Saturday, August 22, 2015

Three Great Apps for Keeping Track of Stuff

by Christian Holzinger from

The summer is almost over (not that we teachers REALLY get to sit for two months under a beach umbrella with our legs up sipping a Daiquiri and reading a great book - although I DO think that that should count towards in-service teacher training... being well-read is an important quality for a teacher).  Most of us will be heading back to our schools in the next few days for staff meetings, and to start preparations for a new school year. 

In order to keep track of what I have to do, I use Google Calendar. I would absolutely be LOST without it! (Ummm.....well..... no.... that's Waze..... I would be absolutely LOST without Waze.....but I would never remember what I need to do, and when, without my Google Calendar.) But that's for a different blog post. Since I no longer use the hard-copy calendar diary that we get at the beginning of the school year from our Teachers' Unions, I had to find something to replace the little pieces of paper that used to populate my calendar diary, (as well as my refrigerator door).  Here are a few different ones I have tried (all have at least basic actions that are free).

Any Do  

Any.Do lets you plan your day (it will pop up at a set time each morning and invite you to "plan your day". It lets you write your To Do lists, classify and label them, and will send you pop up reminders. When you miss a call, it will remind you later on that you had a call, and ask if you want to call them back, and if not now, then when (in an hour? this evening? tomorrow? next week?). I see now that it also has developed a desktop Chrome app, so that you can use it on the go, or in front of your computer. I had used it for a while, and, although it is no longer my app of choice, I suggest you look into it and play around. (I believe it is also an Israeli brain-child, so if patriotism is a selling-point...) 


Out of Milk 

I had been using Out of Milk for a REALLY long time, and was completely happy with it. It is a very convenient way to make your shopping list. You can divide it into categories (stores, sections of supermarkets, whatever) and sync it. However the more advanced options (for example, sharing a list with someone or adding a photo) are not free, and the bar-code scanner (for adding something to the list using the bar-code) never worked properly for me here in Israel, anyway. Although the current version has become surprisingly graphically pleasing, let's face it: I really want to use an app that does more than just a grocery list. 

Google Keep
Google Keep Widget

View on phone
Google Keep is currently my favorite go-to app for this purpose. I use it for my shopping lists, (and have shared that list with my son, so that if he wants me to get something when I go to the store, it's already in my list), and can even add a picture of something I want to get, so that I don't have to write a lot on the list, or describe it to the store keeper (the natural mosquito repellent in the brown bottle with the light blue and green label) I can just show the photo!

Google Keep syncs with my computer, so I can use the desktop view (below) OR the mobile view (above) on my phone. I make all sorts of notes of information that I need to find quickly (my license number, which dyscalculic me never remembers, the size of the windows I want to buy curtains for "someday") and - most importantly, my "To Do" list! There is an option of adding a reminder that will pop up to remind me to do something. It will even add a location reminder, so that if you want to do something when you are, say, in Ashkelon, the reminder will pop up next time you are there!

Desktop view

You can change the color of a note, add a label, add check boxes (and tick off a task when it's been done - then delete the "done" tasks). You can also copy a note to Googledocs, and further develop it there!  

If you are on the go, you can dictate and record your note. You can access it as a recording as well as a written note (because sometimes - especially when you dictate something with a Hebrew word or name - your phone won't know how to write it correctly - or it auto-corrects to something absurd- the fact that you have your voice recorded, can come in very handy to figure out WHAT you were thinking when you wrote that note! ;-) .)

Thanks to the sharing option, you can use it to share individual notes with your family, or colleagues, or anyone with whom you wish to collaborate on something, and share "To Do" notes! All your notes sync to all of your devices that are signed into Google Keep (mobile, desktop, tablet). I haven't used it at work yet, but I can see the potential as being ENORMOUS! The only thing you (and whomever you want to share a note with) need is a Google account and to install the app. Once you have done that, you can share away! I might try it with some of my students this year!

What I am actually hoping for is an integration between Google Keep and Calendar (something I see has been a pending request on the Google Help Forum, where they have been begging for for it for two years already). THAT would be PERFECT and solve ALL of the problems in my life (well... ok - maybe not the peace in the Middle East thing .... but you never know!)  Google Calendar has "Tasks" (will address that when I write about Calendar) which is helpful, but not as superb as would be Google Keep + Calendar  teamed up together. 

Do YOU have an app that really helps you keep track of stuff, and would like to recommend? Have you tried any of the ones I have written about here, and would like to add your opinion? Please feel free to write about them in the comments below! 

From Pixabay
Have a GREAT school year! (And one last summer cocktail, on me.)  

Digitally yours, 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Integrating Barcodes and What’s App in a Sherlock Holmes Murder Mystery Game

Each year our school has “English Day”, for the 7th and 8th grades. Each grade is on a separate day, and on that day the English Staff prepare activities based around an English speaking country, to help our students learn more about that country in an experiential, exciting way. The classes are broken up into groups of 7-16 students. Each group is given a name that has to do with something British. A teacher is assigned to accompany each group. Each activity has a scoring rubric, and the class that scores the most points at the end of the day, wins!

I am not going to go into the details of the organization of the English Day, itself. I will just mention that it is a humongous job, which can only be achieved through teamwork and a very dedicated and determined person on the staff to coordinate it.

This year’s English Day was about the UK, and I wanted to teach my groups about Sherlock Holmes. I also wanted to incorporate technology in a meaningful way (of course!)

Here was the scene:
Fact: Sherlock Holmes interviewed people, looked for clues and then tried to understand what the motive was for the murder.  

Situation: Jackie Frisbee was found dead in the back of the classroom. The students had to find out who did it!

In pairs or threes, they had to:
  1. go and interview two suspects
  2. ask them 5 questions each and complete their chart.
  3. take a funny selfie with the suspect (with a sign with the name of their group) and send it to me on their What’s App
  4. try and guess what each person’s motive is

Then the pairs had to return to the scene of the crime (the classroom) and decide in their group - Who Dunnit?

The session started out by eliciting from the students what they know about Sherlock Holmes.

I then filled in any gaps with a presentation I made on Emaze (know it? You SHOULD! I’ll write another blog on it in the future)

Each pair was given an Information Collection Sheet, and the names and phone numbers of two people who work in the school, and agreed before hand to participate. They had to call the participant to find out where they were, and then go interview them. The participating “suspects” (who ranged in status from teachers, the guard at the gate,  to the principal and vice-principal) were given scripts with their fake names, the texted responses and were told that they could feel free to improvise, deciding how innocent or guilty they were going to look. They were also given two cards with barcodes that gave extra “secret” information!

Here was Carl’s text, for example:

What is your name?
Carl Frisbee
Guilty L4
How old are you?
What is your relationship to Jack?
Jack’s older brother
When did you last see Jack?
Right before class
Did you like Jack?
Only sometimes, he wasn’t the nicest person
Did Jack have any enemies?
Enemies? I don’t know, but I sure wasn’t his best friend.

Each of the pairs were supposed to interrogate two teachers, with overlap. For example, pair #1 went to interview Zmira and Rami. Pair #2 were sent to interview Rami and Moshe, and so on. That way they could gather and compare “evidence” (something that came in very handy especially when one of the teachers got the barcodes mixed up).
The barcodes had two different messages. The message for most of the time slots was something innocuous, the message for the time slot when THAT character was the guilty one, was more “sinister” Here is an example: The barcode on the left is the one that was shown ONLY during interrogations that took place with that character during lesson 4, the one on the right was for all the other lessons:


After the interrogation, the students had to send a photo with the “suspect” to my What’s App

The kids had a GREAT time running around the school, using their smartphones, talking English and trying to figure out which one of his teachers is the guilty one! (One of the parents told me that her son called her up in the middle of the day - something which he NEVER does - to tell her how much FUN he was having!!!! :-)

I'll admit that it was quite a lot of work, planning it all out (especially if you are as much as a perfectionist as I am) but definitely worth it !
Have YOU ever used barcodes and Whats Apps to do a Treasure Hunt? If so, please share!!!

Digitally yours,
P.S. Special thanks to Judie Segal for the inspiration, and the insight that “You’ve GOTTA have a dead body to teach Sherlock Holmes!!!!”

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Googleforms solve ALL of my problems - here's just one of them

Well, not REALLY all of them... but they DO help me deal with many challenges I have as a teacher, and by now, I find them absolutely indispensable. So if you are tired of hearing about the wonders of Google, do NOT continue reading.

But, if you ARE an EFL high school teach in Israel, and you are teaching the literature program, need to grade Logs and are interested in reading about how I am using Googleforms to help me with that, do read on. 

In the program for teaching literature in Israeli high schools, we need to teach six units of literature, and give a grade for each unit, according to the following calculation*:

  • 20% for organization (including all work for the Key Components of teaching literature, handing the work in on time, organized in specific order)
  • 30% for the graded Key Component
  • 50% for Summative Assessment (final test on unit)
(*NOTE for Israeli EFL teachers reading this, these percentages are only for students doing the literature program in the 11th and 12th grades this year. For 10th graders, percentages are different, but the principle of this use of Googleforms remains the same)

It is always a major job grading and keeping track of all this work. Grading just one unit for a class of 31 students literally takes days. So anything I can find to help me make that task a little more efficient and expedient, makes me happy.

This Passover vacation I had 31 units of work for a short story, to grade. In order to do so, I made a Googleform! On it I listed all of the elements and pages I required for each unit of work, as well as a place for the grades and a short description of the graded task the student chose to do. It looks like this:

As I read through each portfolio of work, I just tick off what is there, and what is not. Fill in the form and I have all of the information in one, easily accessible place. This is what the collection file (Responses sheet) looks like:

If you noticed in the Googleform, above, some of the fields are mandatory (they have a red asterisk next to them) and others are not (for example the last three are NOT mandatory). That is because the students have not taken the test yet. When they do, I will just go into the spreadsheet (Responses sheet) and add those grades in. I can also easily keep track of who handed work in late, with the automatic time stamp, in the first column.

As with excel, I can insert the equation for the final grade into the sheet, and then: voila! Final grades will be calculated, automatically!

Do YOU use Googleforms in unexpected ways to help YOU organize YOUR work or life? If you do, please share!

Digitally yours, 


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Using Twitter as a PLN

Back on Twitter again (like my brother-in-law says, I'm like a dog with a bone....but I DO try to be discerning when choosing my bones).  
It seems to me that too many of my colleagues in this country tend to see social networking as only being for social purposes. If you do not understand the potential it has for professional growth, you may be missing the boat!

Experiencing the power

In the past few months, I have had the opportunity to get a taste of the excitement and power of Twitter. The first time was when I was at a rally, where there were tens of thousands of people (albeit, Israelis, mind you, who have NOT yet jumped on the Twitter bandwagon for the most part).  At one point one of the organizers told everyone to take a selfie and Tweet it with the hashtag #רוציםשינוי (wewantchange). I did so, and sent it out into the electrified cyberspace surrounding me.  Within seconds a stream of hastags flooded my Twitter stream! THIS is social networking - not that there will be any follow up for that hashtag, but there COULD be. 

And the thing with Twitter (unlike Instant Messaging such as Whats App, or Facebook IM, for example) is that tweets are public, permanent and searchable. So when I went into my Tweetdeck and did a search for the hashtag mentioned above, I found lots of tweets that had used it since (especially leading up to the Israeli elections) but when I went 23 days back, I could see the entire stream of Tweets that were sent from that rally (including my own ;-)

Another experiment I participated in not long ago was a campaign that Hamas leaders ran in order to harness the power of this tool for their own propaganda purposes. (Sidenote: the motivation I had for delving into Twitter in the first place was the war this past summer, and how I witnessed a young girl from Gaza gain a worldwide following of thousands - 181,920 currently - by tweeting from her home about the situation during the war. I realized that this was a line of communication that needed to be developed by people on our side of the border, as well.) 

The week-long campaign that a few of the leaders of the Hamas in Gaza ran was with the hashtag: #AskHamas and the unfortunate title of "Truth from the mouth of the horse". The campaign was apparently an attempt to disavow the label it has on it as a terrorist organization, however apparently the vast majority of the tweets were hostile to the Palestinian group. I popped in a few times to see what was going on with it and for the most part found that it had blown up in their faces. They were FLOODED with cynical questions from opponents from around the world. I saw it written about in a few online papers (and if I am not mistaken, reported about on a few TV stations, as well.) So although this was not what I would call a successful campaign for achieving what they had intended,  it DID demonstrate for me the potential this tool has for sharing opinions and crossing all borders!

Of course, it also demonstrated some possible pitfalls, but then again, from my own personal experience of trying to be an advocate of national, political issues, I have had the unpleasant experiences of being picked up by trolls spewing hate, whom I usually just ignore.

Harnessing the energy

After trying (without much success - yet ) to get my Israeli students onto Twitter, I have decided to focus on a different direction: the one I, myself, truly find Twitter useful for: as a PLN for EFL teachers here. 

A PLN (Personal Learning Network) is a network that " allows educators to seek advice, trade best practices, or simply network with other professionals". Part of my PLN is the group on Facebook EFL Digital Pedagogy in Israel (which you are all welcomed to join) as well as other FB groups on the subject. But as I have discovered, Twitter is a fantastic way to learn from professionals and their experiences from all over the world! (And as English speakers, there is a virtual universe of help, ideas and learning to be discovered out there!) 

Albeit - Twitter has room for only 140 characters (including punctuation and spaces) but most of the professional topics and ideas that people are sharing are links to articles and podcasts, so 140 is more than enough!

I access podcasts (which I admit I do not often have time to watch), but mostly I check out blogs and articles about digital issues that interest me, and I want to learn more about (favorite tools, best practices, ideas for projects, etc.) Seek and ye shall find!

My personal favorites

Here are some of my favorite names and their Twitter Handles (call names):

These are all educators or companies which are run for and by educators (many are language teachers - but not all. Many are EFL teachers - but not only).

If I am interested in learning more about a specific topic, I write the topic after a hashtag (no spaces). For example, I want to learn more about projects that people are doing with students on Twitter with EFL (English as a Foreign Language - which is what I teach). I wrote the two topics (with a space between them) in the "Search" window:  #EFL #twitter and came up with this (the ones I framed in red are those that I will click on and follow up):

Top results for search for #EFL #Twitter

Basic Twitter techniques

I can also "call out" to people by writing their Twitter handle, to get their attention (for example if I want to write to Silly Sally, I will write:  @SillySally . It will be visible to her and to those who follow the both of us. 

If I put a period (.)directly before the "at" sign @ (for example:  .@sillysally ) it will be visible to ALL of my followers in their timelines.

I can also write Direct Messages (DMs) to people whom I am following and who are following me (it must be reciprocal). These messages are still limited to the 140 characters, but they are private and others will not see them. 

I have just opened a collaborative twitter account and hope to get the team I work with at REED on board to experience the potential for learning through Twitter. I will let you know how THAT progresses - I am feeling optimistic that at least now that we are off school for two weeks, my colleagues might be tempted to experiment. 

If I have managed to entice YOU into giving Twitter a go for developing a PLN (or at least enriching your professional toolbox a little) the list of names and Twitter handles I provided above is a good place to start.  You can also follow me @AdeleRaemer and our team @EnglishREED !

And DO let me know if you get hooked! (Maybe I will follow YOU! ;-)  At any rate, don't let the ship sail without you!

Happy Passover!!!!!

Digitally yours,


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Programs that can encourage your students to write

Practice makes perfect. In order to improve your writing, you need to write. And luckily, today we teachers have more tools at our disposal than in the past to try to coax that writing our of our students. There are LOTS of digital options to use (Googledocs, and CNN iReports, which I have written about here, before) but it is really exciting to get your students to write a book! This can be done on any level (even the  most basic) of language acquisition. Your students can write books that are based on pictures, or they can write books that have more text in them. 

One of the platforms I was aware of before is called Flipsnack, where you can upload files that are written in Word, saved in PDF and uploaded. 

Another option which I discovered more recently, is called OurBoox. It is an Israeli-based platform which claims to be the simplest platform for uploading and sharing books. You can read more about them in their "About" section. In order to make a book with OurBoox, you do not need to use PDF files. You can just have your students write their stories in Word or Googledocs, gather the photographs or graphics they want to use (be sure they have the rights to use the graphics and do not infringe upon others' copyrights) and then easily upload and publish them on OurBoox. 

As a counselor for Digital Pedagogy for teaching languages, I have made a tutorial that shows just how easy it is to make a digital book. The tutorial is in Hebrew. 

Have you ever had your students sharpen their writing skills by producing a digital book? What do you think of the idea? If you DO experiment with this idea, please fill out the feedback form so I know how it goes!

I hope you find this adds to your digital language teaching toolbox!

Digitally yours, 

P.S. If you have any questions about the OurBoox platform , Mel Rosenberg is happy to provide support (in English or in Hebrew). Just drop him a line:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Not teaching this time... learning with and about Twitter

My blogs (with which I have been negligent recently, and for that I apologize.... I can't believe it's been a whole month since I last posted!!!) are usually about reviewing/exposing/teaching about new Web2 Tools. This one is different. 

This one is a call for ideas and partners for a new project I am trying to get off the ground... take flight with, if you will.

In my position as a lead counselor for Digital Pedagogy in the languages branch of the Israeli MOE, I have taken on a challenge of getting our students Twitter-literate. This is a big challenge, since Twitter has not really caught on here in Israel. I want to use it to help students call out and communicate with people in other countries and in different languages (basically, English, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic). I will not be doing this alone, but since I am one of the few here that have any experience at all with Twitter, I wanted to consult with you guys.

What I want to develop is a program that is fun and trains kids in the basics of using Twitter. But my biggest conundrum is how to design a model for teaching it. The whole thing has a political agenda behind it, of advocacy (hasbara for those of you who are reading this and live in Israel, or speak Hebrew). Maybe "political" is the wrong word. Its intent is really to build bridges that can transverse cultural barriers.

Since this is a highly conflicted region, we want to teach our students to be on Twitter so that they can tweet to the world about who we Israelis are - not commandos running around in full metal jackets and machine guns, rather, people / kids just like their counterparts in other countries, other languages, who love the same things as they do and have the same interests as any other teen in any other place around the world (music, sports, romance, dancing, art, computers, etc.). 

I also know that there is at least one teen in Gaza who tweets (in fact I have been in contact with her - I was interviewed with her and spoke to her via Skype live this past summer) and if there are more kids in Gaza - or other countries Middle Eastern countries - who tweet, and we could get our kids tweeting/interacting constructively with the kids on the other side of our border (I live RIGHT on the border and was under heavy bombardment all summer) that would be so fantastic, for all of us.

So, if any of you out there have any ideas for building a model for a program that develops Twitter-proficiency in different languages (our kids would be tweeting in, what is for them, a foreign language, mostly - or to kids abroad who are learning Hebrew as a foreign language), I would really appreciate hearing your ideas/input.

Also - if any of you in countries where English, Spanish, French, or Arabic is spoken, or any of those languages - or Hebrew - are taught as a FL, and would be interested in collaborating and participating in this project, please contact me via email or Twitter (handle below). That would be the icing on the cake!

Digitally yours, 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Whatsapp on YOUR computer?

WhatsApp is on Mine!

I am on the computer. A lot. 

Whatsapp has become one of the most popular ways of keeping in touch with groups as well as individuals. My family has a group, my coworkers at the different frameworks in which I work, I even find it the best way to update my students about homework, what books to bring, or just to go check their emails. They are on Whatsapp much more than they are on their emails. 

Ages ago I thought it would make sense for the Whatsapp and internet to be able to talk to each other. I am not sure why it took so long in coming, but it's finally here. And it's EASY! 

Here's what you do: Go to in your Chrome browser (apparently, it must be Chrome - which is my default browser, anyway - but you can try Firefox as well, maybe it will work). 

You then get to a page that has a barcode which you need to scan from WITHIN your Whatsapp on your phone:

Once you have done that, you are set! You can communicate via your Whatsapp with any of your contacts. I am sure this is going to be the best thing that has happened to me since sliced bread... but... I'll let you know!

As with the regular Whatsapp, you have the little blue checks that shows you that the person has seen what you have written, and you can also add a picture / attachment. You can even TAKE a photo and send it with your webcam!

(This all works on Android only, for now. You iPhone people will have to wait a bit longer, I'm afraid.)

Let me know if you find it useful! (I'll let you know if I get sick of it and remove it ;-)

Digitally yours,


Monday, January 12, 2015

Meaningful Learning: When School and Reality Meet, Continued.

Back in November, I wrote about a writing project I was doing with my students, encouraging them to write about what it was like for them to live through a war. The project was named: "Kids on the Front Lines". Most of my students live very close to the border with the Gaza Strip. Others live farther away, but regardless of their proximity to the violence that reared its ugly head this summer, they all were affected by it, to one extent or another. 

I, myself , found that writing about our lives here, describing my fears, my concerns and the realities of living in a war zone, helped me analyze and digest what was going on. I thought that maybe it would help my students do so, as well. 

By now (January 12th) I have finished uploading all of the reports that they wrote and shared with me on Googledocs.
Out of 31 students, 23 actually completed the process of writing their reports (including comments from me, improving and rewriting using the Googledocs) and gave their permission to post them on CNN iReport.

 AdeleEFL Kids on the Front Lines

As a teacher, it was easy for me to keep track of their work and editing, (as long as I filed their original report as soon as it was shared with me, in a folder designated for their reports) thanks to the "Revision History" capability one has in Googledocs.

In conjunction with another project I am doing, I made a webclip explaining my reasons and the process. I am sharing it here, and hope it serves to clarify even further.  

Have any of you out there ever done a similar project? Are you interested in using Googledocs for process writing or CNN iReports for authentic writing? If so, share your ideas here! 

If you have any questions or suggestions, you are always welcomed to contact me!  If you need a tutorial about using Googledocs for process writing, give a yell, I'll make one and do my next blog on it!

Digitally yours,