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.