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.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

10 Chrome Extensions I Won't Teach Without

Chrome extensions are right where you need them. When the time comes, it's easy to call up a tool to process what's in front of you the way you need it.


But I'm not partial to a particular developer when there are several options. My favorites are chosen based on how often I use them and how much work they can accomplish (or time saved). For some of the following tasks, the Chrome store has plenty of options.

My suggestion is to read the reviews and do your homework before choosing one over the other. But don't worry if your choice does not work out. There are plenty of others to try.

Here are some of the extensions that I use regularly.

1. Clipper

Although I prefer to use a native tool (built into the device), sometimes that's not possible. For example, I used Snagit (discontinued as extension) to clip content and add annotations, etc. Since Snagit is now only available for desktop, I use Nimbus, which also serves as a tab recorder.

2. Link Shortener

URLs can clutter emails and other documents. They're also too long and distracting for most social media platforms, like Twitter. Shortening the link only takes a couple of seconds, and your audience will appreciate the ease of use.

Since I use Google Apps, I chose a link shortener that connects to my account shortening app (goo.gl). It's nice to be able to keep a record of links and access the same link for future use.

3. Tab Recorder

Screencastify is my favorite tab recorder. I use the paid version and enjoy the simplicity of use. It places videos in my Google Drive and allows me to upload directly to YouTube.

If I need a screen recorder with more options and tools, I use Screencast-O-Matic (not an extension). I can blur student data and edit the final video with ease. Plus, I think the quality is much better. But for a quick tutorial or message, the Screencastify extension works great.

4. Keep

My juniors are currently working on a term paper and seem to be having difficulty finding sources. Perhaps they need the process (or organizational strategies) modeled with more depth.

As I search for resources and find good ones, the Google Keep extension allows me to save an article or website and apply a label to stay organized. After four or five sources are collected, I can go back to Keep and click the label to filter the sources I want to evaluate and use to formulate my argument.

5. Insert Learning

Want to insert questions into a webpage or a YouTube video into a Google doc? Insert Learning does those things and more.

Formerly called DocentEdu, Insert Learning is a tool that allows users to insert images, annotations, videos, assessment items, annotated highlights, and discussions into a webpage or published Google Doc. You have to try it to realize its value for classroom teachers.



6. PDF Printer

I use this extension as often as four or five times a week pulling materials from the Internet. It converts a webpage into a PDF and allows users to edit out images or chunks of text and formatting that are unnecessary.

If you need to pull text from the Internet and convert it to a Google doc, open the PDF with the Docs app within Drive (see below).





7. VideoNot.es

This is a great tool. It's particularly effective with short videos with excellent content. Only a couple of my students have chosen to try it, so I will use it for explanation videos to model note-taking expectations.

8. Poll Everywhere

I used to add lots of multiple choice questions to Google Slides with the Poll Everywhere extension. My students have enjoyed Kahoot!, Quizlet, and Google forms for multiple choice, so I use Poll Everywhere for the other assessment items.

We use the word cloud generator and the vote up response, and the ranking tool. I particularly like the vote up because students can read through other responses and learn from their peers. We don't do vote down because it's a waste of time. By focusing on the good responses, the expectations become clearer.

9. Drive Slides

This is one of my new favorite tools. It makes a Google Slides presentation out of all of the image files in a Drive folder. It takes about five seconds and saves a lot of time bringing together student contributed content.

Here's a post about some of things my class is doing with Drive Slides.

10. Share to Classroom

The Internet has changed the way we access information, which is why my class does not have a textbook. It does, but we don't consult it exclusively or regularly. The textbook-free classroom, however, is supported by tools like Google Classroom and the extension Share to Classroom.

My favorite feature on this extension is the ability to push content students. With a classroom full of Chromebooks, this becomes a very easy way to manage materials on the fly. Likewise, students can send material to the teacher who can then redistribute it to the students.

Share to Classroom, of course, includes its namesake feature of the ability to share something from the Internet directly to Classroom. This can be done in any of the ways posts can be made to Classroom from within the app.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Using Google Apps With OER

Docs Story Builder is one of the lesser known Google apps, yet my students took to it immediately. It's not hard to use, although it has a quirk – editing dialogue erases whatever comes after the edit. But that didn't stop us. Students planned out the dialogues before entering them into the app.


To model the expectations, my explanation for the changing views of war was done with Docs Story Builder. I framed it as a fictional, yet plausible, dialogue among three of their favorite teachers.

Using Open Educational Resources (OER)

This idea all started when I realized that my students needed to build Web literacy skills, and I wasn't designing activities that supported this need. Since the next lesson was about World War I, I decided to use one of the Library of Congress exhibits that compiled firsthand accounts from soldiers in the trenches.

Students chose two memoirs and made a list of facts and opinions from the first page(s) of each. The notes were analyzed for similarities and differences to provide some inspiration for a fictional, plausible dialogue.

Here's my list of resources. If you know of any that you think should be on the list, add the link to the comments below and I'll check it out.

Story Builder

Like many Google Apps, Story Builder is intuitive and provides enough explanation to get in and out of trouble. As I mentioned above, the process can be frustrating. Planning the dialogue in advance is advised, which is a routine our students should practice, anyway.

The business end of the dialogue writing is shown below. When the "write story" button is selected, it takes you to a screen to add the dialogue. This is also where music can be added by selecting the appropriate button. Please note, however, that the "add music" button must be selected to complete the story. If you choose not to add music, an option will available. 


Google Drive Classwork Flow

Our class uses Google Drive folders to share work. I like this way of organizing workflow because it reduces the amount of times we have to share documents. This file share folder is accessible through Google Classroom to make it even easier.


Students accessed a Google Doc to paste their link. If the link isn't saved somewhere, it's lost. The image below shows the doc with the links. I guess this could be shared via Padlet or something fancier than Docs, but I like to keep things simple and less shiny.  


The Benefits

My students will probably never forget about the conditions soldiers endured in the WWI trenches. They will also remember that trenches were WWI, not WWII. I'm confident of this because of the balance of activity that occurred during this project. 

They laughed and had fun writing the dialogues, which always means better learning – laughing is learning. But the best result was the routine of using the Library of Congress to access information. As the course progresses, more OER is used and more student choice and responsibility is exercised.

Lastly, from a tech integration point of view, this activity is quick and easy to execute in a Google Apps classroom. I love easy tools that don't require new accounts. Otherwise, the tech can distract from the learning process. 

Student Work

Click here (or the image below) to see some of the student work samples.

 Click Image



Saturday, April 15, 2017

Live Exit Tickets With Google Forms

Most Google Apps educators know that Forms works great for collecting almost any kind of information from students, including administering quizzes and collecting open responses. Managing the information, however, is a problem that needs attention.

Google Forms Sheets

We can automate the grading for multiple choice quizzes, yet constructed responses, like exit tickets, require feedback from the teacher. The problem is getting that feedback to the students. Sure, it can be returned to the students numerous ways, but what if it was always live and the need to return work was eliminated?

Back to Forms and Sheets

Since Google Classroom added the question tool a couple years ago, I started using it for exit tickets. It works great, but it's also limited in terms of what you can do with the response as a whole. It's hard to identify patterns of strength and weakness over time, which is why I've switched back to using Forms and Sheets.

Sheets is still the best solution for so many classroom routines. The following explains how I have made exit tickets with Sheets so that the information is live.

Live Docs

What do I mean by live? The responses go to a sheet in which feedback is provided. The feedback can be added to the response destination sheet and exported to a student-specific sheet (tab across bottom). The student-specific sheet is synced with a separate document owned by the student.

The video below shows how this process works. Following the video, I will explain the tools I use to complete the live exit tickets.



Making Live Exit Tickets

1. Open Roster Tab Template

Roster Tab was created by Alice Keeler. She is my first search for anything Google Sheets or Classroom. Open this template (below), make a copy, and title your new document. This sheet will be your response destination (explained in next step).

Notice the Roster Tab menu across the top. You'll need it for Step 4 (below).

Template Copy

2. Set Sheet as Form Response Destination

Open the form you use to collect exit ticket responses. Select the responses and click on the Sheets icon. This opens the options shown in the image below. Since the response destination sheet is already created, select an existing sheet. This opens Drive so you can choose the sheet you've created.


3. Import Roster From Classroom

Open the response destination sheet. In the Add-ons menu across the top, choose get add-ons. This brings you to a screen that will allow you search for rosterSync, which will allow you to import a roster from Google Classroom.

This post explains how to use rosterSync.

4. Run Roster Tab

Roster Tab makes a new sheet for each student on the roster. The tabs at the bottom will be used to send the query of response data for each student.


5. Make a Query 

I like to use EZ Query because it writes the function for you. You'll have to search for the EZ Query add-on and install it. When it's in your add-ons, run EZ Query to open the side bar shown in the image below.

EZ Query is going to make a query function based on the options you select. I like to include the time stamp, response, and feedback columns. The feedback column is something I add to the response destination sheet.

Also, make sure you check the range of rows from which the query pulls data. I  increase the row number to 10,000 or more rows to accommodate a full course.


6. Students Make a Sheet

I provide a set of directions for students because they will only understand how live docs work once they've completed the steps.


7. Share Function With Students

Step three on the student directions for making a sheet includes the function. Students paste the function into cell A1 and change two parts to specify the key and their tab from the mother sheet. The key is provided on Google Classroom to keep it secure.

=IMPORTRANGE("key=insertkeyfromzahner","firstname!A1:C20000")

8. Provide Test Feedback

The feedback is automatically synced to the student sheet, so there is no need to pass back work. Let's say I find myself waiting for an appointment, I can pull out my phone and provide feedback on today's exit ticket. There's no extra steps or complex apps to load. Sheets is simple and reliable.

I'm convinced that Google Sheets is the most powerful tool for running a classroom. It's also the safest tool to use and teach because it has a seemingly endless shelf life.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

5 Ideas For Using Drive Slides

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." - Leonardo DeVinci  

When selecting tools to use with my students, I look for ways to reduce time on the busy tasks. After trying this approach for a few years, I've learned that the shiny things aren't always the best for my students. The tools that simplify our workflow often win.


One of my new favorite tools is Drive Slides, an extension by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Although it's simple, Drive Slides has so many possibilities. I haven't explored all of the following, but my wheels were burning the first time I tried it.

What's The Appeal?

My classroom already uses Drive folders to share work as a class, so an extension that makes a slide presentation from images in a folder hit home for me. For example, my students share image summaries to review and reflect on lessons and units. Now, these images can be in a Slides doc with one click of the extension, and that's just the beginning.

I realize that in theory it's not hard to share a slide presentation with my students in which they can add the images and skip the Drive Slides step. The problem is that in practice kids are not all proficient with mobile age technology like so many people claim. Plus, I want my students to focus on the image search to develop Web literacy skills, not making a slide presentation.

Here are some of my ideas for using Drive Slides.

1. Images Summary

Share a Drive folder via link with editing permissions. My classes all have a file share folder accessible through the About page on Google Classroom. Students add images based on a prompt, and let Drive Slides do the rest.



2. Rethink PPT

So many slide presentations have been clipped, and the remains are all over Google Images. Ask students to find slides in image format to construct a quick slide presentation of the best content they can find.

The image below is a screenshot of an image search. The images with the red boxes are slides from presentations that have been clipped.


3. Share Work  

Take photos of paper-based work or screenshots of digital work to upload to a Drive folder. The extension saves a lot of time form fumbling with technology when the purpose of the activity is for students to practice presenting their work.


I particularly like this approach to sharing work because it allows my students to learn to focus on the evidence of their learning. After they work on a 10- to 15-minute activity, it's important that they know whether they met the expectation or not. Flipping through a handful of slides is a great way to support the need for feedback.

4. Q&A

Slides Q&A was made to allow the audience to ask questions during a presentation without disrupting the presenter. It can also be used to gather questions as the primary focus of the lesson.

Display an image on your swiftly made Slides doc, and instruct students to respond based on a thinking routine. Then, ask them to vote up the most helpful responses to the discussion. The images can be contributed by students like in the first item on this list.

5. Lab Notes

Whether the lab is done on paper or not, images of the results or process can be uploaded to a folder. Once the Slides doc is made, the presenter notes provide a space for description of methodology, observations, and conclusions.

Take advantage of the print options such as printing one slide per page with speaker notes.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sync Google Classroom Rosters to Sheets

Many of us like shiny things, but at some point it can become dull. When my shiny edtech faded, I turned to Google Sheets to manage my classes.


Sheets made the most sense because of all the different ways to customize them through scripts and add-ons. My new favorite Sheets add-on is Roster Sync. It pulls (or pushes) a roster from Google Classroom to Sheets, which is very helpful if you're like me and have a grade book program that doesn't let you download to csv.

Beyond tracking textbooks (we don't use), student groupings for cooperative learning, and mini project deadlines, Roster Sync sets me up to make exit ticket destinations (see future post about how this works).

Here are a few steps to get started with Roster Sync.

1. Install the Add-on

Select "Get add-ons" from the Add-ons option in the menu. This opens a search box that you can use to find rosterSync. Click add, and it will be placed in your add-ons.


2. Launch rosterSync

Once rosterSync is in your add-ons, it will stay there for future use. Select rosterSync and then "Launch." This opens a sidebar in which you can choose from a few options.


3. Choose the Roster

In the sidebar, choose the class from Google Classroom that you want to import.


4. Determine Source / Destination


Choose whether you want to pull a roster from Google Classroom or send one from Sheets.


5. Name the New Sheet

Click the box that allows you to name the sheet with the same name as the class you're pulling from. This is a nice touch for a tool that saves me a bunch of time. It's the little things that keep me going.



6. Run Sync 

Click the blue button the run the add-on. This only takes a second before the column headings are labeled and data starts populating.


Note on Sheets

I've learned that Google Sheets can do many of the information management tasks teachers need to run an efficient classroom. It may be a bit advanced for many users, but I think everyone should consider the possibilities of using scripts to make tools that suit your needs.

I haven't written any particularly useful scripts. But in the process of trying, I have come up with new ideas about how to manage information and found that someone already wrote one and shared it with the World.

For more information, try Alice Keeler. I can't think of anyone who would have more to offer when it comes to Google Sheets, writing scripts for educational needs, and Google Classroom, among other things.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Swinging The Classroom Technology Pendulum

It would be interesting to compare long term power outages in New York to market data – start with catastrophic storms that cause outages. My hypothesis leads me to believe that with less access to data and communication among stakeholders, the market values would rise and potentially become more indicative of the actual value of the goods and services.

Information can be both useful and damaging. It depends on what we do with it. How much is enough? How often is enough? I don't think answers to these questions have common ground among individuals, but these are the kinds of questions we ought to be asking.

We need to correct the over swing of the technology pendulum in education and promote a philosophy that safeguards users. The future of our society's youth is at stake, and I'd like to start with mobile devices and online grade books.

Online Grade Book Etiquette 

Online grade books are abused. As a parent of public school students for nine years, I can say with pride that I have never looked at an online grade book for any of my children. I guess dealing with it as a teacher has shown me how much it doesn't say about achievement – a topic for another post.

The grade conversation with my parents worked fine for me every nine weeks, and it has worked just as well with my own kids. The difference in our house is that our kids are expected to tell us about specific challenges and their plans to overcome them. I guess my parents did that, only with less insider knowledge. I'm just glad they didn't hover. I would have hated learning, and they probably knew that about me.

Grade books serve a purpose, in theory. In practice, most teachers are battered by emails because a test grade isn't showing up quick enough. Sometimes the job is a beating and grades aren't done right away. The on-demand expectations of the Netflix-watching students and online-banking parents are a bit much.

We need to establish norms grade books and many other applications in the mobile age, including the mobile devices themselves.

How Much Is Enough?

Steve Jobs and his family had different technology use expectations than many families. Their kids only had screen time on the weekends, with limited use. My wife and I have adopted this approach with much success overcoming a wide range of behavioral issues.

On the other hand, my kids learn the alphabet at about three years old with songs, refrigerator magnets, cartoons, the Letter People (on YouTube), and typing searches on Google Images. It's all about balance, and at the younger ages, more low-tech than hi-tech works with the right activities. 

In the classroom, I try to design activities that focus on making a product that we can use and discuss face-to-face. In fact, long term papers are not my favorite because it's too much on the eyes and emotions of young learners. They need to be challenged with long term projects but not at the expense of their health.

We focus on shorter tasks that take about 20 minutes of screen time (often less) and experience the reward of sharing individual responses to problems as a group. The balance between listening, speaking, reading, and writing is still very important, especially with the potential of extended screen time in 21st Century classrooms.

Kids Aren't That Good With Computers

Alan November is a proponent of Web literacy. He believes this is more important than giving every kid a device. We know that he's on the right track through examples like the hole in the wall in India. A device in every learner's hands is important but not crucial to becoming Web literate. 

I particularly like Alan's idea about 1:1. He doesn't think that it's bad to give every student a device. He thinks it's wrong to view the relationship between the child and the device as important. The ratio he's more concerned about is the child to the world – one:World, not 1:1.

As the popular conclusion in education goes, it's all about the mindset.

What Works, What Doesn't?

With technology changing so fast, it's hard to know what will lead to positive results. One thing I've noticed in my own choices is a return to the fundamental tools as new tools do too much for me. For example, instead of paying for a tool that automates emails, I use sheets and scripts to do it for free. It only takes an hour to set it up using tutorials, and I got to learn some Java script.

Another drawback of the virtual world is the lack of paper weighing us down. The physical acts of managing paper establishes and intimate connection with the type and amount of work we need to complete. Kids won't be going home with heavy backpacks when their Chromebook never changes weight no matter how much information is stored.

Kids need new organizational strategies. They need to learn the basics managing digital files in the cloud. most of our education and professional life exists online. This comes with consequences if we don't teach the risks and benefits. The trouble is not enough educators know what those consequences look like.

Some educators don't view students lacking the concept of cloud file sharing and organization as an organizational issue. Those people will suffer in the connected world. Perhaps they already do.

Next Steps

As we transition further into the mobile age of the Internet, the things that work will not throw away all of the values we gained from the ways we once worked. We still need the time to contemplate that we once enjoyed on a walk to the library. We still need to rest our eyes from the stress of focusing and refocusing.

What works is what helps us sustain a level of productivity without losing our health and well being. If technology compromises those essentials, the pendulum has swung too far. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

5 Subject-Specific Ideas For Using Google Forms

Last year, my professional goal was to make image analysis more routine in our classroom. I learned that Google Forms was the best tool in my box to collect student responses. Adding images was quick and easy, and there are few options.  


Although images are often used as a stimulus to a question, Forms allows us to use them as answer choices. The following ideas explore possible applications of images as answer choices. 


Since I usually share the work my high school history students are doing, I wanted to change it up and share ideas for a variety of subjects and levels. Please share your ideas in the comments below to add to the discussion. 

This stuff can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.



1. Math 

Which image shows the correct outcome? Show different images of lines graphed on a plane. Ask students to choose the correct line graph based on a given equation. 

2. Physics (Advanced) 

Let's say your students are calculating tension on a cable that's holding a weight, like on a crane. Show images with various distances labeled, and ask students to choose the right one relative to a given pivot, for example.



3. Biology 

Show four images of birds (sparrow, crow, chicken, penguin). Ask students to choose the bird that is least like the other three.

4. Social Studies 

Present a problem that requires students to select the thematic map that would would provide the most useful information. For example, if a problem requires information about public ownership of land, a map showing where parks are located in the United States would provide useful information. The example below ask for the two maps needed to gather information on wages and resources. 


5. ELA 

Relating paintings and other images of art from the same period as a literary piece is an easy way to stimulate thought. For younger grade levels, provide descriptions of things or scenes, and ask them to choose the image that best fits the description. Use a form to assess students retelling stories by selecting images related to a missing chunk of text.   

Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

From Old PowerPoints to eLearning With iSpring

Most people can find their way around Word, PowerPoint, and email. For many users, making websites, building courses in an LMS, or even sharing links on Google Classroom seems intimidating. But new kids are coming through the doors every year in the age of the connected classroom, so teachers find ways to integrate new tools.


One of the best places to start integration is by considering how you may want use your old materials in a new way. Take, for example, your PPT or other slide presentations. Consider using them as a foundation for integrating assessment, video, audio, interactive images, discussions, and much more. I recently found iSpring, and it does all of those and more.

The thing that impressed me most about iSpring was the ability to bring together so many learning tools that I have already created over the years. This is an invaluable opportunity for teachers who want to build on what they've been doing, not start over with new technology.

I was most interested in the variety of assessments iSpring provides as well as the ability to embed content from sites like Quizlet. The following videos show how simple it can be to make interactive quizzes and embed content into PPT presentations.

Inserting Quizzes Into PPT



Embedding Quizlet Into PPT



Tutorials From iSpring

The tutorials on YouTube are fantastic. Here's a playlist on the quiz maker.

What's Next?

Online courses are going to be offered at increasing rates over the next ten years or so. The nice thing about iSpring is that you can enhance your face-to-face materials and later use them to add content to an elearning course.

iSpring is addressing the frustration of remaking too many content pieces to adjust to changing trends in workflow. In other words, this software concept has a long shelf life.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Visualize Collaborative Text Analysis With Prism

"These kids don't even know how to read. I have to teach them that, too?" I hear this every year from high school history teachers. The answer is simple. Yes, we have to continue to exercise critical reading skills, and a great place to start is with main ideas.

Finding the main idea is often a good candidate for the highlighter, and I wondered if there was a way to do this collaboratively. Sure, students can do this with Google Docs, but my curiosity led me to a tool called Prism.

Prism is powerful tool with a simple design. It's geared for collaboration and serves fundamental needs for literacy development.


The task is to analyze a text by using different color highlighters that correlate to predetermined facets. As learners highlight the text, the font changes color. The final visualization of the text shows color differences and size differences – highlighted words with a higher frequency are larger.

I love simple tools, especially ones that are intuitive to use, like Prism. Here are some of the benefits.

1. Finding Main Ideas

Learners at all levels need to practice finding main ideas in texts that push their reading level. By seeing what peers are reporting as main ideas, it's can be easier to make the correction on one's own rather than by the pen of a teacher.

After a discussion about the largest frequency highlighted words, next steps could include focusing on the most frequent words to write a summary of the text. This is an easy assignment to differentiate, too.
  • Lower levels can illustrate the main ideas and use the words to label the illustration. 
  • Middle levels can write one-sentence summaries. 
  • The higher levels can write a three- to five-sentence paragraph and include relevant inferences beyond the text. 
2. Grouping and Labeling

The highlighter colors and labels are typically determined before the text analysis, but that doesn't mean students need to be left out.

Instruct students to skim the text to determine the themes that should be used for a closer analysis. This teaches students critical reading strategies need continual reinforcement throughout their secondary years.

Categorizing and naming the categories helps learners organize information to unpack in an essay, for example. Other applications of categorizing include writing efficient emails and agendas, skills that are invaluable in our fast-paced connected workforce.  

3. Working With ELLs

Students with limited English proficiency need extra practice finding main ideas. Sometimes the main ideas are all they can hope to extract from a text, depending on the level.

Another of Prism include searching for key vocabulary. With so many different levels of proficiency in a class, the visualization of the trouble words helps prioritize the us of class time.

Lastly, ELLs need to feel confident. They are dealing with so many different struggles that require confidence to proceed. Anytime learners can see the responses of their peers, they often feel less alone and more confident.

4. Making Thinking Visible

This is probably the most important approach to learning that any classroom could provide. Using digital technology to bring together and visualize the thinking of the room allows learners to benefit from all peers at once.

The sample text below was often an important text that left my students' memories as quickly as it arrived. By visualizing the analysis, my students could see their decisions and compare their work to that of their peers.

5. Collaboration 

This is a word that gets thrown around a lot in education. These days, everything is about collaboration because working with others to make something is engaging.

My favorite observation while using Prism was how easily students provided their reasoning for the different results. The debrief on a Prism activity is far more enjoyable than a typical paper-based (or PDF) text analysis (yawn).

6. Student Voice

When the lesson content is focused on contributions from students, they are engaged because they had a say in what the class is doing, even if it is analyzing one part of a text or another.

We're not there, yet, but I'd like to have my students make suggestions for text analysis. This would be the student-centered activity design. A good way to work toward such a goal would be to involve students in the process of determining what to label the highlighter colors (as described in number 2 of this list).

7. Self-Evaluation

 As we look at the Prism results, questions as to why certain words are larger than others begin to guide our discussion. Along with these questions, students are also asking themselves how the group results relate to their own. In other words, they are questioning how helpful their contributions were to the group.

Speech Analysis Example

The following activity includes an excerpt from Otto von Bismarck's "Blood and Iron" speech. The highlight labels are "nationalism" and "militarism."

The most commonly highlighted words were ...
  • Nationalism: "... healthy life of the state." (second image)
  • Militarism: "... gather its forces ..." and " ... blood and iron." (third image)







Tuesday, March 7, 2017

9 Posts About Mostly Google Slides

The following posts are about learning with Google Slides. I've enjoyed the various projects that can be made with Slides. Most importantly, my students get to exercise communication and tech skills.


Enough About PowerPoint: Rethinking Slides For Student-Centered Learning

https://goo.gl/S2Mdgz

10 Ways to Use Google Slides Like a Pro

https://goo.gl/wIaVl2

Hyperdocs With Google Slides

https://goo.gl/uwY0JH

5 Activities With Google Slides Q&A

https://goo.gl/oRXtTP

10 Activities With Google Slides

https://goo.gl/l5A1Tu

Appsmashing Google Slides and Poll Everywhere

https://goo.gl/70r9B1

Make a Jeopardy Template With Google Slides

https://goo.gl/nJWqUA

Quizzes With QR Codes

https://goo.gl/B7lmwP

Maps and Timelines ...

https://goo.gl/jDtbBe

YouTube Channel

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Enough About PowerPoint: Rethinking Slides For Student-Centered Learning

The world has enough PowerPoints, and it doesn't need any more. I've been contemplating these ideas since first hearing them from Alan November.


Instead of having students make new slide presentations, he suggests making the lesson about using the Internet to find a good one. This is all part of his position on how critical thinking must be taught in the context of searching the web.

Although searching for ready-made slide presentations is an activity with a lot of potential, we can go straight to an à la carte approach with Google Images. Since sites like Slide Share started using clipper tools, I've noticed a lot of individual slides showing up in image searches.

This approach to presentation making provides several opportunities for critical thinking and tech skills. Students learn how to handle image files – a crucial skill for business and lifestyle media sharing – and practice framing searches and evaluating the results.

We used Verso App to upload and discuss the slides before working in groups to decide which images to contribute to the final presentation. Verso provides a safe place for learners to participate in discussions. Anonymity among the students is maintained, while providing the user identities to the teacher.

Here's what we did.

1. Upload Images 

In this activity, students were looking for images that related to the causes and effects of the Spanish-American War. Some found summary slides, while others searched for specific causes and effects. These included political cartoons and headlines for yellow journalism and the USS Maine wreckage photo, to name a few.

Verso has an upload option for responses. I know that this step may seem like extra work, but the first two steps with Verso allow for the deeper thinking in this activity. Take it away, and we're back to making PowerPoints for the sake of it and missing out on critical thinking that our kids need to develop.



2. Discussion

Students commented by guessing which event the image represents. If students agreed with a comment already written, they liked the comment. While they commented and liked the correct ones, I reviewed their work and paused to reinforce expectations face-to-face as needed.

The way I designed this step lends to skills that support responsible use of social media. We could add an argument piece by instructing students to provide evidence as to why the image is a particular event. I would add something like that if the final product were a thesis statement or summary paragraph.


3. Contribute Slides

We organized into groups to determine which images should be added to the Google Drive folder, which had editing permissions for every student. This was a simple step in the process, but I thought it was important to get their heads out of the screens for a bit to talk it out face-to-face. 


4. Final Edits

As a class, we decided what stays and what goes. I labeled the images based on cause, effect, or trash. Then, we deleted all the trash images and were left with the final cut. Movement could be added to this step by instructing your students to do a total body response – one side of the room is cause, the other is effect, etc.

This step was a nice formative assessment and repeated review. At this point, my students know the causes and effects because they had dealt with them in so many ways that make thinking visible. 


5. Make a Presentation

If you haven't checked out extensions by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller, put it on your list. Drive Slides is the name of the one we used to make the slide presentation. It automatically makes a Google Slides document with each image in the Drive folder on a separate slide.

Before I learned about this extension, my students added images to Drive folders for a variety of reasons. The automatic slide presentation that the Drive image viewer makes was good enough. Drive Slides opens this learning routine up to so many more possibilities. Most importantly, it saves a lot of time.


6. Summarize

Students worked in groups to summarize the issue presented on the slide. They wrote in the presenter notes, and the slides were printed as a PDF with notes included (image below). In this way, Google Slides is an e-book creator, a flashcard maker, or anything that surfaces when you think beyond the slide presentation as a final product.


7. Reflect 

We use a routine set of questions for reflection. The goal with these questions is to practice metacognitive skills. Without this step, the lesson becomes less "sticky."
  1. What did you do?
  2. What challenges did you face, and did you overcome them?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. How can you use what you've learned beyond this class?


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Making Hyperdocs With Google Slides

Last Tuesday, I moderated the #worldgeochat on Google Apps. The question about hyperdocs seemed to have the most interest. Although I have been making hyperdocs for many years, I had to do some homework to prepare for this topic.


Prior to the last year or so, I had not thought much about using hyperdocs to do more than make documents with links embedded in the text. After perusing the Internet for examples of what other teachers were doing, I began thinking of ways to provide my students with opportunities to explore the hyperdocs without every student's experience being so similar. 

Since it can be tough to make history lessons less linear, my approach has become more thematic. For example, if my students explore a hyperdoc lesson about WWI, they could start from a menu with different themes, such as technology, major battles, causes of war, roles of different countries, and diplomacy. By design, they could choose themes in any order without compromising their ability to complete the lesson objectives.

Since this blog is read by more than just history teachers, I wanted to provide an example from another subject area. The water cycle came to mind, and here's how I made it.

Exemplar is at the bottom of the post. 

1. Determine the Layout

Slides are most often used one slide after another. Consider slides in a different way with some front matter to let the users know what it's about and a home slide that allows users to explore whichever content piece they choose (see step 3).  


2. Make the Front Matter

The front matter is simply introducing the lesson, directions, an essential question, and whatever you want learners to know or expectations you have as to how they may spend time with these slides.

At this point, you may have seen the yellow arrows in the upper right. These arrows are set to go to the next or previous slides. I copy and paste the arrows so they only have to be made once.   


3. Design a Home Slide

The home slide is the business end of lesson. Learners can click on the stages of the water cycle to be taken to an information slide (see next step). The clickable area is made with transparent rectangles that are linked to the corresponding slide. 


4. Insert the Information Slides

The information slides in this hyperdoc include text copied from the U.S. Geological Survey. The link to the rest of the text is embedded in the image. Likewise, the thumbnail of the water cycle in the upper left takes users back to the home slide.

The link to the image source is also included for all images used in this hyperdoc. These days it's easy to find images that can be used for education without any chance of infringing on the copyright. I like to use government resources as much as possible. I also try to embed link backs to the site from which the content originated because it helps the site, which is a digital way of saying thank you. It also provides users with direct access to the source.


5. Link Information Slides

As you can see in the image below, the slide options appear in a drop down when you link (ctrl k or link tool) the selected area. Steps 4 and 5 can be done at anytime. Speaking of time, I suggest making hyperdoc templates for future lessons. I may use this one for a WWI lesson coming up soon.


6. Write the Assessment Questions

Every lesson needs an assessment, but this one is not for the gradebook. It's just a practice quiz so learners can test their knowledge and reflect on the lesson. The home slide link is included in the upper left because I expect my students to go back and relearn parts that did not stick the first time.

The green boxes are clickable areas to select the question. Making large clickable areas are important because some learners may be using a tablet or smartphone. 

Download a PDF of the slides. It works great in PDF readers, but it does not work well in the Google Drive reader.

The answer choices (in the second image) are transparent clickable areas like the ones used on the water cycle model on the home slide. Although it is not shown here, I would add a Google Form link for learners to reflect on the lesson and submit some preliminary ideas about a related issue to which they want to formulate a response (project phase of the unit).



7. Make Feedback Slides

This is simple. If the answer choice is correct, learners see this slide. If the choice is incorrect, they see a slide that says, "Try again." The yellow box takes them back to the quiz. The feedback slides can be more involved and specific to the choice. Perhaps in year two or three of using this lesson, I would add more specific feedback for each response. 


What's More

These documents can have as much or as little to them as you need. I recommend starting off simple and adding to your hyperdocs a little each year.

The PDF format works well if you are using a tablet and have a PDF reader app installed. Otherwise, download the PDF and use the download outside of Google Drive. Doing it this way, the slide links will work. For some reason, the slide links do not work in the Drive PDF reader.

PDF of Exemplar

Open this hyperdoc in Google Slides and make a copy if you want to use it (finish it) or make a template out of it. All of the things on this blog are here for the taking, no attribution required. Link backs are always much appreciated but also not required for use. What's most important to is that you share how you made it better (or different). You can do so in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

Link to Slides. Make a copy. Make a template. Share with the world. Do what you want, as long as it's fair.