u travel baseball team spent lots of dugout hours all summer flipping their bottles. My son was a bit unhappy when I thoughtfully gave him a big sports cooler that could hang on the dugout fence, stayed cold for hours in the sun, and held enough water to get him through an all-day baseball tournament, but he couldn’t flip it.  Fortunately (for him), he got over that and quickly began to appreciate his bigger water cooler. Other parents began switching their kid over to the bigger cooler that could hang on the dugout fence. Bottle flipping, however, has not gone away.


I bought my son an Igloo cooler at Walmart. Other brands have them too. Happy shopping.

All of this year so far, I have had high school students trying bigger and more amazing bottle flips between classes, during our adviser/advisee time (yes, we call it AA and try not to giggle), and at any time they think I’m not looking.  Bottle flipping is loud and obnoxious when done indoors, especially in a classroom, but I do appreciate an epic bottle flip when I see one. My son did a bottle flip that landed his bottle onto his basketball goal today, and he did it on his first try. That got me thinking.


As educators, we all want to experience that epic bottle flip.  I presented Pear Deck at a recent educational technology conference in Missouri (MOREnet 2016) with the help of a colleague, Kim Foreman, and I consider Pear Deck an epic bottle flip, and a bigger hanging water cooler. The free version is nice, but it is not an epic flip.  To reach the status of epic, you must have the full version.  I know. Believe me. I don’t like having to pay for things to use in my classroom any more than you do, but sometimes the value outweighs my need for free or cheap.  Sometimes I have to be willing to plunk out a few bucks in order to do something for my students that is even more amazing than landing my mostly empty bottle of water on top of my basketball rim (or whatever the square thingy behind the actual rim is called). I currently pay for my full version of Pear Deck out of my own pocket as we work out a plan for a site license for my building or district. I pay for it because Pear Deck provides a way for me to have deep meaningful discussions in my classroom, with 100% engagement, about Lord of the Flies,  Masque of the Red Death, character analysis, archetypes, mythology, back to school bonding, you name it.


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Before Pear Deck, just a handful of students would dare to discuss anything in class, out loud, in front of other students, and let other hear them sound smart, or stupid. But hold on a second, you say. There have been other devices and technologies used in our classrooms that engage students and assist in classroom discussion. What about those classroom response systems or polls?  Sure. They’re out there, but a lot of them are like the half empty water bottles.  They can flip and be fun, but Pear Deck is the bigger cooler that keeps your ice cold for hours.  With it, I now guide the class discussion, see every student participating, spotlight answers I want students to talk about, keep students anonymous while pointing out brilliant comments (or not so brilliant), and I can now switch to student-paced if the bell rings before we’re finished with our session.  I allow students to change their answers after we discuss them because Pear Deck provides takeaways in a .pdf format that integrates with Google Classroom beautifully.


This is one question and response from a Pear Deck takeaway. All student takeaways are stored in my Google Drive so that I can look them over, grade them, use them in blogs, etc.

Students can download the link from their Classroom, use it to study for tests or quizzes, or they can do it to complete further assignments.  The takeaways have all of the questions from the session and all answers submitted by that student. They each get one that has all of their answer choices with each question.  Oh, and there’s a different cute and historical pear at the end of each takeaway.  Pear Deck offers all sorts of question types, so math teachers can have students work out problems in their Decks, art teachers can have students illustrate or draw from a prompt, elementary teachers can have fill in the blank sentences for vocabulary, and the list goes on.  It functions on all devices, from desktop to mobile phone. The potential is amazing.   I have juniors and seniors begging to do a Pear Deck instead of playing a review game before tests. I have a really good review game called grudge ball, which I stole from some smart teacher who posted it on the internet years ago.  The nerve of my students wanting me to create a review Deck instead of playing a review game.

If you are brave enough to rock your classroom boat and try Pear Deck, I offer the following advice.  First, sign up for the free trial. Next, create a short easy deck for your first try with students. Five slides will likely enough, but have ten slides in the Deck just to be safe. Remember that your first Pear Deck may not flow seamlessly and without problems, but let your students know that you are all trying something new. Students as a whole, unlike teachers, love trying new technological things.  The drawing answer type should always be one slide in your Deck. Students of all ages love that, though drawing on Chromebooks without a mouse can be tricky. Make it a challenge for them, and they’ll jump right in.


Once you feel comfortable presenting wth Pear Deck, invite your principal to come watch you use a new technology that is a great way to assess students and engage them (while your free trial is still operational).  Once your administrator sees it in action, having it paid for by your district will increase exponentially.  The Pear Deck team offers payment options for your district or per teacher. However you are able to finance it, make sure you do. The full version allows you to control the session and dashboard from your iPad or any other device that has internet capability while you walk around and observe/connect with your students.  The dashboard view shows you who is logged into your session and what their answers are BEFORE you show student responses on the Smartboard.Students don’t need a separate login since Pear Deck works with Google. Students just need to log into their school email accounts, join the open session by going to http://www.peardeck.com/join (see below) and enter the code that you can display on the smartboard or screen. I use projector view on my desktop computer/Smartboard, and I use my school iPad to run the session and monitor my students, though a Chromebook or other tablet will also work.


Reading about a new techy tool for the classroom is a lot like seeing the picture of my son’s epic bottle flip without actually witnessing the flip.  I get that, but trust me on this. Pear Deck is worth your time as an educator to explore, to attend a workshop or seminar, and to attempt to use. Like bottle flipping, your students will be engaged. But like the bigger water cooler, your students also will be focused on your content, and the silent ones in your class will no longer be silent. Their voices will be heard. That, my friends, is epic.