Digital Learning Design Education Innovative Instruction Open Educational Resources

Passing the Back-to-School-Tool Sniff Test…

At work, I often engage with various educators and educational leaders on a number of ed. tech related projects. Away from work however, I have a small but pesky group of teachers who I relate to more as friends than as colleagues or control group members or use case study subjects.

Not to say I don’t ask them to help me out on occasion in those roles, I do…but with them, I can at least have a beer afterwards and finish the conversation with, “See you Sunday at Kim’s house for the season kickoff party.” In turn, these folks often ask me, off the clock, if I’ve seen anything worth sharing. Despite how well I know some of them, they always seem leery and cautious in asking. Its understandable, they’ve been abused by over-zealous technology coordinators and over-ambitious ed. tech marketeers these past few years. They are weary of hearing about the latest and greatest, but will on occasion afford me some access to their curiosity in the hopes that I too don’t abuse it.

They’ve become numb I guess due to all of the marketing and hyperbolized promises that surrounds some online tool that gets touted as the newest CCSS aligned, portfolio-based, authentic assessment engine but ends up essentially being a web-based version of PowerPoint with questions.

Ultimately, they know that in a given month of work I see LOTS of stuff and test LOTS of claims. They also know that I am very pragmatic if not a downright jerk in how I view most classroom software and applications. Some of my opinions have not garnered favor with many a well-funded start-up trying their damnedest to get their color of Koolaid stained upon the lips of teachers and students abroad.

However, when I do see an occasional good tool, I’m happy to share. I thought maybe I’d try posting them over the next week or so for anyone interested. Here are a few I’ve found to “not-suck” for my Back to School colleagues out there. On this post, I will focus on tools that let you search for stuff and make things out of them.

Edpuzzle (

  • Find videos by topic
  • Crop videos
  • Add notes (text or audio)
  • Embed questions into video


Its not a puzzle actually. It is a simple way to put in a search term like Photosynthesis or Ratios or American Revolution and find any number of online videos on the topic. It cross-references free, legitimate video providers like National Geographic, TED, Khan, YouTube, TeacherTube, etc…AND THEN let’s you modify the video with easy cropping to get just the clip you want, and embed notes or audio to the video or even questions directly into the clip. If you want you can add students to your account and create classes and then “assign” the video to your students via email and an access code. When students go in and watch video and answer questions, you see where they are at, what they’ve watched, and any answers they’ve submitted. All free. Very easy to set up and use.

OpenEd (

  • Search for online resources
  • Big list of resource partners
  • Filter by standards, topics
  • Add your own information and create playlists

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 12.51.54 PM

One, big search tool for online instructional resources. Like many platforms of this ilk, youcan search by a list of topics (Math, English, History, etc.) or by Common Core Standards or even by SBAC or PARCC. If you are a teacher, you should know what those last two are, if not, look it up. You can filter for types of resources you want to see like Assessments, Games, Lessons, Activities, Videos, Questions, etc…and then if you want, add them into a “playlist” or even build them into a course. I’ve found that this site has a really credible list of resource partners that have their materials integrated into this one source. So you should be able to find something of value and use in the classroom almost every time.

Blendspace (


  • Search for resources or media
  • Simple search by keyword across many sources
  • Assemble into mosaic and embed quizzes

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 1.52.01 PM

Yes, I did make fun of this company some months ago, but that was just due to their name change and the form mail they used to announce it. But, I did like it even back then. It is simple, no CCSS aligned searches, no topic directory, just put in a term you want to search for and find stuff online from Google, YouTube, OpenED (mentioned above), etc…because those engines are integrated into this tool. Once you find items you merely drag and drop them into your canvas and it creates a quilt-like mosaic of your items or a more uniform grid or list (you set it how you want it). You can then pop in the occasional quiz or additional information as separate squares into that pattern and then set up your class of students and have them access and complete as assigned.

So there ya go. Take it or leave it, I have no vested interest in any of these…although, full disclosure, I was excited to see Learning Registry cited as one of the sources delivering materials into the OpenED platform. (Our office has been working on that metadata-structure to be used precisely in this way to help enrich resource queries and returns for teachers via search tools, so yay.) This picture was based on a search in OpenED for Tectonics.

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 2.15.18 PM