Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Automate Your Reflections With Google Forms And Keep

It's hard make new routines. In college, I used to type new ideas and print them in 60-point font before taping them to the wall. Looking at the large fonts everyday caught my attention until I successfully made the "post" part of my routine.

These days, I use Google Keep to jot down what I think are good ideas. This seemed like it had a lot of potential, but it wasn't as good as the paper posts on the wall of my college apartment. Something was missing. The messages weren't in my face like the paper posts.

The solution hit me when my wife, who preferred her paper calendar to the Google calendar, asked me what she could do to make the digital calendar more routine. I suggested setting reminders in Keep.

That's when the Keep reminder light bulb went off in my head. Why didn't I think of that before? Like the paper posts that I took down after the idea became routine, I delete the reminder when I can see the Keep post in my routine. It's often the simplest solution that changes our lives.

Here's what I did to remind myself to reflect on what happens every week. Classroom or not, this is a great way to work any learning routine into your work flow. 

1. Make a Form (or a link to whatever you use).

My students use a Google Doc to write weekly reflections, but I chose a form for myself because I wanted the time stamp collected automatically. Plus, I wanted to try something new to see if it works better.

2. Paste the form link into the note.

What's great about pasting the form link into the Keep note is that the reminder appears as a notification on my phone and reflecting is just two quick touches away.

3. Set the reminder to repeat as frequent as you want.

The reminder can be set for a specific time, and the frequency can be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or custom. I set the time for the end of the week when the ideas are fresh. The best time for me is 4:00 because it's usually a time when no one needs me for anything else. 

BONUS Reminder Idea

Upload photos from your phone to a Google Drive folder (include the folder link). I should probably do this monthly, maybe on a Sunday.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

5 Reasons Textbooks Will Not Survive

I have nothing against books, even textbooks. In fact, I am convinced that it's plausible for a teacher to set up a course to follow a textbook and prepare kids for the 21st Century. But that is no small task with a class full of kids wired for a connected world, and there are very few teachers up for it.

Once upon a time, pen and paper were the way we recorded everything. Business ledgers, journals, work schedules, and gradebooks, to name a few, were all done with paper. It was a different time. Some say it was better. The fact of the matter is that we are never going back to that. Like it or not, we will always be moving in the direction digital technology takes us.

Textbooks will not survive the 21st Century. I don't even think they'll survive the next five years. And the attempt that textbook companies are making in the direction of online resources is deplorable. I know teachers who have made better sites in their free time.

From my perspective, the end of textbooks is quite clear. To reflect on why this will happen, I've made a list of reasons.

1. Cost

Textbooks cost too much money, especially when everything you'll find in a textbook can be found online for free. And don't start with me about how untrustworthy Wikipedia can be – it's more accurate than Britannica and larger than the Yongle encyclopedia. 

Plus, there are so many free resources created by experts for the purpose of providing information to the average person. In many cases, these sites are designed with students and teachers in mind. Why not use them?  

2. Environmental

Chromebooks require electricity and will one day end up in an waste recycling facility – if not off the West coast of Africa. But if you add up the carbon footprint of learning with paper versus digital devices connected to the Internet, you'll find that the paper has a higher environmental cost. Remember, recycling requires lots of fossil fuels, and copiers use energy. I could keep going with factors, but I think you get it. 

Think about the fact that a textbook is only one book. A device connected to the Internet is so much more than even a library of books. The World Wide Web is so vast that the most popular search engine was named Google. Can't remember what a google is? Google it! The amount of books needed to keep pace with the Internet is unfathomable and certainly bad for the environment.  

3. Relevance

We do not access information in the same ways anymore. Sure, while you read through this list, someone is sitting at a table in a library with a book. But most of the connected world will search the Web for information when a question comes to mind.

The days of the mother's myth are gone. Kids can find information on their own, which is exactly why educational institutions need to support them. Speaking of myth's, kids are not tech savvy. They don't know this stuff. They don't know what SQL, https, or HTML5 stand for. Most search engine users don't even know how to conduct an effective search.

4. Proximity 

Too many clicks. My students hate it when a resource isn't just a few clicks away, never mind having to go to a library or carry books to school. 

I try to make it so my students are no more than two clicks to content. Online textbooks, however, are a mess. Most of the online textbooks are three to four clicks to content, and the newer platforms are not trustworthy when it comes to digital assignments. 

We have Google Drive and many amazing LMS platforms, so there's no need for online textbook assignments with software made by a book company struggling to survive the last days of its existence.

5. Makers

Matt Miller wrote Ditch That Textbook. I loved idea when I first started perusing his website, which is full of solutions for classrooms. For example, Matt shares links to Google Drawing templates among other things. I particularly like his ideas about how to use Google Slides in different ways. The vibe is very much about promoting student-created materials versus completing a worksheet.

We like to make stuff. With all of the online word, image, and information processing tools in the Google Apps Suite, why would we use textbooks? We can make our own books with classrooms across the hall, or even the World.

After all, we are trying to prepare the youth for a world that doesn't exist. They'll need the skills to make things – solutions to problems placed before them or, better yet, problems they found on their own. 

Bottom line: Why would we set up conditions for learning that do not relate much to ways people learn and work outside educational institutions? Textbooks do too little, too late for this issue.

I've tried to continue to find value in textbooks, but it's a tougher and tougher argument to sell. So I'm done. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Reasons Teachers Will Love DocentEdu

It seems that every school year brings updates to the tools we already use and new ones that grab our attention for one reason or another. For me, this year's new tool is DocentEdu.

I'm a firm believer in technology that saves teachers time and facilitates the learning process. Here's some of the ways DocentEdu does all of the above.

1. Quizzes

After all the excitement of a new tool wears off, the real integration takes shape. It often points to effective learning strategies, such as checking for understanding. At it's core, DocentEdu has made a tool for guided reading that allows teachers to spend time writing good questions, not fumbling over technology by over managing digital resources.

Better yet, the multiple choice questions are scored automatically and allow students to try again for partial credit. I wouldn't use this for a summative grade, but it's great for instant feedback.

2. Discussion

Some of the best learning happens through discussion. Let's say you find a website that presents problems with many plausible solutions. Why not insert a discussion and keep a record of student participation and evidence of mastery?

3. Embed Video

This is how I found DocentEdu – I wanted to embed a video in a Google Doc. As it turns out, you can make a docent out of a published doc and embed videos into them or almost any webpage. I haven't found a site in which it hasn't worked.

4. Feedback

Although I'm told that specific feedback is on the future features list, I still like the ability to easily adjust the point values of questions. What's more, the multiple-choice questions grade automatically. This means students know how they did on their assignment right away. For the few homework assignments that I require, immediate feedback is crucial – kids these days are used to getting answers right away.

5. Download CSV

I like having the ability to look for patterns in student performance. By providing a CSV file of the student scores, teachers are free to convert the file to whatever software they use. 

Whether it's Mocrsoft, Google, or uploading straight to a gradebook, a CSV file is a must have for looking at long term achievement – sans tedious data entry.

6. Classroom Integration

This was so easy. Want to add all of your students? If you use Google Classroom it's instantaneous. A few clicks and DocentEdu sets up access to all of your classes. 

Also, to assign a docent activity, the option to assign via Classroom is one click. You don't have to open Classroom to do it. And like I've said in the past, anything that saves me time is my friend. 

7. Embed Quizlet

You can embed all kinds of things. I like embedding Quizlet decks into a docent because it keeps my students on the same browser tab. That's huge for classroom management in the 21st Century. One activity. One link. 

8. Google Docs

If you publish a Google Doc, it will give you the opportunity to use the helpful tools of DcentEdu. Add a video from YouTube, a slide presentation, and some questions to a reading you are about to assign, and students won't have to go to four different places. 

9. Annotations 

Docent tools are also available for students. Just as teachers can add notes to an assigned docent, students can highlight text and leave notes, too. 

10. Insert URL

Keeping students within one resource is what I love about DocentEdu, but sometimes they need to go somewhere else. Add hyperlinks within the activity to ensure students go to the right site. This tool could be used for web quests, as well.

For info on DocentEdu, visit the site to explore the great resources created with teaching and learning in mind.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What I'm Doing Differently With EdTech This Year

Every year brings new students and new challenges. For educators who reflect on their practices, the challenges often come from adjusting teaching and learning to better support their students. 

Since technology facilitates a lot of what I do, I find it important to summarize how I'm using tools in new ways, as well as tools that are new to me. It keeps my approaches organized and focused as to not become too distracted by the glitter of gadgets.

1. Classroom

I'm staying organized more so than ever before with the introduction of three features – post links, topics, and move to top. Topics is new this school year, I'm not sure when links was released, and move to top was definitely available last year.

Even in the first two weeks of school, I've established a set of topics (Weekly Agenda, Technology, [assignments by unit], Review, etc.). Email a student the post link, and there's little room for them to waste time looking for the information they need to be successful.

2. Google Forms

The new features on Forms are really cool, especially the ability to make quizzes with answer keys. The GIFF below shows the basic steps to get you started. 

3. Hyper Docs 

I've been making hyperdocs for years. This year, I'm teaching my students the efficiency of hyperdocs to expand their presentation and organization concepts.

My latest hyperdocs have including experimentation with slide links in Google Slides. Instead of making a slide presentation that moving linear, from slide to slide, why not embed links in a graphic organizer or map, to name a couple examples?

4. More Choices

One thing that new technology affords is choice. I love it when student ask if they can use a tool that they used in another class instead of the one I suggest. 

My approach is simple, now. I Teach through Google Apps for the first time through an activity and allow students choice on the second assignment. For example, if we are making maps, we use Google Drawing or Slides. If students want to use Mapmaker on the National Geographic site for the second one, that's fine with me. This way, it becomes about the content and skills, not the use of a specific tool.

5. New Tools

Smore is great for newsletters. I'm using it to communicate with parents about what we're doing at school. The selling point for me was the data collection. I could have done this with a free app, but I liked the design and amount of data.

Although word clouds and survey tools are not new to the bag of wizardry, Mentimeter is one of the easiest tools to use for crowdsourcing. It does not require audiences to make an account, which is great for quick activities. There are, of course, other ways to get the job done, but I appreciate the tools that are quick and reliable.

DocentEdu has changed my classroom routines more than anything since Google Classroom and 1:1 Chromebooks. I have so much to say about this one, so stay tuned for a post dedicated to this wonderful tool.

The image below shows a student view, allowing them to highlight a chunk of text and add a a note for close reading. The post that features DocentEdu will be more from the teacher's perspective.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

10 Projects Every Google Apps Classroom Should Try

It was my first year teaching when a parent asked me what projects the kids would be doing that year. I was embarrassed because I did not have an answer. Actually, in the back of my mind I was thinking that we don't have time for projects.

After teaching for a while, I know that we don't have time to not do projects. Here are some of the ideas that I've been developing over the last few years working with Google Apps.

1. Collaborative Notes

If the smartest person in the room is the room, then a collaborative set of notes is the way to go. Think about the processing the brain does when copying notes versus listening, reading, thinking, and comparing one another's contributions. It's far more powerful to learn socially than learners simply working on their own notes in isolation.

Use Google Docs – or other apps – to make a space that everyone can use to make great learning resources.

Tip: It's all about doing something with the notes. Have your students summarize the notes in a variety of ways throughout the year. My favorite is a three- to five-sentence paragraph on a Google Classroom question. It's easy to grade and provide timely feedback.

2. Selecting Slides

As Alan November puts it, "the world has enough PowerPoints." Do we really need to spend time making more?

Sometimes we need to make one that doesn't already exist, of course, but it doesn't have to be completely from scratch. Check Slideshare and even Google images. Since slideshow sites have provided ways to clip images, Google searches are include many of these clips. 

Alan November suggests having students find PPTs on the Web and piecing together the best slides. This provides teachable moments for content, digital citizenship, cooperative learning, and more.

Tip: Turn PPTs downloaded from the Web into Google Slides. Copy single slides by selecting them in the slide sorter on the left (or whatever that's called), and paste them into the final document.

3. Graphic Organizers

We have so many good tools that help us make graphic organizers. I especially like because of the variety of samples and the ability to customize a GO and download it as a PDF. 

But learners need to make them from scratch. Better yet, they need to identify what type of GO they need without adults giving them so many patterns. 

Tip: Use Google Drawing to make interactive GO that can be embedded into a class website or eportfolio.

4. Inquiry-Based Forms

In this time of what seems to be extreme changes, we need to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. Questioning, for example, was used by Socrates and is still used in most classrooms. 

Collecting questions with Google Forms gives the class an opportunity to do something with everyone's work while learning a surveying concept that could help them in their post-secondary challenges.

Tip: If it's time for a break from the "glowing boxes" or students to collaborate more, give each student three slips of paper to write a single question each. Collect about 12 slips in each basket (or whatever) and give them to a random group of four. Have students decide which four or five questions are the best and have them submit them with a Google Form. 

5. YouTube Playlists

If we're going to teach decision-making, making playlists on music and video platforms are a fun place to practice.

Make playlists. Share them. Discuss. It's as easy as that.

6. Current Events

Google News is a great place to find news from a variety of sources and countries. Just add the top-level domain country code to, and you'll take a closer look at what other countries are searching.

Make a map of the coverage of one event or issue from different countries. Students can summarize the reports and plot the locations. This can be done by making an interactive map or a Google My Map (see below).

Publish the resource to the Web, and the wastebasket work will be zero for this project.

7. Vlog Post

Make it a public, link only, or private video. YouTube is one of the greatest tools of our time, and it's getting easier and easier to record, upload, and edit videos.

Like a blog (short for Web log), a vlog is simply video instead of written words. For some students, this opportunity will enable them to grow their literacy and engage using a medium that compliments their learning style and preferred performance. They may find their element, as Sir Ken Robinson says.

Your students will greatly benefit from learning the power of making short, informative videos. Most importantly, they will get the chance to try it over and over until their performance is up to the standard they can accept.

8. Google My Maps

Here's a post from last year that explains My Maps and how it supports literacy in different subjects.

9. Interactive Review

I was starting to think that my students were feeling swamped with content and unmotivated to study for unit exams. That's when I split up the topics and used Forms and Sheets to make interactive reviews.

10. Photo Essay Reflection

This is one of my favorite activities in which almost every student participates. It's a simple crowdsourcing activity that uses Google images to reflect and relate new learning to prior knowledge.

Here are the steps using the Google Drive app.

Thanks for reading! Tell us about your projects in the comments below.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Google Classroom | Organize Your Stream With Topics

I've been asking Google for a way to organize stream posts since the first month Classroom was released. Students complained about the lack of organization and even suggested a hashtag system. I immediately thought about labels in Gmail and began explaining the issue whenever Google asked for feedback.

It's finally here. Check out the short video (below) to see how it works.

google classroom, google for edu, google for education, GAFE

For more information and other Google Classroom updates, check out the Google For Education Blog or Google Support.