FETC: Building a Blended Learning Toolkit

These are my notes from the “Building a Blended Learning Toolkit” session at the 2016 FETC conference.


Blended Learning

  • Students can review what happened in class.
  • Give every access. Teachers need to learn how to get the technology work for us.
  • Can incorporate all of the stakeholders, including parents and administrators, so they know what is happening in your class.
  • Enables differentiation. “Finally!”



  • http://nearpod.com or download the app
  • Nearpod Presentation
  • Looks like a slideshow of static images.
  • Can post a question for the students to respond to. Presenter is able to select specific responses from a list to post on the screen.
  • A slide with images of computers, tablets, cell phones etc., directions say to circle the devices you use most with students.
  • Create reports of how students responded to questions. (Also, she was able to embed a pdf in the presentation.) Display a pie chart of the results to students.
  • SAMR Model
    • Substitution
    • Augmentation (technology is added in, but not essential to the task)
    • Modification
    • Redefinition (task could not be done without technology)
  • Can send links to students that automatically open on their device. Or just make links that students can click on.
  • Embed movies
  • Import a PowerPoint
  • Launch a homework session
    • Asynchronous – students move at own pace.
    • A participant suggested looking at Office Mix

Haiku Deck

  • https://www.haikudeck.com
  • Create simple slideshows. One theme per presentation and a short list of slide layouts.
  • Search for a Creative Content image within app to embed.
  • $5 a month for educators.


Explain Everything


Google Classroom


How to make all of the tools work together.


  • http://weebly.com
  • Drag and drop elements to create a web site.
  • Easily embed images from Getty Images.
  • Look for the embed symbol </> to insert embeds from other sites, such as embedding a Nearpod.



Using Pandoc to Convert html Files

A few days ago, I wrote about batch converting video files using ffmpeg. A few days later, I faced a similar problem of needing to convert a directory of .html files. “Need” is perhaps too strong of a word. I was experimenting with how to save pages from a PBworks wiki.

PBworks allows the user the download a .zip file of all of the pages from a wiki.[1] My downloaded backup contained 44 .html files, many of which were nested into subfolders. Instead of figuring out to recursively loop thought the subfolders, I used a find command, which searches subfolders by default. In my script below, the find command is inserted using command substitution. The converted files are saved to the original subdirectory, keeping .html in the filename, but adding .md as the file extension.

I tried out two scripts to do the text conversion. First, I tried html2text, which worked great. Out of curiosity, I also tried using Pandoc. I ended up preferring how Pandoc formatted the final Markdown text. However, one feature of html2text I liked was the option to use --ignore-links, since most of the links were relative to the PBworks domain and would be broken when used offline. I decided it might be useful to see where the original link pointed to, so I decided to skip the --ignore-link option.

Here is the script I created:

 1  #!/bin/bash
 3  # Usage: html2md /path/to/file
 5  # Set $IFS so that filenames with spaces don't break the loop
 7  IFS=$(echo -en "\n\b")
 9  # Loop through path provided as argument
10  for x in $(find $@ -name '*.html')
11  do
12      pandoc -f html -t markdown -o $x.md $x
13  done
15  # Restore original $IFS

Line 6 is necessary so that the script will work with filenames that contain spaces. The trick, as suggested in a Linux forum, is to set the internal field separator not to use spaces.[2]

  1. For a paid account, PBworks allows the user to download all pages, past revisions and files, but I was using a free account.  ↩

  2. A discussion at Stack Overflow suggests a similar fix using IFS=$'\n', but I found I still needed \b at the end for my script to work.  ↩

Using ffmpeg to Convert Video Files

Recently, my wife had students in her library create Photostory projects. This wasn’t her first choice of applications for a student project, but the Mac lab was in use for testing. Photostory outputs .wmv files, but my wife wanted to be able to merge the files using iMovie so that teachers could cue up one movie on their classroom presentation stations, which are Macs.

My wife thought she would need to use a service such as Zamzar to convert the files from .wmv into a format that iMovie could import, which seemed like a tedious, impractical task. I thought that perhaps ffmpeg, a command line tool, could help.

I found a Stack Exchange article that suggested this syntax to convert .wmv to mp4:

ffmpeg -i input.wmv -c:v libx264 -crf 23 -c:a libfaac -q:a 100 output.mp4  

I then created the following script to automate the process:


for x in $@
    ffmpeg -i $x -c:v libx264 -crf 23 -c:a libfaac -q:a 100 ${x}.mp4

Thus, using wmv-convert * would loop through all of the files in a directory, converting all .wmv files to .mp4, while keeping the same base filenames.

Each file took several minutes to convert, but I was able run the loop during dinner. Then my wife was able to merge the files using iMovie later that evening.

Keyboard-Type Input

In a recent interview with the The Chronicle of Higher Education1, Bill Gates was asked how tablet computers can make a difference in education and responded:

Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. And it’s never going to work on a device where you don’t have a keyboard-type input. Students aren’t there just to read things. They’re actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it’s going to be more in the PC realm—it’s going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive.

I agree with the first part of his statement because the curriculum and pedogy need to change to make any technology worthwhile. However, he is wrong about the need for keyboards. My middle school students have done complex work on our iPod Touches, such as creating documents that use desktop publishing skills involving typing, creating charts and inserting images. Due to Apple’s intuitive software design, students are quickly able to get past the lack of hardware keyboard. Moreover, they don’t necessarily see the lack of keyboard of as a limitation. Since a third of their lives have been dominated by touch devices, they don’t see keyboards as a prerequisite for using a computer.

Converting Flash Animations with Swiffy

Earlier in my teaching career, I experimented with using Flash to create animations for my students. Now that I’m an avid iOS user, I’ve given up on that platform. I have hours invested into projects that I can’t run on my phone or iPad, but fortunately Google has created a utility named Swiffy that will convert .swf files into html5 and javascript that will run in modern web browsers. Below are two projects I originally created in 2004 that I just converted using Swiffy.

Title screen of the Bering Land Bridge Theory animation
Click image to play the Bering Land Bridge Theory animation.


Title page for the Triangular Trade animation
Click image to play the interactive Triangular Trade animation.

When Technology Gets Out of the Way…

I love this new iPad 2 commercial. From my experience with iPods in the classroom, getting technology out of the way increases time on educational tasks. My students don’t spend ten minutes watching the computers login, then another 30 seconds for an application to launch. Instead, they get right to work with a device that is barely noticeable in a room full of learning.

Passing the Laura Ingalls Test

Writing for Slate.com, Linda Perlstein recently proposed the Laura Ingalls test. Imagine if this prairie girl were to time travel to the present day and consider how she would respond to modern-day technology. If you brought her to an Apple Store or handed her a cell phone, she wouldn’t know what to make of it. Yet, if you brought her to the nearest 5th grade classroom, she would immediately recognize it as a school, something nearly unchanged from her time. Perlstein then asks her readers to describe the ideal modern-day classroom. Their ideas are recorded as comments to her post.

Continue reading “Passing the Laura Ingalls Test”

Labeling iPods

For our first day of winter vacation, my wife and I spent some time in my classroom bar-coding and labeling my iPods. We also labeled each slot in the cart.

That process went fairly quickly, but I also wanted to upgrade all of the iPods to iOS 4.2.1. That took much more time because I could only do one device at a time. However, by following these directions from Fraser Speirs on how to save the update file locally, I saved close to 10 minutes each device.

Photo of my iPods in the drawer of my Bretford Cart

Close-up photo of my drawer with labels.

iPods Unboxed

With the help of my super-supportive wife, we managed to finally get the first set of 20 iPods unboxed and into Cart2D2 for charging. I love the look of the LED lights in the drawer while charging.

Photo of my iPods finally placed into my Bretford cart

On the other hand, the look of 20 devices in iTunes for syncing is a little intimidating. I’m not looking forward to upgrading 20 devices to iOS 4.2.

Screenshot of 20 iPods syncing in iTunes