Thursday, April 14, 2016

Google Classroom Polls for Math Teachers

Last week Google added the ability to ask a simple multiple choice question in Google Classroom. The interface is very similar to Google Forms, but can be setup in just a few clicks.

Shortly after Google's announcement, my friend Ben Rimes published another video in his "video story problem" series. That got me thinking about smashing the two ideas together to help math teachers engage students with real-world math problems.

I quickly setup a new question in Google Classroom and changed it to a Poll question. I grabbed the link to Ben's video (he's using Vimeo, so I had to use the link option, not the YouTube button).

I added in a quick summary for what students are expected to accomplish:
The video below contains a real-life math problem. Your challenge is to figure if it is a better deal to by the "yard of Twix" or to purchase 18 separate Twix bars. Use your math skills to help you determine which option is the most cost effective. Choose one of the options below to indicate your choice, but be prepared to show your work and explain HOW you came to your conclusion.
That's it! Students now have an engaging question which will test not only their math skills, but also critical thinking skills (i.e. how much DOES an individual Twix bar costs?). Thanks Ben for sharing your video!

One of the challenges that math teachers face is having students show their work in a digital format. The use of Google Classroom and the poll feature avoids this challenge all together by forcing students to come to a conclusion, select a response, and be prepared to show their work.

I have not provided students with any specific guidelines regarding HOW they need to show their work. They can use pencil and paper, Google Docs, FastFig, Desmos, etc.

Note that I did elect to hide the class summary so that students are not able to see which response is the most popular. You could leave it on as well in order to stir up more controversy about the right decision. That choice will be up to you and the personality of your students.

This assignment is NOT about getting the right answer, it is about the journey TO the correct (or incorrect) answer. Students should be evaluated on their process not necessarily coming to the correct conclusion.

Ben has created a half dozen or so video story problems, but it would be great if there were more to select from! If you have created any similar videos or found some good ones, please leave a comment with a link!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chrome Extensions are like Prescription Drugs...

Chrome Extensions are like prescription don't want to take too many at any one time!

Unlike Chrome Apps, extensions remain active and "on" (there are some exceptions). This can result in reduced battery life, longer page load times, and a general loss processing power for your device, especially if you are on a machine with 4GB or RAM or less. Additionally, you will occasionally encounter extensions which conflict with one another, making pages load slowly, strangely, or not at all.

I usually have between 5-10 extensions running at any given time. I have many more than that installed, but only the extensions that I actively use on a daily basis are enabled.

Here are some quick tips for managing extensions.

1. Review your extensions and remove any that are unfamiliar (some can be malicious) and any extensions that you no longer need.

To manage your extensions, visit the Chrome Menu (i.e. the "hamburger") > More Tools > Extensions.

2. Disable extensions that you want to keep, but don't use on a regular basis. 
From the extension manager page simply click the checkbox next to an extension that you want to keep, but don't need active.

3. Install an extension manager utility
I do a lot of training for schools and am constantly switching my extensions on and off. There are two very helpful extensions that you can use to manage your extensions (very meta, I know!).

Extension Manager: a great chrome extension that lets you turn your extensions on/off without visiting the extension page. One of my favorites!

Context: allows you to group extensions into a "context" to quickly enable / disable a selection of extensions. This is super helpful for me as I have groups for "work" "special education" and "training" so that when I do demos I can quickly turn on all of the extensions with a single click.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Elementary Book Report Machine

I am fortunate to be able to work with thousands of educators at hundreds of schools each year. Occasionally, I have the opportunity to help a school build something really cool.

My first project of 2016 was to help Kingsley elementary school, a small school in northern Michigan, build an elementary book report machine.

Writing reflectively is a key component of the common core standards (example). A book report is a tremendous way to help students practice reflective, informational writing, and to also encourage them to identify elements of literature such as genre, plot, and setting. As a bonus, they can share their writing with others!

The Kinglsey elementary team (Rich Rountree, Sean Selby, Sara Trowbridge, Kendra Bell, and Lynn Alford) decided to leverage their class set of Chromebooks and turn a paper book report assignment into a digital process using Google Forms and Docs.

One of the simplest ways to integrate technology into the classroom is to update an existing lesson or activity with modern tools and processes. As you do this, you will discover new possibilities and will likely end up modifying the assignment to make it even better!

We quickly put together a Google form which contained all of the required elements of the book report.

No one wants to read a book report in a spreadsheet, so we decided to use the AutoCrat Sheets add-on to generate a unique document for each form submission. To do this, we first created a template document with merge tags.

With these steps complete, we now have a system that generates a very nicely formatted Google Doc book report for each form submission. These documents are all safely stored in a Google Drive folder that is shared with the entire grade level team.

But wait, there is more!

Book reports are meant to be read! The final step of this process is to create a QR code for each book report which will be added to the inside cover of the book.

If a student sees a QR code in a book, they can scan it with their device and read the report written by a fellow student. This in turn encourages students to take pride and ownership in writing their own report.

This simple system helps teachers organize and curate large volumes of student work and gives students a wide audience.

The Kingsley elementary team has graciously allowed me to share their story and copies of the documents that you can use! Give it a try - use this link to try out the Book Report generator (hope you like mice and cookies!)

Build your own book report machine: 
  • Google Spreadsheet - We used the AutoCrat add-on to automatically generate docs from the form submission. Note: If you would like a copy of the form below, you will need to make a copy of this spreadsheet; the form comes along with it! 
  • Google Form - This is the final form; fill it out and press submit to see the system in action!
  • Google Doc Template - This is the document that determines the layout of the book reports. The merge tags (i.e. <>) are replaced with data from the sheet. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Chrome App Recommendation: Booktrack Classroom

Wouldn't books be more interesting if they had movie soundtracks and sound effects? With Booktrack Classroom they can! Paste in the text of your story and then add a sound track, sound effects, and more! Publish your story to a class or share with the world.

Access Booktrack Classroom from the Chrome webstore!

Note: there are TWO Booktrack apps, a consumer version and a education version. The education version is 100% FREE (for a limited time) and allows a teacher to setup and manage a classroom of students. Booktrack Classroom also features a Google Classroom integration!

Check out the Booktrack that I made from my previous post, the Death of Google Play!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Is Google Play for Education Dead?

Some pretty important news was leaked this week related to Google Play for Education (GP4E), Google's K-12 Android initiative.

Less than 3 years after its launch, Google is pulling the plug and Google Play for Education, as reported by CRN.
"[Google] confirmed to CRN on Friday it will cease selling Play for Education licenses to partner tablet vendors March 14. Google said it will continue supporting all existing accounts, allowing current customers to access the education-focused app store for as long as their devices are in service."
This is a startling change, especially for schools that have only recently adopted Android tablets. As recently as this school year Google has heavily promoted Android adoption in schools through a special package offered by hardware re-sellers.

Here are three reason's this announcement isn't a surprise, and shouldn't cause panic:

1. Google has already hinted about the "merging" of ChromeOS and Android.
Everyone was freaking out about ChromeOS being merged into Android. Well, the opposite (kind of) happened. GP4E is being phased out, and will [likely] somehow be rolled into ChromeOS.

2. Google's mobile device management controls have gotten better. 
Google has slowly added administrative controls for Android devices through the admin console. I will be the first to admit that these are NOT a full replacement for GP4E (no app pushing), but they are a start.

3. Chromebooks are better anyway
Google Play for Education never really captured the hearts or minds of school leaders or teachers. At least not compared with Chromebooks. Why? Chromebooks are cheaper, easier to manage, and have more features than Android Tablets.

The rapid development of touch-screen Chromebooks (nearly all new models have offer touch as an option) has further reduced the need for tablets, even for younger students. I have worked with several districts who purchased touch-screen Chromebooks in place of Android tablets.

Sadly, this point is little comfort to schools that have already invested in the Android ecosystem. I'm sorry. = (

Google has a PR crisis on their hands given the nature of this major [leaked] announcement. I certainly hope that they provide a LOT more clarity and explanation regarding this decision and the future of all of their platforms.

This announcement, while frustrating, is NOT the end; it is likely just the beginning. We will likely learn more during Google I/O, May 18-20.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Paperless? So What.

If you have attended any educational conferences in the past three years you have probably seen one or more sessions on "going paperless." I have actually led several of these sessions.

To any teacher who is trying to "go paperless" I what.

Who cares if you use paper.

Who cares if your students exclusively use web-based tools. doesn't matter.

What DOES matter is using the appropriate tool for the right reasons.

Sometimes PAPER is the right tool.

Benefits of Paper:

  • Simple
  • Cheap
  • Doesn't require WiFi, charging, or updates.
  • Doesn't require explanation or training

Sometimes DIGITAL tools are best.

Benefits of Digital tools:

  • Allows for multi-user collaboration
  • All voices are equal
  • Not geographically dependent

You are a professional, highly trained educator. Your students are counting on you to pick the best tool. Use your best judgment. And don't let anyone make you feel guilty for using paper (or not).

Thursday, February 11, 2016

5 Ways to Help Parents Connect with Google Classroom

Google Classroom is great if you are a teacher, or a student...but not so great if you are a parent! As of February of 2016 Google Classroom does not provide a parent access component. The impact of parent involvement on student performance is well documented and it is important that teachers have a strategy for involving parents in their classroom. Here are 5 ways you can help parents stay involved if you are using Google Classroom.

#1. Login Sharing

Parents should be fully aware of how students are using their school provided Google Apps for Education account. A parent can login to Google Classroom using their son or daughters login information to see the assignments that are due and the work that has been completed.

There are some potential legal issues if a teacher provides a parent with login information. It is best if you allow the student to share the information with the parent or forward the request to the school principal or technology department.

There is nothing more powerful than a parent sitting down on a daily basis with a child and discussing what they are learning at school. I recommend it.

While this solution is viable for families with 1-2 students, it would be challenging to manage 3+ login credentials on a regular basis. In these situations, one of the other options below will be more realistic.

#2. Home Work Calendar

A 2015 update to Google Classroom added Google Calendar integration to Google Classroom. Now, all assignments with a due-date are automatically added to a Google Calendar. This calendar can be shared with a parent or made public (provided your domain administrator is allowing public calendar sharing).

It is important to note that announcements and assignments without a due-date will NOT be displayed on the calendar. This un-dated content can be manually added to Google Calendar simply by adding a new event. All manual additions to the calendar must be done via Google Calendar, not Google Classroom.

A Google account is NOT needed in order to view a calendar. Simply email or share the public URL to your classroom calendar (use a URL shortener!)

#3. Print the "work" Page

Yep, it's old fashioned, but sometimes paper is best! For students with limited access to technology at home, have them print out the "work" page in Classroom. This page provides an overview of all upcoming assignments. Students can print out work for for individual classes or all of them.

#4. Use a Google Doc

Create a companion Google Document that mirrors what you post in Google Classroom. Any time you add a new assignment or announcement, copy and paste the same information into the Google Doc. Include links to the templates and instructions that you attach to your assignments in classroom. 

Share this Google Document with parents for them to access as needed. For more parental engagement, allow parents to comment on the document so that they can ask questions. 

#5. Setup a Website

Before Google Classroom, I setup a Google Site which I used to organize and share resources with my students. This is a great practice to continue as it provides tremendous value to both students and parents. 

Maintaining a classroom website will require additional work, however once it is setup, your website will only require minor maintenance each year. Whenever possible, embed Google Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations from Drive. This will make keeping your site up-to-date even easier as these files will automatically update any time they are edited. 

The ability to search is one of the missing features of Google Classroom. Students will benefit from having access to your website, especially if it is organized topically or by unit. Finding a missing document or resource via Google Classroom is challenging due to the chronological layout. Finding that same resource on a website organized by unit is much easier. 

Google Sites, Blogger, Weebly, and Wix are all fine choices for creating a classroom website. 

BONUS: #6. Remind

SMS / Text messaging has become a common form of simple communication, in some cases, replacing email. Remind is a free service that allows teachers to send SMS / Text updates to students or parents without giving out personal cell numbers. 
Remind is easy to setup and easy for parents to subscribe to updates. Check it out!