MMEA Resources

Here are the resources from the three sessions I’m presenting at the MMEA Mid-Winter Clinic this week:

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bit.ly/MMEALittleHands

 

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bit.ly/MMEAChrome

 

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bit.ly/MMEASubPlans

Beginning to Power Up – Prepping for a 1:1 Rollout

Many districts have made the move toward 1:1 device access for their students.  This can look different in every district; what devices are used, what ages of students are involved, whether students take devices home, and other variables make each 1:1 deployment unique.  Because of these differences, there really can’t be a “one size fits all” handbook when it comes to starting this type of program.  There are, however, books available now that try to provide some guidance and answers for teachers and districts as they navigate this new frontier.

Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning, written by Jen Roberts and Diana Neebe, does just that.  Both authors are teachers who have experience teaching with 1:1 access for their students.  While their two teaching assignments and 1:1 programs do not look alike, these differences allow them to provide more varied examples for teachers to learn from.

I just picked up this book for my Kindle a few weeks ago and finally had a chance to start digging in.  I’m about a quarter of the way through it, so I’m certainly no expert.  But I work in a district about to embark on its 1:1 journey and thought it might be a helpful resource.  So far, I have quite pleased and plan to share many of the ideas in the book with the teachers I support.

The first thing I love most about the book is that it is written by teachers.  The book is accessible and because you know the authors are “in the trenches,” it gives them much more credibility.  They are also very honest with their experience.  They aren’t preaching for teachers to change their entire curriculum in the first year and they don’t claim it will be easy, but they do provide some valuable tips for teachers to make things easier that they themselves learned along the way.

I also appreciate the abundance of ideas for class activities and assessments they share throughout the book.  They provide a longer example to begin with, but then share snippets of additional assignments that teachers may choose to use instead.  This is particularly helpful for teachers who are new to integrating technology and helps to get their minds spinning about all of the possibilities.

One wish I would have for the book so far is that I would love to see more examples for younger grades.  Both Neebe and Roberts are secondary level teachers, come with a wealth of experience, and their ideas in many cases could still be modified for younger students.  Still, as someone who has spent the majority of their career in K-5 settings, I would appreciate more examples of ideas for successful 1:1 implementation with those students.

I’m excited to continue reading the book and look forward to sharing more learning!

Google Classroom: Class Workflow Made Simple!

How many of these have ever applied to you as a teacher:

  • You have had to send students to the library to print an assignment they forgot.
  • Students left their papers at home.
  • Someone was absent and now needs to know what the assignment was or needs a copy of a handout.
  • Your shoulder is sore from hauling home a massive stack of papers to grade and comment on.
  • Your shoulder isn’t sore because you forgot all of the papers you needed to grade that night on your desk at school.
  • You’ve gotten several papers turned in with no names on them.
  • You have students share their finished Google documents with you only to get dozens of “shared with you” emails and then have to try to sort through all of them to put them in folders so you can find them later.

If any of these apply to you, you need to stop what you’re doing and get yourself on Google Classroom.  I’m not kidding; stop reading right now and go set it up.  I’ll wait until you get back.  It’s that awesome.

So now that you’ve set up your account, here are a few things you can do with Classroom to make your (and your students’) life easier.  First of all, it provides a place where you can post any class announcements, handouts, and assignments.  It’s a one-stop shop where students should be able to find any and all information they need to do their work.  No more “I can’t find my _______.”

Since it is a product within the GAFE domain, it works extremely well with Google Drive.  In fact, when you create assignments and have students submit them, Classroom will “talk” to your Drive account and automatically create a folder for each class and assignment, meaning you no longer have to deal with students sharing documents with you (and the dozens of emails that go with that) or trying to organize all of them in your Drive.

Evaluating student work becomes easier with Classroom as well.  Once assignments are submitted, the teacher can use the built-in commenting or suggesting features of Google Docs to leave feedback for students.  Tools like Doctopus and Goobric make rubric grading and other evaluation go much quicker (learn more here) and one like Kaizena allows you to leave voice feedback instead of writing or typing comments (check out Kaizena).

My absolute favorite feature of Google Classroom is that when you create an assignment and need to share a document with students, you have three options: students can view file (no editing privileges), students can edit file (everyone edits the same document), or make a copy for each student.  The last one is my personal favorite because if I attach a Google document or other file type, it will automatically generate a separate copy for every student AND put their name on it.  And again, because it’s Classroom, all of those files are neatly organized in the appropriate folder in your Google Drive with no additional work from you.  I suggest to teachers that they create a template for their students (even if the entire thing is blank) because then each assignment will come in with the same title and include the student name.

For those of you who teach more than one class at a time: when you post an assignment, you can assign it to any of your classes simply by checking a few boxes – no need to recreate the assignment for every section.  You can also add students easily by giving them the 6-digit alphanumeric code that Classroom generates for you; this is much more efficient than entering hundreds of students names yourself.  You can even add a co-teacher if you share your class with a colleague.  Finally, for all of my primary teacher friends out there, Classroom can even be used with your students!

If I haven’t yet convinced you of how awesome Google Classroom is, then feel free to check out some other resources.  There are several guides to Google Classroom for sale on Amazon, the most popular of which is Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller’s 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom (available here).  Keeler also has a tremendous amount of blog posts, suggestions, and tutorials on her website (www.alicekeeler.com).  I also wrote a short e-book that can help get you started with the basics of Classroom (free e-book here).

Give Screencasting a Try!

A lot of teachers ask me what my top tech tool is.  It’s like desert island for geeks: what one tool could you not live without if you were stranded with only one thing?  While it’s hard to narrow down, I think my answer right now would have to be the screencast.  They can be used by any teacher at any level and be extremely effective and efficient when done well.

What is a screencast?  Basically, it’s where you record what’s happening on your screen (a broadcast of your computer), usually with some sort of audio recording.  Some screencasting tools also allow you to record a web cam as well, meaning you can also see the person doing the recording while you watch.  Screencasts can be created on virtually any device, though some particular screen recorders work better on particular platforms.

Screencasts have a tremendous amount of value in the classroom!  A common use of screencasting is to operate in a flipped classroom model.  The teacher records a video segment teaching a lesson, the students watch the video as homework, then the teacher helps the students work through problems and questions the next day in class.  The lecture moves outside the school day and the in class time is spent working directly with students.

Screencasts can also be helpful when planning for a substitute.  I used to love creating screencasts for when I knew I was going to be gone.  When I was teaching a class, I couldn’t always count on getting a substitute who knew my content, but I always had someone that could click a link or press play.  I could leave directions for a particular activity or process, record a greeting for the class, or explain difficult concepts that my students needed to know about in my absence.

Or what about students who are absent?  How many times have you had to sit down with a student and reteach an entire lesson because they missed it?  Or a student who was in class but just hasn’t quite grasped the material yet.  Both of these students can stay in the classroom, watch the video on some kind of device, and then be ready to join back in with the rest of the class.  The teacher, meanwhile, is free to move around the room helping other students working in real time.

Students can also use screencasts to show what they know.  Want kids to explain a process and show you they understand?  Have them create a screencast where they walk through their knowledge, hopefully with visuals of some kind.  Want your students to do a slideshow of some kind but not want to sit through 30+ presentations?  Have them create a Google slideshow then record a screencast to talk through their presentation.  Then have students share their videos for the teacher and their classmates to view.

My favorite screencasting tool by far is Camtasia.  You can pause recording, edit out mistakes and add so many fancy features to make your videos look amazing.  But for the beginner screencaster, I would recommend checking out Screencast-o-Matic, Screencastify, or Snagit.  The last three products are free; Screencast-o-Matic works best on computers (Mac or PC) and the other two both work on the Chrome browser (Mac, PC, or Chromebooks).

Never made a screencast before?  One tip is to plan out your video ahead of time.  Have any windows open that you need and are ready to go rather than having to wait for software to load.  Make sure you have a quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed; this helps keep you from having to edit your video or re-record later.  Finally, keep your videos SHORT! Screencasts are generally more successful when they are less than five minutes, but even better when they are less than three.  Consider chunking your content into smaller bits to allow you to record shorter videos.  You will appreciate it when you are recording the videos (and so will your viewers).

Have you tried recording a screencast before?  How have you used it in your classroom?

Create Music Scores Online with Flat

Having been a music teacher for nearly ten years, I get pretty excited when I see some great resources out there for music educators and their students.  One of my biggest frustrations with schools moving toward Chromebooks is the lack of music apps and resources that were included on the iPad.

Flat is a website trying to change all that.  It allows users to create their own musical scores on their browser (translation: no iPad app needed!).

The benefits are huge here.  Flat offers free services as well as paid premium options (many good iPad notation apps are paid apps), but working in the browser means that student work is mobile.  Creating in the cloud means they can feasibly edit and create on any device with an internet connection.  No more “I forgot my iPad” or “my work is on that iPad over there that’s being used by another student.”

Another issue? Printing from iPads.  Many times, students and teachers need to be able to print scores once they are done creating and editing.  By using a browser notation tool like Flat, scores can be printed like regular documents without the hassle of emailing copies to another computer (note: your district setup may or may not allow printing from Chromebooks, but you should be able to pull up your score on another computer that is capable of printing).  Flat allows user to print an entire score, individual parts, or both.

What I’m really excited about in Flat’s site is the ability to collaborate and share scores with others: think Google Docs but with music scores instead of text documents!  Flat also allows users to login with their Google credentials – a huge plus for my students in a GAFE environment.  Flat also offers Educator accounts, which allow teachers to integrate work with Google Classroom.

What do you think? Have you used Flat or a similar tool?  I’d love to hear more!

Want to keep track of things? Try Google Keep!

It seems like there is a never-ending stream of information for teachers, staff, and students to keep track of.  You write it down, but then that post-it note falls off your computer. Or you can’t remember where you saved a file with some important info.

One possible solution is Google Keep.  It allows you to create notes that look like sticky notes, but with so much more power!  Here are a few great features you might like:

  • Title your notes
  • Choose a note color to keep yourself organized
  • Add a note reminder
  • Search your notes for any words in the title or body of the note
  • Share notes with colleagues
  • Tag notes with keywords (which allow you to pull up all notes with that tag)
  • Add images to your notes
  • Copy a note to a Google Doc if you need to do more work with it
  • Can access on mobile devices (iOS and Android) or on the web
Use them with your PLC to have shared notes with reminders.  Use different colored notes to keep track of different things (students, parents, PLC, grade level, etc.).  Collect information or data on students and tag with the student’s name to find quickly.  Keep track of teaching resources, websites, etc. that you need to reference later and tag by subject or standard. The possibilities are endless!

To check it out, view the video below or visit https://keep.google.com/.

Reaching All Learners With Web Tools

You probably know that the Internet is a great tool for education, but what you might not know is that there are many tools and websites out there that can make learning easier for students.  Unfortunately, many educators believe that the only students who can benefit from such tools are students receiving special education services.  Not so!  These resources are available to anyone – no IEP required!  Any student or teacher can use these resources to help them be successful.

Here are some I’ve been checking out this week:

1. Announcify

Announcify is a Google Chrome app that reads the text printed on a webpage.  Not only that, but it blurs out any other bits of information or text that are not currently being read.  This can be particularly helpful for students who might be distracted by objects on the page or have trouble tracking while reading.

2. Closed Captions on YouTube

Showing a YouTube video but have students who have hearing impairments or have trouble keeping up?  Maybe the text on the video is just unclear?  Many YouTube videos include an option for closed captions. Videos with captions available will have a “CC” icon in the video summary in search results. When playing a video that has captions, you can turn on captioning by clicking the “CC” icon in the bottom right corner of the video window.

3. Speechnotes

For anyone who doesn’t want to write or type!  This is one of MANY voice recognition/dictation programs that allow the user to speak their text rather than type it.  They can also add punctuation by voice command as well.  They can then copy/paste their text into a Google Doc or other assignment platform.  One caution: while the dictation programs out there now are pretty good, it is always a good choice to go back and have the student edit his or her work before submitting as you can occasionally get some interesting results!

4. Clearly

Made by the makers of Evernote (another favorite tool of mine), Clearly gets rid of all of the “junk” on websites so readers can see the material more “clearly.”  Users can also print the Clearly version (or better yet, save it as a PDF for sharing with others!).

These ideas don’t even scratch the surface of all of the tools that can improve accessibility to the web and its content!  Teachers or students who would like to use these Chrome apps and extensions can install them themselves on their Chrome browser.  See below for some helpful videos!

What’s a Chrome Web App?

Too Many Passwords? LastPass Can Help!

Another password?!
As teachers today, you probably have anywhere from 5 to 15 passwords (or more) for various accounts that you use in your teaching. That doesn’t include passwords you use in areas of your personal life, such as banking, shopping, and website memberships. Some of you likely try to use the same password for all of them, and understandably so. But experts agree that doing so is one of the biggest risks to your digital security.

Solution – A Password Manager!
Now, there are websites out there that specialize in managing the passwords to all of your various accounts while maintaining high levels of security. Some offer paid versions, but several are free. My personal favorite is called LastPass.


What Does It Do?
-Remembers passwords for websites you choose
-You Create ONE master password that gives you access to your password list
-Automatically fills in passwords on websites you’ve saved

Do I have to save a password for every website?
No. When you enter your password on a given website, you will be asked if you would like to save the password for that site. You can choose: save site, not now, or never save site depending on your needs.

How Do I Start?
Visit www.lastpass.com to get started!

Schedule Your Email With Boomerang!

In case you haven’t figured out yet, I am all about any technology that makes my life better or easier.  Isn’t that the point, anyway?  Well, not long ago I wrote about one solution for cleaning up your email inbox (Unroll.Me – read that post here!) and today I have another handy tool for making your email life easier – Boomerang!

What is it?  Boomerang is an extension that you can add to your Gmail or Google Apps account.

What does it do?  Boomerang allows you to have better control over your email.  The two main tools I use are Send Later and Reminders.

Send Later  Have you ever needed to send an email, but not right now?  Maybe you want to get a little work done on a Saturday morning but you don’t want to send the email until Monday morning?  Or maybe you know an email reminder for an event needs to go out in a few weeks but you want to write it up now so you won’t forget?  Sure, you could just set a reminder and write that email later, but with Boomerang you can choose!   You can choose to send your email in one hour or in one month.  You can also specify a date and time for your email to be sent.

Boomerang

Reminders  Sometimes I find myself dealing with some kind of issue that really needs some follow up.  In the past, I’d just keep the email in my inbox; maybe I’d star it in Gmail or maybe I’d set some calendar reminder to deal with it.  Boomerang reminders allow you to select an email conversation and set a date and time for it to return to your inbox when you’re ready to deal with it.  You can even specify that it only returns to your inbox if nobody responds.  I use that feature quite a bit.

Cost  For the most part, Boomerang is free.  You can use Boomerang up to ten times a month for free (this includes Send Laters and Reminders).  This has been more than enough for my personal use.  If you’re an email heavy hitter and you really love it, they also have monthly plans for greater usage.

Want to check it out?  Click this link here to visit Boomerang’s site, install Boomerang for Gmail or get more information.

Not Fair and Not Equal

They say it costs somewhere around $250,000 to raise a child today.  I wonder how much it costs a school district to educate them. School budgets are no strangers to shortfalls, and an increase in pressure to use technology has made it even more difficult for districts to make ends meet.  It’s all about devices; we need more available, we need apps, we need replacements, we need more bandwidth, and so on.  While it’s true that some aspects of preparing kids for their futures can be done without the aid of technology, kids do need to be comfortable using technology to communicate and collaborate. But this is one of the biggest differences I see in the schools I’ve worked in and those I’ve heard about: not-so-equal access to devices.

My district is beginning a rollout of 1:1 Chromebooks for the 2015-2015 school year, and only in grades 11 and 12 (more grades added the following year).  Other districts have been 1:1 in K-12 grades for a few years now.  And as far as plans go right now, the closest we’ll get to 1:1 in the elementary grades is one cart of devices PER GRADE LEVEL.  In some buildings that might not be a big deal, but some of my grades have as many as six sections.  That’s a ratio of almost 5:1.

How are my kids supposed to compete?  I still have 4th and 5th graders who occasionally struggle with logging on to their device after nearly nine months of technology class once every six days.  Imagine what that looks like in a building with devices in their classroom every hour of the day.  Those same kids didn’t know how to highlight text on the screen in September.  What were the 1:1 kids doing in September?  Probably the same things my kids were doing in May, maybe more.

Again, technology is no replacement for good teaching.  As one of my former principal says, “good teaching is good teaching.”  She’s right, but good teaching alone is not enough to prepare kids for the future.  The innovation, problem solving, communication, and collaboration that can happen through the use of technology will provide our kids with the best preparation possible for a future we can only imagine.

I will continue to do what I can for my kids, both with sound teaching practices and the incorporation of technology.  And I will continue to hope that my district (and its voters, when necessary) will fund additional technology initiatives and increase student access across the district.  In the mean time, I will continue to educate myself and my colleagues about ways to efficiently incorporate the technology we do have so it doesn’t sit idle during the school day.

Do you have any creative ways of getting technology into your students’ hands?  Or maybe a great source for funding?