Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tools to Support All Kinds of Learners

Instructional Technology tools have remarkable power to level the playing field for diverse learners! Here are a few that might provide beneficial support to students with learning disabilities, limited English proficiency, visual impairments, and more.

Learning Ally - Improve reading comprehension and boost confidence with the wide selection of human-read audiobooks from Learning Ally. Plano ISD has a subscription thanks to generous funding from the state. If you would like for your students to have access to audiobooks on any device, please contact Nancy Watson ( for information.

Read & Write - the desktop version is available in the App Depot; use this toolbar with any material on your computer screen. The toolbar contains icons that provide word prediction, text-to-speech, screen masking, and more. There is a Read & Write extension for Chrome and an iPad app that works with the Safari browser. All icons on the Chrome extension are free to teachers; for students, the TextHelp company offers a 30-day free trial of the premium features. View free and premium features at

Kindle app for iPad - press and hold on unfamiliar words to take advantage of the Kindle's built-in dictionary. Use the translate feature to hear the text in a different language or to hear the pronunciation of a word.

Prizmo Go - an amazing iPad app! Take a picture of the page of any book. The app will convert the text to a machine-readable form and will read it aloud to you.

Reader Pen - use the pen to "highlight" the text in a book and it will read the text aloud. It frees up teachers' time and helps students be more independent learners. The district does not provide funds to purchase these devices.

Readability - a Chrome extension that removes clutter on a website and makes text easier to read.

Google Docs Voice Typing - fantastic Speech-to-Text app built right in to Google Docs. Click Tools > Voice Typing, enable the microphone, and dictate what you want to say. You can even change the language of dication!

Co:Writer - Chrome extension; word prediction tool that works in Google Docs. Recognizes and accommodates for common spelling errors/inventive spelling.

MindMeister - terrific mind mapping tool; you can create organizational charts like the one below and even insert images.

Do you have other apps or websites that you've found are helpful to your students? We'd love to know about them! Email us at with any suggestions.

Have a great Thanksgiving week, everyone!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ziteboard - Web Based, Real Time Interactive Whiteboard

Fellow Teachers,

I have a confession to make...I LOVE dry erase markers and whiteboards! This simple resource can be used in unlimited ways for my students to show what they know and practice essential problem solving skills. Not only that, but they can collaborate with their peers and have fun moving around the classroom. That being said, I get irritated for the following reasons:

  • The markers get dried out because one my sweeties didn't close the cap all the way.
  • I don't have enough working dry erase markers for everyone. (See above)
  • The erasers turn into projectiles because hey...why not?
  • The wasted time it takes for everyone to get out a board, grab a working marker, get a projectile (I mean eraser), and wait patiently for me to give the prompt.
If any of this sounds familiar, get ready to be amazed by this new to me tool called Ziteboard. Watch this video for a short introduction.

Ziteboard is a web based, real time, interactive whiteboard. If you have a device and wi-fi, then you and your students can use this remarkably easy tool.  Uses in the classroom include:
  • Annotating documents to create teacher notes that will never get lost.
  • Student group or individual work that can be turned into the teacher's Google Classroom.
  • Quickly launch whiteboards and save precious instruction time.

Most more buying markers, erasers, or whiteboards!!!  For more information, check out their website ( ) and have one of your eager instructional technology specialists help you get started.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Cost of Freemiums

As our district rolls out 1:1 Chromebooks for students and staff, the use of web-based products will obviously increase. Many fantastic options are available but it's important to look carefully before you sign up.


This strategy is used to offer different pricing options. There is a free option with limited features and there are other tiers for premium pricing. The higher the tier, the more expensive it gets, the more features are available within the tool. It starts off free and gets you hooked but if you'd like to unlock the premium features, you will have to pay. From a marketing standpoint, this makes sense since their businesses are created to make money. However, it can be very difficult for classrooms with a high number of students and a limited budget.

Let's use Smore as an example. Smore is a web-based newsletter service that has become very popular with educators who rely on that form of communication to connect with parents regularly. The newsletters are easy to create and the design templates are very attractive. It uses the Freeium pricing strategy but before you sign up, take notice of what comes with the free option. There can only be 5 free newsletters and recently, Smore changed their free accounts to limit how many times a newsletter can be edited. If you'd like unlimited newsletters and unlimited editing, you have to pay. And it's not cheap - $80 a year for an educator. Yes, that is $100 less than the non-educator price, but it's still very expensive for a classroom purchase. And let's not forget how much educators already spend on other items for their classrooms.

(By the way, a free alternative for web-based newsletters would be to create a free Google Site using your PISD credentials. You'd still have clean, attractive designs with all the same information in the Smore, except you'd save $80 a year. Contact the Instructional Technology team and we can help you learn how to use Google Sites!)

Classroom purchases add up quickly so it's important to be aware of what you will and will not get with your free account.

District / Campus Licenses

School districts and sometimes individual campuses can purchase a license to give all staff and/or students access to a paid version of web-based products.

Let's use Nearpod as an example. PISD purchased Nearpod licenses for all staff. Nearpod allows teachers to create impactful, interactive lessons which students can view on their own Chromebook or other device. Teachers don't need to pay for an account. Signing in with PISD credentials will give them access to the premium features to embed in the Nearpod lessons they create. (There are free pre-created lessons but some pre-created lessons still come at a cost.)

Depending on the product and its cost, it could potentially be something purchased for staff.


As mentioned earlier, companies use the freeium strategy to make a profit. They also make a profit by selling the data you enter to sign up for an account such as your email address, age, sex/gender, or other identifying information. Companies can and do sell your data to others including marketing and advertising companies.

However, companies cannot profit off the data of children under the age of 13 because of a law called COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.) COPPA was created by the Federal Trade Commission in 1998 and protects the sensitive information and other data belonging to children under 13.

It is crucial to read the privacy policies and terms of use for a site before you sign up. If a site is prohibited for children under age 13, please don't allow them to sign up or create an account.

We hope you are enjoying the Chromebooks in a safe, effective way. Please contact Instructional Technology if you have questions about websites or web-based classroom tools.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Digital Citizenship Week!

Digital Citizenship week will be celebrated October 15-21 this year. Although #digcit is something every teacher should address every day, this next week will put a special emphasis on the importance of growing great digital citizens. Below are some of the activities planned and how you can participate.

October 15: We kick off our fall book study and Digital Citizenship Week with a Tweet & Talk of Jennifer Casa-Todd's book Social LEADia on EduMatch, hosted by Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur). Tweet & Talk is a Twitter chat paired with a livestream video.  Participants can either tweet using the #EduMatch hashtag, watch the video on YouTube Live and comment as they watch (, or both. The Social LEADia Tweet & Talk will be followed up with a three-week slow chat featuring questions from Jennifer's book. For more information about creating digital leaders, check out this blog on the EduMatch

October 16:  Webinar with Dr. Kristen Mattson & Jamie Lewsadder. 2pm PT/ 4pm CT/ 5pm ET, moderated by Nancy Watson. Register at

October 19: Not one but TWO Twitter chats! #ISTEChat's topic will be on Digital Citizenship and will be led by Marialice Curran (@mbfxc) - 5pm PT/ 7pm CT/ 8pm ET. Immediately following #ISTEchat, tune in for the monthly #digcit chat; the topic will be The Role of Ed Tech Coaches in the Development of Digital Citizenship and will be co-hosted by members of @DigCitPLN and @EdTechCoaches. (Shoutout to Greg Gilmore of the #etcoaches network for the collaboration!) Questions are here:

Are you doing anything special to celebrate Digital Citizenship Week? Be sure to tag @pisdtech when you share! Read more about Digital Citizenship Week at Common Sense Media:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Interactive Assessments with Formative

Good news PISD educators!

You now have a premium account to Formative. This tool provides the ability to give real time intervention during assessments, save time by assigning assessments through Google Classroom, and automatically track your student's progress. 

Here is an example of the "grid" where you can observe your student's responses to questions, give feedback, and identify potential intervention opportunities in real time. 

What Else Can You Do?

Quickly Inform Your Teaching
  • Adjust your teaching approach based on student progress
  • Effectively pace lessons
  • Group students on the fly
Give Every Student Immediate Feedback
  • Give instant written feedback that furthers student learning
  • Set an answer key for auto-scoring and give scores back instantly!

Make Sure Every Voice is Heard
  • Project live responses with or without names
  • Generate rich class discussions based on student work (exemplars, strategies, misconceptions)
  • Engage students! Let them explain their work or the work of a peer!

Improve Your Instructional Planning
  • Determine what standards you need to re-teach/focus on in small group instruction
  • Determine what each student needs support with
  • Inform collaborative planning (grade teams, co-teachers, IEPs)

If you would like to learn more about how to create a Formative and the power you could unleash in your classroom, please check out our current webinar series or contact your Instructional Technology Specialists for on site training. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How to Install Software at School. It's Easy with the App Depot, Chrome Web Store, and more.

Don't let download restrictions stop you! Use the App Depot and Chrome Web Store to get what you want.

Can I Install Software at School? 

In Plano ISD, we keep a very secure network. One way we do this is by restricting the ability for users to install software on our network computers that could potentially pose as a security threat to our network.

What's the work around? You know there's always a work around! Below is the procedure to follow to find/acquire software for you and your students.


Your lesson calls for students to present what they learned using a tool of their choice. A student asks you if he can record his computer screen. "Of course you can!", you exclaim. You tell him to go to the App Depot to search for and install Screencast-o-matic.

Side notes: Or you can advise him to install the Screencastify Chrome Extension via the Chrome Web Store; perfect for Chromebooks. Teachers can get ideas from our Hotspot website's Suggested Apps & Websites page under the "Presentations that Pop" list of tools.


App Depot

Check to see if we already have the program you're looking for in the App Depot. Search the name of it in the search field. Click on the program to install it.

app depot icon


On PISD Instructional Technology's Hotspot website, click on the Suggested Apps & Websites page to peruse the plethora of tools suggested for you and your students! In this case, scroll down to "Presentations that Pop" for tools that your students can use to present their learning.

Hopefully, one of these ways will help you locate a tool for your students to use based on your situation. 

Request Software Testing & Packaging

It's not as tedious as it sounds! If you would like software that is not found in the App Depot, follow this step:

  1. Talk with your curriculum coordinator about what your options are. 
    • At that point, he/she will either answer your question or contact Instructional Technology to brainstorm solutions and request that the software be tested on our network. 
    • When it comes to us, we can install it, test it, approve/deny it, and send it to our engineers to have it packaged and placed in either the App Depot or a PISD Apps folder. 
    • Within days you'll have it ready for you to install in the App Depot or it'll be pushed to your PISD Apps folder. 

Can I Install Software on a Chromebook?

Not a thing. But what IS a thing is using the Chrome Web Store to add Apps and Extensions. Check out some of our favorites here: Click on "Suggested Extensions" or "Suggested Apps" on the top right of the screen.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chromebooks a-Coming!

Plano ISD is in the midst of rolling out Chromebooks to its students and teachers! Currently there are 18 elementary campuses that have Chromebooks in all their classrooms, with the goal of 100% district-wide Chromebook integration within the next few years. All classroom teachers and librarians will soon be receiving a Chromebook to check out and use for the duration of their employment with PISD.

While at first glance a Chromebook looks like a "mini laptop," the Chromebook environment is actually very different from that of a traditional laptop. One major difference is that no software is ever installed on a Chromebook, so if you use specialized software that does not have a web-based component, you wouldn't be able to use that on a Chromebook. However, since most applications that most teachers use are now Internet-based, the Chromebook is a great tool for its portability and versatility.

Some advantages of Chromebooks are:

  • speed - boots up and connects to Internet within seconds
  • battery life - up to 7 hours without recharging
  • weight - lightweight and portable
  • access to email & H drive via Webdesk
When you log in to your Chromebook, you will also be automatically logged in to Webdesk. If you're not already a Webdesk user, you will soon become one! Webdesk offers one-click access to all the programs you use every day, such as your gradebook, TEAMS, and all the programs that are assigned to you. You can also create additional tiles to easily personalize your page and gain quick access to the sites you visit the most.

Your Instructional Technology Team has been hard at work for many weeks creating and curating the resources you will need for Chromebook success! Click the links below to learn more about making the most of your Chromebooks, both for personal use and for your students' learning.

Plano ISD Chromebook Academy Website

Plano ISD Chromebook YouTube Channel (check back often, as more videos are being added on a regular basis)

Plano ISD Webdesk | Webdesk Quick Start Guide

After you've reviewed the materials above, test your Chromebook knowledge by playing our fun Chromebook game. Just log in with your PISD Google account! (Want to know how we made this cool game? Contact us! )

Do you have feedback on our Chromebook Academy site? Suggestions for things we should include? Let us know!