Friday, November 10, 2017

6 Web Literacy Routines for Student-Centered Learning

Any teacher who has worked in a connected classroom knows that kids do not know how to use technology as well as some may think. The unfortunate truth is that kids don't know how to use the Internet any better than they know how to use the Dewey decimal system.


Although almost every classroom in the United States has WiFi, very few classroom teachers and students are skilled enough to fully take advantage of the most powerful resource, ever.

From basic searches to curating the best results, this post is a conceptual look at using the Internet for learning. The routines have come from students and colleagues over the years and comprise what I've learned about the needs of our connected learners – teachers and students alike.

1. Understanding the Problem

I can't tell you how many times my students have failed to answer a question because they didn't understand what it was asking. This issue has inspired me to design activities that focus more on using basic inquiry to build routines for understanding problems.
  • What does the problem require us to know?
  • What does the problem require us to do?
  • How will I know if we have the right information? What resources could serve as exemplary?
By allowing students to find information on the Internet, it opens new opportunities to help them recognize the accuracy an trustworthiness of the source.  
TIP: Use Google Images and YouTube to find exemplars. Most people miss out on the wealth of information Images provides. Turn the image or video search into an activity so you (the teacher) can model or discuss evaluation of the sources. Collect links via Google Classroom, Padlet, Today's Meet, Google Form, or whatever tool you already use.  
2. Crafting a Search

Most people assume they are searching the Worldwide Web when they do a Google search. To a degree, they are correct, but their search is tailored to what Google thinks they need. Unless the user employs operators or country codes, for example, the search will not be focused.

The most important operator that we use in our classroom is "site: ..." because it limits our search to whatever site we are searching or the type of site. For example, we can search the Library of Congress for civil rights era speeches by typing "site:loc.gov civil rights speeches." You'll get search results shown in the image below. Google search now allows you to leave out the "site:" operator, however.


Country codes used for top-level domains yield results from different countries. If we search Google News at google.com and compare it to google.co.uk, we will see different headlines (images below). The first image is Google News UK and the second one is Google News US. I'm sure that if we compared these headlines to Google News Chile, we'd see something different there, too.



Another important routine that saves a lot of time when searching for information sources is the use of file extensions. These are the letters at the end of a file name that indicate the file type. If you are looking for slide presentations, type "ppt" in your search (no quotation marks).

The PDF file extension is often more useful when crafting a search because a lot of finished and published documents are shared on the internet in PDF format, so the results will often yield more useful sources. It's not shooting fish in a barrel, but it's far from a shot in the dark.

Lastly, use Wikipedia. I do not suggest using Wikipedia as your source of information for the supporting evidence of an argument, but it is great for gathering keywords and points of view that can make your search more efficient. Whoever said Wikipedia isn't accurate or trustworthy, hasn't done their homework to confirm their claim. In theory, Wikipedia is a bad idea, but it has worked fabulously in practice because of the safeguards put in place, which few people understand.
TIP: Try hint.fm/seer to analyze keyword combinations as they relate to Google-suggested results. Play around with it, but don't get lost in the rabbit hole of curiosity. 
3. Evaluating Sources

What gives a website authority? Names of stuff are important, but knowing the significance of a source is the ultimate goal. The significance of .edu sites is that we are promised an educational institution. The same goes for .gov or .org, but this isn't to say we should go easy on these sites.

The value and limitation of the site in relation to a problem (or phenomenon) are key to determining how to use a source, or if it's even worth using. Moreover, sources can often be incorporated in terms of how they answer questions to which other sources fall short of fully responding. One source's limitation, in other words, can be solved by another source's value.

Like I said above, Wikipedia is only a bad source of information when used in certain contexts. As far as encyclopedias are concerned, Wikipedia is the most significant in terms of size and accuracy in World History. Plus, it's good enough for Google, which uses Wikipedia in the Cultural Institute.

4. Scanning Content

Approach reading the Web like you would read a map. Read the title and look for anything symbolic. Also look for captions, media, and hyperlinks. Orient yourself with what the site has to offer. The goal is to find a pattern you're looking for or one you should be looking for.
TIP: If you are looking for specific words in the text, use the browser's content search (ctrl + F). After using Wikipedia to construct keywords and phrases, these searches should yield valuable information, or you'll know for sure if a source is a waste of time.
5. Incorporating Information

How much is enough? How many sources do you need? It depends on the value and the range of ideas. I often think about choosing sources by triangulation – three sources of which the third decides which of the other two best support a claim.

Citing websites is about access at a given time because sites can go through several updates, so be sure to include the date and time accessed with the URL.

EasyBib is a useful site to format works cited and a consistent source integration style throughout the paper.

6. Curating Sources

Good information is worth keeping and sharing. Social media have made the sharing part very easy, and cloud file storage makes curation simple and efficient.

Saving sites and files in Google Drive is quick and easy with Chrome extensions. Then, you'll want to present the collection, so check out apps like Awesome Table.


Bottom line: The discussion in my class is shifting from me delivering the information to the students finding the information to guide further discussion about the sources they find. The lesson is becoming about how I can facilitate learning in lieu of direct content instruction and the Internet has made this possible better than any textbook.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

10 Ideas for Google Team Drive in Your Classroom

Google Drive seemed like the answer to all my problems until I realized that document permissions can get very complicated as more and more of our learning activities had a strong collaboration component.

At first I thought sharing folders via link with editing permissions was ideal. Then, I noticed Team Drive. 


Team Drive is my new favorite tool on Google Drive. It's easier for students to access because it's right there below "My Drive." This may seem like an obvious feature, but it's an ideal design for students and colleagues who struggle to acquaint themselves with new tools.

Here are some of my ideas for using Team Drives. I am currently using some of them and will likely try all of them in the coming years.

1. Collaborative Notes

The note-taking debate is thankfully not that popular. Some say handwritten while others say typed. I say that it's all about how the brain is processing information.

Making contributions in a collaborative space is ideal for my students because it becomes about more than jotting down information. It becomes about the contribution to a group and the need to be supportive and helpful. When was the last time such an audience could be a part of your Mead Five Star in real time?

collaborative learning cooperative team drive google docs note-taking

2. Summaries With Images

Visually representing vocabulary doesn't have to stop at drawings. Choosing images from the Internet is a decision-making process that supports concept formation, for sure. Throw in the student voice that comes with content contributions, and the lesson is halfway to an experience that is likely to be built upon.
" ... click from one to the next using the slideshow that Drive automatically provides."   
I assign terms to students, and they find images that relate. I encourage them to take risks and be creative with their choices – look for symbols that require viewers to make connections to the term. Then, we open the first image in the folder and click from one to the next using the slideshow that Drive automatically provides. 

Although the slide show is great for discussion and review, I also post enduring understandings around the room and ask students to walk to the EU that best relates to the term represented by the image.
Incorporating movement like total body response are even more crucial to balanced learning routines in the mobile age of the Internet.


3. Interactive Assessment Review

You can make anything interactive with Google Docs, Drawing, or Slides (Sheets, too). Lately, I've been requiring my students to make an interactive quiz to go along with whatever Slides product they've made.

I provide the quiz template with clickable boxes to take users to the questions and provide feedback about the answer choices. The secret is to link text boxes (not the text itself) to other slides in the presentation. This allows more exploration on the part of the user.

See also Making Hyperdocs With Google Slides.

Google slides hyperdoc interactive assessment

4. Whiteboard Pics

I still remember the first time a student took out phone to snap a photo of what I wrote on the board. I immediately saw a shift in the works in terms of how notes are taken.

For the past four years, I've been taking photos of the whiteboard and placing the image files in a Drive folder. Now that we use Team Drive, I have students name the files as a periodic review. I got this idea from one of my recurring reflections: What am I doing that students could be doing? 

5. Digital Exhibits

What do kids bring home from a paperless classroom? This is where the language is going to shift from turning in work to publishing it, as Alan November puts it.

Whether the digital exhibit is on a class website, blog, or a site designed to display artifacts, a workflow among the students needs to be established. Team Drive is the place for my kids because the file permissions are already set for team member. I never hear "Share it with me" anymore.

Our workflow is simple. Folders are made for files to be edited and files to be placed in the exhibit. Students therefore need to be assigned roles and complete more specialized tasks. I use Google Forms to learn about their interests before placing them in a role that will unfairly challenge them.

6. Archive Classwork Artifacts

Sometimes the work students do is for the experience, leaving the products sitting in the Team Drive. Over time, these files need to be organized for future reflection and evaluation. Additionally, products made with paper can be scanned and placed in the folder.

This is a simple yet crucial organizational task. Digital files can become a mess if neglected, so it's good practice for students to be involved in this process. It helps them with closure and self evaluation on the work they've done. It's also a great time to allow students to rename documents based on their increased knowledge since producing the artifact.

7. Newsroom Simulation

Turn your digital file-sharing system into a newsroom workflow. Modify it to meet the needs of a sales staff if you're teaching math. Regardless of the subject, Team Drives can be used to quickly share information without worrying much about the share permissions.

8. Student-Contributed Resources

What's more engaging than having a voice for the lesson materials? For my teenagers, it's likely many things. But while they are in my class, they may as well contribute to the quality of the content we use to explore social studies concepts.

The same could go for a math or science classroom.

9. Cataloging Reading Materials 

Digital file organization is a real issue. 

Make folder to dump readings that students sort and re-sort. Allowing your students to make choices about how lesson materials should be organized can be a powerful learning exercise. It provides teachers with formative observations about what their students need to learn to become more organized. Plus, students can watch their more organized peers make decisions and provide their reasons.

10. Organize a Fundraiser

For the 2017-2018 school year, my six classes (of differing abilities and grade levels) will work together to organize a Freerice.com campaign. Team Drives will allow everyone access to drop evidence of their contributions (screenshot) and contribute to the marketing of the progress.

I don't what this will look like by the end of the campaign, but it will be designed to at least feed people via Freerice.com and provide my students an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of learning, helping others, and working as a team.

Thanks for reading. Please tell us how you use Team Drive.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Securing Live Google Sheets

Once in a while, I have a student who knows my technology tricks well enough to teach me a lesson. That didn't happen this time because the little voice on my shoulder spoke up before a student crashed my live Sheets experiments.

If you haven't read the post on Live Exit Tickets, please do so before continuing with this post.

google sheets security

I hadn't thought much about securing the document key. In fact, all of my students had the doc key to the master sheet, which meant they could potentially hack the sheet.

This issue only came to mind when I decided to ditch the online gradebook provided by the school system for something more reasonable – a book designed with Google Sheets that could do whatever I needed (more on this project still to come).

I'm sure there's a more sophisticated way to solve this problem, but the solution I present below works. It's a bit labor intensive on the front end, so I'm working on solutions to automate more of the tasks and will share my findings as I learn what works best.  

Exit Ticket Security

1. Make a secure sheet for each student.

These sheets will not be accessed by the student. I keep them in a folder labeled "Secure Sheets A 1718 (class block and school year code)." The data is sent from these individual sheets to the sheet the student makes with the doc key I email to them (step 3 below).

Simply put, this individual sheet protects the master sheet document key. Otherwise, students would be able to use the document key to change data and see confidential information, effectively creating a FERPA violation. No one wants that, right?

2. Import data from the student tab on the master sheet.

The student data is sent from the individual student tab on the master sheet to the secure sheet. Remember, the purpose of the secure sheet is to protect the master sheet document key.

3. Share the key from the secure sheet with students.

This step can be labor intensive, so I email the keys to my students via Google Sheets with a script (image below). The doc link below includes the script I use. It also includes an "email sent" code so the sheet can be used for new students without sending emails to every student, again.

The benefit is in the efficiency of pasting the information in one place without opening 27 emails. Plus, it's a record for future reference.

Copy this email sheet.

google scripts java

4. Provide viewing permission on the secure sheet.

The secure sheet needs viewing permission assigned for the student to which it correlates – another labor intensive step that could probably be automated with a script.

What's next?

I need to find or write the following scripts that ...
  • Make a new sheet doc for each name on a roster (I think Alice Keeler has this one or one like it.)
  • Import the document keys to a sheet (make the email step easier).
  • Automatically provide view only permission to student secure sheet. 
These steps are currently done manually, which doesn't take long. Start to finish, the security part takes 20 minutes per class, which includes double checking the work. Based on the amount of time it saves throughout the year, 20 minutes is nothing. But I want to automate as much of the process as possible. 

I am not an expert on sheet functions or Java Script, so any recommendations you can offer will be much appreciated. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

4 Google Sheets for Classroom Management

I love Google Classroom. It's easy to set up, and the features are very accommodating. But it doesn't do a great job managing the most critical information – rosters, grades, feedback, student reflection, etc. For that, I use Sheets. 


Sheets is a tool that every teacher should use for the simple routine of modeling its use for students. When our kids leave the safety of K-12, they need to have strategies and tools for organizing information that relates to the tools that businesses and institutions have been using for decades. 

Spreadsheets are the standard for most organizations, and I don't see it changing any time soon. We've gone from VisiCalc to Google Sheets, computing in the cloud, and the columns, rows, and cells concept has not changed. 

Here are the four sheets I use and think every classroom should consider. 

1. Roster (basic info, technology survey, books)

The roster sheet is where it all starts. It's a great place to collect and maintain information about your students. This past spring was a piece a cake because I had RosterSync, which imported the roster from Google, Classroom.

My favorite sheet is the technology survey that I use every year. Actually, it changes every year, but you get the idea. I could't imagine trying to design a learning activity for a specific student without information about their technology habits, routines, and overall confidence.


2. Groups

This past year was the first time I assigned every group for cooperative learning activities, and I won't ever do it differently. The students were more productive, I could balance the achievement levels, and classroom became a more consistent cooperative learning environment.

Each student receives an index number (known only by me). The index number is determined by skill level, knowledge, sociability, and leadership qualities. It makes grouping students a quick process.

The columns are activities, and the teacher can use the comment tool to document observations. 


3. Exit Tickets (and other responses)

Sure, you could use any number of apps to manage exit tickets. It's even easy to use paper. But since my students have Google Sheets for so many things, why not remain consistent, right?

I use one Google Form for the entire course. The responses go to a master sheet where each student has a sheet with their responses (and my feedback) separated. My students have a tab at the bottom of their achievement tracking sheet where they can access their exit ticket responses and my feedback. It's all live and more efficient than some of the tools that often promise more than necessary.

Check it out.



4. Achievement Tracking

The way I do achievement tracking serves several purposes. Each student has one sheet doc that contains all of the sheets (tabs at the bottom) for the course. This makes it really easy for them to find out assignment details, check grades, write reflections, and so much more. 

As mentioned above, this is a live document concept. This means that as I add information to a sheet or as form responses are submitted, the students' sheets are updated. It's quicker than any other method of sending and receiving classroom information. 



Bonus: Open CSV exports from edtech tools with Google Sheets. Add the data to the docs you use for classroom management. There's no right or wrong way to gather and organize this information. 

If you have an idea to share about how you use sheets, please share in the comments below for everyone's benefit.   

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Virtual Office Hours With Remind

My phone isn't the one dinging and buzzing with notifications. That would drive me crazy. I don't like Twitter badges and email is just a scary thought.


But I set Remind notifications to banners on my locked screen because my students deserve it. They deserve to be able to ask me a question while working on an assignment and get a response that hopefully enables them to persist.

Kids these days communicate differently ‒ nobody questions that. They use their phones to chat back and forth in small bits, and, consequently, they don't like waiting or listening ‒ there goes traditional schooling.

I'm not going to lie. It's tough. I often can't finish a sentence before they ask a question that would've been answered if they had just listened for another second. It sounds frustrating, but it's where they are.

Meeting kids where they are has led me to practice virtual office hours with the Remind app. It's one of three apps that I require for my classes, and it allows my students to ask questions almost anytime.

You may be thinking that email would work just fine, but it doesn't. I don't check my email more than a couple times outside of school hours, and kids are much less consistent. During school it's about once an hour or so, but after school I can be reached best via text (or Remind app).

I've been doing virtual office hours for about four years, and it's the days like today that really make it worthwhile. You see, my students have a paper due tomorrow, and several of them need clarification of expectations or help staying focused on the task of finding the evidence that support their thesis.


The text above is from a student who could be perceived as a procrastinator, unorganized, or just not a good student. Although these descriptions may be true, this student is really great at making connections between one idea or thing to another development in history. She just gets overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to complete long term assignments and needs more help than school hours provide. 

I particularly enjoy how well she takes ownership of her choices and reflects on why she likely made that choice. It's hard to ask for help. That's why I gladly offer it through virtual office hours.

Sometimes help is a little more basic, like the example below. 


This student is making up work from medical absence. It's hard enough to keep up with school work while making up work from missed time from being hospitalized. Being there for students when they are in the mode to do the work is what makes virtual office hours so powerful. 

I use Remind, but I'm sure there are other apps or ways to facilitate communication outside of school hours. Which reminds me ... I was once told by a teacher that they don't want to be available to students outside of school. Personally, I didn't become a teacher to punch a clock. I love learning and want to fan that passion among the youth. 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lessons Learned | Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar Exposes All

In graduate school, I took a geography seminar on industrial ecology. It not only sounded cool, I had been tired of writing papers that were weighed down with philosophy. I wanted to work with numbers and do some quantitative analysis.  

The professor was an economics geographer and had a Scottish accent – a well educated one. The seminar was about seven graduate students, some working on masters degrees in environmental philosophy, while others were working on interdisciplinary studies. 

We read articles for homework, prepared positions, and discussed the concepts from the articles while exploring different cases. Most of the analysis focused on the extent to which the case established a symbiotic relationship among its firms.

I write about foundry sand waste streams and the logistical issue of reusing the sands in construction aggregates. It was fun because it was what I consider very concrete scholarship. Additionally, I learned that I could apply the research skills I was developing as an anthropology student to almost any discipline. 

More importantly, I learned how to engage in an interdisciplinary setting, which can be highly critical. What's particularly challenging is the lack of confirmation bias. When scholars of the same discipline are making observations with similarly trained lenses, it's easy to feel more confident in assumptions when new evidence is presented. Scholars without investment in an area of study sometimes offer a fresh look at the data and offer alternatives to the analysis commonly found in the discourse. This is a bit oversimplified for the purpose of this post, especially considering literature and peer reviews often look for alternatives to the published theory to avoid this issue.  

If you've read my blog, then you know that I am a classroom teacher. I am surrounded by colleagues who are not working on publishing their work. They are grading papers and planning a crazy amount of lesson material. They are managing behavior and trying to keep up appearances to avoid too many troubles ending up in the principal's inbox. This is not a scholarly situation. It's a learning factory.

Why write about it? Why even bring it up? 

Experiences like the one described above gave me the opportunity to grow as a scholar because I had to find objectivity wherever possible, just to survive. These days, this blog is my catharsis that enables new looks at common routines, avoiding falling into too many routines and patterns that become toxic in the long run (homework because we've always done it, for example).

Objectivity, unfortunately, is not something I see a lot in a high school. People do things the way they do them for 20 years and get frustrated when they have to change. I don't mind changing because I always change. If you are observing the world right now, it's changing more rapidly than ever. In fact, change is inherent in my efforts to stay relevant. I don't know any other way. 

I guess if I were told to stop changing, it may make me feel like the 20-year veterans do when they have to change. Regardless of which side of this spectrum you are on, the changing world will make you vulnerable and exposed. I embrace it, no matter how much trouble it gets me into.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Flattening Classrooms: Collaborating With Google Apps

When James Caudill asked me if I wanted collaborate, it was an easy decision. Why not? Quite truthfully, I had never collaborated with a teacher in another state, never mind another time zone.

One of us suggested the geography of things and Google My Maps, and the rest was some direct messages on Twitter and a Google Hangout.

James (@teachcaudill) said the video reflection is spot on, which is significant because I commented mostly on his students' work, and we have yet to debrief on the data or methodology.

This video explores collaborating across time zones with Google Apps. It includes several basic and advanced tips for making products in My Maps. Additionally, skills like customizing map points are explained, as well as responsible use of other people's content.

Share your collaboration story so we can flatten our classrooms.