Monday, November 21, 2016

Backchanneling in the Classroom

Last week I finally had the chance to use a backchannel chat with my students. ( is the platform we used since it on the list of apps approved by the district.) I showed them a video on how the Sahara Desert formed and I wanted them to have a place where they could post comments and ask questions during the video. Since this was the first time we had ever done this I took some time to explain the purpose of the chat room and laid out some ground rules. I told them we were using a chat so that everyone could have a turn to "talk" and that comments and questions needed to relate directly to the video. Considering this was the first time my students had ever experienced something like this in class it went really well. There was one point where the conversation in the chat turned to how Antarctica is a desert. One of the students said that Antarctica could not be a desert because it was not hot or sandy there. He then asked me to pause the video so we could talk about this. For the next few minutes we had a discussion about what the characteristics of a desert are and how Antarctica is indeed a desert. This conversation probably would not have happened if we had not been using the chat. It would have been an invisible teaching moment that would have slipped under the radar.

One of the reasons this went so well is that I used focus browsing in Hapara. The only site my students could have open was the chat. I was also able to put anyone who was off task in a time out. The could still see the chat, but they could not participate in it. I was not moderating every single post because I thought it was more important for me to be able to ask questions of my students and post answers to their questions as we went alone. 

There are lots of backchannel chat apps out there, but I selected Backchannelchat because it has so many benefits! View this chart to see how Backchannelchat stacks up to its competitors. I also opted to pay a small fee to upgrade because some of the features offered at that level are important to me. I like the idea being able to set the room up so that students will not be able to post unless I'm in there. I also like idea of students being able to share files. I also appreciate having the ability to download the entire transcript of the chat as a PDF. I can also quickly see how many times each student posted. 

My students enjoyed this activity. It allowed students who normally are quiet to have a voice. Backchannel chats are also good for students who are still getting used to keyboarding. I have found when students type with a purpose they are able to do it more quickly and accurately. 

If you would like help setting up backchannelchat in your classroom just let me know. As of right now it is the only chat app we can use here in our district. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Google Basics

Over the last couple of months I have held some after school sessions that were designed to help teachers get better acquainted with Gmail, Calendar, and Chrome. If you were not able to attend any of these sessions there are still some things you can venture out and learn on your own.

One of the best resources we have is something you might not have even noticed. Last year I pushed out an extension that is called G Suite Training to all of the certified staff. The is an AMAZING app that provides you will answers to basic questions about a variety of G Suite apps such as Drive, Calendar, Gmail, and Sites. The extension is located in the upper right corner of your screen and the information it provides changes depending on the site you are on. THIS. IS. AWESOME! It is like having an assistant sitting with you at all times who is able to answer your technical questions about a variety of different apps!

The other place where you can find quite a bit of basic information about Google Apps (G Suite) is in the Google Training Center.  This training center is more user friendly than ever before. In addition to fundamental and advanced training, there is also a section that is dedicated to how to use Android devices and Chromebooks.

The Great Plains Google Educator Group (GEG) is a good site to join to connect with other teachers who are using Google Apps in their classrooms. Even if you are only comfortable "lurking" there are still lots of tips and tricks you can pick up from this community.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Drive Add - DocHub

I recently learned about an AMAZING Google Drive add-on called DocHub. There are plenty of extensions out there that allow you to edit a PDF, but this one is different. It is an "add-on" so it lives in Google Drive. You can add it by going to Google Drive, clicking the blue NEW button, clicking More, then clicking Add More Apps. Search for Doc Hub and then add it to Drive. (See image below.) 

Now when you open a PDF you have the option to open it using DocHub. You can edit and annotate the PDF using DocHub. You can also sign or initial it using a signature that you have created or you can have DocHub create a signature for you. There are so many options!

But wait, there's more! DocHub allows you to request signatures from multiple people. Imagine how nice it will be to use this on our checkout sheets at the end of the year! No more running around trying to track down different people to sign off on our forms! Instead we can request the signatures of all of the required people with one click! 

If you want to test out how the request signature feature works just send it to me and I will sign it for you so you can see how it works. Let me know if you have any questions! 

Dell Activity Light

If your students are using the Dell Chromebooks I have some news about a feature that you might be of interest to you. If you have ever looked at the outside cover you might have noticed a small light. This is the Dell Activity Light and it allows your students to interact with you without saying a word. I pushed the app to all of our students so it will appear no matter what model Chromebook they are using, but it will only work with our Dell Chromebooks. 

When the student clicks the app which is pinned on their tray, a box will pop up that gives them several options. Students can select which color of light to display depending on their need. For example, if they have a question they can select the option to turn their light red. There are times when it is desirable maintain a quiet classroom and this app allows us to do that. When students are working on individual work that requires concentration this app would allow students to indicate they need help without disrupting the entire class. I can see how this could be used to triage questions as well. Individual teachers could work out a system where the colors mean different things. Perhaps a red light might mean a student agrees with an answer while a blue light means they disagree.  

Please let me know if you are using this with your students. I'd like to know how it is going. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Two Extensions to Assist Dyslexics

I spent the weekend in Kansas City at a Google Summit. I was super excited to learn from Stacy Behmer who is not only one of my friends, but also a top-notch educator and Google Trainer. I attended one of her sessions which focused on using Google to support readers. She shared so many great ideas, but two stood out as ones I wanted to share with my teachers right away!

The first one is an extension called Open Dyslexic. This extension turns the text on any website into a font that is easier for people with dyslexia to read. It is free and incredibly useful. It works by weighting the bottom of the letters to help keep them from looking like they are floating off the page. Go to the app to learn more!

The other app is called Beeline Reader. This app uses a color gradient to guide your eyes from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. You can also use it to change the color of your screen to increase contrast.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Conquer Gmail Once and For All!

This month during #TransformationTuesday I was asked to share some basic Gmail tips and tricks. These are the topics covered in our 30 minute session today. I will repeat this session on October 11 at the Freshman Academy and one last time at the high school on October 18. Next month our focus will shift to Google Calendar.

  • Search Gmail
    • Powerful search tool built into Gmail
    • Series of filters you can apply to narrow your search
    • This eliminates the need to create so many “folders”
  • Setup Priority Inbox and Divide Inbox into Read and Unread
    • Click on the Settings button in the upper right corner of Gmail.
    • Select “Settings”
    • Select Inbox tab
    • Inbox type: Select Priority
    • Inbox unread count: Select “Unread items in the first section”
    • Click “Save Changes” at the bottom of the page
  • Get to ZERO unread messages quickly and painlessly!  
    • Click the dropdown menu on the right that shows a number.
    • Select 50 which is the max
    • Check the box on the upper left. This will place a checkmark next to all of the visible emails (50 at a time).
    • Click the “Mark as Read” option.
    • Repeat this until all of your emails have been marked as “READ.” If you have more than 200 unread emails you will want to continue this process at home so we can keep moving.
Having a low unread message count makes it so much easier to see new emails arrive in your inbox. This greatly reduces the chance of missing the emails that are really important!
*Pro tip: If you open a message and cannot deal with it at that moment, you can check it then mark it as Unread. This will make it reappear in the UNREAD section of your Inbox so you don’t lose track of it.

  • Create a filter to automatically “label” emails as the enter your inbox
    • We are going to set up TWO filters. The first one will be for emails from me (
      • Go to the Search box at the top of the screen in Gmail
      • In the “From” field type: (Don’t worry about any other fields on this page.) Click “Create filter with this search” on the lower right corner.
      • Click the dropdown menu that says “Choose label” and select the “New Label” option
      • Name the filter (something like Tech Integration)
      • You can apply to the previous messages if you wish. (This will make it super easy to find all of my emails for future reference!)
      • Then click “Create Filter”
      • It will appear on the left side of your inbox. Hover over it, click the dropdown arrow, and select a label color that will catch your attention.
      • Now when you get an email from me it will automatically have a label applied to it when it hits your inbox.
Filter Ideas: (People can have multiple labels applied to them)
  • Central Office staff (Central)
  • Your principal/assistant principal (VIP)
  • Parent Contacts 16-17
  • Your department (Social Studies, 4th grade, Math, etc)
  • Tech
  • Newsletters-set up a filter that will automatically mark them as read so you don’t have to deal with them, but you can easily find them when needed (Name after the newsletter)
*Pro tip: There are two ways to apply a label to an email that is already in your inbox. You can keep it in your read/unread sections by checking the box to the left of the message and then click the option to apply a label. Your other option is to archive an email by dragging it to a label.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Adding Events from Activities Calendar to Google Calendar

Over the last week I have had multiple requests from staff asking how to add events from our conference activities calendar to our Google Calendars. I made a screencast that covers these same steps. You might find it useful to play the video as you go through the steps.

1. Go to the GPS website, click the Calendars tab then select GPS activities calendar.

2. Check the boxes of the events that you wish to add to your calendar. (I have found that this works best if you divide this up into 4 or 5 different calendars such as Boys Fall Sports, Girls Fall Sports, etc.) It seems like when you add too many events to a single calendar it doesn't work.)

3. Once you have selected all of the events you want to add, click View.

4. Once the box opens, click the calendar icon in the upper right corner.

5. When the next box opens, click the Google logo in the Calendar box.

6. Copy (shortcut---CTRL+C) the URL that appears. (You can close the extra boxes that are open.)

7. Open your Google Calendar and click the upside down triangle that appears to the right of "Other Calendars."

8. Paste the link (shortcut---CTRL+V) into the box and click Add Calendar.

9. Once the calendar appears on the list you can change the name of the calendar by clicking the upside down triangle that appears to the right of the name of the calendar, selecting Calendar Settings, then changing the name in the Calendar Name box. Make sure to save!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Google Forms Quiz or Flubaroo?

Teachers have been using Google Forms for quite some time to create quizzes. Then they would use an addon called Flubaroo to grade them. For people who were just getting their feet wet with using technology this process could get a little confusing. Over the summer Google built a new feature into Forms that will allow you to create a very basic quiz. Eric Curts wrote a post that outlines exactly what Flubaroo and Forms Quiz can and can't do.

My good friend Richard Byrne made a video that walk you through how to use the new Forms Quiz. This should help get you going!

Also, always make sure that when you use Google Forms to create a quiz you set the form to automatically collect user names. This will save a lot of frustration!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Part 1: Back In the Trenches

I have been a K-12 Innovative Teaching and Learning Specialist for two years. Prior to that I was a social studies teacher for ten years. Back in May I was told there was a very good chance that I would be asked to teach a couple sections of 9th grade Social Studies (World Geography). I have a sneaky suspicion that my administrators were a little worried that I would not be open to the idea, but I was ECSTATIC! The truth is I absolutely love my job, but I miss working with kids. I didn't realize how much I missed working with them until I was presented with this opportunity. This arrangement will work for everyone involved. The school gets a teacher and I get to actually do all of the fun and crazy things I talk (preach?) about!

I hope teachers and administrators stop in every single day to see what my students are up to. They are going to do some pretty terrific things! I'm going to push them and challenge them to do things they never thought possible. They are going to connect to the world via their blogs and they are going to manage all of their projects through a classroom website. Everything they do they will be tied to the Nebraska Geography Standards. I have a vision for how this is going to work and it is going to ROCK!

This is the first in a series of posts where I will share what I am doing. There isn't anything that cannot be replicated for different subjects and grade levels. Most of the things we will be doing are things I've had students do for years, so I already know it is possible.

The first thing I did when I found out I was teaching 9th grade Geography was get a copy of the book and the pacing guide. While my class will be very different from the traditional way this class has been taught, I still needed to come up with a schedule to make sure we explore the same topics that are stated in the official course description. I set aside roughly five weeks for each unit.  This will allow us some flexibility with our schedule just in case we need to move some things around.

I spent some time today setting up this doc to make sure we get to all of the standards.  I still need to spend some time figuring out which ones we should focus on for each unit. I'm also working on building a rubric to help students (and me!) know how they are doing when it comes to mastery of our standards. This document is not even close to complete, but it is a good start.

My next step is to divide up the standards to provide students with areas on which they can focus while they are working on their projects. I'm so excited to see where this goes!