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 " 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 and compare it to, 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 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 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 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.

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 ( 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).


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.


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)