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 edcamp.org, 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 edcamp.wikispaces.com 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!  
 - http://viewpure.com/

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!
 - http://www.picmonkey.com/

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!  goo.gl 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 goo.gl website.  Paste in the URL you want to shorten and voila!  Short and sweet!
 - http://goo.gl/

"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. 
 - https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/save-to-google-drive/gmbmikajjgmnabiglmofipeabaddhgne

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.
 - http://area3ltc.wikispaces.com/file/view/79_Interesting_Ways_to_Use_Google_Forms_in_the.pdf

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!!!!!
 - express.smarttech.com

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!
 - https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/snagit

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).
 - https://support.google.com/chromebook/answer/183101?hl=en

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 copypastecharacter.com 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!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Snow Day Challenges - Keeping the Learning Going!

I don't know about you, but I've just about had enough of the snow and cold.  We've lost 6 days of instruction due to the weather so far this year.  I'm just thankful I don't live in New England!  I'm lucky enough to work in a school that is in session 7.5 hours a day and 178 days so we don't have to make up any time (we're WAY over the minimum hours in our state!).

The topic of this morning's #sunchat on Twitter was keeping the momentum up during snow days.  This is a struggle for many teachers, seasoned and new to the profession.  There were a lot of great ideas tweeted this morning.  I'd like to share some of them with you, plus a few of my own!

1)  My favorite way to keep the learning going is to keep acting like it's a normal day.  Schools who use Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Google Classroom, Edmodo, and Schoology can do that easily.  Just make it an E-Learning day!  Post your lessons, flipped videos, and more online where it is available to all your students.  Even if your student's do not have internet at home, many still have smartphones and can still access your e-classroom.  My teachers do this already when they are going to be out sick.  It makes life much easier for our subs - students know what is expected and many times the teacher is still available online for questions.

2)   Remind is a great way to communicate with your students without having 1:1 devices at home.  Remind allows you communicate with students and parents via a SMS text message.  Most of our students/parents have a cell phone that can receive these messages.  You can send out assignments or other messages out with this free service.  Best of all, it doesn't show your personal cell phone number!

3)  Host a Twitter chat with your students.  Create your own hashtag and host a discussion about anything going on in your classroom.  Maybe you have been discussing "innovations of the 21st century" or a book you have been reading together.  Students can be challenged to put their thoughts into 144 characters.  You can hold your discussions just like we do in our PLN Twitter chats in a Q1, Q2 and A1, A2 format.   Again, this can be done via cellphones, tablets, or laptops/chromebooks.

4)  How about some no tech, low tech ideas?  At the beginning of the "Snowy season", issue a Reading Challenge to your students.  Challenge them to spend 1 hour a day or more reading. Have them track it on a Reading Log, Bingo Card, whatever!  Here's some ideas to get you started!

Reading Challenge Genre sheet - http://www.kcedventures.com/blog/summer-reading-books-from-different-genres-free-printables

Snow Day Reading Challenge - me!