Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Taming Twitter for Time-strapped Teachers and Techies

If you are an educator, and you are not using Twitter, you need to be. It is a powerful way to connect with other educators around the world to share your ideas, learn from others, discover resources, build relationships, and be inspired to transform your teaching and your students’ learning.

However, if you are an educator and you are using Twitter, it can still be quite a challenge to use it well. Twitter has over 300 million active users (and many more inactive) sending over 500 million tweets per day (about 6,000 tweets per second). Trying to get useful information from Twitter has often be compared to trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose.

For many years, I found myself in just that situation. I was a Twitter user but didn’t feel like I was making the best use of it. Just like any educator, the one thing I don’t have is spare time. I was miserably failing to keep up with the flood of tweets, or to pull out useful information from it. Watching the Twitter site felt like staring at the computer screen in the Matrix movie, trying to process the constant flow of cryptic symbols.

Recently though, that all changed. Using a simple collection of tools and processes, I was able to tame Twitter. For me this meant:

  • Finding my Flock - following the appropriate people
  • Crowdsourcing the Content - discovering relevant and valuable posts
  • Listening at my Leisure - consuming it in a manner that fits my crazy life

See below for a detailed description of the tools and steps that have worked for me. These include Tweetdeck, hashtags, Twitter chats, Nuzzel, Pocket, and more. You may be familiar with some of these tools, but hopefully you will discover some new resources and see some options for putting them together to help you make the most out of Twitter.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poke a Stick at It: Being a Lifelong EdTech Learner

What do you do when you don’t know how to do something with technology?

Recently I was leading a professional development session on Google Classroom for a room full of educators. I had just finished explaining how you can invite a co-teacher to your class, and how they will be able to make posts, create assignments, and grade work just like you. An attendee then asked me, “Can a co-teacher archive a class that is not theirs?”

Hmmmm...

As a Google Certified Trainer and Innovator, and a constant users of all of Google’s apps, I really try hard to know pretty much every nook and cranny of the Google tools. Of course though, no one can know everything. I simply had never had an occasion to see if a co-teacher can archive someone else’s class.

In short, I didn’t know the answer.

Which brings us to the question - What do you do when you don’t know how to do something with technology?

This is something we all face from time to time. I face it as the “expert” standing in front of a room of teachers. You may face it as the teacher instructing a class full of students. Our students will face it all throughout their lives as they encounter new situations.

My solution is the response I gave to the teacher who asked the question, as well as to the entire room of attendees - You poke a stick at it.

Let me explain...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Make Grading Easier with Preformatted Docs

I recently received this question from a teacher…

If I push out a Google Doc worksheet to my students, and they complete it with their own writing, is there an easy way for me to see what they wrote versus my original questions?

That is a reasonable question. As a teacher you want to assess student work thoroughly and accurately, but also quickly. Anything that helps speed up that process means more time to use for planning creative activities, working directly with students, getting professional development, and more.

If you provide students with a Google Doc that has a series of questions to answer and resources to explore, when they fill in their answers and writings, the Doc could easily become one big block of uniform text from beginning to end, with no easy way to pick out what the students wrote versus what you provided.

One option to consider for addressing this is preformatting your Google Docs templates so the student work looks clearly different from your text. See the rest of the blog post below to learn how to do this, and to see what the final result can look like.

Monday, May 23, 2016

66 Question Checklist for Rolling Out Google Apps

Every day more and more schools move to Google Apps for Education. It is a powerful solution to meet many needs for students and staff. Some benefits include:

  • Programs - A wide variety of online tools including Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Gmail, Calendar, Sites, Classroom, Hangouts, and much more.
  • Third Party Tools - Thousands of useful Add-ons, Web Apps, and Extensions to provide more features.
  • Modularity - Choose just the tools you want to use, and who has access to them.
  • Updates - Frequent automatic updates to all the tools so you always have the latest versions with the newest features.
  • Central Management - Simple online management of all users, programs, and devices,
  • 21st Century Skills - Support for the skills our students needs for their future including collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
  • Price - It’s free!

So it is easy to see why so many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education. However, what may not be as easy is the process of deploying Google Apps for your district. There are a lot of questions to consider, options to choose, and steps to take to get from start to finish in a complete roll out.

I get the privilege of working with loads of schools on all aspects of Google Apps including initial setup, Active Directory Sync, email migration, Chromebook deployment, admin console settings and best practices, and all related professional development for teachers, techies, and administrators. One of the first steps in the roll out process is a checklist of questions I have the schools work through to determine their unique wants, needs, steps and plan for Google Apps.

See the rest of the blog post below for my list of deployment questions, as well as a Google Doc version you can copy and use for your own district. Hopefully these questions will help you think through all the options, catch some issues you may not have considered, and work out a plan for your next steps.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

4 Ways to add Clipart to Google Docs

“Where’s my clipart!?”

When someone first moves from Microsoft Office to Google Docs, that is often one of the early questions that comes up. Certainly Google Docs offers many excellent new features to explore (revision history, voice typing, sharing and collaborating, and more) but we still tend to notice the things that are missing rather than the new tools that are there.

So, yes, it is true that Google Docs does not have a simple Insert Clipart menu option, but that does not mean there is no way to include clipart. In fact, quite the opposite! Google Docs provides (at least) 4 ways to add clipart to your documents.

These options are great for students creating stories, reports, projects, posters, and more, as well as teachers making instructional material, hyperdocs, templates, and such. In addition, all of these options allow you to respect copyrights and teach students about the proper use of media.

See the rest of the blog post below for 4 easy options for adding clipart to Google Docs, with explanations of how to do each.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Googlink: Using Google Drawings like a Thinglink

Google Drawings is often overshadowed by the other Google Drive tools such as Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms. However, it is an excellent tool for students and teacher to do many tasks including graphic organizers, teaching math, and desktop publishing (see here for examples of each).

One more educational use for Google Drawings is to create an interactive multimedia poster. This is very much like creating a Thinglink. Let’s call it a Googlink.

If you are not familiar with Thinglink, it is a powerful online tool that lets users annotate images with pop-up text, pictures, videos, weblinks, documents, and more. It can be a great way for students to demonstrate their learning. You can see many examples of Thinglinks here: www.thinglink.com/featured

Although Thinglink is an excellent tool, its free version does have some limitations. As an option, Google Drawings can be used very much like Thinglink, and might be the perfect alternative for you and your students.

See below for information on how to use Google Drawings in a similar way as Thinglink to create, edit, and share interactive multimedia posters, as well as a sample Googlink to test out.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

12 Excellent Add-ons for Google Docs

Google Docs is a powerful word processing program with many unique features including voice typing, the research tool, revision history, web fonts, and much more. However, Google knows that even with all of those features, Docs may not be able to do everything you want it to do. So Google Docs allows you to install Add-ons to extend the capabilities of the program.

Add-ons are third-party tools that provide extra features for Docs. Over time the amount of available Add-ons has grown tremendously. There are currently 179 Add-ons for Google Docs (as of the writing of this post).

So how do you wade through all of the available Add-ons to find the best ones and the hidden gems? To help out I have collected a list of 12 of my favorite Add-ons for Docs. Certainly this is not a comprehensive list, and there are other awesome Add-ons beyond my list, but these will give you a good place to start. Some of these Add-ons will likely be familiar to you, but hopefully you will find a few new ones or be encouraged to dig deeper into one you have tried before.

See below for my list of 12 recommended Docs Add-ons, what they do, ideas for how they can be used in schools, and a quick overview of how to install, use, and remove Add-ons.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Student Reading Log Template with Google Sheets

Reading for pleasure produces great benefits for students. These can include increases in reading ability, writing ability, comprehension, grammar skills, vocabulary, self-confidence, general knowledge, cultural understanding, decision-making abilities, empathy, social skills, imagination, motivation, positive friendships, and more. (For more details see this summary of studies.)

Studies also show that reading for fun is a preferred alternative to traditional homework, especially for elementary students (see details).

It makes sense then that we should find ways to support and encourage students to read. One way to do this is by having the students set reading goals and then track their reading in a log to help reach those goals.

Traditionally a reading log is a piece of paper that students bring home for the summer, or for the course of the school year, to fill in their progress. Unfortunately papers can easily get lost or damaged, and do not give any cumulative feedback on their own.

One way to improve the old reading log is to convert it into a digital format. To help with this, I have created a free Google Sheets template for a reading log. It lets the student set goals and record their reading, and also calculates and displays their progress toward the goals, while making the form easy to share and view by parents and teachers as well.

See below to get your own copy of the Reading Log template, directions for how it works, and suggestions for how to implement this with your students.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

20 Instant Google Searches your Students Need to Know

Google strives to make their search as useful as possible, bringing back the most appropriate results for the terms you entered. Sometimes though Google goes above and beyond the normal list of search results by providing instant search cards at the top of the page.

These cards contain the information you searched for, but often also include interactive controls to let you dig deeper, branch off, or experience the information in a more engaging manner. As students learn to become better at searching and researching, many of the instant search cards can be useful to them in a variety of their school subjects.

See below for 20 examples of instant searches students can do, the interactive results they get, and ideas for how these could be used to improve learning in school.

My 2016 Ohio Google Summit Sessions

I am excited and honored to once again present at the 2016 Ohio Google Summit in Columbus this May 16th and 17th. I always look forward to this opportunity to see old friends, make new friends, share some ideas, and learn so many new things from others.

Below is a list of sessions I will be presenting at the 2016 Ohio Google Summit, along with any associated resources. Please feel free to join me for any of these sessions. I look forward to sharing, learning, and chatting with you!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Coffee with a Geek Interview

Recently I had the privilege to be interviewed by Andrew Wheelock for his site “Coffee with a Geek”. Andrew is a technology integrator in New York who, among many other things, conducts 30 minute interviews with a wide variety of people involved in educational technology.

By my count he has done over one hundred such interviews with awesome people including Alice Keeler, Kasey Bell, Vicki Davis, and my Ohio friends Katie Ritter and Amy Hollingsworth. The interviews are a great way to get to know these edtech innovators better, be inspired by their vision, and take away ideas to use in your own school and professional life.

See below for how to access all of the “Coffee with a Geek” episodes, as well as see the recorded video from when Andrew interviewed me to get a chance to learn a little more about me and my educational technology views and initiatives.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

5 Fantastic Fluency Tools for Speaking World Languages

Back when I was in high school (let’s not mention how long ago) I took four years of French. I felt I was reasonably proficient in the language, being able to read, write, and speak in French. Of course you would think I should be after four years.

Well, it turns out much of my success was due to the fact I was only communicating with other classmates in my small farm town. This became painfully clear to me when as a Senior I went on the French Club trip to Canada. When I actually came face to face with people who spoke French fast and fluently, my “C’est la vie” became “Say the what?” I quickly realized that I had a lot of head knowledge but greatly lacked practical fluency.

Thankfully one of the great powers of technology is breaking down the barriers between people regardless of language or distance. One way to help achieve this is by using technology tools to develop, practice, and improve our students' spoken fluency in a world language.

See the rest of the post below to learn about five fantastic Google tools, features, and extensions to help with improving your students' world language fluency.

Monday, May 2, 2016

10 Terrific Tools for Teachers

National Teacher Appreciation Day is celebrated on Tuesday of the First Full Week in May (for 2016 it is May 3rd). In honor of the day and all the awesome things educators do, this blog post highlights ten Google-related tools to makes the lives of teachers better.

These tools include Chrome Web Apps, Chrome Web Extensions, and Add-ons for Google Drive programs. Some may help save time, or do work for you, or provide you with new and useful ways to accomplish your normal teaching tasks. Some of these tool may also be helpful for students, but we will focus on their application for educators.

You may already be aware of some of these tools, but hopefully you will find a few that are new, or be encouraged to try out one you have heard of before.

So see below for a list of 10 terrific tools for teachers, along with ideas and suggestions for how they can be used in schools to make life easier, more efficient, or more effective. And to all the teachers... thank you so much for everything you do to impact the lives of children!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Using Google Maps Bike Directions to Teach Math and Social Studies

National Bike to School Day is celebrated in May each year (for 2016 it is Wednesday, May 4th) as part of May being recognized as National Bike Month. Many schools around the country celebrate the day with a focus on bike safety and encouraging students to ride their bikes to school that day.

Technology can be integrated into Bike to School Day by incorporating Google Maps. In addition to driving directions, Google Maps also provides directions and details for different modes of transportation including walking, riding a bus, or riding a bike.

See the rest of the blog post below to learn how to use this feature, as well as other ideas for how this can address curriculum topics in math and social studies.