Digital Assistants in the Classroom

It’s been a couple of years since my tech teacher advice column “Dear Otto” got its first question about classroom digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. At that time, no one had much experience with these devices so discussion was limited to anecdotal evidence and speculation.

That has changed dramatically. Now, an estimated 20% of U.S. adults own about 100 million of these AI-powered speakers with close to fifteen percent of sales going to education. And why not? They’re affordable. They simplify mundane tasks, and students love learning with them.

But that’s only part of the story. Let’s dig into what they are, how they’re being used, and what you need to be aware of before buying one for your class.

What is a digital assistant?

A Digital Assistant is an AI- (artificial intelligence) powered virtual assistant you probably know most commonly as Google Home or Amazon Alexa. It is a physical device connected to the Internet via WiFi that you can talk to, ask questions of, and get help from on particular topics. It will sit passively on a desk or shelf until activated by a key phrase (such as “Hey Alexa”) and then will respond in conversational language. Each device is a little different. I won’t get into those today but I encourage you to check out the most common options and then choose the one best suited to your needs.

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Help Students Select the Right Summer School

Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Alex Briggs, has an interesting take on summer school, why you should start thinking about it now–in the Fall–and how to do that. I think you’ll find this interesting:

Helping students to select the right summer school

School has just gotten back into session so it seems like an odd time of year to talk about summer school, right? Everyone is just now reacclimating themselves with the school routine, and the last thing kids ever want to talk about is more school.

But here’s the thing: Summer schooling is one of the most beneficial investments a teen can make into their educational future. Studies have shown that the lazy summer months have a massive impact on learning loss. If a teen stays engaged in their academic pursuits during the summer months – even if they’re only a few hours a week on academics – they will have a huge advantage going into the next school year and any upcoming standardized tests.

Summer schooling is something that should excite students as well, so long as they choose the right summer program. Where grade school can feel a bit repetitive to students at times, summer school can be highly privatized to help a child find and follow the fields of study that interest them. Considering the fact that up to half of all college students enter college undecided on their major, this is another perk that will help students as they try to find the right college for them.

That makes the fall a great time to start looking at summer schools. By keeping summer school in mind now, students can start thinking about what subjects interest them without the pressure of hasty applications. If you’d like to help guide a student towards the right summer schools, here’s what you need to consider.

Research their interests

Let’s say a student has an interest in architecture.

A license in architecture is going to require some specific skills. A strong mathematical background is crucial; algebra, statistics, and probability are all going to play a huge role in an architect’s ability to do their job. A background in historical architectural designs will be extremely helpful as well.

But the demands of becoming an architect go further than that. Getting a college degree won’t make an architect; they have to go through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) to earn their license. The NCARB has its own registration exam that goes beyond what’s learned in college.

These are the things that a student has to consider. It requires time; and oftentimes, teenagers don’t have an interest that is as defined as “I want to study architecture.” That’s why it’s smart to start thinking about it early in the school year. Parents and teachers can help them to frame their thoughts as the school year goes along. If they encounter a lesson that appeals to them, tell them to write it down. Over the course of a month or two of school, it’s easier to identify interest and begin properly investigating those topics.

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Subscriber Special: October–Discounts on Select Print Books

Every month, subscribers to our newsletter get a free/discounted resource to help their tech teaching.

October: Discounts on Select Print Books

Any of these books: $25.99 (same price as digital)

Kindergarten Technology Curriculum

1st Grade Technology Curriculum

3rd Grade Technology Curriculum

High School Technology Curriculum–Book 1

All of these book are ordered and delivered through Amazon.

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Resources for Digital Citizenship Week

October 14-18, 2019 is Digital Citizenship Week. Here are resources from Ask a Tech Teacher and Structured Learning that will help you learn how to teach digital citizenship to your students. Below, you’ll find everything from a full year-long curriculum to professional development for teachers:


Digital Citizenship: What to Teach When (a video)


K-8 Digital Citizenship Curriculum

Professional Development:

Building Digital Citizens (a self-paced certificate class); this month, October 15-19th, this is available for free (with the code Free Digcit training through Google Classroom)–but without the certificate.

Building Digital Citizens (a grad school class, through UC and CSU)

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October is National Bullying Prevention Month

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Any adult knows that bullying is no longer relegated to the playground or the neighborhood. It now regularly happens in the cyberworld. Kids don’t expect that and often don’t know how to handle it.

In October 2006, thirteen-year-old Megan Meier hung herself in her bedroom closet after suffering months of cyberbullying. She believed her tormentors’ horrid insults, never thought she could find a way to stop them, and killed herself. She’s not the only one. In fact, according to, 52 percent of young people report being cyberbullied and over half of them don’t report it to their parents.

Everyone knows what bullying is — someone being taunted physically or mentally by others — and there are endless resources devoted to educating both students and teachers on how to combat bullying. But what about cyberbullying? Wikipedia defines “cyberbullying” as:

the use of information technology to repeatedly harm or harass other people in a deliberate manner

Cyberbullying occurs on not just social media like Twitter, Facebook, and topical forums, but multiplayer games and school discussion boards. Examples include mean texts or emails, insulting snapchats, rumors posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing photos or videos.

How serious is it?

The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center estimates that nearly 30 percent of American youth are either a bully or a target of bullying. 7% of high school students commit suicide, some because of cyberbullying:

On October 7, 2003, Ryan Halligan committed suicide by hanging himself [after being cyberbullied by high school classmates]. His body was found later by his older sister. Click for his story.

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October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

Surprisingly, 15-20% of the population has a language-based learning disability and over 65% of those are deficits in reading. Often, these go undiagnosed as students, parents, and teachers simply think the child is not a good reader, is lazy, or is disinterested. Thankfully, the International Dyslexia Association sponsors an annual Dyslexia Awareness Month in October aimed to expand comprehension of this little-understood language-based learning condition.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a condition that affects people of all ages, male and female equally, and causes them to mix up letters and words they read making what for most is a joy-filled act challenging and frustrating.

“Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, that result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia often experience difficulties with both oral and written language skills. … It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed… ”

— the International Dyslexia Foundation

There is no cure for dyslexia. Individuals with this condition must instead develop coping strategies that help them work around their condition. In education, it is not uncommon to accommodate dyslexic students with special devices, additional time, varied format approaches (such as audio or video), and others. Most prominent educational testing centers (like SAT, ACT, PARC, and SBACC) make these available for most of the tests they offer.

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What You Might Have Missed in September

Here are the most-read posts for the month of September:

  1. 21 Websites and 5 Posters to Teach Mouse Skills
  2. Teacher-Author? Me too! Let’s talk
  3. College Credit Classes in Blended Learning
  4. Great Activities for the First Week of School
  5. 20 Back-to-School Articles
  6. 12 Favorite PC Shortkeys
  7. Tech Ed Resources for your Class–Digital Citizenship

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a weekly contributor NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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College Credit Classes in Blended Learning

Through the Midwest Teachers Institute, I offer college-credit classes that teach how to blend technology with traditional lesson plans. They include all the ebooks, videos, and other resources required so you don’t spend any more than what is required to register for the class. Once you’re signed up, you prepare weekly material, chat with classmates, respond to class Discussion Boards and quizzes, and participate in a weekly video meeting. Everything is online.

Questions? Email me at

Here are the ones I’m currently offering:

mti 558Teach Writing with Tech

MTI 558

Starts October 7th

Experiment with a wide variety of available digital writing tools to help your students develop their inner writer. Understand the secrets to picking good digital writing tools while working with classmates in a hands-on and non-threatening writer’s workshop format. Resources include a blend of videos, pedagogic articles, lesson plans, projects, and virtual face-to-face meetings to share suggestions with classmates in a collaborative environment. Strategies introduced range from conventional tools such as quick writes, online websites, and visual writing to unconventional approaches such as Twitter novels, comics, and Google Earth lit trips. These can be adapted to any writing program be it 6+1 Traits, Write Source, IB, Common Core, or other popular language arts curricula.

At the completion of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Use technology to drive authentic writing activities and project-based learning.
  2. Use traditional and non-traditional technology approaches to build an understanding of good writing and nurture a love of the process.
  3. Guide students in selecting writing strategies that differentiate for task, purpose and audience.
  4. Assess student writing without discouraging creativity via easy-to-use tech tools.
  5. Provide students with effective feedback in a collaborative, sharing manner.

Be prepared for and enthusiastic about using technology tools in the writing class.

Assessment is project-based so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker. Price includes course registration and all necessary materials. To enroll, click the link, search for MTI 558 and sign up.

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Tech Ed Resources–Lesson Plans

I get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m taking a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are from members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, from tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.

Today: Lesson Plans

There are lots of bundles of lesson plans available–by theme, by software, by topic, by standard. Let me review a few:

  • bundles of 5 lesson plans–Themed; great when you want to cover a software program, a tool, a grade, or a standard. Each calls out the higher order thinking skill engaged. Pick the one that fits your need. They’re affordable, focused, and often completed in just a few class sessions.lesson plans
  • bundle of bundles–Buy three bundles of five lessons to cover a wide-range of needs.
  • STEM Lesson Plans
  • Coding Lesson Plans
  • By Grade Level
  • 30 K-5 Common Core-aligned lessons–5 per grade level
  • 110 lesson plans–integrate tech into different grades, subjects, by difficulty level, and call out higher-order thinking skills. These cover everything and are discounted this month. Check them out. They could be exactly what you need.
  • singles–for as low as $.99 each. Genius Hour, Google Apps, Khan Academy, Robotics, STEM, Coding, and more.
  • Holiday projects–16 lesson plans themed to holidays and keep students in the spirit while learning new tools.

Who needs this

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Subscriber Special: September

Every month, subscribers to our newsletter get a free/discounted resource to help their tech teaching.

September 25th-30th

Grades 2, 4, 5, and 8th student workbooks include 3 teacher manuals

enough for your entire grade-level team

Email us for the information

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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