05 Nov 2017

It’s amazing the insight you can get from candid conversations with students.


This past week, I sat down to help a student who was having some issues tracking down a document in their Google Drive. We went into his Gmail and to my shock and horror, the student had 1,300 unread messages. Glancing over the messages, I saw a number of emails from teachers intermingled with Canvas notifications and other inbox clutter. When I asked the student about it, he basically just said, “I can’t keep up. So I only go to my emails when directed by a teacher or when I need to email them.”


The student I was talking to is a productive, hard-working, and academically successful student. But when it came to organization and communication, he could use some help.


This conversation illustrated something simple we’ve probably all been thinking for years: email just isn’t a great form of communication. Canvas has tools you can use to communicate more efficiently. But first, we need to relieve students from the email flood.


Step 1: Edit Canvas notifications.

The default notification settings for Canvas are a little much for anyone’s inbox. Students can and should edit their notifications so they receive only the important ones. Most settings can be changed to “Send daily summary” instead of right away. See the screenshot below for some suggestions. (Side note: students can also use text messages as notifications.)



Step 2: Use Canvas Announcements.

Announcements are a fabulous tool for sending messages to students. For one, the Canvas inbox is limited to messages between teachers and their classes. That means there won’t be any clutter to sort through. Another benefit is that many students use the mobile app for Canvas and therefore get push notifications that alert them to new messages. Announcements function exactly like a page in Canvas. You can embed content, links, files, and images. You can also edit them in case you make a mistake. Lastly, you can delay when they are sent so you can draft them up and then send them at the end of the school day for example.


Step 3: Use Gradebook in Canvas for messages.

One last way you can use Canvas for sending messages is kind of hidden. Using the Canvas gradebook, you can send messages to students that haven’t completed or submitted an assignment or got a certain score. For example, you could send a message to students who need to retake a quiz or better yet, you could send a congratulatory note to students that did really well!

03 Feb 2017

Have you ever had the feeling that you are spending time communicating with parents and students and they just aren’t reading it? Are they checking their email? Are they checking grades? Do they have a Canvas or Infinite Campus account set up? Did they watch that cool video I sent them?


Here are some ways that you can see how people are engaging with your resources you share:


Infinite Campus Portal Usage:

There is a report in Infinite Campus where you can view how often your students and parents access Infinite Campus to see who is engaged and who needs more support and encouragement in staying involved in checking grades. Simply go to Reports (Roster) and select a “Portal Usage” report from the drop-down menu. When you are generate the report, you’ll see when the last time a parent and student has been on Infinite Campus and how many times they have visited the site recently. Very insightful information can be gained for this!


Canvas Observers:

Your parents can create parent accounts to see grades, the to-do list, the calendar, and course content in Canvas. If you click on the People button in a course, you can see how many observers you have in your course as well as identify which students are being observed. You can also see how long they have been active in your course. This will give you a more targeted idea on which parents are already engaging with your courses and which could use some encouragement to get involved. While you are in looking at People, you can also see the total time they are actively using your course. There's also a brand new feature called Context Cards. If you click on a student in the People menu, you'll see how they interact in your course compared to other students in the class.


Canvas Analytics:

Canvas Analytics can give you a lot of information on how frequently students are engaging with your course. You can view analytics by student to see if they have missing or late work and how often they are viewing the course. You can also look at analytics for assignments to see how many students have it turned in, missing, or late. There’s a lot of great information to be gleaned from Analytics in Canvas! Simply click on the “view course analytics” button on your homepage to take a look. Or to view student analytics, click on People and then click on a student.


Short Link Generators - or

Using shortlink creators like and is useful for a number of reasons. It makes it easy for people to manually type in a link. The other benefit is you can track the number of clicks on a link created using one of those programs. allows you to customize the name of the link, while is quick and easy to use and has a QR code maker built in. Creating a short link and pasting it into an email or on your website lets you see how many people are engaging with that link. It can be a great tool to use when sending a link to a survey or video to see how many people clicked on it.



MailChimp allows you to create “campaigns” for sending emails. MailChimp automatically tracks who on the list opens the emails and who does not. Using a spreadsheet of names and emails or manually entering them one by one, you can create a mailing list to send to your parents and/or students. MailChimp also has a form you can put on your website so that people can sign up to be on your mailing list without needing to contact you. This very convenient, especially for coaches and advisors!

19 Jan 2017

No matter how many times I create a course in Canvas, I wonder if it is really working for my students. My course has looked different every year, at times even every unit, as I have tried to find the best way to engage students into my online course content. Luckily, Canvas has some tried and true suggestions to make your course a powerful learning tool for your students.


The DLC’s were introduced to a Canvas video series called the FastTrack. There are over 30 short videos on how to create a more engaging canvas course. Each video is 2-3 minutes long and includes great ideas on using the features of Canvas to their full potential. The videos are worth your time and deliver new ways to make your course more engaging and user friendly.


 Click on the icons below to enter the FastTrack.

Youtube FastTrack PlaylistCanvas FastTrack Series 1

28 Apr 2016

A few years ago, Shakopee looked at many different learning management (LMS) platforms such as Canvas, Schoology, It’s Learning, and Moodle. Many of those in attendance loved the flexibility that Canvas offered over its competitors. While Canvas was not used by many school districts in Minnesota at the time, it was clear that they were expanding their reach across the country because they have a solid product that continues to improve.

Nearly three years later, Canvas has spread to Minnesota K12 school districts including Duluth, Wayzata, Proctor, Esko, De La Salle, and more. It’s cool to be the trendsetters, right?! And, amazingly, it is the second fastest growing LMS platform and fourth most popular LMS for Higher Education. Using this LMS will definitely help our students become college-ready!

New LMS Implementations vs 2015 Market Share for HigherEd in North America


When we signed our contract with Canvas, they made it very clear that they wanted us as a partner, not just a customer. They are receptive to suggestions and transparent about their development process. They sincerely want to get better at serving our teachers, students, and community.

Did you know that you can suggest new Canvas features? If you click on the “Help” button in the lower-left corner of any screen when signed into Canvas, you can access the Canvas Guides or make a feature request. (It helps to click the log in button so you can participate in the community using your credentials). All you need is 100 votes on your feature request and it could go into development!

You can also check out other people’s feature ideas and vote for them. For example, Eric Hills wrote a simple request on adding a shortcut to Modules on the Dashboard. Only a few more votes and this could quickly become a reality. No idea is too big or too small! You can follow and participate in discussion threads or feature suggestions, join user groups like the K12 Canvas Group, and read about upcoming features that are in development or recently completed. This is a great place to learn from others and see what’s coming up in the world of Canvas!

08 Mar 2016


HTML code. What image appears in your mind when you hear those words? A series of 1s and 0s in green letters on a black screen? Your old customized MySpace profile? Well if you know how to copy and paste, keep reading because you can use it to make your Canvas course or Teacher website more interactive!


So why use HTML code? For starters, many web tools provide you with the HTML code you need to embed their content directly into Canvas or SchoolWires pages by simply copying and pasting it in. No coding experience required! And students and parents can pull up your teacher webpage or Canvas course and seamlessly access content you want them to see such as a Google Slideshow or Quizlet flashcard set.


Here is a (far from comprehensive) list of great tools that can be embedded directly in Canvas and School Wires:


Google Slides - take your slideshows and place them directly in Canvas for viewing

Google Forms - create surveys for parents or use them as exit tickets with students

Edpuzzle - take a video, add questions, assign to students to watch it without skipping parts!

Desmos - create interactive math lessons kids complete independently

YouTube - embedding keeps kids in Canvas and out of YouTube!

Padlet - an online collaborative cork board for links, pictures, and text

Answer Garden - create a question prompt, kids respond, generates a word cloud

Quizlet - vocabulary review games with leaderboards, make your own sets!




04 Mar 2016

Quizzes are one of the most common features we see teachers using in Canvas. And with the help of Canvas, you can create some truly impressive and useful quizzes. This blog post will cover some of the great options that are available to you in Canvas that you might not be aware of. Use the links to find more detailed step-by-step instructions that show you how to use these features.


With Canvas, you can create all sorts of quizzes; multiple choice, matching, true/false, drop down menus, multiple answers, essay, etc. But with Canvas, you can add digital media as well! Kids can watch a video in the quiz directions or in each question. You can insert high-quality images (think maps, charts, and diagrams), math equations, and even use formulas to create randomly generated math questions. You can even create question banks and randomly select only some of the questions, then use numerous question banks on a later unit test. And of course, any selected-response questions are automatically graded for you and your students! Convenient!


For each question, you can provide details as to why a question was answered correctly or incorrectly so that students receive immediate feedback. I love this feature because then you can address misconceptions, give links to resources, or simply give feedback so that students know what they got wrong.




You also have the option to use the SpeedGrader to give them detailed comments and points for each question after they have taken the quiz.




Quizzes are a great place to use requirements in a Module. This allows you to restrict students from moving on to the next assignment until they have achieved a particular quiz score. You can give kids multiple attempts to complete a quiz. Using the “moderate this quiz” options, you can even differentiate the number of times specific students can retake a quiz.

Advanced analytics are at your disposal once all your students have taken the quiz. You can see overall statistics/averages for the class, item-by-item breakdowns, and more! You can download them into a CSV file and manipulate the data in Excel for PLC data protocol. Another useful feature is the discrimination index, which tells you the correlation for how reliable that question measures your student’s understanding of a topic. Be sure to check out the quiz statistics!


22 Feb 2016

We know that feedback for students is very important in continuing their path towards mastery of skills and concepts. In fact, John Hattie rates it in his top 10 most influential factors on student achievement. Unfortunately, giving detailed feedback can be time consuming and difficult to organize. Canvas can help!


The Old Fashioned Way

When your students submit work to you in the traditional way (i.e. on paper or in-class performances), you are pretty limited in the modes of feedback that you can give them. You can write on their work, highlight, underline, and annotate. On Infinite Campus you are limited to giving students a score and a comment. You could sit down and chat with each student in person, at the expense of face-to-face time with your entire class. There must be a better way!


Meet the SpeedGrader

Using the SpeedGrader in Canvas you can write/comment anywhere on their work, use click-able rubrics, create typed comments, or even leave them voice or video comments. The SpeedGrader can be used on your MacBook or using the iPad app. Here is a quick look at what grading looks like using SpeedGrader.




Giving feedback is only half the battle. Students need feedback that they can act on and need to be taught how to use it. Double-check that they are viewing the feedback. Canvas just released a feature that lets you see when a student has viewed your feedback (see screenshot below).



Crocodoc Student Viewing SpeedGrader


Staying Organized

If you teach in multiple classes, prep in another room, and often are taking work home to grade, you know how difficult it can be to keep organized. Digital submission of assignments makes it easier for you to access your student’s work wherever you are. You can view submissions for one section in your course and each submission is tied to a student name. No more “no name” papers! And students can turn in the assignment when it is done rather than we they see you next. Digital submissions help students know they have turned something in and see their feedback as soon as you are able to grade it. Digital submissions help teachers and students stay organized without shuffling papers or turn-in baskets. Win-win!


Helpful Links:

SpeedGrader iOS Guide

SpeedGrader Guide for Instructors

Rubrics Guide

16 Feb 2016

Here's what's happening in tech integration! Last week students from Pearson 6th Grade Center and West Junior High and Kindergarten teachers from Jackson and Sun Path presented to parents, teachers, and community members at the Referendum Update Open House to demonstrate ways we are using technology to enhance student learning. Middle level students gave live demonstrations about using green screens, collecting data in science class, coding, programming, and using Notability and Canvas. K teachers presented Osmo, Book Creator, and Seesaw to illustrate creative and innovative uses of iPads in K-1 classrooms across the district. It was an exciting night for students to demonstrate 21st Century learning in Shakopee! Read the January 2016 Special Edition CommUNITY newsletter for a Referendum Update.

Here are more highlights:

  • Pearson students are using HSTRY to create Civil War timelines.
  • 7th grade science students at West JH are starting genius hour explorations.
  • Kindergartners at Eagle Creek and Sun Path used Book Creator for Project Lead the Way science projects on body structures and functions. 
  • Sweeney 1st grade teachers are appsmashing without reservation, using the camera app, DoInk, and Seesaw to finalize a reader's theater green screen project.
  • Kindergartens recorded videos retelling stories (Red Oak) and explaining the writing process (Jackson). 
  • West Junior High counselors and school psychologist rolled out a student support course in Canvas.

Read the latest Catching Creativity for details, photos, and videos. 

06 Nov 2014

Thinking back to the video we were shown at our full district staff development day, one thing in particular has stuck with me after a full quarter of the school year:


Learning is the constant and time is the variable.


My thought? Easier said than done.


Prior to becoming a Digital Learning Coach last year, I wanted all five of my sections of Social Studies to be in lockstep. I wanted each hour of the day to be in the same place at the end of the day. It was so much easier to manage my classes and keep my stress level down.  I quickly realized that I was doing students a serious disservice. Some students were racing through their work so they could read Percy Jackson. Others were unable to keep up with the average time it takes to complete a task. Other students wanted to do more and be challenged. I wasn’t meeting the needs of at least half my class.


In order to remedy this, I tried to come up with projects for my students to work on if they were done. I would then help struggling students in order to catch them up. The students that were working on enrichment projects never seemed motivated to finish. And I am confident that some students would simply work through assignments slower so that they did not need to do “additional work.” And it was always a nightmare to manage students working on different tasks at the same time if they had nothing to use as a resource.


Another issue arises in every classroom. If a student is not ready for a test or quiz because they did not do the work they needed to first, that’s too bad. They need to take it at the same time as everyone else. I feel like this lets kids off the hook. It does not help them understand that the formative assignments they do (classwork and homework) is meant to help them demonstrate their knowledge on assessments.


I have a possible solution to this complex problem. Starting Quarter 2 in my Minnesota History class, my students will be using Canvas in conjunction with their school-issued iPad. In Canvas, I can build a “module” of content which includes assignments, check-in quizzes, discussion boards, and informational pages for a unit of study. I can require that students progress through that module in sequential order. My module is built with a formative assignment, then a short assessment aligned to it. They must submit the assignment in order to take the assessment. Then they will need to master each assessment in order to continue their progress through the module. They will learn what they need to learn at the pace that works for them. And they’ll never show up for a test or quiz completely unprepared.


Each assessment in Canvas can be crafted in a way that uses a few different question types. I will include both selected and constructed response questions. If a student gets a selected-response question wrong, they will have to retake the quiz automatically. I won’t even need to bother grading quizzes until they get the knowledge level selected-response questions correct. I can also determine how many times they retake the quiz, what score they’ll need to get to move on, and build constructive feedback into the quiz if they get a specific question wrong.


What are the pitfalls of this plan? Some students might fall really far behind. Some students might finish all the work and not do a quality job. But some students might become more motivated. More independent. More reflective.


The students that fall far behind will be given additional support from me. The students to race ahead will need to receive good grades on their assignments before they move on. For gifted students that are doing a great job, they will be given the opportunity to participate in a Genius Hour-like project. I will be giving students the opportunity to start an interest-based project about anything, as long as it has a Minnesota connection.

What do you think of the plan? Does it pique your interest in Canvas? Genius Hour? Minnesota History???

29 May 2014

Exciting news! The Technology Design Team recently selected Canvas as the best available Learning Management System (LMS) on the market that fits the needs of our school district. Check out this video to get a quick explanation of Canvas.

Here are a few commonly asked questions that many staff members have been asking about.

How was this decision reached?

Our Digital Learning Coaches vetted available products, met with vendors, discussed with administrators from other districts, and then suggested a short list of three platforms: Canvas, Schoology, and itslearning. From there, the Technology Design Team (comprised of representatives from many subject areas, grade levels, and buildings) met with these three companies to select the best platform for Shakopee Schools. We also received detailed feedback from current high school seniors who attended all three presentations. There was a clear consensus amongst both groups that Canvas was the LMS for us. Pending board approval and additional work by the Technology Design Team, more information will be provided to all staff throughout the summer and early next fall.

What’s an LMS?

  • LMS stands for Learning Management System. Examples of LMSs are Schoology, Blackboard, Edmodo, Canvas, D2L, Moodle, etc. They are used to distribute and grade class content, assignments, assessments, host discussion threads, keep track of due dates, and much more!
  • Why do we need one? What are the features?
  • There are a lot of benefits to using an LMS which can simplify the lives of teachers and students.
  • You can create discussion threads based on class objectives.
  • All assignment files can be in one place for students.
  • Attach rubrics, standards, and objectives to specific assignments and assessments.
  • Canvas supports traditional grading practices and standards-based grading.
  • Professional development could easily take place outside of school hours for additional CEUs while still sitting in our PJs at home.
  • You can track your student progress, as well as when they’ve viewed your assignment or correspondence.
  • An LMS can provide a platform to gather formative assessment data--it will even grade for you!
  • Not only can assessments be grading automatically, you can provide feedback and suggestions if they get a question wrong.
  • Grade assignments using annotations and comments quickly, easily, and paperlessly.
  • Integrate 3rd party programs into one easy login area, i.e. Google Drive, Turnitin.
  • Differentiate curriculum efficiently by allowing students to progress through your course at their own pace and assign content to specific student groups.
  • Provide video conferencing as well as video or audio comments on assignments.
  • Quickly assign peer reviewers to have students give each other feedback.
  • Completely customize your curriculum!

How is this different from Infinite Campus? Will Canvas replace Infinite Campus?

Infinite Campus will be used for attendance, grade reporting at the end of each quarter and semester, registration, paying lunch accounts, and more. Canvas can be used by teachers and students in a more interactive way. The Technology Design Team will be making decisions in July on what teachers will post in Infinite Campus compared to Canvas and determine what we feel needs to be a part of our standard practice here in Shakopee Schools.

Will we be trained on using it?

Yes! The Tech Design Team is meeting this summer and will be developing a professional development plan. However, we have people in the district that are using our chosen LMS, Canvas, and have done much training on their own. They find it very easy to use. Canvas also provides extensive guides, multiple videos, and customer support. Ultimately, as a district we want to support you. In addition to district staff development, your Digital Learning Coaches are extremely excited about the use of this platform and are happy to meet with you or your PLC. We can examine how our LMS might streamline workflow and allow you to maximize your student contact time.

What are the expectations of use?

You will not be required to have Canvas up and running for Fall of 2014. The Tech Design Team will meet this summer to consider the role of Canvas, our SchoolWires websites, and Infinite Campus to determine the best way to utilize Canvas across the district. Canvas will bring many new capabilities that will make teaching and learning easier, more organized, and more efficient. Schools that utilize LMS platforms report higher student organization, the ability to have better record keeping and management, increased student engagement, better communication with students and parents, and less paper shuffling.

Initially, we know that we will have some teachers who will want to dive right in. Awesome! You also have the option of sticking to the professional development roll-out schedule.

Do I need to be ready to use this next fall?

The short answer: NO! You will not be expected or required to use Canvas next fall (2014). The Tech Design Team will determine expectations and devise a viable timeline for implementation that will include training and on-going support.

Okay, cool! When can I get in to test it out?

Once the school board approves the selection of Canvas, we will be moving to the Enterprise version. Your work that you’ve created will not be lost, and can be incorporated into our district version. Contact a DLC to learn more and get help trying it out!

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