Exploring IFTTT.com

(I just read this tweet from Holly Clark (@HollyEdTechDiva) about a site called IFTTT and had to check it out.)


IFTTT stands for “If this then that” and is pronounced like “gift” but without the g. It’s a site that allows you to connect online services.

I decided to try to make the recipe like the one on in Holly’s tweet which connected FourSquare to Google Calendar. It was so simple! After you sign in, the site walks you through the steps to make a recipe with a trigger and an action. I was able to do another recipe with the iPhone/ipad app just as easily. This time I connected new Facebook status with the calendar.


What really makes this powerful is that Evernote, DropBox, and GoogleDrive are all a part of the services included. RSS feed and email also makes this pretty powerful. There is even a recipe gallery that you can explore.

Here are some interesting recipes I plan to check out:

  1. Save Gmail attachments to a folder in Google Drive named with the sender’s email address. 
  2. Copy photos I’m tagged in on Facebook to Dropbox
  3. Twitter favorites to Evernote

I plan on playing with this site some more, but I can see it as a great introduction to coding for students. When teaching Scratch and basic coding, I would often go over “if then” statements. I can really see students having fun creating on this site and gaining a better understanding of “if this then that.”

8 Steps To Great Digital Storytelling

First appeared on Edudemic.  (Updated 3/14/2014)

8 Steps To Great Digital Storytelling


Stories bring us together, encourage us to understand and empathize, and help us to communicate. Long before paper and books were common and affordable, information passed from generation to generation through this oral tradition of storytelling. Consider Digital Storytelling as the 21st Century version of the age-old art of storytelling with a twist: digital tools now make it possible for anyone to create a story and share it with the world.

WHY Digital Storytelling?

Digital stories push students to become creators of content, rather than just consumers. Weaving together images, music, text, and voice, digital stories can be created in all content areas and at all grade levels while incorporating the 21st century skills of creating, communicating, and collaborating.

Movies, created over a century ago, represent the beginning of digital storytelling. Consuming movies has become a cultural phenomenon, but making them was inaccessible to the average person for decades. Film cameras, 8mm and even video cameras served as big breakthroughs, but editing posed a challenge until technology progressed with software, websites, and apps exploding on the scene and putting advanced editing skills into the hands of everyone. Look at the meteoric rise of YouTube and other video sharing websites. At no other time in history have we been able to create, edit and share video on both a personal and global scale. In fact, video and images have become primary ways of communicating, taking the place of traditional print literacies in some areas.

8 Steps to Great Digital Stories

Great digital stories:

  • Are personal
  • Begin with the story/script
  • Are concise
  • Use readily-available source materials
  • Include universal story elements
  • Involve collaboration at a variety of levels

In order to achieve this level of greatness, students need to work through a Digital Storytelling Process.

digital storytelling chart

1. Start with an Idea

All stories begin with an idea, and digital stories are no different. This idea could be the topic of a lesson, a chapter heading in a textbook, or a question asked in class. Digital stories might be fiction or non-fiction. Once you or your student have an idea, make it concrete: write a proposal, craft a paragraph, draw a mind-map, or use any other pre-writing tool.

I once had 5th graders write their proposal on National Parks as a paragraph. The topic sentence was the park that they picked and its location. Then, they had to include three interesting facts about the park. Finally. the conclusion sentence had to explain why they picked that park or were excited to study it. In the process, we not only wrote the proposal but also improved our paragraph writing. One student commented, “I think I finally have this paragraph thing down.”


2. Research/Explore/Learn

Whether writing a fiction or nonfiction digital story, students need to research, explore or learn about the topic in order to create a base of information on which the story will be built. During this process, students learn both about validating information and information bias as they delve deeper into a topic.

At this stage, organization is very important. I often use mind-mapping to help students keep track of information. Outlines, index cards, and online note-taking tools all work as well. If students can organize their information digitally, then it makes the next steps much easier.


3. Write/Script

When you are trying to write, there is nothing worse than a blank sheet of paper. That’s why I strongly encourage the 2 pre-writing steps above. If students have a proposal, with a little bit of editing, it can become the introduction. If students research and explored a topic well, the body of the script should fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are already there, students just need to make them fit.

This is also the time where literary decisions come into play. Ask students to determine whether they will use first, second or third person. Challenge them to expand word choices. Give them an opportunity to break out a dictionary or thesaurus. I once worked with high school social studies teachers who had the students write a full essay or research paper before turning it into a script. They told me that when they were done with the project, the students should be “experts” on the topic. It depends all on your goal and your students.


4. Storyboard/Plan

Good stories start with a good script, but they don’t end there. This is where we transition into visual media literacies. George Lucas once said, “If people aren’t taught the language of sound and images, shouldn’t they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read or write?” Storyboarding is the first step towards understanding sound and images. It is the plan or blueprint that will guide decision making about images, video and sound. Simple storyboards will just have room for images/video and the script. More advanced ones might even include room for transitions, and background music.


5. Gather and Create Images, Audio and Video

This is the “stuff” that makes magic happen and writing come alive. Using their storyboard as a guide, students will gather – or create – images, audio and video. Everything they choose will impact and set the tone for their digital story. Introduce concepts such as visual hierarchy, tone, and illustration. This is also a great time to talk about Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons. Students should use this time to record themselves reading their scripts. I have often noticed that students rewrite their scripts as they record. Through this step in the process, they become acutely aware of mistakes and poor word choices.


6. Put It All Together

This is where the magic happens – where students discover if their storyboard needs tweaking and if they have enough “stuff” to create their masterpiece. You will see students revisit and revise their storyboard. I love this stage. This is usually when students are so engrossed in their work that they don’t leave when the bell rings, or they come back at lunch or after-school to work on the project. They will find ways to push the technology and tools beyond your expectations – blending images, creating unique transitions between video clips, incorporating music or sound effects. I also use this stage to provide students with a rubric so they understand what is necessary for a completed project as well as how to push themselves beyond the expectations.



7. Share

Sharing online has become deeply embedded in our culture, so as educators, we might as well embrace it. Review your school or district’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and then look for a way to share your students’ stories with a broader audience. Knowing that other people might see their work often raises student motivation to make it the best possible work that they can do.


8. Reflection and Feedback

Too often in education, we do not teach or allow time for reflection and feedback. What did I learn? What do I know about myself that I did not know before? How can I do better next time?

Students need to be taught how to reflect on their own work and give feedback to others that is both constructive and valuable. Blogs, wikis discussion boards, and student response systems or polling tools can all be used to help students at this stage.


Beyond Traditional Assessment

Schools across the country are embracing digital storytelling as an amazing tool for students to communicate their personal understanding of a topic. Digital stories create a bridge across content areas and provide opportunities for students to break free from print literacies to add deeper dimension to their work. It is critical that schools embraces digital storytelling and video creation as skills our students must learn in order to successfully communicate in the 21st century. This is a “Gutenberg” moment where communication and storytelling have changed so drastically that it “shakes-up” our cultural, social, and academic norms. Digital stories provide us with information that knowledge has been shared and understood. They allow us to ask our students:  ”What is the story? What is your story.”

To learn more about Digital Storytelling, come join me for Digital Storytelling & Multimedia Projects, July 8-10 in Boston.

Joining EdTechTeacher!

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

It is with great pleasure that I announce my new position with EdTechTeacher

EdTechTeacher is at the forefront of helping schools leverage technology to create innovative, dynamic learning environments.

In my new role, I will be providing staff development for schools and teachers in the region and around the country. My passion is to strengthen our schools and provide students with the best possible education. I believe that includes the effective uses of technology. I am thrilled to be able to continue supporting teachers and schools.  

I leave behind a 20 year career in public education to join EdTechTeacher. I want to thank everyone who has supported me, learned with me and shared with me. Please cheer me on as I move forward with this new adventure. 


Samantha Morra
EdTechTeacher, Instructor & Presenter

Economics and Empathy

I was just reading Richard Byrne’s post Life on Minimum Wage – A Hands-on Economics Lesson. He shared an economics lesson called Life on Minimum Wage. Great lesson! I love that it is in game form. The lesson reminded me of a site called Spent. I used it for both an economics/financial literacy lesson and a lesson on empathy. (Many of you who know me know how I value teaching empathy. I’ll write more on empathy in another post.) Check it out and see how you do. I’m going to guess you will walk away thinking differently about minimum wage.


Don’t Cry Because It’s Over. Smile Because It Happened

It’s Teacher Appreciation Day and I have just resigned after 20 years in public education. 

It has been one of the great joys in my life to work with so many wonderful students through the years. There’s truly something wonderful and magical to see a student grow, change and blossom. I don’t think I could forget them if I tried. They will always be my students. 

I always wanted to be a teacher. There was nothing as scary as the first day of teaching and that door closes behind you with a room full of kids. I got my first job teaching Kindergarten. I thought I would do that the rest of my life. But then, technology came into my classroom that year and since then opened many other doors for me. 

I don’t want this to be an indictment of public education or another “Why I Quit” essay. Things are tough, but I would never discourage someone from becoming a teacher. Teaching is a tough way to make a living, but a great way to make a life. 

Have you ever wondered why they call graduation commencement? Commencement means beginning. For me, this is like graduation day. For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure and joy of working with teachers to improve teaching practices. I’m now going to venture forward and find new ways to support teachers, support students and improve education. It’s time for me to close this door and forge a new path. I leave with a smile.

Scratch Rubric

Scratch Rubric
Student_______________________________________  Grade_______  Date_____________________






1-Needs Work

Makes important connections to content area and shows depth of understanding
Makes connections to content area and shows depth of understanding
Makes some connections to content area and shows some understanding
Does not make connections to content area and shows little understanding
Project artwork and creativity significantly support the content
Project uses original artwork or reuses imported images creatively
Project uses artwork of others with some effort to change
Did not try to make own artwork
Purpose of Design
Has multiple layers or  complex design
Has clear purpose, makes sense, has structure
Has some sense of purpose and structure
No clear purpose of project or organization
User interface fits content well, is complex; instructions are well-written and integrated into design
Includes way for user to interact with program and  clear instructions
Includes way for user to interact with program, may need to be clearer or fit program’s purpose better
Does not provide a way for other people to interact with program
Project shows advanced understanding of blocks and procedures and uses additional programming techniques
Project shows understanding of blocks and how they work together to meet a goal
Project shows some understanding of blocks and how they work together
Project shows little understanding of blocks and how they work together
Is well organized and logical
Is organized and logical
Has some organization and logic
Lacks organization and logic
Debugged inc. additional  programming techniques.
May have a couple bugs
Has several bugs

Who Moved My Cheese-Embracing Change

This was a post I made to a discussion board for one of my grad school classes:

I read Who Moved My Cheese a few years ago when I made the switch to middle school. I had spent 12 years in elementary and thought that was all I wanted. It took a moldy room and a difficult administrator to get me to embrace change and move on. I remember crying just like Hem, “It’s not fair!”

I had to think long and hard about change. I really did envision myself as an elementary school teacher my whole life.

As I left part of my life behind and started running through the maze I had to find words that supported what I needed to do. I too wrote on the walls. Some of the words I used were (forgive me if I don’t get the words quite right):

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” —FDR
“Perhaps it is you who have changed by standing still” —Inherit the Wind
“Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving.”—Mame
“The most important thing you can give someone is a chance” — poster in my room (I added “and a piece of chocolate.”
“If you change one life it is as if you have changed the whole world.” —many sources
“Seek out change. It is the only way to learn something new about yourself.” —Me. This became my mantra.

I really think in most ways I am like all four: Sniff, Scurry, Haw and Hem. These days I am much more like Sniff and Scurry seeking out change and new opportunities. However, Haw and Hem are interesting metaphors. Hem is the low point. It can’t get any worse. Haw is moving away from that low point. In many ways, you can’t be Haw without being Hem for a little while. The important thing is to not Hem too long.

Four years later and I realized how wise, and yes, brave I was. I am not saying this out of pride. I am saying this to demonstrate how I empathize with the teachers I work with. This really is the first generation of teachers who are being asked to teach in ways that they have not been taught. It is tough for them to see that they need to change. I use video like “Shift Happens” and “Pay Attention” to get that point across. I also try to provide them with other types of “cheese” to taste, different ways to cover a subject in which the student-teacher dynamic is different from what they are used to. Our social and information landscape has changed. Teachers must be aware of this, embrace change and be supported as they take risks or they and our current system risk being relevant and effective.

Thank You

I admit I have been staying away from my blog to focus on my grad work and work for my school. There are just not enough hours in the day. Even today, I have spent the entire weekend working on grad work and creating materials and signs for the opening of the “classroom of the future” I have been working on for the past two years. (Grand-opening this week.)

Needless to say I have taken on so much and I really think, if I let it, burn-out could rear its ugly head. This article describes pretty accurately some of the stresses in teaching: Why is teaching so stressful? Also, the current climate in NJ has not been very kind to teachers. I see colleagues at both ends of their careers leaving teaching and it saddens me. I try to find inspiration when I can. Today I got a good shot in the arm…

I just left RadioShack. I needed three wires to finish off connecting the SmartBoard and projector to a single computer. I was not quite sure what I needed. I spoke with the young man at the counter and we looked over the VGA wires and a converter. After explaining what I was doing, we settled on 4 items totaling over $120. I told him I needed to walk around the store to think about it, because I really did not want to spend my own money and I was not very sure about the possibility of being reimbursed.

I walked around for a few minutes and decided to get the wires. As I was paying for them the young man turns to me and says, “Well if no one else appreciates it, I do. Thank you.” I told him he made my day.

Thank you can be so powerful

So to all of my friends and colleagues who are teachers:
Teacher appreciation week is upon us this week. Don’t forget to acknowledge that what we do is not just for a paycheck. We do it because we make a difference. For many of us teaching is not just a career, but a life. Appreciate what you do, find inspiration where you can and thank you.

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The Power of Images

I teach a digital storytelling class to middle school students in grades 6 through 8. I rarely teach anything the same way twice because I get bored and if I am bored well the kids are lets just say bored too. I often give them the opportunity to move the class in a different direction then what I planned as long as it deepens their understanding of a topic. This happened a few weeks ago when we started manipulating digital images for our stories. Based on conversations in class I kept getting the feeling that they did not understand how prevalent image manipulation is in our society and that they need to question everything they see.

They next day I showed them Girl Power – Retouch I had used it before and knew some of the reactions I would get. The last time I used it two eighth grade girls created this:

This class found it fascinating. We talked about images being changed to communicate something and for a reason. One student joked about not manipulating the image of a shoe. I knew I had to find a shoe that had been changed.
I was fortunate to find Greg Apodaca’s website with a shoe that had been manipulated. I also found Glenn Feron’s site called “The Art of Retouching.” Both sites were amazing with many examples of photo manipulation. You can mouse over most of these images to see how they were changed. I showed the kids a woman’s face, a man’s face, the close up of an eye, the close up of skin and a stomach.
The discussion with the class was impressive. They were trying to figure out why even knuckles are changed. They (girls and boys) made the connections that they may never be able to look like the models in magazines. (The boys got into a discussion about the movie 300.) This is such an important lesson at this age. They also discussed how these images influence what they buy.
I also asked some essential questions that came into my mind about this topic. So we discussed: What is truth? What is beauty? and What is real? In the context of these images and more. The discussion was amazing. No answers were considered wrong. (We did some of this in iChat which is limited to my room. The students who usually don’t chime in will make comments in iChat.)
A day or two later this appeared. It was a request on reddit.com to see if the community could help this person fix a picture of his mother. The online community came together and did a beautiful job:

Now I did not in anyway want to pass judgement or take this lightly. I have been in the same position and have a similar picture of my mother that I have debated editing. But, I wanted to see what my students would say. They took evaluating the picture and the situation seriously and most said that it was a wonderful thing to do. Then one girl in the middle row raised her hand and said, “But it’s not real.” This led to a debate that blew me away. Some quotes I remember were:
“But reality sucks in this case. He wants to remember her smile not the tube.”
“If he doesn’t want to see that tube in the picture, he’s going to have trouble dealing with her dying.”
“How come they got rid of the straw and ripped chair. Does everything have to be perfect?”
“Will it change his memories?”
The last one brought tears to my eyes.
Middle school students are interesting. They are both young and old all at the same time. They are capable of adult thought without the adult experiences to back them up. They don’t need to be taught what to think, but how to think and how to question.
I am becoming more focused on essential questions. I recently took a course on curriculum with a focus on Understanding by Design. I used these lessons to create a unit I plan on using in the future. You can find all of the links above and the unit here: http://smorraubd.wikispaces.com/

Introduction to Twitter Educators

Here is the presentation I gave to a great group of school administrators.

It should probably have been titled “Introduction to Twitter for School Administrators.”

Thank you to everyone in my PLN who discussed this topic with me.

Twitter really is an amazing tool for gathering information, reflection, and collaboration.