Frequently Asked Questions

How can I use the program?

Morning Check-In and the other SEL surveys and journaling apps are currently free to classroom teachers K-8. Sign up using the form on the bottom of the first tab. Specify the number of students in your class and the title you choose for your classroom website. You will receive a set of login links and an onboarding video that shows how to get everybody started in under 5 minutes.

Who created it?

These apps were created by an informal group of elementary school teachers in Massachusetts, Vermont, Minnesota, and Indiana, plus an Assistive Technology Specialist, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley Teaching and Learning Lab, and a software developer.  


What's our mission?

Writing is a major cause of anxiety for many students. Our mission is to relieve the pressure on every child who is overwhelmed by fear of being judged, or feels inadequate when asked to think of ideas, or could benefit from extra supports. Topical Storm is AI-based software that gently welcomes students into the writing process and makes it stress-free and fun. One student said: "Topical Storm is like writing with a friend."

The pandemic has made us all more aware of how important it is to address students' emotional needs before trying to teach them academics. Therefore we have spent the past year developing SEL-based journaling lessons and surveys that help students express their emotions. Data from the apps is turned into reports that show you what your class is thinking and feeling. 

How does this software benefit students and teachers?

For students, it provides a brainstorming and organizing aid that relieves the pressure of the blank page and reinforces critical thinking. For teachers, it lets the entire class write independently at once, freeing the teacher to focus on those students who need the most assistance.

How is it different from other writing software?

The difference is its interactive nature. The software simulates a one-on-one session with each student by asking a sequence of questions about the writing assignment: “Why? Give an example. What else? Why do you trust or not trust this source?”. The questions adapt to the student's individual answers, focus on their interests, and encourage them to think more deeply about their ideas. The software then organizes the student's answers to fit the chosen writing genre. It models the process of building a well-structured essay.

How is it different from other SEL software?

The SEL journaling apps teach skills by working through the student's own specific concerns.

Where has it been used?

It's been tested in over 30 classrooms Grades 3-6 in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Minnesota.

How do you protect student privacy?

Our software does not ask for any student or teacher information and does not read any information from school systems. You assign a number to each student; only you know who the numbers refer to. We protect student essays, survey data, and rubric scores on a secure server and abide by all FERPA laws regarding student work and other identifiable information. We belong to the Education Cooperative's Massachusetts Student Data Privacy Alliance (SDPA) and sign individual privacy agreements with school districts. You can view our Privacy Policy here.

What devices does it run on?

Topical Storm runs on Chromebooks and laptops using the Chrome browser. It has not been developed for iPads.

What extra supports does it provide for struggling students?

The teacher dashboard shows you how actively each student is working, so you know when a student is “stuck” doing an assignment. You can send comments silently to individual students without calling attention to them in class. Additional supports include follow-up questions, sentence starters, and an "I don't know" button that provides hints when using certain apps. You can turn on dictation and text to speech to make writing into a conversation for those who find text challenging, and to let students hear their work read aloud. You can give individual students access to use specific languages via Google Translate.

Can I create my own surveys?

Email us if you would like to be able to create your own surveys. We also welcome your suggestions for custom surveys and writing lessons. 

Copyright (c) 2022 by Steve Herbst. All rights reserved.