Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Google Classroom - Changing How We Do Class

One of the things I love about being a GAFE (Google Apps For Education) District is that we have access to an amazing set of apps and programs to truly bring our teaching into the 21st century. The technology developed by both Google itself and by those working within the Google Script Environment allow us, as teachers, to reach our students in ways that were never before possible. As wonderful as this technology is, we must be careful to not become too comfortable with the way things work because there will be change and that change will require us to continue learning and to adjust our expectations - in short, we may be required to think differently.
GAFE, as with all technology programs and services, is constantly undergoing changes that aim to make the technology work more smoothly and effectively. For example, as we started the year, Google Classroom allowed teachers to post only assignments and announcements to the classroom stream. Be the end of September, those who are actively using Google Classroom likely noticed a change - features were added that allow teachers to Reuse Posts and Ask Questions in the stream. Additionally, Google Classroom now allows multiple teachers to manage content for a group and any due dates that the teacher establishes for assignments in the Google Classroom environment are automatically recorded on the teacher's Google Calendar. While these changes have added some much-appreciated functionality to Google Classroom, the changes are still coming!
In October, Google changed the way in which teachers add Google Forms to the Google Classroom. For those that conduct assessments via Forms, you may have noticed this change. Teachers no longer have to copy and paste the URL for the Live View of the Form to the assignment in Google Classroom. Rather, teachers can simply create the assignment and link directly to the Form file in Google Drive. When students click on the link in Classroom, they will be taken to the Live Form. When the student completes and submits the Form, the assignment, if there was no other work attached, will automatically be marked as Done for you and the student! Check the screenshots below to see how this works.
Post Form To Classroom Teacher View Animation.gif
Post Form To Classroom Student View Animation.gif
Teacher View when opening the assignment. Student View when opening the assignment.
You may wonder where Google gets the ideas for the changes they are bringing to GAFE on a regular basis. Google listens to those who are using GAFE - the teachers. If there is a feature you would like to see added to Google Classroom, simply click the question mark in the bottom left of the Classroom window, choose Send Feedback and follow the onscreen prompts. It's quick and easy and Google considers each and every suggestion!
If you have any questions about the changes to Google Classroom, please do not hesitate to contact me! I will help you make sense of it all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The QR Code - Tiny Box. . . BIG Information

We've all seen QR codes. Those little squares of black and white pixels might look meaningless to the naked eye, but with a quick scan with a QR code reader, you'll quickly find there's more than meets the eye! They are used to quickly launch the viewer to websites, videos, images, and even file downloads. What appears to be a random collection of black and white pixels is actually a complex code with an interesting development story.

These little boxes present some intriguing possibilities for education. I've used them at conferences to easily provide my website address to attendees. This article from Free Technology for Teachers describes how teachers might create treasure hunts for their students using QR codes. Finally, what an interesting way to display student work! As discussed below, Cindy Smith's 7th grade Computer Information Technologies students will have their work displayed through QR codes for the Middle School Open House on Wednesday, April 29, from 3:30 - 7!

Interested in checking out some QR code generators? Kaywa QR Code is a great place to start! This source allows for the unlimited creation of static QR codes and a limited number of dynamic QR codes. The difference between the two? Dynamic codes can be changed when needed. How about QR readers? A quick search in your mobile device's app store will return numerous results. I run QR Code Reader on my Android telephone and it works just fine!

Want to discuss how you might use QR codes in your classroom? Schedule an appointment!



Friday, April 24, 2015

Gamifying Education

I'm a gamer at heart. I can remember so clearly sitting on my grandparent's living room floor on Christmas Day of 1986 and opening a brand new Nintendo Entertainment System. My life was forever changed! I still, at 35 years old, get a thrill when I unlock a new trophy or achievement in my current PS4 video games. To be able to look at my digital trophy collection is very rewarding. . . and motivating as I am constantly looking to see what I must do to earn that next trophy! This type of motivation is what I always desired to see in my students.

The gamification of education is not a new movement; I've been hearing about this concept at conferences for the last three or four years. What I am finding, however, is that it is becoming easier and easier for educators to gamify their classrooms! This gamification could be based on a badge system where students are rewarded with digital trophies and badges for performing certain tasks. Want to create custom badges to begin distributing to students for their achievements? Try Open Badges or ClassBadges to get started. Want to make actual games more of a part of your everyday teaching and lessons? Try Kahoot!Quizizz, or Plickers. These tools will lead to an energy and engagement level you've only dreamed of!

With the technology we have available in this district, why not meet our students on their interest level? I believe a little gamification may just be what some of these students need to engage in the educational process!



Friday, April 17, 2015

PD Opportunities Galore!!!

Professional Development. These words do not often garner positive reactions from professional educators. The reasons for these less than positive reactions vary from person to person, but, in my own experience, I find these opportunities often have little relevance to me as a teacher. When I don't see the relevance, I have a hard time buying in to the program and information being offered. I have recently come across a web resource that helps me to focus on PD opportunities that are of interest and relevance to me as a teacher. That resource is SimpleK12.

This web resource has it all! Teachers can find an astounding number of resources shared by other teachers around the world, discussion forums to discuss a wide range of topics with other educators, and a ginormous library of webinars, both live and on-demand. This resource is especially helpful for those in our district as we begin the shift to Google Apps For Education (GAFE) as many of the webinars focus on Google-related issues. Check the Professional Development Opportunities links below to find topics to fit your needs!

If you happen to participate in any of the webinars available and would like to share any valuable takeaways with me, I would greatly appreciate it! I would love to pass along the little gems you find to the rest of the district. I find the best way to learn is when our teachers teach our teachers!



Friday, April 10, 2015

Augmenting Your Reality

Several months ago, I heard a term that was brand new to me: Augmented Reality. I know that people have been using various substances to augment their reality since the beginning of time, but this was something different. This emerging technology is allowing users to view the world around us through electronic devices and find that there truly is "more than meets the eye." To see an example, click the picture of the Paris street to the right.

Augmented Reality technology is popping up everywhere! Major companies are using AR experiences in their print ads found in major magazines, newspapers, and the actual product packaging. The Philadelphia Eagles have AR experiences tied to printed season tickets. The coolest AR application has to come from the United States military as it will begin outfitting pilots of the F-35 Lightening II with helmets capable of "seeing through" the floor of the jet (read the article here)! The emergence of AR technology presents the possibility of the futuristic world we've seen in movies for the last several decades. This is truly some exciting technology that holds a great deal of potential in education.

Interested in learning more about augmented reality? Want to see some incredible examples? Visit the official Aurasma website! Want to begin seeing the augmented reality around you? Want to bring this technology into your classroom? Do you have access to a smart device? Download the Aurasma app and create your account at the Aurasma Studio to get started!

FYI: Some of the art work you see, or will see, hanging on the walls of FMS, Central, and Victory may just be more than meets the eye! Stay tuned for more details in the weeks to come. . .



Educational Application
How about an AR-Powered Library where students create and bring book reviews to life, allowing students to scan a book and hear their peers talk about it? Maybe virtual field trips in Social Studies classes made possible by students simply scanning an image of a significant historical site. Science teachers, take your students on a field trip to the International Space Station. Math teachers, how about interactive bulletin boards with explanations of formulas being studied in class along with example problems and their solutions being explained? The possibilities are endless!

If you wish to discuss how to utilize this technology in your own classroom, contact me and let's make it happen!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

There Will Be Hiccups. . . .

Last week's Act-80 Day was an important one. How so? Important in regard to the learning that took place? Absolutely! Elementary school teachers were treated to some fantastic information about the reporting tools available in Successmaker, while secondary teachers received training on Google Sites and Google Classroom. The information was great, but there was an important lesson to be taken away from those training sessions that does not deal directly with the content being presented.

The elementary teachers quickly discovered a few "hiccups" in the format of the Successmaker training. For those that are unaware, this training was conducted via Google Hangouts, a fantastic tool for bringing people together in spite of the distance between us. As with all technology, however, there is a slight learning curve. Teachers learned by the end of this session that whichever microphone is picking up talking is the picture on display for each meeting place. This resulted in rapid flashing of pictures throughout the training session. The tech. department has discussed this and we have ideas for implementing this type of training with future topics. 

The secondary teachers were treated to a mixed bag of results. The ELA session, the first of the morning, got off to a rocky start when the URL that was supposed to be the basis of my entire training session was blocked by our filter. Rest assured, I had tested this in the morning and the tech. department made sure it was working. . . for teacher computers! I believe the issue is that teachers were signed in to student computers, resulting in the blockage. In addition, we experienced hardware problems and account permission problems throughout the day that almost had me ready to throw in the towel, but I adapted and adjusted and I feel had a very successful day of training.

Lesson learned through all of this: don't get discouraged if the technology doesn't work perfectlythe first time out! By demonstrating to our students how we react in the face of adversity, we have the power to teach them a very important life lesson: Don't fear failure, learn from it!



Friday, March 20, 2015

Building a Quality PLN

Here I am, just over 3 months into my position as Instructional Technology Coach for the Franklin Area School District. For the most part, the transition from my traditional teaching role to that of an Instructional Coach has been relatively smooth and painless. I am gradually becoming more and more comfortable in this position and am developing a deeper understanding of what is expected of me. Still, however, there are times when I feel lost - times when I struggle to see my place in the bigger picture of our district. It is these times that help me realize how fortunate I am to have two tremendous resources in Ann Black and Erin Zacherl to go to for guidance. These two tremendous educators and technology integrators have quickly become strong pillars of my Personal Learning Network.

The Personal Learning Network, or PLN, is a topic I've been studying lately. I have recognized how important it is, as educators, to develop a network of professionals to help us stay sharp in our approach to teaching. It is essential to have those individuals to help us think through and develop strategies in our teaching. These individuals are there to provide new and fresh ideas that will help keep our delivery of content from becoming stale and repetitive. It is the members of our PLN that will push us and help us to be the absolute best educators that we can possibly be. I don't know how any one of us can effectively function long-term in this career without a strong PLN.

I am continually amazed at the ease with which we are able to connect with other educators and leaders throughout the world. Distance is no longer an issue with the technology we have available to us. If you haven't done so already, I would strongly encourage you to open a Twitteraccount for professional purposes. I have just recently opened mine and am already blown away by the thought-provoking news and ideas I've come across. If you decide to enter theTwitterverse, may I suggest you begin the development of your PLN by following@SirKenRobinson, @Kevinhoneycutt, and @AngelaMaiers? These leaders will lead you to truly examine your role as an educator and provide ideas to transform yourself as a professional.



Friday, March 13, 2015

Personalizing Productivity

I've recently been discussing with several people throughout the district the (perceived) shortcomings of the productivity software offered by Google. If you've used Google Docs, Sheets, etc., you have probably noticed that these programs offer the bare minimum when it comes to features. If you're a veteran Microsoft Office user, this might make using these programs a bit difficult. I'd like to offer a couple of thoughts on this subject.

First, as teachers who are using these programs with our students, are we teaching the programor are we teaching the concept? I happen to think that students should possess word processing skills and be able to prepare a spreadsheet to record and calculate data via formulas, functions, charts, and graphs. Is it necessary to have a specific program to teach these skills? If we are focusing on the skills, does it really matter what program we are using? Please participate in this1-question poll to weigh in on these questions!

Secondly, many of the features are present, you just have to know where to find them! About a year ago, Google introduced a feature within Google Docs and Sheets called "Add-Ons." What we find are little feature chunks that users can simply "add on" to the basic Google programs. This system allows users to truly customize the Google Drive experience with only the features that they want. To illustrate how "Add-Ons" work, check out this video where I increase my number of available fonts in Google Sheets from six to 35, all with an "Add-On!" 

Do you have favorite "Add-Ons" that you'd like to share with others in our district? Hit me up on Twitter@Justin_Bandi #GAFE and share!