Thursday, May 3, 2018

New Gmail Update

Maybe you heard on the news last week that there was an update to Gmail. This is the first significant update to Gmail since 2011, and it's pretty cool! To get started, all you have to do is click on the Settings cog and select "Try the New Gmail." Choose the Default view and voila! Your inbox will transform in front of your eyes!

Some of the features I personally love include the following:

  • Inline view of message attachments -- this means I don;t have to open an email to get to the attachment; I can directly open the attachment from the list of messages in my inbox.
  • Inline delete -- if there is an email I don't need, I can just move my mouse to the right edge of the message and click on the trash can to delete it.
  • Auto reply -- on some email messages, you may see some auto-reply choices: just click the response you want and then click send!
  • Calendar, Keep, and Tasks on the same page -- so handy to be able to have an email message open and right there in the same tab be able to open my calendar to add an event, Keep to make a note, or Tasks to add to my to-do list!
  • Snooze -- well, I love the IDEA of snoozing an email (essentially marking that email to come back and tug you on the metaphorical sleeve as a reminder to deal with that message); I say I love the idea because it is only available if you use Conversation View for your inbox (which I don't).
Try it out, see what you think! To help you, I found this great overview video put together by another Google for Education Certified Trainer. Watch it to see the new Gmail in action!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cool Tool Alert -- Flipgrid

I've heard a lot recently about this cool online tool called Flipgrid, so I had to check it out. I was not disappointed!

In a nutshell, Flipgrid allows students to create short videos of themselves. The interface is reminiscent of Snapchat because they can create a selfie with fun stickers or drawings. It also references Instagram in the way that students can react and respond to each others' videos. The interface is super easy for students to use -- they can create a video in literally a couple of minutes. You as the teacher have control over the visibility of the video, too. Each grid, topic, and video generates its own flip code -- no one can see the items without that flip code.

Most teachers who have raved about Flipgrid have mentioned its usefulness as a formative assessment tool. This would make a terrific exit ticket or quick check of understanding about a topic discussed in class. It could also be useful as a documentation of re-learning. Let's say a student doesn't fully understand the water cycle on an assessment. Rather than create a whole new assessment, you could meet with the student and ask him to explain the water cycle to you. But this makes some teachers nervous -- they really like to have the documentation or tangible evidence of learning. Enter Flipgrid. You could have a topic on a grid called (something clever!), "Play It Again!" where students can submit their videos explaining what they have now learned, like the water cycle. Those videos do not have to be shared publicly, and you now have the evidence you feel comfortable gathering to show that student's mastery.

Flipgrid could also be a great way to introduce kids to public speaking in a less threatening way. Have them start with a short video that only you see; provide feedback (try to speak a little louder; try to have more eye contact by looking at the camera more). Do another video that gets shared; allow student reactions and feedback.

Why not have a discussion about a character in a novel (Do you think the ending of the novel Fahrenheit 451 is happy or sad? Why?), explain a concept (What were some of the causes of the Revolutionary War?), do a demonstration (the proper way to do a push up), solve a problem (solve for x in the equation 10 - x = 6, explaining what you are doing along the way), do review (assign each student a vocabulary word to make a video about before an assessment), or facilitate discussion (Is climate change real, in your opinion?).

Want to give Flipgrid a try? If so, please share with me what you do -- I'd love to see how you use it in your classroom. Anxious to tackle it on your own? Get in touch; I'll come sit next to you and get you started!

Here are some resources for you:

Flipgrid's resources page

Step by step guide to using Flipgrid

P.S. Flipgrid works on iPads, too, and mobile phones! There's even an app!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

It's Not Easy Being 1:1

I had a grand plan to do a post this week on the cool tool Flipgrid, but at this late time (9:35 PM Wednesday night after getting home from the charity volleyball game), I got inspired instead to write a post that comes as a response of sorts to Jeremy's email today about blocking websites.

We all anticipated that being in a 1:1 environment, we would be facing kids being off task on their Chromebooks. And we were correct. I know I have talked all year long with teachers who get frustrated with kids being on their Chromebooks when they're not supposed to be, being on websites they aren't supposed to be, or playing games when they should be working (among other off-task behaviors). None of this means the kids are bad or that the access to the technology is bad. This is just an expected consequence of a connected generation having access to a technology device all day. But that isn't much comfort when we are exhausted after a day of racing around the room trying to keep kids focused on the task they should be focused on while online. It sure would be easy if we could just keep the kids off all the unnecessary, time-wasting websites. But as we all read in the email, that isn't going to happen mostly because it can't. There are millions of websites out there that the kids don't need to be on during school hours -- it would be impossible to block them all. Some teachers have inquired about monitoring software, but that has been nixed, too, since that solution can be quite costly. So that leaves us with the task of having to manage a sometimes frustrating situation.

So I'd like to offer some ideas for how to do this. I'm certainly not holding myself up as some sort of classroom management expert, but I did face this problem regularly when I taught computers. So here are some things I did and some things inspired by what I did:

  • If you can't beat 'em, give 'em what they want -- sort of. Kids always wanted to play games, so I added a page to my class website with pre-approved games they were allowed to play when they had down time. Most of them were somehow academically based (word games, math games, trivia, strategy games). They may not be Roblox or Fortnite, but they're an option. Once the kids had games they knew they could play, controlling their access to games became much more manageable.
  • Use proximity. Walk around the room often. Kids who are off task will quickly scramble to close a tab as you approach. They are good at giving themselves away like that :-) If you suspect a kid has been somewhere they don;t belong online, you are completely within your rights to grab the Chromebook and open a new tab, then right click on the tab to select "Reopen Closed Tab" to see what they scrambled to close so fast. Once kids know you will be doing this, they will be less likely to be off task because they're going to get found out.
  • Use really close proximity. If a student is consistently off task, have that student come sit right by you to do his or her work. This is an easy way to keep a close eye on the student.
  • Use direction. If you feel the problem is really rampant, for the task the kids are working on, have them rearrange their desks so all their screens are facing the same direction. Now you can stand behind them so you can see all screens at once.
  • Subtract. There is nothing wrong with having kids put their Chromebooks on a shelf somewhere in the room when they don't need them. They don;t have to remain on kids' desks where they can prove too great a temptation for some students.
  • Make the call. For kids who are frequent flyers, don't hesitate to talk with your building principal for guidance or reach out to parents to help you reinforce the message that the Chomebooks are learning tools, not toys.
Hopefully, some of these ideas will work for you and your students as we head into the last weeks of school, a time where both kids and adults find themselves easily distracted. I'd love for you to share your thoughts on this as well as any strategies you use that you'd be willing to share. I'd love to give away some more Google or Google emoji stickers to 3 more people this week :-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Let's See How Far We've Come

When I started this position in the 2013-2014 school year, we each had a laptop in our classrooms and each building had a cart of around a dozen or so iPads to share. That was a daunting year -- apps were being requested and added in a flurry. Principals were breaking their budgets paying for apps. Teachers were having to get creative with ways to schedule the iPads for their classes, and then even more creative how to use the iPads with their kids. I also came around that year and hung up blue papers in different places in all of the buildings that look like the one in this article.

Yes, I was already trying to encourage you to work on finding ways to integrate technology instead of just use it -- with a few iPads you only could get your hands on occasionally! Call me a dreamer :-)

But here we are, five years later, and look how far we've come! Back in 2013-2014, we were all starry-eyed dreamers fantasizing about teaching in a school district that was one-to-one, imagining all the amazing ways we could transform the learning experiences happening in our classrooms. And now that dream is a reality!

But it is worth doing a reality self-check on where we are individually with technology integration versus simply using technology.

How purposeful is tech use in your classroom?
Who uses technology more in your class -- you or your students?
Is technology used by the students to produce things or to learn things?
Is technology used for higher-order thinking tasks or lower-order thinking tasks (here's an idea how to check this -- can the kids Google the answers to the things they need to learn? If so, that's lower order.)?
Do kids use the available technology alone or for collaboration more?

These are just some questions to ponder, based on the concepts shared on the chart referenced in the above link.

(And just for fun, here's the music video for the song that inspired the title of my post this week.)

So, how far have you come? I challenge you to be open and honest. Technology integration doesn't happen overnight, and this is our first year being one-to-one, after all, so no one is expected to be an expert in technology integration!

Care to share? I'd love to have your comments on this post. Where are you at? What are your goals? What strides have you made? Please share -- and as an added incentive, I will hold a raffle for some fun goodies for anyone who actually COMMENTS on the post (not responds via email -- actually COMMENTS below). I just got some cool Google stickers and some Google emoji stickers, too. So my plan is to have one person from each building win their choice of Google sticker or emoji sticker simply by leaving a comment that addresses the topic of this post.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Cool Tool Alert -- with an Asterisk

My post for this week will highlight a tool that many of you might already be familiar with -- Padlet.

Think of Padlet like an interactive bulletin board. You create the board (you can even design it to look the way you want it), set a topic for the board, and then students can post on the board as well as comment and "like" each others' posts. You as the teacher have ultimate control over visibility and commenting and privacy. And to be honest, I am really oversimplifying what Padlet can do. If you want, you can check out a Padlet here. The topic for the board is ideas for using Padlet in the classroom. Feel free to look at the ideas posted there. You can also add your own and "like" the ones you think are good ideas or comment on posts. Just click the plus sign to add your own post!

If you've used Padlet before, then you've likely enjoyed the fact that you've got this great tool to use with your kids, and it is FREE -- something every teacher really, really loves! But here's the asterisk, and you know this if you saw Jeremy's retweet this week -- Padlet is only kind of free now. You are allowed up to 7 boards; once you reach 7, you're maxed out. If you want more, then you have to go to the paid version, which costs in the neighborhood of $100/year. You can delete old Padlets to be able to add a new one, but with the free version, you'll only be able to have a maximum of 7 Padlets. You can export a Padlet as a PDF if you want to keep it for your records before you delete it. In my opinion, a teacher could probably make 7 Padlets work. I think it is a really great tool, but $100 a year is a pretty hefty price tag. I understand why companies have to charge money, but sometimes when they go to a pay model, teachers seek elsewhere to find similar functionality at a cheaper (aka free) price. If they can't, then they tend to work with the limitations of a free account or they abandon the tool altogether. So I am not disparaging Padlet in any way; I am just acknowledging the tough truth that teachers have a hard time paying for some services.

So, what do you think? Is Padlet something you could see yourself using? I'd love to sit down with you and show you exactly how to use it! Share your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to share ideas for how to actually use Padlet on the Padlet above :-)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What Is #PubPD and Why You Should Participate

Perhaps you've heard me talk about #PubPD, or you've seen Tweets from Jeremy or me about #PubPD. Perhaps you've wondered what it is all about. Perhaps you haven't given it a second thought. Regardless, I'm going to share with you a little about it and hopefully inspire you to attend a #PubPD session!

I actually learned about #PubPD from Jeremy. In a nutshell, here is what #PubPD is all about:

  • It takes place once a month, usually on a Thursday near the end of the month.
  • It lasts for one hour (6-7 PM).
  • It takes place at a local pub that has wifi (currently, the local one has been at Nevin's Brewing Company on Rt. 59 in Plainfield).
  • You need a Twitter account and your phone or computer/Chromebook.
  • You join other educators from the area at your local pub to eat, drink, and chat face to face and on Twitter.
  • The Twitter chat is hosted by @MapleSyrupEDU and uses the hashtag #PubPD.
  • An education topic is chosen each month (last month it was classroom devices). Questions are posted about the topic and people respond on Twitter AFTER talking with their fellow pub pals.
If you are wondering why you should attend a #PubPD session, well, here are some ideas:
  • It is professional development that YOU choose for yourself, not something hoisted upon you by the powers that be.
  • You get to combine professional development with food and drink (you can choose to imbibe in an adult beverage or not).
  • You get to make some new friends and educational connections.
  • You get to develop your online professional network -- you will find some great people to follow on Twitter and other people will follow you, too!
  • You get to learn so many new ideas and perspectives on really timely topics in education -- things you can use immediately when you get back to school the next day.
  • You can "lurk" if you're new to Twitter chats or still learning how to participate. (Side note: my first #PubPD, I was pretty much a lurker -- I didn't say much on Twitter, did more retweets than tweets -- it was so far out of my comfort zone to attend this both in person and online!)
  • The people who attend #PubPD are friendly and helpful. They will show you how to participate in a Twitter chat. They will ask you about the questions being posted online. They will see you as a valued expert in the field. All of this will leave you feeling inspired -- I promise!
  • The participants in #PubPD are from the United States, Canada, and aroind the world so you get a really unique perspective on education topics (plus you get to see some Tweets in French -- so cool! Bonus: Charlene Doland often attends the #PubPD at Nevin's and she knows French -- so she can translate the French Tweets for you -- and she is super nice!!!!
  • #PubPD always ends with a raffle for a free ticket to an EdTech Team event anywhere in the world (caveat: you have to pay for your own airfare!) -- and I won a free ticket at my first #PubPD, and I believe that two other Channahon teachers have also won!
I believe the next #PubPD is happening on March 29, which is our spring break. I won't be at Nevin's since I will be on vacation, but if I am able, I am planning to join in via Twitter while sitting on the beach at Shaggy's in Biloxi, MS. Watch Twitter for the announcement and link to RSVP to the next #PubPD!

Hope to see you at a future event!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Authentic Learning Opportunities

One of the stickers/badges that are available for teachers here in CSD 17 is the "Authentic Learning Author" sticker. In my opinion, this is one of the easiest and most valuable stickers you can slap on your computer!

A common frustration shared by teachers is that assignments don't get completed by students. Students would likely counter with an explanation that their assignment are dumb. When I translate that, I think that means that the kids have a hard time seeing the value in what they are being asked to do. We see the value and importance, but the kids sometimes struggle with that. An easy way to remedy this is to give kids an authentic learning experience. Authentic learning happens when a connection is created between what students learn in school and the real world (here's an interesting overview of authentic learning). Here are some ways to do that. Hopefully they inspire you to come up with ways that fit in your class! (Or reach out to your friendly Instructional Technology Resource Teacher to help develop an idea!)

Reading a Novel or Short Story

  • Have students write letters to the author.
  • Have students write Tweets to the author; Tweet them from your teacher account or from a class account.
  • Organize a Skype session or Google Hangout with the author.
  • Have students create a podcast about the book.
  • Have students create an e-book for younger kids based on the novel/story you read then share it with other classes in the district.
Social Studies
  • Find pen pals (written, email, or video) for your students.
  • Skype or Google Hangouts with classes from other parts of the country or the world.
  • Have students bring in photos or videos from places they have visited that are also being studied in class.
  • Have students create their own science projects, bring in local experts to assist and answer questions, then host an expo for the school and/or the community.
  • Have students take pictures or videos of things they are studying in class (ex. different kinds of trees/plants/rocks/animals).
Physical Education/Art/Music
  • Have students create how-to videos and post them on your YouTube channel (ex. how to do different kinds of push ups, how to use different kinds of paint brushes, how to properly hold a violin and bow).
  • Allow students to create their own expo (art, exercise routine, music, singing) and invite the school or community.
  • Find local opportunities for students to put their math skills into practice (ex. suggestions for how the park district can budget their money to improve local parks/playgrounds).
  • Have students assist with planning a school event (ex. planning the Dream lab expo: how to set up the room incorporates geometry, budgeting money for refreshments or setting a schedule of events involves computation).
  • Have students collect and analyze data from a school event (ex. Family Fun Night at Pioneer Path -- how many people attended? How many were parents/students at Pioneer Path/students at another CSD school? How many people attended each event? Which were the most popular/least attended?). This data can be graphed and then converted/manipulated (What percentage of attendees were kids? Rank order the events from most well attended to least attended. Have students share this data at a school board meeting.)
Authentic learning experiences can be created by you, the teacher, for the kids. Knowing their work is being seen by someone other than their teacher amps up the engagement in the work. Kids are also less likely to blow it off because they know someone is waiting for that information from them. Want to really kick up that authentic learning a notch? Let the kids generate their own ideas (much like happens in the Dream Lab at the junior high) and you act as a facilitator. Scary but rewarding when you see what the kids can do (much like what happened the one year my 8th graders got fired up after reading Fahrenheit 451 and organized a fundraising effort to create a library in a school in Nepal through Room to Read).

Have you created any authentic learning experiences for your kids? Be sure to share them in the comments! Thus is a great way to inspire other teachers (and to let me know that you need the Authentic Learning Author sticker!).