Monday, July 13, 2015

I'm back!!!!

The end of the school year is such a busy time for schools, especially a one-person tech department for 1000 students!  I've missed so many of my Twitter chats and I'm definitely late in updating my blog.  So, I'm going to try and be better about blogging and sharing my ideas and ideas that I've learned from others.

Today, I attended #edcampLDR in Columbus, OH.  I've written about other edcamps I've participated in, but this one was different.  EdcampLDR was for school leaders - from teacher leaders all the way to superintendents.  It was another opportunity to connect with other Tech Directors and school leaders from not only Ohio, but West Virginia as well.  The Columbus edcamp was one of 15 edcampLDR unconferences going on concurrently around the country.  By following the #edcampLDR tag on Twitter, not only could I share things that I learned today, but also learned from others shared as well.  

Here are some of my takeaways from today's event.....

  1. Teachers need to be not only innovators of learning; but facilitators of student innovation as well.
  2. Questions are more important than the answers.
  3. We, as teachers and school leaders, need to tear down the cultural divides that get in the way of collaboration among education stakeholders.
  4. Building our brand is important.  Learn how to market your yourself to stand out in a crowd of candidates.
  5. PD at school should be done "edcamp" style.  Teachers will have increased buy-in and learn more if they can drive the learning.  Not everyone needs the same PD.
  6. Collaborating with your PLN is amazing!  You can share a link on Twitter asking for suggestions and get 7 pages of responses!!!  I asked for Chrome Apps and Extensions to use and here's what we got!
  7. We can learn more together than we can alone!

Want to find out more about what happened at #edcampldr today, check out the link to the archive below!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My Thoughts about Google's Education on Air Conference

This past weekend, I was honored to participate in Google's 2nd Education on Air Conference.  I will tell you that I have never met a more amazing and passionate group of educators as I did here.  For those of you that were not able to participate, don't worry.... you still can.

Friday's keynotes were amazing.  I was most inspired by Bethany Wenger.  Bethany was the winner of the 2012 Google Science Fair.  As a breast cancer survivor, I was eager to hear how she created a cloud-based neural network to accurately assess breast cancer from fine needle aspirate samples.  The program she created when she was 17 years old correctly diagnosed 94% of cancer cases and correctly identified 99% of the cancerous cases.  (Fox News)  I was overwhelmed by the accomplishments of this young lady.

I was also inspired by Richard Curtis.  Richard, along with UNICEF, has started a movement to create the "World's Largest Lesson".  In September of 2015, the United Nations will announce the "Sustainable Development Goals".  These global goals will help drive change by providing a framework of targets to guide policy.  There are seven themes that the seventeen goals are a part of.  Richard's goal is to have teachers all over the world create lessons to introduce the Global Goals in their classrooms the week of September 27th.  Can you imagine teachers worldwide all working together to teach these goals to their students to help eradicate extreme poverty and more?

Day 2 of the online conference consisted of the individual sessions, presented by over 100 educators, administrators, IT staff, and more.  Sessions were available in four strands - Educators, Administrators, IT, and Anyone.  Sessions for educators ranged from Flipping your Classroom, Using Google Forms for Assessment, Intro to Google Classroom and other topics like Ditching your Textbooks, Using QR codes and many more topics.  I presented Building your Personal Learning Network (PLN).  There were so many good sessions that there was no way I could watch them all.  Luckily, Google has archived all of them on the conference website -  If the speaker posted resources, they are available there as well.

I met so many amazing people online during this conference.  Many of them connected with myself (and others!) on Twitter or Google+ afterwards.  The hashtag #GoogleEduOnAir was one of the top trending hashtags all weekend!   Folks from all over the world viewed these sessions and interacted with the presenters via the online Q & A sessions.  It's great to know that learning continues on outside the original event.  Some teachers have shared with me that what they learned this weekend was going to change the way they taught in their classroom.  Teachers were so inspired by what they learned and so was I.

If you didn't get a chance to watch the live event, I challenge you to visit the website and view some of these sessions.  As teachers, it is important that we never stop learning.  We need to meet our students where they are at - not only socially, emotionally, and intellectually, but also technologically!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship is such an important topic when working with students.  Too many times, we hear heart-breaking stories on the news: how a child was abducted by someone they met online, a suicide that was caused by cyberbullying, and more.  Our students do not realize that what they do and say online can haunt them forever.  It is our responsibility as educators and technical staff to teach our students how to protect themselves online.  Fortunately, there is a tremendous amount of quality resources online to help us.

There are nine elements or themes of Digital Citizenship.  Each one is as important as the other and need to be addressed in our schools.  They are:

  1. Digital Access - full electronic participation in society
  2. Digital Commerce - electronic buying and selling of goods
  3. Digital Communications - electronic exchange of information
  4. Digital Literacy - process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology
  5. Digital Etiquette - electronic standards of conduct or procedure
  6. Digital Law - electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  7. Digital Rights and Responsibilities - those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world
  8. Digital Health and Wellness - physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world
  9. Digital Security - electronic precautions to guarantee safety

Common Sense Media's mission is "dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology."  They provide quality resources for both parents and school for educating students of all ages.  This is a free resource for teachers. On their website, there is a gadget that you can use to explore appropriate movies, games, tv shows, books, apps, websites and music by age level.   They also have their "Top Pics" for each of these forms of electronic media.  For parents, they help provide answers to questions about social media, cybersafety, privacy and internet safety and more.  For educators, they have developed curriculum to help teach online safety to children of all ages in a safe, but informational way.  You can even become a Common Sense Certified Educator.

They have also developed a platform called Graphite that helps educators "discover the best apps, games, and websites for classroom use."  I particularly like that you can search their Common Core Explorer by CCSS (currently only Math and Language Arts, Science coming soon!) for all grade levels for appropriate electronic resources that align to the standard(s) you are working on. They have Lesson Flows which are lesson plans with age-appropriate apps tied into the lesson.

i-SAFE was established as a non-profit Internet safety organization since 1998.  According to their website, they have "developed one of the most extensive e-Safety education curriculum libraries in the world."  I have previously used their curriculum in the past and found it to be very complete and thorough.  They have a new version of their curriculum which is web-based.  I've not found it as easy to use or to preview.  They have been very big on student involvement via assemblies and campaigns.  I've found their videos to be current and well made.  This program is not free, unlike Common Sense Media,

TeachInCtrl is a series of free standards-based lessons that were originally developed by Cable in the Classroom.  These lessons cover key digital citizenship concepts for students in grades 4-8.  These lessons involve inquiry-based activities and opportunities to collaborate with others.  Lessons include Communication & Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Privacy, Media Literacy, Cyberbullying, Ethics/Copyright and Information Literacy.  There are also subject-specific ideas on how to integrate digital citizenship topics in to your classroom.  Lesson materials are provided for teachers.  

Even our friends at Google have a series of lessons for teachers on how to strengthen digital literacy skills in their classroom.  They offer an Introduction and a Basics module to help teachers understand how to address Digital Citizenship in class.  I have found Google's trainings on other topics to be very good.  I think that it is important to note that Google feels that it is important for those working on their Google certifications to be exposed to this as well.

Twitter chats are one of my favorite forms of professional development for teachers.  One of the most popular chats is #digcit.  This chat takes place every 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month at 7pm eastern.  Archives of the chat as well as resources for addressing Digital Citzenship in your classroom can be found there.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Little known apps available from Google

Google has a lot of great features that are hidden deep within their website.  They are more than just a search engine.  Most people know that Google provides free productivity tools (Google Apps) for schools and free email (Gmail) for everyone.  Did you know you know that you can use Google to create a digital sign or build an online course? This week's blog takes a look at some of these features.  

Chrome Sign Builder

You can use a Chromebox or other Chrome Device to create digital signage for your school.  Typically, schools would purchase expensive software or hardware to create displays near the school entrance, menus for the cafeteria, or announcement boards in a common space.  Chrome Sign Builder is a free app from Google that lets you do this for free!  You can schedule different messages to appear at specified times throughout the day.  For example, during the day important student information can rotate through on the digital displays in the common area.  However, that evening there is an Open House.  You can program the application to automatically display a Welcome message for parents and the Open House schedule to those monitors at 5:30pm.  Chrome Sign Builder displays Google Slide presentations, YouTube videos, and other web content.   You can get this app from the Chrome Web Store.

Google Cultural Institute

The Google Cultural Institute allows the world's culture to be accessible to everyone, everywhere.  There are three main projects:  Art Project, Historic Moments, and World Wonders.  These are virtual collections and exhibits from museums and archives from all over the world.  There are previously created galleries or you can create your own.  According to Google, the Cultural Institute is "an effort to make important cultural material accessible and available to everyone and to digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generation".  Google has Teacher's Guides available for the World Wonders Project on how to use and incorporate it in the classroom.

Google Story Builder

This is a great tool to use with your students to develop their writing skills.   No Google account is needed (great for younger students) and it is easy for students to work their way through the steps of creating a story.  You start by creating your characters and then enter the "text" or storyline/conversation.  This is great for collaborative writing projects.  Once the story is written, students can then add music and create a video link to share their story with others.  There are also the Master's Edition which allows you to collaborate with famous authors.  Watch Google + for live collaboration opportunities with others as well!

Google Sky

Google Sky is part of the Google Earth project.  Google Sky allows you to explore the universe.  These images have been gathered from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Digital Sky Survey, and the Hubble Space Telescope.  You can explore constellations, planets, and other galaxies.  Just type in what you want to look at and Google Sky will take you there.  There are explorations of the Moon and Mars available as well.

Google Course Builder

Google is a strong supporter of open, online education.  They have created an online toolkit to create your Massive Open Online Course or MOOC.  This is not for the faint of heart.  This takes a lot of planning and work to create.  However, the end product can be shared with others around the world.  I really feel that this is more for secondary and higher education classrooms.  Google provides a lot of resources and examples of finished products.   Here is an example of a MOOC for Educational Robots for Absolute Beginners - NXT Robots.

These are just a few examples of the hidden jewels that Google offers.  Keep a watch out on Google's blogs for more products that they offer.  There are several blogs that I like to follow.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"It's a Small World After All!"

"There is just one moon and one golden sun.  And a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it's a small world after all!" - Sherman Brothers 

It's one of my family's favorite rides at Walt Disney World, but it also speaks a lot about how technology can make our world seem smaller.  Many of our students are not able to see what life is like in other countries by traveling there; some have never travelled outside of their own city.  Although the benefits of foreign travel are well worth the costs involved, it's just not feasible to many families.   Technology can allow us to connect, visit and share with other classrooms all over the world!

There are several tools that you can use to connect with other classrooms around the world.  The first is Mystery Skype.  Mystery Skype is a game of sorts.   The goal of the game is that students on each end of the Skype conversation ask each others questions in order to guess where the other class is.  This gives students the chance to discover more about geography, language, science, and even more in a virtual game of "20 Questions".    It's an amazing experience if you are able to do it live during the school day, but it doesn't have to be.  You can record video messages and send them back and forth as well.  Here's a great guide to using Skype in the classroom.

Google Hangouts is another tool teachers can use to connect with each other.  The folks at Lee's Summit R-7 school district in Missouri have created a great website explaining how teachers can use Google Hangouts to connect with other classes.  "Where can I find other classes to meet?  I don't know a lot of teachers outside of my state!"  Never fear, Google + to the rescue!   Join the Connected Classrooms Workshop G+ community to find other educators with similar interests, subjects, and grade levels to meet with.  Google also has the Google Connected Classrooms website to find virtual field trip opportunities.  

In my #BFC530 chat this morning, I also learned about VIF's Learning Center.   This website/program lets you connect with educators from all over the world.  There are also lesson plans designed for a global classroom experience.  This is a great opportunity for project-based inquiry lessons on global topics.  Also, VIF provides Professional Development through a PBI designed program.

There are many benefits to connecting to other classrooms around the world.  I don't think that we as teachers have enough time to thoroughly teach globalization and explore world cultures.   Connecting with others gives us the chance to teach tolerance, understand global issues, and discover our place in this global community.

Some teachers use connected classrooms as a way of team teaching.  Teachers find a common topic/standard they wish to collaborate on and develop a lesson plan together, with each teacher presenting a different part.  You could also do this as a Book Group.  Students in both classes could be given a list of questions to discuss or even come up with their own questions.  Think about the possibilities of doing a Current Events chat as well (this is a great opportunity to talk about respecting each other's opinions and differences).  It's interesting to see what students outside of our country think about us - it can give our students a whole new perspective of ourselves.

Also, it's hard for teachers to be the "expert" on every topic.  That's just an unrealistic expectation.  Virtual field trips with leaders in the field of marine biology help students to understand the different ecosystems in our oceans.  Students can visit with museums all over the world to learn about science topics or visit an archeological site.  The possibilities are endless.

"All this sounds great, but don't I need special, expensive equipment to do this?"   No, all you really need is a computer with a built-in webcam and microphone, or an external webcam and desktop microphone.  If you have a projector you can use to share your screen with, it will make it easier for your students to see the other group.  You'll also need access to a high-speed internet connection, which a large majority of schools have.  That's it!  With the exception of Google Hangouts being enabled if you are a Google Apps school or having the Skype software installed, there is nothing special needed.  If you are in a 1:1 program at both locations, you could even have your students do individual hangouts (must be over the age of 13 to use Google Hangouts individually).

I hope you'll take the opportunity to explore the world of connected classrooms.   This is an amazing opportunity to show our students the world and create, communicate, and collaborate with others!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Edcamp Experience

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to participate in EdCamp Columbus. I love Edcamps. This is the third one I've attended and have one more to go to this spring. It is a great place to reenergize, make connections, and gain new ideas to use in your classroom.

What is an Edcamp? According to, an Edcamp is,
"Edcamp is a form of unconference designed specifically for teachers and their needs.What makes Edcamp an unconference? Unlike traditional conferences which have schedules set months in advance by the people running the conference, Edcamp has an agenda that’s created by the participants at the start of the event. Instead of one person standing in front of the room talking for an hour, people are encouraged to have discussions and hands-on sessions."

photo credit: Keith Millard @scarletandgray

Edcamps are participant-driven discussions really.  A person can choose to "present" a topic or an idea, but the best Edcamp sessions tend to be discussions, often passionate, about things that matter most to educators.  Unlike tradition conferences, attendees can walk freely in and out of sessions, often referred to as "voting with two feet".  It is not considered rude to do this.  There is usually so many good sessions that folks move in and out to gain as much information as possible.  If the session is not what a participant wants, then they move on to another.  Best of all, they are FREE!

Edcamp is not just for teachers.  It's for teachers (pre-service and veteran), principals, superintendents, anyone excited and passionate about education.  I've seen a few professors in attendance too.  I think that's important.  Sometimes, college educators are too far removed from the classroom.  This gives them a chance to see what teachers are passionate about today!

The day starts at around 9:00 am and moves on very quickly.  Most discussions are 50 minutes long.  To be honest, them seem much shorter than that.  There is about an hour break for lunch and then sessions resume until about 3:00.  Everyone gathers for a "smackdown" - sharing of your favorite takeaways from the session you attend.   Then, there are door prizes, usually sponsored by edtech companies.  Sometimes, you win a year's license to a popular or new educational website, small trinkets such as stylus, cups, pens/pencils, or lunch bags, and also cool edtech hardware such as document cameras or interactive whiteboards.  I've been fortunate enough to win software and an interactive whiteboard (now only if it worked with my Chromebook!).

photo credit : Aric Thomas @Ar1cTh0mas

Another reason I like Edcamps is that it gives me the opportunity to meet face to face with some of my PLN (Personal Learning Network).  I've met a lot of folks on Twitter, G+, and other sites/listsrvs.  It's always great to put a face with a name.   I've also started to follow some folks as a result of meeting them at Edcamps.  Again, it's all about builidng your PLN and taking charge of your learning.

I'd like to organize an Edcamp for a local university/college.  I think it is important for pre-service teachers to attend.  It gives them a chance to make connections with veteran teachers and having a venue to ask questions they have about teaching.  It's a win-win relationship because veteran teachers get energized by young teachers - full of passion and excitement about their chosen future profession.  Maybe I'll get a chance to do that soon.

Want to check out the Edcamp calendar?  You can go to and check it out.   My next Edcamp is edcampOhio on April 25th.  If you get a chance, go to an Edcamp.  It's life changing!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tips and Tricks for Teachers

This week's post is a compilation of some of my favorite Tips and Tricks that I share with my teachers.  Hope you find them useful!

Love YouTube but hate the advertisements and suggested videos that go with it.  Try ViewPure.  ViewPure allows you to view YouTube videos without all the added garbage!  

Need to edit pictures online?  PicMonkey is one site which is easy to use.  It's also a Chrome App and Extension.  You can save your image directly to Google Drive, too!

Ever have long URLs that you want to share with your students????  TinyURL has been great in the past but now their is another URL shortener which is even easier! will shorten the long URLs into something simple.  If you are logged into Chrome, you can add it as an extension or just visit the website.  Paste in the URL you want to shorten and voila!  Short and sweet!

"Save to Google Drive" is another popular extension.  It allows you to save an image or screen capture directly to Google Drive.  You can get this extension from the Chrome Web Store. 

Puzzled with how to use Google Forms?  Lindsay Fuller posted "79 Interesting Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom" on her blog "Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom".  There are a lot of great suggestions here.

Get rid of your paper planner and use Google Calendar and Tasks!

Try a Scavenger Hunt with your classes using QR codes.  CJ has done this and it's worked out well.  We have iPads with a QR reader on them .  Use this app (QR Code Generator)  to create QR codes and this app (Scan QR) to scan QR codes. 

Ever thought about collaborating with classes from around the world?  Use Google + to join Connected Classrooms Workshop.  Teachers from all around the world in different content and grade levels are looking for other classes to collaborate with!  You can use Google Hangouts to do this!  How do you get to Google +?  Up by the App Launcher, you'll see the + with your name next to it (ie - +Nickie).  Click on this and create your Google + Profile.  See the website below for ways to use Google Hangouts.

Ever wanted to work on SMART Notebook™ but didn't have the software on your laptop.  Maybe you had your iPad with you and didn't want to buy the app.  Now there is SMART Notebook Express™!  You can go to this website on your laptop, iPad, Chromebook, etc. and create SMART notebook files.  No more software to install!  I am in need of some beta testers for this program so please let me know if you are interested......  there may be some food/sweets involved as payment!!!!!

Need to create a video for your class because you are going to be out.  SnagIt is now available as a Chrome App/Extension.  You must install both on your laptop/Chromebook in able to use it.  You can also take screenshots of your screen as well.  This could be useful in creating your SMART Notebook Express presentations.  There is training available on YouTube on how to use this program or come ask me!

Do you ever have a student bring you their Chromebook and their screen has been rotated +/- 90°?  If you are like me, you are probably wondering how the heck that happened!!!!!  Here is a link to a Google Help page with many useful Keyboard shortcuts, including how to fix the notorious rotated screen (hint - press Ctrl - Shift - ↻ until it is the right layout).

While writing this blog, I've used a number of special characters like ™ and °.  I have no idea how to create these using a Chromebook!!!!!  The website makes using symbols, some common fractions,  and special characters so much easier.  Simply visit the website, find the character you are looking for, click on it, and then paste (or Ctrl-V) it into your document, blog, etc.  Voila!