Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Category Archives: Tips & Tricks

Are you priming students for success?

Last week Jason G wrote a post on starting the year out right by setting effective classroom rules. I would argue that this is one of the most important things you can do at the start of a school year (or semester).  In addition to setting appropriate rules, there are other things you can do anytime of the year that can help “prime” your students for success (even if they don’t realize it). I’ve highlighted a few studies below that will hopefully help explain what I mean.

Highway sign directing towards success or failure

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Tips for Turning Classroom Content Digital

In last week’s post I talked about the importance of using digital text in the classroom. However, making the transition from traditional content to digital is not always an easy process. While there are many digital resources available, you still have to find them. And if nothing suitable is found, you may have to resort to converting/scanning your traditional materials into a digital format. The purpose of this post is to provide a few ideas for finding and creating digital content of your own.

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The Importance of Using Digital Materials in the Classroom

Over the last few years digital content such as educational websites, electronic textbooks, and online journals have become more available to classrooms than ever before. Unfortunately increased availability does not always equal increased use. Despite the number of iPads, Chromebooks, and other devices in schools today the amount of print based material remains roughly the same. Reasons for this vary, but understanding the importance of having digital materials available can go a long way in helping classrooms make the transition.

Digital Materials flying out of computer

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Using the 5 Whys to Help Identify Solutions

In last week’s post I talked about the importance of developing a process for determining technology needs. This helps to ensure schools purchase what is needed vs. what is hot at the moment. However, sometimes it is not feasible (or necessary) to do a full technology needs assessment to determine what is really needed. In this post I will be explaining a super simple technique to help you quickly get to the bottom of an issue, which makes finding the appropriate solution much easier. It is called the 5 Whys.

The 5 whys


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Haiku Deck: An App that Facilitates Good Presentation Design

Last week Jason Carroll shared 3 presentation apps for the ipad. Though there are many many more (and we’ll keep sharing them), I wanted to dig a little deeper into Haiku Deck. As he mentioned, Haiku Deck naturally leads you through good presentation design principles. This is important to highlight as you may have heard us say at conferences that “great technology requires great strategy to make a difference.” This still holds true with your presentation.

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Word Clouds in Education

Word Clouds are more popular than ever. They frequently appear in social media posts, advertisements and everywhere in between. If you aren’t familiar with a word cloud, it is basically a graphical representation of text based content. Relevant words that are used more in the text appear larger. They attempt to provide an aesthetically pleasing graphical summary of what the text is saying. Here’s an example of a Word Cloud I created from a question I posted on Facebook and Twitter (I asked people to list two qualities of a great teacher):Image of Word Cloud

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Categorizing Your Student Learning Apps

One of the things that I find most difficult in wading through the flood of tech tools is keeping up with everything that is coming out while not losing track of what I already have. This is especially true for mobile apps to be used in the learning environment by students. To help me keep things in order, I categorize them into 4 broad categories. Apps that: Teach, Create, Engage (& Quiz), and Practice.


Teach:  These are apps that can serve as the “teacher” of the content and allow me to step aside and momentarily become a facilitator in the classroom. I’ll dig into these deeper in a future post, but Khan Academy is a great example. This app delivers content to the learner so that they can learn something directly.

Create:  These are apps that can be used to create content that you can deliver to your learners. There are quite a few and they can vary from text, to images, to video. Explain Everything is my favorite for now. Worth the $2.99 for sure. If you’re looking for a free option to try first, consider the ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard.

Engage (& Quiz): This category includes the apps that can be used to have students actively participate in the learning environment. For example Math Champ is an app that lets your learners respond to math quiz questions on their device and the results from the entire class can be displayed. These type of apps are especially useful for BYOD schools.

Practice: This last category is the one that many students may call the most fun (but not necessarily so). The key is that there is an educational skill that is practiced while using the app. Motion Math and iPrep: Advanced Math are a couple of examples. Motion Math Zoom is a game like app that works on finding place on a number line). iPrep: Advanced Math is a higher level math practice app that is not structured as a game. There are countless others that would fit in this category.

These work for me. What other categories do you have for your apps for student learning that you use to keep things in order?


Using Google Hangouts for Professional Development

For years I would co-present at various conferences on innovative tools for professional development.  It was obvious that one time sit-and-get training just wasn’t cutting it so we would focus on ways to use technology for follow up or on-going professional development.  While many tools are available for this sort of thing our goal was to point out free or low cost software that would be available to anyone interested.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), there were no shortage of these tools available and some are better for specific situations than others.  For example, if you need to do one-to-one video conference Skype is great, but if you need to add a third person ooVoo is better. Keeping up with all of the latest technologies, situations they would be best for, and the devices they work on became a job in and of itself.

Fast forward a few years and now I am using Google Hangouts for the majority of audio, video and chat interactions.   As with everything it has its pros and cons, some of which I’ve listed below


  • It’s Free
  • Up to 10 people on video chat at once
  • Works on most devices (including Chromebooks)
  • Ability to share your screen
  • Easy to take screenshots during the Hangout and review later
  • Can start instantly or invite others for a future date.


  • You must create a Google Account if you do not already have one
  • Scheduling a future meeting isn’t the most straight forward process
  • It takes some getting used to

Overall the cons are typical with any new program.  Everything from Facebook to your bank requires you to create an account so it should not be a surprise that you need one for Google as well.  Plus, if you are a Gmail user you already have one.

To schedule a hangout you will need to go to your Google+ account and create an event.  Once you have a Google account you will automatically have a Google+ account as well (it’s Google’s version of Facebook).  Just go to, choose events followed by “create event” or “plan a hangout”.  Note that Google let’s you specify if you want to hold a public hangout (anyone can attend) or a private hangout (where you invite who you want to attend).  Most people will choose private.  Anyone you invite will need a Google account as well.

Once you get everything set up the first time you will find the process much easier the next time around.  You will also see that your Google+ account keeps track of all of your previous hangouts and includes any screenshots you took and instant messages sent.

Ideas for how to use it deserves another post, but I see hangouts as a great way to hold ongoing professional development or to observe educators implementing strategies learned in face-to-face training.

Wayback Machine: A True Internet Archive

There have been a few times that I have come across a dead web link to a site that having access to would have been incredibly beneficial to my research and writing.  I came across a great tool that you (or your learners) can use when conducting research in the writing process. This tool is a web site named the Way Back Machine, you can find it here.

This site is an enormous internet archive of the internet from 1996 to current. It is pretty straightforward. You type in the web address (preferably copy and paste the link) you are wanting to view into the Wayback Machine search window and click the “Take me back” button. This will take you to a calendar that you can click on to connect with what you are wanting to find. Though it may not retain the visual layout of the original site, the text is there.

Don’t let links that go nowhere stifle you any longer!WayBack_Machine

Universally Designed is now Systems of Support

Just a quick update regarding our blog if you are a subscriber… For years this blog has been referred to as Universally Designed.  Its purpose has always been to provide tips and tricks related to Assistive/Instructional Technology and Behavior.   The blog was part of our website, where we shared handouts and other materials used in keynotes, conference workshops, and webinars.  We have now decided to merge the two and call the blog Systems of Support.  This will allow us to continue to provide relevant information dedicated to helping educators succeed in the classroom while keeping all content in one location.

If you are a subscriber you will continue to receive weekly updates when new posts are made.  We know we’ve been a little behind lately on our postings, but the idea is that this transition will help us to once again make the blog a priority and deliver content you expect.

You will notice that the handouts and downloads on the resources page is now password protected. As always, that content is free so no worries about that! If you are already subscribed to our blog, then you will receive an email in the coming days with the password for the resources page. If you are new to the site, subscribe to our blog and once you confirm, you will automatically receive the password get access.

-The Jasons