Category Archives: Moodle

Invest in…

“I wasn’t always a fan, but I’m a convert now.”

That was a quote from one of our county people about Moodle. See, this person was big on BlackBoard. After all, BlackBoard was offering great prices. The county was comparing BlackBoard to Moodle and BlackBoard was “prettier” at the time. (And I would agree, BlackBoard was a bit prettier then, but I had some other usability issues with it at that time.) So the county pushed local districts to adopt BlackBoard.

Anyway, the county always thought that we were the odd balls. We liked Moodle. We worked to make it more user friendly. (In fact, I was able to do some contract work to make another Moodle more user friendly. Those teachers were blown away by the changes that I thought were pretty simple and obvious.)

See, I’ve always proposed that you are investing in something. You are investing your time, your energy, your efforts, your thoughts, your money and more. The question for me has always been are you investing in yourself or in someone else. Now to be clear, it is necessary to invest in others. There is no way that you can do everything your self. However, for really important things, I generally prefer to invest in us. I consider lesson delivery pretty important. So I invested in us.

A few years later, at least one of our county people agrees. BlackBoard pulled the great funding rates and suddenly districts were faced with significant costs if they wanted to continue using BlackBoard. Most districts couldn’t take on that kind of cost. We stayed the course with Moodle and have continued to develop our skills. Chris Kenniburg has grown from being an excellent Moodle Administrator to developing Moodle plugins. Great things can be done if you are an excellent Moodle Administrator, but even more control can be had by developing your own plugins and themes. (Seriously, check out the Fordson Theme and Easy Enrolment, these focus Moodle on the K-12 environment).

Teachers face a similar situation with the various tech tools out there. Many teachers follow the “fun, shiny” of a wide variety of apps, sites and more. Much time is spent learning how to certain things, training students, etc. This is an investment in someone else. Some teachers will invest in themselves by learning a great tool and becoming an expert at that. Moodle provides such a vast range of tools and learning opportunities. It is open source. And if you fortunate enough to have(or persistent enough to demand) a Moodle Administrator that cares and will put the effort into making Moodle work for your environment, you can count on a fantastic learning environment for your students.

You are always making an investment. Be sure to know who you are investing in and why.

Moodle Update

Well, I just upgraded to Moodle 3.3. I’ve played around with it a bit (we have it installed at work, so I get to experience it there). There is always just a bit of trepidation when doing the upgrade. However, I’ve got the process down pretty much now:

  • Download the latest version of Moodle.
  • Log into CPanel on the web site.
  • Change the name of the current installation to something else.
  • Upload the .zip file that was downloaded in step 1.
  • Extract the .zip file.
  • Move the config.php file to the new folder.
  • upgrade PHP (it really is supposed to be at the latest version, but I always end up updating PHP).
  • Log into the moodle course and complete the upgrade.
  • Change all the settings. I’ve also installed the Fordson Theme developed by the wonderful Chris Kenniburg.

Chris has done some great work with developing a them that is user friendly and makes commonly used selections much more “discoverable”. Here is a quick video on the previous version of Fordson. The newer version is even better for users.

This has been one of the smoothest upgrades yet. I’m not sure if that is because I’m becoming more experienced, or if the process is getting better.

However, I’m excited about what the newest version brings. This version brings some user centered features that can help students and teachers. (I think that the Fordson Theme really helps that tremendously. Without the Fordson Theme, some of the settings seemed a bit hidden for me. I’m guessing that that is a because I previously knew where to find everything, but some things seem like there was still a click or two too many. With the Fordson Theme, everything is “right there” for both the student and the teacher.

Anyway, now I need to spend some time adding some pizzazz to the courses – things like Header images (or maybe animated GIF’s), course images and more.

Finding your work

Whenever we do work, we never know what or where it will impact people. I was reminded of this once again when I discovered that some work that I did for ATEP was featured on Moodle News. Since the title of the post is “Download This Course on Using Moodle”, I’m going to go ahead and presume that there is some support there (it is even referred to as a “quality walk through”).

This is a course that I developed specifically for the ATEP program (which was funded by a National Science Foundation Grant).

It’s these odd times when you realize that the work that you do can go beyond what you know. I know that I worked with some wonderful teachers who developed the material for the ATEP site. I know that positive feedback that I received when working directly with them. The lead investigators were very positive about my contributions. They provided some wonderful feedback.

But I thought that was pretty much the end. Once more, though, I’ve been presented with an opportunity to remember that you don’t always know how, why or with whom that you make a difference.

But sometimes, you are lucky enough to find out.

Moodle and Wiris

We have been using Wiris in our Moodle installation to help teachers and students deal with math and science equations. In a perfect world, everyone would use LaTeX (which is the standard for math notation in writing). (Actually, in a perfect world, math and science notation would be easily integrated into writing and page layout). However, LaTeX is complex and involves a fair bit of a learning curve. Most teachers aren’t going to learn the ins and outs of LaTeX, and certainly, students aren’t going to master LaTeX as they are learning math. Neither one of them should have to do so.

Enter Wiris. Wiris allows the user to use visual buttons and prompts to easily create math and science notations and equations. Wiris essentially adds a visual way to easily create math formulas. It looks like this:

*Note that Wiris uses LaTeX for the actual formatting.

We’ve created a variety of sample math problems for students to practice their math skills. These math problems are presented in a random order. Additionally, the students can check their answers immediately. The goal is not for summative evaluation; rather, the goal is for students to practice and hone their math skills. As part of checking their answer, the students get specific feedback on what is correct or not. The teachers used Wiris to provide some of that specific feedback. That turned into a problem. Some of the questions didn’t use the Wiris editor in the question, just in the feedback. That would cause some programming issues with Moodle.

So, we reached out the Wiris people. We provided feedback. The feedback included screenshots and detailed descriptions of the conditions where we were seeing problems. I’m happy to report the Wiris people have issued an update which fixes the issues that we saw.

Lesson learned? Reach out to the developers of tools that are useful. Provide them with specific, detailed descriptions of the issue. The good developers will be responsive. Who knows, you may even help solve a problem so that the next user never even knows that the problem used to exist. They will just find joy in a tool that works wonderfully well for them.


As a principal, I used to meet with students and parents regularly. Frequently, those meetings were held because a student wasn’t doing as well as was possible. The subject of studying would inevitably be discussed. Generally, the student would study by reading and then reading some more. While this may work for some students, much more is generally needed.

Research shows us that students need to do much more to study. There are some really nice posters that communicate this over at The Learning Scientists Poster page.

These posters specify six different strategies:

These are strategies that all students should know and have be able to use. Not all of these strategies will be used all of the time, but students should know them and know how to use them.

I’ve shared this with others. One of my wonderful Tech Coaches, did a write up on how he used Moodle while in the classroom to provide students with retrieval practice. He is an excellent teacher. His write up is titled “Practice is Best”. Do yourself a favor and go read it.

He discusses how Moodle can provide teachers with a wonderful way to help guide students and provide them retrieval practice.

My experiment produced extremely favorable results. Test averages jumped. Anxiety levels on the day of the test seemed to plunge. And the two probably had an effect on each other.

Sometimes, it is necessary to review what we do as teachers. It’s also important to look at how we do. Take a look at the studying strategies. Maybe you’ll want to invest a bit in yourself and learn how Moodle can help your students study more effectively.

  • Bonus hint: what if students created the quizzes (along with why an answer was wrong)?

Biology Materials

I’ve been fortunate to work with some really excellent educators. These fine teachers have developed materials that were piloted with students this last year. The materials are now being made available for free to any teacher who wants to use them.

The first materials available are the Biology modules. These are high quality biology resources that a teacher could use, or adapt for use, in their very own classroom. The materials are all being made available through a Moodle site.

ATEP (Articulated Technological Educational Pathways) Project was the result of a National Science Foundation Grant. The group put together resources for Biology, ICT (Information and Communication Technology), and MMT (Modeling and Manufacturing Technology).

(In case you are interested, my part of the project was to upgrade the “look and feel” of the Moodle site that ATEP was using. I also did some training on using Moodle. That training included developing resources to help instructors use Moodle as well as providing guidance on how to structure material within Moodle. However, the implementation presented for public use and consumption is decidedly “plain vanilla”. This was intentionally done to make sure that users didn’t need to have special themes or plug-ins installed).

Please head over to the ATEP site and check out the resources. All of the courses are available for download and installation into your very own Moodle instance.

Start with the Biology Course. Biology has two modules (A & B). Module A includes the following sections:

  • An Introduction
  • The Design Process
  • What is Biotechnology
  • Biology Review
  • Biomanufacturing: The Story of Insulin
  • The Effects of Insulin
  • Biomanufacturing
  • Protein Purification
  • Solving the Insulin Problem
  • Bioreactor Training
  • Product Redesign and Maximizing Product Production

There are exclusive teacher resources in each of the sections.

You can register for the site with an email. (This is done solely to provide a way to download the materials. Emails are not being collected for use in any other way).

There is a “Download Course” which has links to the files to download so that you can install the courses on your own Moodle site.)

Frayer Model

Well, the wonderful people that I work with have done it again. This time, they’ve rolled out the Frayer Model in Moodle. Once again, the Database activity forms the base for this work.  The students can then enter relevant information (Concept, Definition, Image, Example, and Non-Example) to create a Frayer model.

Here are the fields for the student to complete:


Students enter all of the required fields (those with a * ). Once they do, a Frayer Model will be created for them.


When the student places a mouse over one of the fields, the information is brought forward.



Since this is a Database activity, the work that students do can be shared with the entire class (or not). If you want all students to share, simply leave Approval set to “No” (in the Entries section). Conversely, if you want each student to only see their own work, set “Approval required” to “Yes” (and don’t approve anything).


Here is Mr. Chris Kenniburg explaining the process.

5 Ways for your students to say “Hi” in Moodle

Having your students introduce themselves can be a powerful and useful activities. Whether your class meets in person or just online, Moodle can help your students introduce themselves to you or to the entire class.

Teachers can use any to the modules below to find out more about their students. Which module you pick is dependent upon what you want and how you want to know that. Some questions to consider:

  1. Do you want all of the students to see the information?
  2. Do you want to guide students by having a form or do you want them to follow directions?
  3. Do you have a comfort level with using a specific module?


This one is probably my favorite way for students to introduce themselves. Set up a Glossary, and then let the students add in information. Each student would enter their own name as the “term” and then whatever information that you want as the definition.

Important Notes:
  • Easy to set up
  • Easy for students to enter their information
  • Can be used with the Random Glossary Block to display a student name for other students in the “side bar”
  • No automatic grading (but can be graded)
  • All students can include pictures
  • Entries can be approved by the teacher before the other students can see them


This allows the teacher to set up a “form” for the students to fill out. The database is viewable by all students.

Important Notes:
  • Allows for multiple types of information (such as checkboxes, pictures) to be collected.
  • Checkboxes means that specific information can be gathered. May be especially useful for lower grades.
  • Easy for students to enter their information
  • A bit more work for the teacher to set up
  • No automatic grading (but can be graded)
  • All students can include pictures
  • Entries can be approved by the teacher before the other students can see them


The Forum module allows the teacher to set up a forum in which each student would create a post. The post can have a variety of information in it. However, it is more limited than the Glossary or Database.

Important Notes:
  • Easy to set up
  • Each student can reply specifically to other students
  • Can be graded
  • Each student gets a separate line


Many teachers are comfortable with the Assignment module. Unlike the Glossary and Database modules, the Assignment module will only be viewable by the teacher.

Important Notes:
  • Easy to set up
  • Limited to teacher viewing the information
  • Private between each student and the teacher


Like the Assignment module above, the Quiz module would be limited to collection of information about students. Only the teacher will see all of the responses. The advantage of the Quiz module is that the teacher can create a template for the student to complete.

Important Notes:
  • Many teachers are comfortable with creating a Quiz
  • Limited to teacher viewing the information
  • Private between each student and the teacher

The Top 25 Tools…You won’t believe #4

Below you will find a list of the top 50 tools that you can use in your classroom. You won’t believe how incredibly powerful number 4 is. Number 4 can completely change your classroom.

25 Moodle
24 Moodle
23 Moodle
22 Moodle
21 Moodle
20 Moodle
19 Moodle
18 Moodle
17 Moodle
16 Moodle
15 Moodle
14 Moodle
13 Moodle
12 Moodle
11 Moodle
10 Moodle
9 Moodle
8 Moodle
7 Moodle
6 Moodle
5 Moodle
4 Moodle
3 Moodle
2 Moodle
1 Moodle


Now, if this was a real Buzzfeed article, you would’ve had to click through lots of pages to see each tool. But here’s the thing, instead of playing around with 25 different tools, learn one that will truly help your students. Moodle can do exactly that. Moodle can help allow for specific, timely feedback. Moodle can allow students to time shift their learning. Teachers can provide students with experiences that students can review and reuse.

I certainly understand the fascination with new tools. I’ve sat through my share of 60 tools in 60 minutes presentations. I’ve played around with lots of different tools. But, it really comes down to the classroom. It comes down to the students. The students don’t need new tools to play around with. They need tools and experiences that will help them learn and grow. Moodle will do exactly that.

So take some time to invest in yourself and your students. Learn some Moodle today.

Moodle FlashCard Update

DB Ideas: Moodle FlashCards 2016-04-28 21-00-59

Moodle FlashCards are wonderfully useful. In doing some additional work, it became clear that it is preferential for the FlashCards to open in “Single view” mode. Indeed, I received a request with that particular feature. Essentially, doing so means that the FlashCards would open with the view of a single FlashCard. FlashCards are built off the Database activity within Moodle. By default, Database activities open in the List view.

So, how to change the default behavior in the Database activity to present a FlashCard straight away? I turned to the forums and William Lu came up with a terrific answer. He suggested that we move the actual FlashCard activity to an unseen Topic. For example, if you are displaying ten topics, move the activity to Topic 11. Then open the FlashCard activity and click on “Single view”. Now copy the URL. Then, go back to the section where you want the students to see the FlashCards. Create a new resource of the URL type. Paste in the URL that you copied from the FlashCard single view. A perfectly wonderful work around.

I’m lucky enough to know some other really smart people too. One of the worked up a couple of adjustments to the Templates. There are two Templates that you need to adjust.

First of all, you need to create a class to call. Copy and paste the code below into the List view template:

Templates | List template (Click on Disable Editor button) | Repeated entry box paste this code (replacing what is currently in the box):

<table width=”100%” class=”fc-list-item”>

<tbody><tr class=””>

<td valign=”top” align=”left” width=”175px”>##delcheck## Question: <br>&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; ##edit## ##more## ##delete## ##approve## ##disapprove##


<td valign=”top” align=”left”>[[Question]][[Picture]]</td>





(The real difference here is on line one with the addition of class=…)

Next, replace the Javascript template code with the code below:

document.addEventListener(“DOMContentLoaded”, function(e) {

var redirect =‘redirect=false’) == -1;

var fc_list_items = xpath(‘//*[@class=”fc-list-item”]’);

if (fc_list_items.length != 0 && redirect) {

location.href = location.href + ‘&mode=single’;


var view_list_btn = xpath(‘//*[@title=”View list”]’);

if (view_list_btn.length != 0) {

view_list_btn[0].href = view_list_btn[0].href + ‘&redirect=false’;


var fc_btn_container = document.getElementsByClassName(‘button-container’)[0];

/ Add a random card button /

var fc_paging = xpath(‘(//*[@class=”paging”])[1]/a[not(contains(@class,”previous”) or contains(@class, “next”))]’);

if (fc_paging.length != 0) {

var fc_rand_btn = document.createElement(‘div’);

fc_rand_btn.setAttribute(‘class’, ‘btn-togglecard’);

var fc_rand_btn_h1 = document.createElement(‘h1’);

fc_rand_btn_h1.innerHTML = ‘Random Card’;



fc_rand_btn.addEventListener(‘click’, function(e) {


var fc_rand = Math.floor((Math.random() * fc_paging.length));

location.href = fc_paging[fc_rand].href + ‘#region-main’;

return false;



/ Add a previous card button /

var fc_paging_prev = xpath(‘(//*[@class=”paging”]/a[@class=”previous”])[1]’);

if (fc_paging_prev.length != 0) {

var fc_prev_btn = document.createElement(‘div’);

fc_prev_btn.setAttribute(‘class’, ‘btn-togglecard’);

var fc_prev_btn_h1 = document.createElement(‘h1’);

fc_prev_btn_h1.innerHTML = ‘Previous Card’;



fc_prev_btn.addEventListener(‘click’, function(e) {


location.href = fc_paging_prev[0].href + ‘#region-main’;

return false;



/ Add a next card button /

var fc_paging_next = xpath(‘(//*[@class=”paging”]/a[@class=”next”])[1]’);

if (fc_paging_next.length != 0) {

var fc_next_btn = document.createElement(‘div’);

fc_next_btn.setAttribute(‘class’, ‘btn-togglecard’);

var fc_next_btn_h1 = document.createElement(‘h1’);

fc_next_btn_h1.innerHTML = ‘Next Card’;



fc_next_btn.addEventListener(‘click’, function(e) {


location.href = fc_paging_next[0].href + ‘#region-main’;

return false;




var xpath = function(path){

var result = [];

var nodesSnapshot = document.evaluate(path, document, null, XPathResult.ORDERED_NODE_SNAPSHOT_TYPE, null );

for ( var i=0 ; i < nodesSnapshot.snapshotLength; i++ ){

result.push( nodesSnapshot.snapshotItem(i) );


return result;


That’s it. Those two changes will make is so that when you open the FlashCard activity (or, more importantly, when your students open the activity), a single FlashCard will be presented. *Please note that it is expected that the List view will briefly show before switching to the Single view.

Either method will produce the same result.

Note that the “hide the activity” and link the URL is a great trick to have in your back pocket. This trick could be used in other places and certainly with other Database activities. I love the Moodle community and their willingness to share.

If you are using the FlashCard activity, I’d love to hear from you.

The link below is a FlashCard zip file. Download and have fun.