June 3, 2013

Google Apps for Education

These are exciting times in Seymour...we have made a definitive decision to leverage the powerful Google Apps for Education suite here in the Seymour Public Schools.  This has been something that I have envisioned for several years now and to see it materializing is pretty cool.  Getting started on the other hand, is a bit overwhelming.  There are many considerations that must be addressed before you just "turn it on" and it's important to make sure that those decisions are informed and not done in a rush.

So far we have registered our domain and verified ownership.  We also opted to create a sub-domain (students.seymourschools.org) so that we could have our students using Gmail while our staff stays on the legacy Exchange server which we have configured and in place.  It seems that Google is moving all of the archiving and security to their servers from the 3rd party applications such as Postini so we will be leveraging those services from the start.  This is something that is very new to us here in Seymour because we have never had e-mail accounts for our students.  This is going to be a welcome advancement for staff who have been struggling for years with setting up students accounts and sharing through Google.

The next steps now are to provision our users and setup the groups and policies.  This is something that must be considered carefully because you do not want to have to hit the reset button after you realize you made a mistake in organizational structure.  I will be conferring with New Canaan Public Schools' Tom Honohan quite a bit moving forward as he has been my go-to contact the past few weeks (and months really).

I will continue to update our progress through this blog and look forward to sharing our experience with everyone else.  If you are reading this and have gone through the process...please drop a comment with any advice.  Also, if you are a school district setting up your school right now, let's chat and compare notes.  Until the next installment...

Oh by the way...in addition to setting up GAFE we are also going to be piloting the Acer Chromebook in several different classrooms at the elementary, middle and high school level.  Like I said at the beginning of this post...these are exciting times here in Seymour!

May 24, 2013

Tech Messengers Podcast - SMART Response Clickers

The Tech Messengers series is back this week with Nick Frosolone who discusses with me how he is using the SMART Response clickers to help assess his students in class.  Nick has been able to leverage the instantaneous nature of the data from the clickers to inform his instruction and track student progress over the course of the marking period.  Learn more about how Nick got started with the clickers and his suggestions for those looking to incorporate them into their classroom...

If you are interested in subscribing to these podcasts using iTunes follow the steps below:
  1. Open iTunes
  2. Click on "Advanced"
  3. Click on "Subscribe to Podcast"
  4. Enter the feed URL http://feeds.feedburner.com/TechMessengers
  5. That's it!

May 22, 2013

Letter to Parents about Instagram

A teacher here at Seymour Middle School is looking to integrate Instagram into their classroom as a way for students/parents to stay up to date with class happenings and reminders.  If you are thinking about something similar and require a template for a letter home, feel free to reuse this one.

May 20, 2013

Advanced Google Searching & Website Evaluation

This past week I spent a great deal of time working with some high school students as they completed a very different research project in English.  It all started with one of those long talks about students today and the skills they are lacking...most importantly in the area of information literacy.  In talking with the teacher, Lisa Cheney, we determined that her students did not possess the ability to search and find what they needed in really any content area...not just English.  Then...once the information was found, students didn't really have any idea how to evaluate it for accuracy, reliability , etc.

So we teamed up to create a research assignment where students would find information about a poet and then facilitate a discussion in class with their peers.  During this discussion they would share what they found during their research rather then just read off of a PowerPoint.  While explaining the concept, it was obvious that the presentation style was very foreign to them; we got a lot of blank stares and then the questions started coming.  Can we make a PowerPoint?  No.   Can we use notecards?  No.  I'm pretty sure some students will still be surprised this week when they get up in front of the classroom and go through with the presentation.

If you would like to try something similar in your classroom or just want to teach some information literacy skills to your students, go for it!  Below are several resources that I created and used but you are more than welcome to bring them into your classroom as well.

Power Searching With Google (Advanced Search Techniques)
Power Searching Printable Cheat Sheet
Don't Fall Into A T.R.A.P. (Website Evaluation)

In addition, I have found that EasyBib offers a number of excellent resources for website evaluation.  They even have this really cool tool where you can search other users bibliographies in essence providing you with what they call "social research".

April 12, 2013

Why Every Kid Should Learn How To Code

"Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer...because it teaches you how to think."

Steve Jobs

A question that I struggle with a lot is how do we teach students to "think"?  In the classroom, I did my best to craft opportunities for students to think...but was frustrated when I found that not everyone had the skill.  So how do you fix that?  You can't develop a mini-lesson on thinking.  Essentially, how do you teach students to be students?  It's not really something that is addressed in the curriculum.  The answer is coding.  Coding forces you to think outside of the box, try something and fix fix it, troubleshoot, persist.  It also is great for teaching logic, sequence, cause and effect and foresight.  Today a teacher sent me this video and I think it's worth sharing.  It's called "Why Our Kids Must Learn To Code".

Now What?

Get coding!  There are lots of great free resources out there to help get you going.  I have used Scratch with my students as well as Code Academy and Code Avengers.  There are also a number of great resources out there that you can search.  Have fun!

April 10, 2013

Zunal Webquest Creator

Zunal is a great site for teachers looking to incorporate opportunities for inquiry based, student driven learning.  In my opinion that should be every teacher, every day but I digress.  What separates Zunal apart from others is that it is geared entirely toward creating and sharing webquests and walks you through the process from start to finish.  When you first start a new webquest on Zunal all of the pages are already created for you including introduction, task, process, etc.  All you have to do is fill them in with your information.  This is a breeze if you are adapting a webquest that you already created.  It is also really easy to drop in media and links using their editor.  Overall, Zunal is a very easy to use and accessible way to create and share a webquest with your students.

Now What?

Zunal is a great site for teachers looking to create a webquest from scratch or reuse one in the public gallery.  Looking to create this with another teacher?  Now you can have multiple authors on one webquest so you can work together to complete it.  There is even a way to link your students so they can access all of your webquests in one convenient location and it's mobile friendly!  Click here for more ways to curate the web.

April 9, 2013

Google Keep

Google Keep is a new notebook app that Google has pushed out and I for one am pretty excited.  When I first visited the site, I thought that it was having trouble loading because there was hardly anything on the page.  Now...that's why I like it so much.  It is extremely simple and forthright.  You can basically do two things on Google Keep...create a note and make a "to do" list.  That's it.  I haven't tested out the app yet but I've read that it supports the same basic functionality with the ability to record a new note using your voice.  The feature that really makes it useful is the ability to search all of your notes.  Those of you who are using Evernote on an everyday basis will laugh at how simplistic this service is from Google and not think twice about jumping ship.  However, for those people who don't use Evernote and simply need a quick place to keep their mental notes, Google Keep could be a hit.

Now What?

For those of you who are always forgetting little things throughout the day, keep a tab open on your computer where you can electronically jot down your thoughts using Google Keep.  For those who are ready to step up to the plate and "remember everything" check out my post on Evernote.

April 8, 2013

Tech Messengers Podcast - Collaborative Google Docs & Presentations

The Tech Messengers series is back this week with a new episode.  This week, Eric DeMarco talks about how he is using Google Documents and Presentations with his class in a more dynamic way.  Through the use of the commenting feature, Eric has his students asking questions of the presenters and leaving comments for their review.  He is also using comments in Docs to create an online exam review space built by the students.  Learn more about how Eric has leveraged Google Docs in his classroom below...

Now What?

If you are interested in subscribing to these podcasts using iTunes follow the steps below:
  1. Open iTunes
  2. Click on "Advanced"
  3. Click on "Subscribe to Podcast"
  4. Enter the feed URL http://feeds.feedburner.com/TechMessengers
  5. That's it!

April 3, 2013

Tech Messengers Podcast - Glogster

I have undertaken a new task...I'm very excited about it.  I am always looking for opportunities to share with teachers what other people are doing in their classroom.  It seems to be an area of interest for all teachers and one of the best ways to learn something new to try in your classroom.  In talking with Brandt Schneider, a colleague at Seymour High School, he suggested creating a podcast series where teachers (and eventually students) share out thoughts and ideas on what they are doing with technology.  I tossed out an e-mail and got a surprisingly high number of responses.  I thought...hmmm this might actually work.  The first installment features Harvey Catlin who is a teacher at Seymour Middle School.  In this podcast he talks about how he uses EDU Glogster in his classroom with his students.

Now What?

If you are interested in subscribing to these podcasts using iTunes follow the steps below:
  1. Open iTunes
  2. Click on "Advanced"
  3. Click on "Subscribe to Podcast"
  4. Enter the feed URL http://feeds.feedburner.com/TechMessengers
  5. That's it!

March 28, 2013

Self Scoring Quiz with Commenting & Automatic E-Mail

Remember Scantron sheets?  I think I have created a form that is the 21st century equivalent.  If you are not interested in spending less time scoring assessments...you should stop reading now.

As I was cleaning up my Google Drive account I found a spreadsheet/form that I created back in the beginning of the year for teachers at Seymour High School who were using Google forms for assessment.  Using a few simple formulas, I was able to have the spreadsheet automatically score student responses but I also added some functionality to have the student's score and comments e-mailed to them.  It's pretty cool.

To try out this assessment collector, click here and make yourself a new copy for your Drive account.

After you have saved it to your account your are ready to modify the questions to fit your assessment.  If you are familiar with creating Google Forms this will be a piece of cake but if not you can check out this tutorial to get you through it.

Once you have included your questions on the form it's time to input the answers in order to have them corrected automatically.  Start by taking the actual quiz yourself...hopefully you get a hundred.  In the name field you can put something like "Answer Key" and use your e-mail address.

Note:  If you would rather watch a video tutorial (vs reading the text version) on how to modify the form, scroll down.

In order to get the spreadsheet to auto-correct you have to use a formula further down the line to assign a point value for each correct response.  So...in the "Sample Quiz" form for cell L2 you should have =IF(E2="answer",1,0) where answer is the correct answer to the question.  You can use multiple choice or it could be short answer but whatever you type inside the parentheses will be the only accepted response.  You will need to do this for the rest of your questions.  Moving along the next formula would be in cell M2 where you would put =IF(F2="answer",1,0).  Essentially the formula is saying to check cell F2 and if the correct answer is there put a one in M2.  If the correct answer is not present it puts in a zero.

To tally up the score you will need to use the formula =sum(L2:P2) in cell J2.

The next step is to add your comments in to column K.  This is where you can offer feedback to the student about how they did and their areas of strength and weakness.

Once you have put in your comments, you click on a cell in the row you want to send then click on "Teacher Menu" and "Send Scores & Comments".  That's it...you're done!

To watch the video equivalent of these directions see below:

Now What?

Using a form like this will get you fast, informative data that you can use in your classroom to guide your instruction.  The fact that you can add anecdotal feedback is what separates this form from the rest of the pack.  I hope that you find it useful and please share it with your colleagues.