I Joined the HyperDoc Frenzy!


I just love the google apps suite. The ability for my students to collaborate with each other creates endless opportunities in my classroom. Imagine taking Google Apps and its wonderful classroom attributes to a whole new level! Think that is impossible? Well, enter the HyperDoc!

Think of a worksheet on educational steroids. A HyperDoc according to The HyperDoc HandbScreen Shot 2017-08-27 at 12.22.05 PMook written by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis (all on twitter please follow them) is “a transformative, interactive Google Doc that replaces the standard worksheet method of delivering instruction.”  Think, as you teach you to give your kids a note sheet or worksheet. You probably infuse your lesson with activities that might be pulled from the internet, YouTube videos, links to all over. You spend a few minutes explaining You may require them to demonstrate their learning using apps on iPads, programs on Chromebooksks etc. Why not put all of that into one place! Hyperdocs let you do that! Partner the google education app suite’s magical powers with the organization of a HyperDoc and watch learning become even more student centered.

I read the Hyperdoc Handbook over the 2017 summer holiday as a solution to organizing my class after ‘ditching my textbook.’ Sidenote: If you have not read Ditch that Textbook you might want to add it to your list also! This book gives you the skills to be the brave, fearless and textbook-less teacher you have always wanted to be, with plenty of ammo for the nay sayers, but never the sacrificing quality of your pedagogy. Give it a try! Anyways back to the HyperDoc Handbook. First, it is short, I read it in 2 days and filled it with post-its, tabs and endless annotations. I immediately felt ready to try it. It is packed with plenty of info on how to create, organize and use a HyperDoc. I have also pulled it while stuck during lesson planning. It has been just one week and already I can see my potential growing.

A few things 2 weeks POST HyperDoc adoption:

  1. The Teachers Give Teachers site has been really helpful. That’s right, NOT teachers PAY teachers… Teachers GIVE teachers. Kudos to the authors for bringing the giving back! I plan to put some of my HyperDocs up once I become more proficient with their construction. If you cannot find what you need for inspiration… plain old google is great too!
  2. Don’t recreate the wheel! I have all my slideshows made and typically tweak lessons before teaching again. This year my tweaking involves simply makeing a copy for the students and converting the slides into formatted HyperDoc Slideshows. (See below to see one of my first attempts) When my kids download it onto their ipads, it’s a PDF with links all ready to go. Don’t feel like to you have to completely start over remaking everything. Think of it as an upgrade to your existing content that you pool in one place. Which if you are a great teacher you are already upgrading and tweaking so you are doing this already!
  3. Go Slow. If you aren’t ready to convert it all, choose one or two lessons that you can teach with your eyes closed and make that into a HyperDoc Lesson. You will still confidently deliver content but won’t feel nervous because you know the lesson’s path so well. I learned I can include much more in a Hyperdoc than I think. For example, I started with just putting YouTube videos into my worksheets rather than showing it on the board. Then I linked a Padlet  and Flipgrid right into the doc instead of having them take a picture of a QR code. I also tried a google form for an exit slip instead of note cards or sticky notes. It will come to you how to add things. Just give it time.
  4. You might want to flip your classroom. I realized to maximize the usage of these Hyperdocs I might want to Flip my classroom model. So first, no textbook, then trying HyperDocs and adding the challenge of flipping my classroom. I am might be a little crazy. However, there is a reason.  Early in my switch, I realized that I am saving time by having kids work at their own pace and giving them the ability to be independent. I don’t have to explain every direction and then send them off to re-read the same directions.  They come in, get the HyperDoc and in 5 – 8 min they are doing the lesson. I am able to work with small groups and 1:1 with students more than I ever have before. This is my dream and struggle as a teacher. How do I spend more time helping not talking just at them? Having the kids do more of the note taking at home means we have more hands-on and minds-on time in the classroom where I can fully support them. Did I mention how much they love it! Science fun every day no boring lectures!

Here is a link to one of my first HyperDocs.  It isn’t perfect but, I hope it helps someone get started. Enjoy… if you need a helping hand comment below or catch me on the twitter! @mswillisscience.


Are You Letting Your Students “Hack” Their Education?

I watched this Ted Talk lead by a 13 year old boy who has a creative way of thinking about education.  Not only was he an impressive speaker, his message really caught my attention. It made me think about how and if I am giving my students time to explore the things they are interested in.
Are we giving our kids time to be “hackers” of their own education? Are we letting kids, explore things that make them happy and give them the space and means to just learn what they want to learn?

Experiential Learning: Hands on ≠ Minds on

Perusing the amazing blogs out there on WordPress I came across this post on “Being Hands on vs Minds on” by Grant Wiggins on his blog” Granted and… “. I often struggle with this balance because sometimes have to just get through something. However for my projects this is something I repeat over and over and over. “Why should we care? Why should it matter that we know this?” When I get to work on that PhD this is something I really want to dive into. Metacognition is so important but how to be include it all the time in our lessons and train our students to want to be metacognitive thinkers. Here is what Wiggins says about this…

Hands on ≠ Minds on

I recently visited Thetford Academy in Vermont (one of the few and interesting public-private academies in New England) where they have a formal and explicit commitment to “experiential learning.” So, the leaders of the school asked me to visit classes that were doing experiential learning and to talk with staff at day’s end about it.

I saw some great examples of such instruction. I visited the design tech course (see photos) and the class on the Connecticut River where students were learning about soil types prior to a wetlands field trip.

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I also spent the previous day at the Riverdale School where all 9th graders were learning the skills and habits of innovation and entrepreneurship as part of a cool new project headed by John Kao, former Harvard Business School innovation guru. (I am a consultant to the Edgemakers project).

Below are some pictures from the “Design a better backpack exercise” that started the work of the day.

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Just because it’s hands-on doesn’t mean it’s minds-on. But the gist of my remarks at Thetford was to propose caution. Just because work is hands-on does not mean it is minds-on. Many projects, problems, situations, and field trips do not yield lasting and transferable learning because too little attention is given to the meta-cognitive and idea-building work that turns a single experience into insight and later application.

Years ago when I worked as a consultant at School Without Walls in Rochester NY (one of the first really interesting alternative High Schools to emerge from the 60s and a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools), they put it very succinctly in their caution about all the independent projects students routinely did. If you were going to learn carpentry to build a chair, then “The learning is not the chair; it is the learning about learning about chairs, chair-making and oneself.”

I have also often used the following soccer example, because it makes the same point beautifully and practically. Merely playing the game over and over need not cause understanding and transfer. It takes a deliberate processing of the game experience, as summarized in the powerful approach used by my daughter’s high school coach a few years back. Instead of talking on and on at players at half-time, Griff asked 4 key questions of players:

    • What’s working for us?
    • What’s not working for us?
    • What’s working for the other team?
    • So, what do we have to do in the 2nd half?

My daughter (now a starter at Stony Brook University) has often remarked that Griff was really the only coach through HS that taught her to ‘think soccer’ and it paid off in her growth and the team’s success.

As a coach of soccer, baseball, and Socratic Seminar, I learned this lesson the hard way many times myself. I often over-estimated student understanding as to the purpose of activities and assignments, and the important learnings from the experiences. My teaching became far more focused and effective when I forced kids to be metacognitive and reflective about what had been achieved against goals. So, for example, 30 years ago I used a variant of Griff’s questions towards the end of each Socratic Seminar:

    • What have been the highlights?
    • What have been the rough spots?
    • What do we now understand?
    • What do we still not understand?
    • Whose voices didn’t we hear? Why?

With the Thetford staff I prompted a focused discussion in a 2-part exercise: What is the difference between effective and ineffective experiential learning? What are the key indicators to look for in judging whether your attempt at experiential learning is working? (Hint: mere engagement is NOT sufficient.) You might try this exercise locally.

The answers are not surprising but worth committing to. One of the most frequent answers is a clear and specific sense of purpose, linking the activity to the WHY? question – We’re doing this because… We’re learning this because… etc. The other common answer is that the activity needs to be processed in terms of what was and wasn’t learned. (It is key that students explain this independently. Many teachers think that just because they may have said something about purpose at the start that therefore students can answer these questions later on. It is often not the case.)

A third optional part of the exercise is to share examples of the most powerful experiential learning in one’s own experience as a learner to provide a check and to go beyond the earlier answers.

I always ask all kids when I visit class the three questions at the heart of this caution:

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What does this help you do that’s important?

Alas, many kids do not provide adequate answers. And that’s why we need to worry about merely hands-on learning – even as hands-on learning is vital for making abstractions come to life.


This article was excerpted from a post that first appeared on Grant’s personal blog; Grant can be found on twitter here; Experiential Learning: Just Because It’s Hands-On Doesn’t Mean It’s Minds-On

Orion Space Shuttle Has Successful Lift Off!


On Friday December 5th Orion, NASA’s newest space craft, blasted off at approximately 7:05 am from Cape Canaveral Air Force Space Station in Florida. It was an unmanned shuttle, set to test its abilities and safety systems and eventually travel to Mars! Here is a blow by blow from NASA’s Website I found it very interesting or just watch the cool videos I have below!

For the first time in a generation, NASA is building a new human spacecraft that will usher in a new era of space exploration. A series of increasingly challenging missions awaits, and this new spacecraft will take us farther than we’ve gone before, including Mars. Named after one of the largest constellations in the night sky and drawing from more than 50 years of spaceflight research and development, the Orion spacecraft is designed to meet the evolving needs of our nation’s deep space exploration program for decades to come. It will be the safest, most advanced spacecraft ever built, and it will be flexible and capable enough to take us to a variety of destinations.”

Excited for the original scheduled launch on December 4th,  I even had my students watching and waiting for the big blast off during science class. However, due to high winds the NASA decided it would be safer to launch the following day. Yes, it was a great moment to discuss how NASA had halted many of its launches do to many failed missions. Orion is designed to be the safest space shuttle ever built. We talked about how long the mission would be, its flight path and how it would be recovered from the pacific ocean 4 hours later that day.

Students Watching Orion Launch