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You Have to Start Using Canvas Next Week

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A Teacher’s Nightmare

You have just spent the entire summer thinking about how you are going to teach your seventh grade science class in September. Periodically you go online to find some new lesson ideas as you are always looking for new ways to engage your students. Over the past school year you used Google Classroom as the instructional platform for students. It was fairly intuitive for both yourself and the students. Two weeks before the school year was to start, you receive an email informing you that your school is now going to be using Canvas as a learning management system. “I don’t know anything about Canvas!” you scream silently in your head as to not interrupt your sleeping family. “This can’t be. I spent the summer putting together my Google Classroom. Why? Why? Why?”

Reality sinks in as you return to school for the usual pre-service days. Your school district has been kind enough to provide a three hour session on how to use Canvas. There are plenty of grumblings. “I have been using Classroom for the past 6 years!” states one frustrated teacher. “I am going to quit!” states another. The nightmare is real.

What’s Next?

This scenario took place all over the nation over the past two months. If this was you, I am truly sorry you have been put in this position. I have been there. But in true teacher fashion, we strap on our boots, helmets, and armor and head into battle. What is the plan or is there one? I think for most teachers we now have become quite expectant of the unexpected and not knowing what will take place over the next year, let alone weeks. The pandemic has assuredly put us in this situation.

Let’s Start Here

You now are ready to set up your Canvas course. What to do first? I begin with the concept that this course needs to focus on student navigation. After all I don’t want the students to be asking me every day where content is. Yes, this will happen invariably especially among middle schooler. I know I taught middle school for 25 plus years. On Canvas or any course for that matter using an LMS you want to limit the number of opportunities for students to take the wrong path to a minimum. Take a look at the home page of my course below. There are only three options for students and that is done to limit the confusion.

Canvas Course Home Page

Canvas Course Home Page

Cluttered Canvas Course Home Page Notice the sidebar


I prefer to set up my courses in modules so that students can navigate easily. Modules can be set up so that students must complete a particular group of assignments first before proceeding or allowing them to access them at anytime including going back to complete missed work. Since I met with my students twice a week, I set up the module by week during the semester with each assignment. Ideally I would have also included the day of the week in the title, but with a block schedule I assumed that students would know which assignment corresponded to the day. See the image below of the modules.

Modules by week and day from a Canvas course


As you can see from the image above the assignments have clear titles with point totals if there was a point total assigned. I created categories of assignments for weighting purposes as our grades were broken down by specific categories. Obviously if you do straight up grading by points this is not necessary.

One thing about assignments though, students access content at all hours of the day, especially if they are older. That being said make sure you set your assignments due date at the end of the day. In this day and age so many of our students are dealing with factors that affect their daily education and need to have 24/7 access to their work. If not this becomes an access issue which can be quite troublesome.

It Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

The information above is just the tip of the iceberg, but it is enough to get one started on setting up their course. Make use of YouTube and other resources as educators are always willing to share freely. There are different groups on Facebook, as well that are great resources such as Google Educators, Teachers Using Canvas, and more. Yes, I did say Facebook. Twitter groups such as #canvaslms is also a great resource. All of this takes time, but know that you are not alone and there is help.

My next post will include more resources and information about course design. Stay safe, sane and healthy.

Photo by Todd Trapani on

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