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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 a title for your classroom website. We'll email you a setup link 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?

As a writing tool, it provides students with a brainstorming and organizing aid that relieves the pressure of the blank page and teaches them how to connect ideas. As a survey tool, it lets students express themselves to their teacher.


Teachers can let their entire class write independently while being able to communicate silently with any student who is "stuck". The surveys and SEL journaling apps generate detailed data about students' feelings and choices. 

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 that adapt to genre and the student's interests: “Why? Give an example. How does this evidence support the claim? Why do you trust or not trust this source?”. The questions encourage students to think more deeply about their own ideas. The software then shows students how to organize their ideas into well-structured essays.

How is it different from other SEL software?

Rather than demonstrate SEL principles using fictional examples, it leads students through strategies for coping with their own specific problems.

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?

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) 2023 by Steve Herbst. All rights reserved.

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