Eric Hills

21 Mar 2018

In a world chock full of smartphones, digital cameras, and powerful computers, virtual reality and augmented reality are making their way into the lives of billions. We can no longer say that these technologies are just for gaming and entertainment. The possibilities in education are limitless and will only continue to improve.


Augmented and virtual reality can be a perfect fit in any class in order to engage your students. They can be used at the beginning of a unit to get students excited about the topic you are teaching. These technologies can also be incredibly effective in showing something that is best viewed in 360 or 3D. Imagine diving into the ocean with your students and looking around in a coral reef. Or perhaps you would like to take a journey into the human body like your very own Magic School Bus! Or maybe you’d like to hold the entire solar system in the palm of your hand. All of these things and so much more are possible with the help of AR and VR. But before we dive into some lesson ideas, let’s get more specific about what VR and AR actually are so you know the difference.


Augmented reality involves adding or overlaying digital elements onto the physical world. Typically your device needs a camera which shows the physical world with additional content overlayed on top. Virtually reality is an immersive, completely digital environment. Virtual reality usually requires a headset that completely blocks the user’s view of the real world and displays only a virtual one.


Ideas to get you started:


Merge Cubes - Hold the solar system in your hand with Galactic Explorer and explore the human body with Mr. Body (both are available in Self Service). Check with your DLC to get a class set of Merge Cubes.


YouTube 360 videos - Search YouTube for 360 videos. There are TONS! Check with your DLC to see if they have Google Cardboard or other VR headsets you can use.


Google Expeditions - Explore distant places in 360. Take your students on guided tours that have lots of cool locations and information.


Metaverse - Create an augmented reality scavenger hunt for your students or have them create their own using Metaverse. Works with phones or iPads.


SVRF - Find amazing 360/VR videos that your students can view on their computers, phones, iPads, or using a VR headset. You can also insert these videos in Metaverse experiences.

27 Feb 2018

The Paper Paradox


Start by watching the video above. Watched it? Great! I hope it was worth a chuckle. More importantly, know that this is the perspective Shakopee DLCs take regarding paper: There is a time and a place where paper is a better choice than using digital tools.


If we cannot explain to our students why it is better that we are using technology for a particular task, then it is probably not worth doing digitally. I heard a teacher tell students, “We are using Notability to highlight this article because then you can undo mistakes and use more colors. It’s also nice to have it in Notability because you’ll need this article for a long time so it won’t get lost or ruined.” That explanation makes sense, and students will understand that there is added value in using technology.


But if a teacher were to simply provide a digital copy to students and not explain the added benefit, students are far more likely to get frustrated with the effort required to type on an iPad screen or draw with a MacBook trackpad.


I am biased in this discussion. I rarely use paper. Meeting agendas, to-do lists, notes, reminders, and nearly everything else I do in the course of my work is digital. I see a lot of advantages: I always have my phone or computer with me, I can type faster than I can write, typing looks neater, and digital files are easier to share with others. For teachers that do not use technology in the ways I describe above, paper is just as essential as my computer or phone is to me. Both methods are equally valid. Whatever works for you is great. But what works best for your students may be different.


As teachers, it’s our job to help students discover how they learn best, even if it does not align with our own preferences. This may require them to get outside their comfort zone. Exposing students to multiple methods of doing tasks is an essential part of becoming an independent learner.

Regardless of the notetaking method you promote in your classroom or your students’ preferences, there are a number of reasons to consider submitting notes and other assignments digitally. Even if your students are completing their work on paper, it is very easy to submit that work digitally through Canvas - see the resources at the bottom of this blog post to find out how to scan documents on an iPad or MacBook.


As I mentioned above, it is important to spell out to students why it is better for them to turn things in digitally. So what are the advantages?

  • Students can turn things in anytime, anywhere. They could be absent, in study hall, or even on the bus! They can turn work in when they are done instead of waiting until they are physically in your classroom.
  • You don’t need to create a place in your room for assignment collection, spend time in class handing back papers, or worry about losing anything.
  • No more “No Name” assignment submissions!
  • You can provide prompt feedback on smaller chunks of work rather than waiting for the end of the unit to collect work or check notebooks. Students can submit each page they complete and it can be graded as you go without taking away their notes when they could be using it to study.
  • Parents will know if assignments have been turned in or not and they can see the quality of their child’s work. This is great during parent-teacher conferences. No more parent questions about whether work has been turned in or not - and they get to actually see the work, even if their child threw it away.
  • Students can look back on their previous work for reflective purposes.


Digital submission is one of the first steps towards integrating technology into your teaching practices. In a future blog post, we’ll examine how technology can be used to create experiences for students that cannot be replicated on paper.



Use Notes App to Scan Documents (iPad)

Use PhotoBooth to Scan Documents (MacBook)

Grade Using the Canvas Teacher App (iPad)

14 Dec 2017

When you create formative or summative assessments for your students, have you felt limited in what kinds of questions you can ask your student? Or are you feeling like maybe these matching questions don’t really assess critical thinking? On many tests we give, students answer selected-response questions like multiple choice and short answer essay questions. But now we’ve got even more options! That’s why I am excited to introduce you to Quizzes.Next.


Disclaimer: This is a beta feature that we have elected to turn on. There are some limitations at this time. We turned this on to allow our DLCs and early adopters time to learn the new features so we can support staff when the features are out of beta.


The Good:

The first thing you’ll notice is the streamlined interface. It looks a lot more like Google Forms. Settings have been simplified to allow for question randomization amongst other things. But best of all, the new question types open up an incredibly amount of possibilities. The coolest new question types are hot spots, categorization, and ordering.


The Bad:

As was mentioned above, there are limitations to the new quizzes features. For one, you cannot currently transfer your quizzes between courses at this time. So if you want to share with your PLC, they will need to recreate them. For a more detailed breakdown of the limitations and differences, see this comparison chart.


How to get started:

Open a course you want to try this with. Click on Assignments on the left-hand navigation button. Click on the +Quiz/Test button. Enter in a description of the quiz, save it, and then go back in to edit it. Click the + to add questions and get started!


Categorization - Create categories students must sort different terms or statements into. You can also add distractors to make sure they truly understand the content. Create compare and contrast questions such as Fact vs. Opinion or Cause and Effect.


Hot Spot - Upload an image, select a portion of the image that you want students to click on, and you are done! Use a map to test if they know locations or upload a photo for students to label a diagram.


Ordering - Give students a list of dates, numbers, or whatever and have them order them from largest to smallest or oldest to newest. Have students use the order of operations to indicate their steps in a math equation.





Comparison Chart:

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!

15 May 2017

At #EdCampTC on May 6th, the DLCs learned about a new (Minnesota created!) tool called Edji. We are really excited to share this tool with all of you as it has a lot of potential uses.


Edji is a unique, collaborative annotation tool. Students and teachers can highlight portions of text and leave either emoji comments or text comments. They can also place a hotspot on a picture and leave a comment as well. Teachers have the ability to control whether “Heat Vision” is on, which allows you to either turn on or hide student comments and hotspots. When you turn Heat Vision on, areas of the text that have been highlighted by students will appear yellow to dark red depending on how many other students highlighted that area. Most teachers will likely leave the Heat Vision feature off until students have had time to highlight and comment. Once they are done, you can turn on Heat Vision to show common highlights and comments.



Creating a reading for students to complete is very easy. You can copy and paste text from other sources such as Newsela, CommitLit, The Tween Tribune, Project Gutenberg, or any other preferred source of texts. You can also upload PDFs that you have, but they must have machine-encoded text (that you could normally highlight on a computer) to work properly. So basically if you scanned your resource into the PDF format, it will act like an image file, not a PDF so students won’t be able to highlight.



Another feature is adding images to a reading. In fact, you can use Edji exclusively for collaboratively annotated images. Imagine students pointing out features on a map or commenting on the process of a math problem. The possibilities are endless!



Once you have created a reading, students access the reading by entering a 4-digit code. They can sign in as a guest or create an account so they can get back to the lessons they have completed. You can also create readings groups. This helps so that the comments are manageable. If you use the same text for 30 (or 150) students, it might be difficult to navigate the comments.


(As a bit of a disclaimer, we would currently recommend this only be used on MacBooks or Chromebooks. Occasionally when trying to highlight on an iPad, the comment buttons do not do anything when clicked on. It appears that holding your device in portrait mode works consistently, but not always when in landscape mode.)

20 Mar 2017

Multimedia projects are a great way for students to demonstrate learning in a creative way. Creating multimedia projects like videos also provides opportunities for students to build collaboration and communication skills. With 1:1 devices, making multimedia projects has never been easier. But having such easy access to images, videos, and songs also adds copyright complications that consumers need to be aware of. We all need to know how to find, use, and cite appropriate resources.

We teach about plagiarism in many different subject areas. We know that it’s not okay to use others’ ideas or written works and claim them as our own. And yet when it comes to images, music, or videos, students - and often teachers - don’t adhere to the same standard. We get it! Finding high quality, royalty-free media resources is time consuming. This blog post will (a) address common misconceptions about copyright and (b) provide great resources for royalty-free photos, video, and music that students (and teachers!) can incorporate into projects and presentations.

Students also need to know how to (legally) share original content. In order for learning to be authentic and transformative, students need to share their learning with the world!


FAQ/Common Misconceptions


Because we are using this (song, video, image) for educational use, it’s perfectly legal to use it.

Educational use, or fair use, is probably the most confusing aspect of copyright law. It allows for teachers to use limited selections of works. Typically fair use is related to using a copyrighted work sparingly in a review, commentary, research, or instruction. Because images, songs, and videos are creative and not factual information, they are less likely to meet the requirements of using it for fair use.

Can’t I just use 30 seconds of this song?

The 30 second rule is a complete myth. It doesn’t exist. Seriously. Here’s more details.

My student really wants to use this copyrighted song. It just fits the video so well! Can’t I use it if it’s for educational use only?

Unfortunately, no. Educational use does not extend to using music in media projects or other original creations. I would recommend checking out the links above. There is a ton of royalty-free music out that that fits every occasion.

Well it’s on YouTube, so can’t I use it for my project?

Not exactly and we’ve got to be pretty careful here. While a ton of the content on YouTube is copyrighted and posted illegally, we shouldn’t be encouraging students to use this content. Saving MP3s off YouTube or downloading the video files is definitely not legal unless you get permission from the owner of the video. The way videos earn money for an artist is based on how many times that video is viewed so taking it off YouTube will not earn the artist views. There are some YouTube channels that offer free stock footage and provide you a link to download the content, but these types of videos can be difficult to find.

Doesn’t this take more instructional time?

Yes, it definitely can take more time especially when kids are just learning how to cite sources. But having kids practice digital citizenship will be very important when they get out into the workforce. They need to be able to create media without stealing just like we need to be able to write without plagiarizing.

My student wrote a parody of a copyrighted song. Can they put it on YouTube?

Not to be a killjoy, but that also violates YouTube’s terms of service. While it might not get flagged right away and some artists don’t care, it may get flagged and taken down. That would be a great project to showcase to your classroom or in front of the school.

One link to rule them all! - A binder with tons of links which you can share with students.


Video Footage:


22 Feb 2017

Giving feedback on student writing is incredibly time consuming. Anything that students can do to help each other and themselves before they submit their final drafts can be a huge time-saver for teachers, but also gives them a unique perspective to look at their writing. Here are some tools that can help your students analyze their work in the drafting stage of the writing process.

Note: All of these tools work on iPads, Chromebooks, and MacBooks. iPad users will need to use Safari for all these tools.


Canvas Peer Review:

In Canvas, you can automatically or manually assign peer reviews to students. Simply check the box in the settings for an assignment. While you can do anonymous peer reviews, this disables the ability to comment directly on student work. During peer review, students can use a rubric, submit comments, and annotate a fellow student’s work. Click here to learn more about how to set up a peer review assignment!


If a situation arises where one student does not have someone to peer review their work, the tools below can be a great substitute!


Hemingway App:

Ernest Hemingway was known for writing concise, tight prose that was simple, bold, and effective. With the Hemingway app, you will be given feedback on use of adverbs, passive voice, and sentence complexity. Your work will be color coded to help you quickly identify issues in your writing. You will also see a readability score and word count to help you get your point across clearly and quickly.


Students simply copy and paste their writing into the Hemingway editor to begin. They will lose formatting so if students have bullet points, they will not paste correctly. When you are done, students copy their work from Hemingway and can paste it into Word or Google Docs for final editing and submission.


Slick Write:

Slick Write is similar to the Hemingway App in a lot of ways, but comes with more features. Just like Hemingway, you will need to copy and paste your work to and from Slick Write. Once you have entered your writing, you have the option of looking at “features” of your writing such as grammatical errors and adverb usage, “structure” to identify complex sentence structures, and “word variety” to identify and eliminate repetitive word usage.

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!

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!

25 Mar 2016

We all need to be gone from school from time to time. Whether we are ill, have sick kids, or have articulation or committee meetings, absences happen. When we leave our classroom, we don’t know exactly what to expect when we get back. We might have multiple teachers cover our classes or a sub that we’ve never met before. Often times we are just hoping that there weren’t any behavior problems! We feel like we lose a day of instruction when we are gone.


So how can we “be” at school, even when we aren’t able to be physically present? And how can we save time making sub plans that might get lost or be completely ignored?


Many secondary teachers have been using Canvas to provide directions, assignments, and resources. This is a huge benefit for those teachers that use Canvas regularly and have expectations on how students use and access it. And while you’re gone, you could even double-check their work before your students arrive in class the next day!


But what if your students don’t have devices or your class is not using Canvas?


Have you considered screencasting? Simply put, screencasting means that you are recording whatever is on your computer screen and you turn it into a video. Now you can give directions to your class, your sub, and use your own words and materials to do so!


Tools Needed:


Your presentations, documents, and voice

Google Drive account and/or YouTube Channel


Step 1: Open QuickTime on your MacBook. While there are other tools to screencast, this one is built into every MacBook. Click File, then New Screen Recording. Click once in the middle of the screen to record your entire screen and then hit the record button. Sidenote: follow these directions to display your iPad on your MacBook to record it.


Step 2: Now that you are recording, guide your students and sub through the materials that you have for their lesson. This can include ANYTHING you can use on your computer, including SMART notebook files, PowerPoints, Word documents, PDFs, and more. Try to keep your directions concise and clear so there is no confusion, since you won’t be able to answer questions! And don’t be afraid to mess up; just keep talking and then edit out your mistakes later.


Step 3: When you click the record button again to stop recording, you can save your video to your Desktop or Google Drive. Depending on your preference, you can simply share the video with students in Google Drive by sharing it as “anyone with the link can view.” YouTube is another great option. Check out these directions to set up a YouTube Channel.


Step 4: Share your video. In Drive, it’s easiest to make your video “anyone with the link can view” and then post the link somewhere like your website, Canvas, or whatever. Another great method of sharing links is using a short link. You can create short links with one click by using either the URL shortner or, both of which have Chrome Extensions. does offer the ability to change the name of the link so that they are easier to type in.

Optional: Edit your video! Perhaps you have a few videos clips or just messed up a small part. Either way, the best method is use iMovie. It can be downloaded for free through the Mac App Store. Clip out the parts you don’t need, add all the clips and media you want in one video, save it, then upload it to YouTube. While this is another time-consuming step, this does make your videos more engaging and professional. And if you plan to reuse this video, you may want to edit.

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