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

The “Other” One in 1:1

I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my delayed flight home from the Leyden Symposium near Chicago. I’ve just spent the past three days filling my brain, meeting new people, and exhausting myself thinking about all of the possibilities for how I can apply it all. The Symposium started a few years ago as the folks at Leyden were forging ahead with their 1:1 device initiative. Educators from several states come to West Leyden High School to talk technology and best practice.

One thing stuck out to me though. While there was definitely talk of technology at the Symposium, there were more sessions that started to shift the conversation a bit. More and more, conversations centered around innovative teaching and learning and how technology supports it.

We are beginning to realize that our 1:1 initiatives might not be enough. It’s not about the devices, but rather the opportunities they provide for access and collaboration. In fact, the organizers of the Symposium know this, too. This year’s event was billed as the Innovative Teaching and Learning Symposium, as opposed to previous years when it was a 1:1 Symposium.

And the change isn’t unique to Leyden. Earlier this summer, I attended an EdCamp and noticed the same thing. Gone were the obligatory tech tool sessions of EdCamps past. Now, teachers were asking for ideas for project-based learning, student centered classrooms, and student voice and choice.

We’re starting to pay more attention to how students learn, what skills they will need to survive in the world after high school, and turning the tables on educators who refuse to adapt to the times. Suddenly (but really not so suddenly), the way we’ve always done things or the way we learned them in school is not enough. This change can be difficult, particularly for those teachers who’ve never been shown another way, but some districts are trying to help the process along.

Some districts, including Leyden, are changing the roles of their instructional coaches. In years past, they may have had specific technology coaches in addition to math or literacy coaches. Now, those positions are merging to one instructional coach position that focuses on good teaching as a whole. Despite the fact that I’ve worked as a technology coach (though under a different title), I like the change.

When I would work with teachers, I would often notice other issues in the classroom that merited discussion, but they didn’t fit into the category of “technology.” I also believe that the title of “technology coach” implies that technology is somehow separate from the rest of the teacher’s practice. Instead, I believe instructional coaches need to be skilled (or at least resourceful) in all areas of pedagogy, including technology, to be able to serve their teachers.

One of my favorite takeaways from the conference came from a session about innovation facilitated by Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey). One graphic he posted (originally credited to Molly Schroeder, @followmolly), encouraged us to remember the “other” one in 1:1. It’s far too easy to focus on the device and all of the neat things it does. However, the device will change as will the tasks it can perform. What doesn’t change?  The “other” one.Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.36.43 PM

What IS the other one? The kid using the device.  The students are why we do this job, why we have these conversations, why we attend these conferences. Ultimately, everything we do should make the educational experience better for them. We have to let go of our old ideas and biases about what education did or should look like and continually ask ourselves one question, “Is this really what’s best for kids?”  They’re the ones we need to worry about.

Guided Access on iPads

Have you ever used iPads with your students and caught them using a different app than what you asked them to use?  Frustrating, right?  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could keep them in the app you wanted in the first place?  Oh wait, you can!

The iPad has all kinds of tricks and hidden gems built in to make life easier for its users.  One of them is called Guided Access and what it does, among other things, is lock the iPad into a particular app.  It’s not exactly straightforward to find and turn on, but with a little digging, it can make classroom management with many iPads much simpler!

Guided Access is hidden in the accessibility settings.  To find it, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Settings menu.
  2. From there, click General.
  3. Click Accessibility (there are actually several features here you might want to check out, but we’ll move ahead for now).

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4. Scroll down to Guided Access (near the bottom).

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5. Tap the switch to turn on Guided Access.

6. Then click Passcode settings.  (You will need to create a passcode if you don’t already have one.  This is what you will need to exit Guided Access when your students are done working.  Be sure you keep track of the passcode!)

You’re all set!  To activate Guided Access, enter the app you’d like students to use and then triple-click the home button.  The window will shrink a bit and you will see the Guided Access controls appear on the screen.  Click Start at the top right corner and Guided Access will be activated.

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Now when your students use the iPads and try to back out of an app, it won’t work.  They also can’t double-click the home button to scroll between open apps.  When you’re done using that app, triple-click the home button to reveal the Guided Access controls again.  From there, you can either end or resume Guided Access.  You can also use the Guided Access menu to turn off access to particular parts of the screen.  This can be helpful if their are buttons you don’t want your students to bump accidentally.  Remember, Guided Access has to be turned on each time you enter an app!

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).

Get Them Talking About Their Learning!

If you’ve spent any time with children, you know that the majority of them LOVE to talk.  In fact, as many parents and teachers can attest, once you get them started, it’s hard to get them to stop!  Teachers cite excessive talking as a problem issue for many students in class, but what if we could teach them to harness this power and use it for good rather than evil (well, not really evil, but certainly not productive)?

What if instead of giving a student a test at the end of a particular lesson or unit, you had them talk about what they know or what they learned?

Would you be able to say with certainty whether or not the child had mastered that standard?  I feel confident that if I got to hear my students talk through their learning, I could get a pretty good handle on what they know and where their learning gaps were.  On top of that, while reading and writing are extremely important skills for students to develop, the ideas of speaking and listening are too often neglected yet just as valuable.

But what about the fact that you have 20+ kids in your class?  Or multiple classes?  How can you get to every student?  You can’t always count on them to listen to each other, because it takes a fair amount of practice for students to evaluate each other well and give constructive feedback (though I would absolutely recommend this as a good practice to get into the habit of doing in your classroom).  So how can a teacher reasonably listen to that many students to ensure that he or she truly knows what their students know?  By using technology, of course!  Teachers can have students use a variety of tools to record themselves sharing their thoughts and listen to them later, freeing them up to work with other students or manage other tasks during the school day.

The easiest way to have kids create an audio or video recording with a mobile device.  My favorite is simply the video camera on an iPad.  They can record in “selfie mode” so you can see them as they talk or they could use the back camera to show something they worked on (paper/pencil, manipulatives, artistic creation, etc.) and explain what they did or learned.  Rather than spending time outside of class correcting papers, the teacher would watch the videos instead.

If you want to get a little bit more exciting, you can try out a few iOS apps like Chatterpix Kids, Tellagami, 30Hands, Educreations, and Book Creator.  Each of these apps works a little differently, but what they all have in common is they have an audio recording feature that lets students talk about what they’re learning.   And each app allows students to take or import a photo of something they have working on and would like to tell you about.  Not only that, but each of these apps is easy to use and content-agnostic, meaning you can use them with literally any subject area.  That’s particularly important because teachers get more bang for their buck when they can teach one app to do many things rather than many apps that each do one thing.

For the most part, each of these apps creates a video that can be exported to your device’s camera roll.  Once there, you can choose to view it from the camera roll or collect it elsewhere.  One tip though: if you have many students doing this type of project, it is helpful to have them include their name on the project somehow.  In Chatterpix, for example, I have my students put their name on the photo they record so I can easily see which student I’m listening to.

Once you have all of these great artifacts showing student learning, you can manage them using a great app like Seesaw.  At its most basic level, Seesaw is a digital portfolio where you and your students can collect all these great photos and videos, comment on them, or annotate them.  It can pull items directly from the camera roll or you can record right in the app itself!  And it’s so easy to use that even the youngest learners can use it independently with some pre-teaching.  The biggest benefit to Seesaw, though there are many, is that the photos and videos are already organized for you by student, which makes assessing and later sharing with parents much easier.  If you prefer not to use Seesaw, see my previous blog post about getting photos and videos from a iOS device to Google Drive for storage and viewing.

What should students record?  Anything and everything!  Use Educreations to work out a math problem and record themselves solving it and talking through their answer.  Snap a pic of a reading passage using Chatterpix and have them read it on video for a fluency check.  Show a diagram of the water cycle and create a Tellagami to explain how the process works.  Instead of doing a traditional report on an animal, state, or other common theme, create a slideshow in 30Hands and narrate the entire thing.  Create a story with Book Creator and narrate it, either in addition to or instead of writing the words – your choice based on the time and readiness of your students.

By the way, as I was searching for images to use with this post, I couldn’t find many pictures of kids talking in a school setting. It was almost always kids reading or watching the teacher talk.  I was able, however, to find several pictures of adults talking to each other.  What does that tell you?

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!

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/.

Nearpod as Project Eval Tool

This week, I’ve been using Nearpod to help students evaluate their classmates’ video projects in my technology class (see original post here).  Overall, I was pleased with the process.  The Nearpod lesson was pretty simple to create.  There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles – all of the slides of the same kind look the same.

I used the tool with both 4th and 5th grade students and both were able to use it successfully.  Students were able to give feedback on their peers’ projects as well as report about their own group’s work habits.  I was able to look at the report after the session to see how their perceptions compared with my own.

One issue we had was with some students’ devices not jumping to the next screen at the right time.  This was helped immensely when I made sure that both my teacher computer and their devices were all on the same wi-fi network.  I also instructed students to simply exit and rejoin the session if their slides ever lagged and they were able to do so independently as needed.

There were a few things about the app that I think could be improved, so I reached out to Nearpod on Twitter.  They responded quickly and will be passing my suggestions on to their developers.  I love the fact that social media can so easily connect teachers with software developers to produce better products!

I like that students can join the session at any time by entering the class code.  I don’t have to register students or create accounts ahead of time.  This makes Nearpod easy to use on the fly when necessary.  The app was easy for me to use as the teacher and very easy for my students to use as well.  They were excited to use the devices to give feedback – I doubt I would have gotten the same response for paper and pencil!

 

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?

Nearpod & Project Evals

Yesterday, I spent some time preparing for my 5th grade tech students to watch their final digital citizenship video projects and evaluate them.  I suppose I could have used paper and pencil, but I’m trying to take advantage of the fact that I have a class set of iPads in my room this year.  I decided to try Nearpod, an app that allows teachers to push content to students’ iPads and get feedback from them in real time.

I created a simple rubric for the project, with categories for audio, use of photos or video clips, and overall organization. To use Nearpod, I converted each rubric category to a poll question and gave students a description for each performance level (3-2-1).  Every student will give feedback on each of the six groups’ projects.  Next, I wanted to get feedback about how well each student thought their group worked throughout the process.  I included four poll questions that address various aspects of group work.  I also purposely made the Nearpod lesson generic enough (no group or student names) so I can use it with all three classes without having to recreate it each time.

I’ve never used Nearpod for this type of activity, so we’ll see how it works.  I like that students can give feedback in real time and do it relatively anonymously – I will know how each student answered, but they won’t see each others’ submissions unless they show each other their screens.  I can also control the speed of the delivery so students can’t rush through the evaluation before even seeing the videos.  I don’t have to worry about handing out papers or sharpening pencils.

Have you ever used Nearpod for evaluating student work?  What’s your favorite use for the app?

Genius Hour in Music

I’ve recently started reading the book Pure Genius by Don Wettrick.  It’s no secret that kids are more engaged when they have voice and choice in what they are learning.  We all have passions that we could lose ourselves in for hours if given the chance.  I’ve been intrigued by the idea, but wasn’t sure how to make it work in a large group music class until now.

My 5th graders have been playing ukuleles in class for about a month or so and have done amazingly well.  I’ve tried to find songs for them to play that are school appropriate and familiar to them (a not always easy task!).  Still, I know not all my boys love Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor, and there were probably tons of other songs they were dying to play.

The solution? Genius Hour in music class!  Starting today, my kids are working alone or in groups to come up with a school appropriate song that they’d like to play.  They are in charge of figuring out the chords and how to play the song (with the help of iPads and the internet).  We brainstormed ideas for what steps they would need to take to be successful and then off they went!  And they were actively engaged the entire time!

We will continue working on the project next week during music time!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with!  Hopefully, I can share some on YouTube!

Kindergarten Sight Words

Today in my kindergarten tech class, we practiced spelling sight words and finding letters on the iPad keyboard.  I created a Keynote presentation that showed the class how to open the app (we used Notes) and create a new note.  Then they typed their name and were ready to begin.  Each slide of the Keynote showed a sight word  and instructed them to press return after the word.  I included a different transition between each slide (almost to the point of obnoxiousness), but the kids were excited to see what would happen next!  The kids enjoyed getting to find letters for words they knew well (they couldn’t believe that Ms. H knew all the words they knew from their classroom).  The biggest problems were students getting confused about the letter “I” and mistaking it for a lowercase “L” and students getting impatient and tapping different areas on the screen, which caused their cursor to jump around.