LMSs (continued)

Google Classroom is here.

In the world of Learning Management Systems (LMSs), that’s a statement. It’s like saying, “LeBron James is on the court,” or, “Stephen Hawking is in the lecture hall.”

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) has taken schools by storm, and this is because GAFE consists of free tools that are amazing for completing work. GAFE is a dream for educators everywhere: Students can write essays in Docs. They can take tests in Forms. They can make interactive reports in Slides. They can create graphs in Sheets. They can chat, email, keep a calendar… the list goes on and on.

Did I mention it’s all free? I think I did.

So it’s only natural that Google create their own LMS–and why not? Teachers and students around the world are using GAFE, so it totally makes sense for Google to provide a way for teachers to easily share copies of documents, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. with their classes. Classroom cuts out other middle men (LMSs) and provides a much needed service, which is the infrastructure that classes need for assigning, collecting, and assessing work.

It must be said that Classroom has a bare bones beginning. There’s no assessment tools (I’m not accounting for Forms, of course), there’s no social media component (although Google+ exists for students who are old enough), there’s no “professional feed” to communicate with other teachers around the world, and there’s no common drive to share stuff with Professional Learning Communities. The lack of these features could look like a weakness, but it’s actually a smart move by Google because one of the things teachers in my school district are telling me is that they love Classroom’s simplicity.

This is not a time to overwhelm teachers. With Common Core, 1:1, new curriculum adoptions, and the plethora of teaching websites and apps available, Google was very prudent to keep Classroom simple. What Google can do now is slowly attract teachers who are already using Classroom as their LMS, while in the meantime keeping an eye on the right things other LMSs are doing. Then, Google can slowly adopt those successful strategies within Classroom, which will delight current users and attract new ones. It’s a logical scenario for Google.

So what should other LMSs do? 

It’s a tough question to answer. For the other LMSs that I’ve previously written about, here’s what I’d tell them:

  • Don’t try to out-Google Google. GAFE is amazing, and no one is going to create a product that is anywhere close to its rival–at least not soon.
  • Carve out your niche. Edmodo has Snapshot, which was a great move; especially with the arrival of Common Core. Other LMSs have their specialties, and those need to be highlighted, promoted, and refined throughout this school year.
  • Keep it simple! Teachers are overwhelmed–more so now than ever. Every decision made that complicates a product might as well be a nail in a coffin. Also, keep the interface of your product as simple as possible, and by simple, I mean as few words and buttons as possible. The fewer, the better–follow Google’s lead with Classroom.
  • Create groups of certified teachers. And when you do this, make sure they’re really teachers. Teachers can smell non-teachers a mile away.
  • Engage teachers on Twitter. Combine your product with Twitter, if at all possible. An alliance with Twitter would be the Holy Grail.
  • Show how your product can work hand-in-hand with GAFE. If your product doesn’t work well with GAFE, change that ASAP. You’re not going to create GAFE, so you might as well learn how to dance with ’em.

All of this is, of course, is an extremely simple start.


It’s really important that there be competition in the LMS market; it undeniably benefits the students. Only good things can happen when a lot of smart minds are figuring out the best ways to bring digital infrastructure to 21st century learning.

Everyone who doesn’t have an LMS named “Classroom” has to bring their A game and work hard to attract and keep teachers using their products. As I said before, let the games begin.


Teachers are a loyal group. They find something that works–something they think is going to help kids learn–and they’ll stick with it for a long, long time.

I say this from firsthand experience. All educators want to use what’s most effective. It’s with this in mind, mingled with an interest in technology, that makes me really curious as to what will come out of the Learning Management System (LMS) competition.

My Big Campus. Edmodo. Haiku. Schoology. And, of course, Google Classroom. Mentioning these names one right after the other is like saying: Nike. Reebok. Adidas. New Balance. Under Armor. Etc. They’re all competitors. The difference between LMSs and shoe companies is that the shoe companies have already carved out their niches. New Balance is good for running. Adidas is good for soccer. Nike is good for basketball.

Right now, teachers are figuring out what Edmodo is good for. What My Big Campus is good for. What Haiku is good for. Flags will be thrust into the ground. Land will be claimed, and pretty soon, teachers will create alliances with the LMS of their choice.

Let the games begin.

At the beginning of this school year…

plan on meeting with your grade level team no longer than two weeks after the first day and compare common formative assessment results.

I picture a beautiful world where teachers use Edmodo Snapshot as a formative assessment after a unit, bring their electronic device to the professional learning communities (PLC), and quickly analyze the data with their coworkers. Snapshot makes this really easy to do. In the past, teachers had to create formative assessments, make copies of the tests and answer sheets, administer the test, collect the test, scan the tests (in scanners that often jam), print out the data, and then share the data with fellow teachers who probably printed the information in different ways: “Wait a minute, you printed an individualized report and you printed a demographic report while I printed all my classes in one report–this is going to take some time to compare.”

Tools like Snapshot are needed to efficiently compare results, and comparison is necessary for professional growth. PLCs need to be transparent and willing to share what works and what doesn’t in the classroom.

So this year, make it a priority to use the educators at your school, district, and on social media to find out how you can more effectively teach students after the first formative assessment.

Professional Learning Communities

A week ago I wrote about implementing Edmodo Snapshot in my classroom. Using Snapshot was a great experience, and I’d like to elaborate more concerning this excerpt from my previous post:

Many teachers may not like that the tests are already made, but I think it’s wonderful. Instead of using valuable PLC time creating assessments, teachers can instead mine the student data for all it’s worth and create effective lesson plans to address student need.

A few years ago, it was understood that the weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) time teachers were given in my district would be used to collaboratively create common formative assessments (CFA), correct the assessments, and analyze the data for how we could teach specific standards more effectively. This was a great concept, but getting five or more teachers to agree on a proper CFA proved to be difficult. How many questions would properly assess each standard? (Keep in mind, most teachers do not have extensive training in statistics.) How should we articulate the questions? How many multiple choices should there be? How often should we give a CFA? Should the test be part of the grade?

After the long process of creating a test, a week or two would go by. Many more questions would then ensue: Were all the teachers still teaching the same standards? Were the tests administered, collected, graded, and analyzed for student feedback by all team members? Did we have time to use the data to effectively modify our strategies and lessons to reteach concepts where we found student deficiencies?

If you’re a teacher, perhaps you’ve faced these and similar questions. At times, you might have felt like your PLC was working really slowly, unproductively–and, at worst–dysfunctionally.

I think it’s because the model of creating, grading, and analyzing CFAs poses a Herculean task for teachers who have a lot on their plates. With grades, lesson planning, coaching, and other extracurricular events, time during a 180 day school year is a rare and precious commodity. I’ve been forced to wonder whether there is a more effective, and sustainable, way to collaborate.

This is why Snapshot works so well. Like I wrote before, instead of using valuable (very valuable) PLC time creating assessments, Snapshot allows the teacher to pick standards that kids will be tested on in a quick and efficient manner. Teachers don’t have to use time to create tests–this is huge! I’ve always believed that PLC time would be better spent mining data and collaborating to create engaging lesson plans for students. Who wants to sit around in a committee and make tests when there’s so much other stuff to accomplish and create? Why not allow Edmodo to do this work?

Also, there’s no grading or scanning Snapshot tests because Edmodo does it for you. Goodbye bubble sheets and scanners that jam! I haven’t even mentioned yet how teachers can collaborate via Edmodo, so they don’t even need to be in the same room.

The biggest question we should be asking is: What should PLC time look like now?

Technology is revolutionizing the way educators operate. It’s a very exciting time to be a teacher.

Edmodo Snapshot

Edmodo Snapshot functions exactly like its name; it is a snapshot of where your students are at any given time in relation to mastery of the Common Core Standards. Snapshot provides ready made “micro-assessments” that students take online through their Edmodo accounts. The tests are graded automatically, and instant data is provided for the teacher. The program went live recently, and it’s an exciting addition to all the wonderful features Edmodo already offers.

Wednesday morning I used what Edmodo suggested for my first 12 question Snapshot “test,” and the standards involved were RL.7.1 (citing textual evidence), RI.7.6 (author’s point of view), and RI.7.10 (reading at grade level).

First I’ll discuss Snapshot and then I’ll share my takeaway.


Snapshot is really easy to use. The teacher logs into Edmodo and clicks on the icon of a magnifying glass with a checkmark on the left hand side of the webpage. The teacher picks the group who will receive the test, the grade level, the amount of time to be given, and the Common Core Standards to be assessed. I haven’t played around with this a lot yet, but it seems you can make the assessment as short or long as you want.

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When the students log into Edmodo, they are notified of a Snapshot assessment they can take. Once my students clicked “Take Snapshot,” they had 20 minutes to complete the assessment. (That was the default amount of time, but I could have shortened it or lengthened it if I chose.) If for any reason the students click out of the assessment, they will not be allowed access again–this happened in a couple of cases. Most of the students finished the test, and only a few ran out of time.

Teachers have access to the questions students will view before the test is taken. I’m sure a lot of teachers like this feature, but I’d caution using it too much since we don’t want to “teach to the test.

As I walked around the classroom, I noticed that the tests were not the same, which is great because it’s very easy for students to look at other screens due to the group formation in which they sit. Snapshot’s text size was small, but the 1:1 devices make it possible to zoom in and out of the webpage.

My takeaway:

Snapshot is an amazing tool. I can envision using this throughout the year to gauge my students’ mastery of the standards. Whenever I teach a unit on a specific standard (or two), Snapshot is a great way of assessing whether the student grasped the concept.

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Snapshot breaks the data into three categories: “Meets the Standard,” “Borderline,” and “Behind” (There’s also “Incomplete” for when the student doesn’t finish the Snapshot in time.) My students did well on standard RI.7.10 (reading at grade level), with most of them meeting the standard or receiving a “Borderline” score. RL.7.1 (citing textual evidence) was similar, but my students did very poorly on RI.7.6 (author’s point of view). This is very valuable information, and I’m glad I know it. The speed with which the students can take the test, and the speed in which they’re graded, gives me immediate feedback, making Snapshot the best way to conduct an efficient formative assessment in class.

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Many teachers may not like that the tests are already made, but I think it’s wonderful. Instead of using valuable PLC time creating assessments, teachers can instead mine the student data for all it’s worth and create effective lesson plans to address student need.

The best thing about Snapshot, however, is that it doesn’t bog the teacher down in too much data. The program simply shows whether the student needs help–and the truth of the matter is–that’s all I need to know. I didn’t become a teacher to print out reams of paper that contain meaningless data that will either go in a binder or recycling bin. I became a teacher to positively affect lives and teach meaningful content.

Edmodo is really firing on all cylinders right now. If they were selling stock, I’d invest.