Heading to the (Droid) Dark Side (Part 2)

Well, I did it! About two weeks ago, my new Google Pixel arrived. I was excited and a little nervous, but I figured it’s a cell phone. How bad can it be?

Set up was pretty easy. I simply popped out my SIM card, put it in the new phone and I was ready to go. Because I already use a ton of Google products, most of my information was there when I signed in. And surprisingly, most of the apps I’d had on my iPhone installed automatically on the new phone.

There are a few things that have been a little harder to get used to. One is having the fingerprint lock on the back of the phone. The iPhone has always unlocked from the front (either with the home button or Face ID). I’ve also added an unlock screen pattern which gives me the option to unlock it when it’s sitting on the desk without picking it up. The other thing that is different is that the iPhone puts all of the apps on separate pages that you swipe through. The Pixel puts them all in a large list that you can see if you swipe up, but you have to put them on pages manually if you want to swipe left and right. The last thing isn’t hard to get used to, but it’s just a pain. Because the Pixel doesn’t use the same charging cables as Apple, I’ve had to purchase a few new charging devices. Wouldn’t it be nice if they all used the same technology?!

One thing I’ve added since getting the phone is some home automation. I purchased a few smart plugs and smart nightlights and have them programmed so I can turn them on by voice command. Some people may think it’s silly to tell your phone to turn the lights on, and maybe it is (it’s certainly a first world problem!). But to me, one of the purposes of technology is to make our lives easier. Plus, my son thinks it’s funny to tell the phone to turn the lights on for him. I haven’t purchased any of the smart speakers yet, but they’re likely on my shopping list sometime in the future. I don’t want to buy smart home things just for the sake of buying them, just for things that would truly make things more convenient.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I did have one major setback in the process. I noticed almost right away that my camera didn’t work the way I expected to. It would often freeze when I tried to use it, particularly inside another app (like when I tried to use the camera for mobile deposit in my banking app). I couldn’t video chat either; the camera would lock up and often restart the phone. Needless to say, I was pretty frustrated. But after a couple of calls with support to see if we could troubleshoot the problem, Google sent me a new phone which arrived a couple of days ago. So far, the new phone appears to be working well!

I think it’s safe to say that I’m sticking with Google for now. Of course, now that I’ve bought the Pixel 3, they’re talking about rumors about the Pixel 4. I’m also hopeful that Google is going to eventually release a smart watch that plays nicely with the Pixel. For now, I’m pretty happy with my purchase.

Heading to the (Droid) Dark Side

I’ve had a cell phone since late 2001. It was my first year of college and I had the same sweet Nokia gem with the (mint green) changeable faceplate that played Snake. I don’t even know how many different phones I’ve had since then, but once the Apple iPhone hit the market, I was a loyal customer. I believe the first iPhone I had was an iPhone 4 and I’ve carried almost every iteration of the phone since.

If you’d have told me at any point in this journey that I’d become an Android user, I’d say you were crazy. I’ve been an Apple fan for years. I have an iPhone, an iPad, and a Macbook Air. I’ve loved how they communicate seamlessly with each other and the user interface has always been much more intuitive for me than any other platform. But lately that’s started to shift.

I still have no intention of giving up my Mac. I have a PC at work and I honestly hate it. But between my laptop and my phone, I rarely use my iPad anymore. It’s a little older and the battery life isn’t great. And because it’s an iPad mini, it really isn’t that much larger than my phone. I bought a Kindle Fire a few months back that I use primarily for traveling because the storage capacity and battery life was superior to my iPad when wanting things to read and watch on an airplane.

Plus, I’ve been hanging out on the sidelines watching as the whole home automation scene has been exploding. Nothing about my home is “smart,” but I’m intrigued by a few tools that I’ve seen come out in the last few years. The Google Assistant looks promising (I’ve never been in love with Siri and the Reminders app on my iPhone) and being able to control a few things from my phone would sure be handy (my parents would probably say lazy, but oh well).

After LOTS of reading online and visiting the store to see and touch the tech toys in their native habitat, I decided to buy a Google Pixel 3. Almost everything I use is already Google: email, calendar, photos, documents, maps, and so on. I’ve never used the native Apple apps for any of these, at least not for long.

The biggest problem with this change is that it means I won’t really have a use for my Apple Watch anymore. Admittedly, I don’t wear it every day. I like to wear it on weekends, playing in the water with my son, or working out. I also wear it certain times at work when I need to make sure I’m not missing phone calls or notifications. So, that will be an issue to figure out once I evaluate the phone situation.

I’m sure it will be an adjustment. I’ve never owned a non-Apple smartphone (though I did own a Blackberry for a short time in the mid-2000s). But I’m pretty techie and a quick learner, so it should be fine. The phone should arrive later this week – I’ll be sure to write an update to share how the transition goes!

Have you ever made a major change like this? How did it go? Do you think I’ll love the Pixel or hate it?

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

Google Drive: Collaborate or Copy?

Most people will admit that the introduction of Google Drive and its collaborative features, has been a game changer in the world of education.  Gone are (or should) be the days of emailing documents back and forth only to be working on outdated copies and trying to sort through multiple versions to find the “right” one.

The ability to share documents and other files with colleagues and students with just a few clicks is amazing.  We can work together on a single document in real time without having to crowd around a computer screen.  Participants can add to a meeting agenda without needing to email the items to the organizer.  Teachers don’t need to photocopy documents or manage hundreds of emails from students (particularly if they use Google Classroom).

Sometimes, however, collaboration on a document can be problematic.  Sometimes we want to share something with a colleague, but we still need to keep our original.  We remind them to make their own copy (which they can do), but they often forget and just start editing away.  This causes some teachers to revert back to old methods of emailing a document so they make sure their work doesn’t disappear.

But there is a little trick!  Did you know that you can force someone to make a copy of your document?  By making a small change to the URL of the document, the recipient will see a screen like this:Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.26.20 AM

Clicking the “make a copy” button will automatically create a copy of the document in THEIR Google Drive.  Your document is intact and you’ve still shared your work with others.

How do you do it?  It’s actually pretty simple.

  1. Open a Google Doc (actually any Google file type should work).
  2. In the address bar, you should see a URL that begins with https://docs.google.com…
  3. Somewhere relatively near the end of the address, you should see the word edit (it may be followed by additional words or characters).
  4. Delete the word edit AND everything that follows it.
    Untitled drawing (2)
  5. At the end of the address, now add the word COPY.Untitled drawing (3)
  6. Highlight the entire address, and copy/paste it into an email that you send to anyone who needs the link.  When they click it, they will see the screen above.

So now you have the choice: collaborate or copy.  Both serve very useful functions in different situations.  For example, any time a group of teachers will need to have access to the SAME document, they will want to share the document with the group and edit on the same document.  Any time I’m sharing a document outside my organization, such as at conference or with Twitter friends, I tend to force the copy.  There are times, though, that I still use the force copy feature with colleagues within my district.

One example would be when you have created an assignment, assessment or template that you’d like to be able to share with your team.  In this case, if it’s important for every student to do the exact same assignment, you would want to share.  If you want each teacher to get the document but be able to customize it, you might want to choose force copy instead.

Again, both ways are helpful, so choose what works for you in your particular situation!

Google Expeditions!

Today, we hosted the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program at our middle school!  The program uses Google Cardboard, which is a viewer similar to the Viewmaster toys many of us had as kids.  Except this time, the view is in 3D and you can turn a full 360˚ and see everything around you.

The Expeditions program is still technically in beta form and they are “taking their show on the road” to let schools try out the app and get feedback.  They have an extensive and varied list of places and things to see around the world, including Mt. Everest, coral reefs, various cities around the world, and national parks and monuments.

While the scheduling process was a bit tricky, we were able to figure out a plan that allowed every 6th, 7th, and 8th grader at our school to take part in at least one Expedition.  8th grade world studies students learned about Syrian refugees and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, 7th grade social studies students checked out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and world language students went on a tour of Barcelona and saw the Sagrada Familia in its yet unfinished state (complete with construction cranes).

The students were absolutely mesmerized!  Many of these students may never get to see these wonders of the world in real life, but the 3D viewing capability makes it feel like you’re really there.  Many of them asked if they could buy the Google Cardboard viewer for themselves.

My one frustration with the whole process is that our teachers didn’t have any idea what to expect from the program.  Though they were encouraged to choose an expedition that supplemented their curriculum, they didn’t get a chance to see what they’d actually be doing with their students until just before school started.  Once the program is widely available to teachers and schools, I can see how something like this could be incredibly valuable in the classroom.  Imagine learning about the Great Wall of China and then going to visit it in 3D in the next lesson!

What is amazing to me is that now geography doesn’t even hold these kids back.  If they want to see the Colosseum in Rome, all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse and they can be standing right outside.  While it’s definitely not as good as being there in person, it’s much better than looking at an Atlas or a photo in an encyclopedia like previous generations.  My hope is that seeing some of these sites will make these students want to travel the world themselves one day.  I know it’s definitely making me want to check my own passport!

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).

iPad Full of Photos? Send Them to Google Drive!

Photos and videos can be a powerful tool for students and teachers.  But getting photos from place to place can be tricky.  It used to be the only way to move photos from your iPad to your computer was to email them a few at a time.  It took forever!  Not a good use of any teacher’s time!

Many teachers find themselves with very full iPads. Often, this is because they and their students are documenting their learning through photos.  Pretty soon, though, the iPad is full but we still want to keep those pictures.

Your iPad has limited storage, but your Google Drive does not.  You can now easily move photos from you iPad device to your Google Drive, where you can store as many photos as you need.  Once the photos are uploaded, you can delete them from your iPad and free up much needed space.

Teachers can opt to do this in one of two main ways: manually or automatically.  Now, you might be asking why I would even mention a manual option when it can be done automatically.  I like teachers to have options that meet the needs of their workflow.  If you have students taking photos, you may want to go through them before they end up in your Drive, so you’d rather upload photos as needed (Manual).  Or maybe you’d prefer an automatic solution and you’d like to go through the photos on your computer instead (Automatic).  No right or wrong answer here because both will accomplish what we need to do.

I have created directions for performing both options (click each option to see the directions I created for my teachers):

Manual Uploading

Automatic Uploading

Hope it’s helpful!  And keep taking photos!

Update: In the short few days since I created these tutorials, I’ve shared them with at least a half dozen teachers in my district! Apparently, I was more timely than I thought!

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/.