Working Smarter with Google Docs

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 4.39.17 PMOne of the easiest tools to simplify our job is one that has been around for several years now- Google Docs.  If you rely on email to collaborate and share work, you probably have multiple copies of each edit as you send new ideas back and forth.  Or, you may be spending extra time sending work to absent students and their parents or resending those collaborative documents to colleagues.  Google Docs can come to your rescue and potentially shave hours off of your work load with just a few easy tricks.

As a Polk County staff member, you probably know that we have our own access to GoogleDocs through My Polk Apps (www.mypolkschools.net/google/).  One of the best reasons to use MyPolkApps is that you stay under the district umbrella, which helps ensure a higher level of security for you and your students.  When students use GoogleDocs through MyPolkApps, their parents can also see their work from the Parent Portal home page, which allows more parental involvement and support for what you do.

If you haven’t looked at GoogleDocs in a while, here are some ideas to help you jump into it:

**See below for resource guides.**

Time Savers

  • Keep your documents and presentations in one place, and have access to them from any computer.  Especially helpful if you have to move rooms or use the computer labs.
  • Create a self-grading quiz.  Use for in-class assessments, quick formative assessments, or pre-assessments to more easily gage student progress. (See Guides below for more information)

Collaboration with colleagues:

  • Create a page or spreadsheet, then invite colleagues to add to it
  • Create shared lesson plans
  • Create a team or department newsletter easily as each section is edited collaboratively
  • Keep meeting agendas, notes & PLC information in one place to share

Student collaboration:

  • Student group reports can be divided and each student can work on the same document.
  • Group presentations are a snap as each team member edits different slides
  • Create shared concept maps with Drawing document
  • Have students share their doc with you so you can monitor who is doing the work (There is a pane that lists who has edited the document so you always know who did the work)
  • REMINDER:  Students must have parental permission to use Google Docs, as recorded in IDEAS

Sharing resources:

  • Create a class folder of documents and/ or presentations you want students to have access to.  This works like DropBox, but it is under the district umbrella with that added security.

To view a shared folder with Google Apps quick guides, click HERE.

Do you use Google Docs?  How?  What do you like?  What questions do you still have?  Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Who Doesn’t Love a Good Trailer?

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Presentations are a necessary part of instruction.  You can find some great ideas on presentation tools here on this blog, but today’s post will focus on a tool that students can use to share information.

The purpose for a student presentation is to assess student knowledge.  Usually it will require a logical order of ideas supported with details or explanations.  Student presentations don’t have to be elaborate, but they do require the ability to clearly express ideas gained and concepts learned.  They can be quite nerve racking for some students and a point of contention where grades are concerned.

An interesting website that we’ve found can help students present knowledge and information.  Book Trailers for Readers provides a walkthrough of how to create a book trailer.  There are numerous examples of teacher and student work on this site.  The examples, as the web site title implies, all focus on reading.  However, there is no reason this presentation tool cannot work for any other subject just as well.

Students in an American History class could make a trailer for the beginning of the American Revolution.  In chemistry, students could create a trailer for different elements on the Periodic Table.  In math?  Well, just think of the possibilities of an algebraic action film where the numbers are feuding with the letters.  In the end they must work it out!  It’s a step by step process and you can rest assured they will show their work.

Presentation skills are useful in all fields and for most people.  Organizing and sharing ideas is essential in the workplace, in social situations and they are especially helpful in the classroom.  Unfortunately most of the presentations that we get from students are dependent upon poster board or possibly PowerPoint.  However, by repurposing the idea of a movie trailer students get to creatively work with content and display it with a ubiquitous medium that most students are happy to watch and enjoy.

Movie trailers present a very specific set of information about a single topic in a highly engaging medium.  They can help you flip your classroom and engage your students, they can extend your classroom and increase communication with your students as well.

What is the cloud?

two_glossy_clouds

 The Internet has created new and exciting ways for our students to learn, acquire and share knowledge.  In some ways education hasn’t changed, but the way students interact with content and experience the world is so different than previous generations have come to understand how the world works.  One emerging technologies that you’ve probably been hearing about is “The Cloud.”  There is nothing fundamentally new about cloud computing.  It is technology that has been around since the beginning of the Internet.  Marketing and branding have made it better known to the consumer and services like Dropbox and SkyDrive make it easily accessible to the non-technical computer user.

Cloud_computing

The cloud allows an Internet connected computer to communicate with another Internet connected server (fancy word for another computer) and store information on that other computer.  The server stores the information so that you can access that information from any other connected computer or device.  So, you create a document on your computer at home, save it to the cloud, and then print that same document from your computer at work without a flash drive.  If you’ve ever emailed yourself something from home to use at school, you’ve used the cloud (although emails don’t save information in quite the same way or as easily).

mygoogleapps

You may have heard about Google Apps.  These tools are web based, meaning you can access them anywhere you have an Internet connection.  They are also a way to store your information in the cloud.  There are basically two ways to store your information on Google’s servers using myPolkApps(Google Apps).  The first is to upload a file from your computer to their server.  This is as easy as opening the file on your own computer.  The second is by actually creating a file on the web using Google’s programs on the web.  Learn about how to get started with Google Docs.  The great thing about Google Apps is that you can share your documents with administration, department members, or even students.  This makes it easy to share your lessons and assignments with everyone when they need it from anywhere.  Learn about Accessing Resources on myPolkApps to find out how to open and share files with Google Apps.

NOTE: Google Apps do not play nicely with Internet Explorer.  Expand your browsing experience by downloading and installing an alternative web browser, like Firefox or Chrome.

Tweet & Treat

Do you use Twitter in your class?  How about Facebook?  It’s your turn to add your expertise!  Add a comment below on how you use Twitter and/ or Facebook in your class.

Perhaps you are like many educators- you see the potential for these prolific technologies, but unsure of how to go about it.  Before you completely write them off, read on for a few ideas that might inspire you dip your toe into these social technologies.

Twitter

Twitter is a powerful social media tool that gets people discussing events in real time using just 140 characters. Posting something is called a “Tweet” and you can “Retweet” posts from people you follow into your own Twitter feed.  (btw- this is a great way to use Twitter and a compliment to the original poster.)

After signing up at twitter.com,  have your class follow you so they will receive your updates into their twitter feed. You will only receive posts into your feed for the people you follow.   Students can respond to your post directly using @yourusername, follow a particular topic by searching for that topic, or use a hashtag (#) with a keyword to follow a specific person, topic or idea.  For instance, I could follow all tweets about my favorite show using  #OnceUponATime or my class could create a hashtag symbol such as #LHSbiofanatics and then follow tweets with that symbol .  Even if you just have students follow certain topics, you will add interest and interaction to your content on a different  level.  Plus, students will be reading about your content outside of class instead the latest celebrity gossip (or, rather, in addition to it).

Twitter ideas to get you started:

  • Create quick updates, announcements, study reminders, etc.
  • Tweet vocab terms or notes
  • Pose a question of the day for students to respond to
  • Follow experts in your field & have students do research directly from the professionals
  • Writing in Content Area: Write a narrative about a topic, one line at a time, then print & discuss the class creation (since we do not have access at school).

Links for Twitter:  

Did you know Technaughtlogy has a twitter feed?  Its in the navigation bar to the right.  Once you set up your account, follow us at: @technaughtlogy

Facebook

Facebook seems to be everywhere today.  Many of our students check their accounts and update their status several times throughout the day.  Why not add your class happenings to their news feed through a Fan Page?  You can add Fan Pages to your account, yet keep them completely separate from your personal page.  Students “Like” your Fan Page, not your personal page, then your class updates will be added to their feed.  You have complete control over who is following you through removing followers and even banning for life when necessary.

Links for Facebook:

One way I used Facebook in addition to class updates was to offer it as a project choice in AP Biology.  My students could, as an option, create create a profile for a cell, then add images and descriptions for all the cell parts.  Since the students are experts in Facebook, their creativity was able to shine.  Although we could not view it in class, it could be linked to my website, Twitter or Facebook fan page for students to use.

As with all things in education, use social media with wisdom.  Create a separate Twitter name just for your class and use Fan Pages instead of allowing students to “friend” your personal page.   However, if you proceed using common sense, you may find new connections, greater engagement and deeper understanding of your course content.

Please add a comment below describing how you use or would like to use Twitter and/ or Facebook in your class.

Fast, Fun & Free- Tech to Spice Up Your Plans

Oh, the glorious adventure that testing season brings- adding just that special touch of stress that leaves us begging for something fun… Here are a few ideas that you can use to add that touch of fun to this most favored time of year.

1.  Wordle (www.wordle.netis a word cloud generation tool.  Add any text, or the URL of a webpage or blog, click “go”, and it transforms your words into a word picture.  Words that are used more often will be larger.  Click “Randomize” to see your creation in other designs or change the layout, font, color, etc. Take a screen shot, save it to the public gallery or print it from that page.  There are so many ways to use this: I made a wordle of my syllabus to add to my website, students or classes can use it to show brainstorming ideas, students can put their research paper into it to see what words they use often, or create a word picture of your topic- just add words in a free flow.  This was even a required entry for my master’s thesis- I made one of my entire research document.  It was illuminating to see my different emphases by the different sizes of letters!  The graphic is a Wordle of this blog entry.

2.  Xtranormal (www.xtranormal.com) is a quick and easy animation maker.  Use it in your presentations, on your website or give it as a student project.  It’s a great alternative to the usual presentation- the students will enjoy seeing yours and creating their own.

3.  With Voki (www.voki.com), you can create an avatar of yourself that talks. You can use a computer generated voice or even record your own.  Add it as an welcome to your website or lesson or give it as an assignment for your students to create a summary of a topic.  The site has a teacher page (sign up with your school email) with lessons for many topics.
4. Create an avatar of yourself with many free online services.  Try one of these (From Squiddo http://www.squidoo.com/avatar-makers):


Motivator Poster

5.  Make your own motivational poster at: Motivator  http://bighugelabs.com/motivator.php  Yup, its free and easy to use.

Have fun!

Opening the Lines of Communication

At the beginning of every school year I set a goal to contact a few parents every week to pass on an encouraging word about their student.  Every year this plan works for about three weeks and then the days begin to blend together into a hectic tapestry of planning, grading, assigning, copying, etc.  Maintaining an accurate log of parent/teacher contact becomes a secondary priority in light of all the other responsibilities that begin to pile up as the year progresses.  These are a few tricks to make this task a little more manageable…

Using technology that you already have…

During orientation every year I have a parent contact signup sheet that I use to ask for phone numbers and email addresses.  Parents with email addresses are usually happy to provide this means of contact and it saves me loads of time when I need to send out a lot of information to a large group of people.  Sending out a group email is quite easy and you could use it for your students as well.  You could even have students create a class newsletter summarizing the learning for the week and then distribute a digital copy to their parents using email or even post it to your class website (but that’s a different post, click here for some great ideas).

To distribute an email to a group in three easy steps:

  1. You’ll need to create a group in Outlook.  This is easy to do from your contacts page which is located in the bottom left portion of your Outlook dashboard.  (Click here to see what this looks like.)
  2. Create a new group and add the parent’s email addresses to this group.  Now save the group and you’re ready to email.
  3. Make sure you send the email to your school email address and “Bcc” (stands for “blind carbon copy”) the group so that the recipients of the email don’t receive each other’s email addresses.  (No “Bcc” option? Click here to learn how to turn it on.)  This is an easy way to ensure that your group’s email addresses remain private.

Using contact groups is an easy way to send out your information to many recipients at the same time.  You could use this option to communicate and prepare students as well.  Think of all the time and paper you could save if you sent out an assignment or your lecture notes to students before the class meets.  Email is a great way to share documents and periodic reminders to your students.  Another advantage to using email is the digital paper trail that you can easily store and access in a student’s file on your computer.  This way you’ll always have a record showing the distribution of a homework assignment or the makeup work from that absence last week.

Try something new…

There are even ways to make traditional ways of keeping in touch with parents, like using the telephone, a little more efficient.  Using the phone is more personal and has a greater impact when specific problems or concerns surface with a student or arise in the classroom.  However, I don’t always have time to stay at school to make my calls home to parents.  To be honest, I’m not always sure how to use the phone in my office.  It is quite old and doesn’t work correctly all of the time.

One alternative that will allow you the freedom to make phone calls to parents and students without giving out your personal home or cell phone number is Google Voice, a free and easy to use service.  (Unfortunately, this service is not available through the Google Apps account provided by the county.)  So you’ll need to setup a Google Account if you don’t already have one, but it is very easy to do and free!

Once you’ve signed up for your Google account head over to the Google Voice page.  Your initial visit to the page will require you to setup your Google Voice account.  You’ll need to pick a number.  The great thing about this service is that you can pick any number that is available.  The search field will give you the option to search for numbers and words.  So, if you are looking for a number that spells MATH you could search by that word.  Once you’ve picked a number you’ll want to forward your calls from your Google Voice account to your cell phone or home phone.  This will give you the ability to make and receive phone calls without giving out your private line to students and parents.  Check out this video for a quick overview.

Now that you have a Google Voice number you have a wealth of other options beyond the regular caller id, voice mail, and call waiting that your regular phone supports.  With Google voice you can find out who’s calling and why before picking up, record your phone call and even create a conference call.  Another handy feature of Google Voice is the transcriptions of your voicemails.  You can read them from your email account and save them in a student file on your computer.

For more on Google Voice, check these helpful tutorials.

Constant contact even from your school computer?!?

Additionally, Google Voice makes text messaging simple and convenient right from your computer desktop.  Have you ever wondered how the kids type so quickly on such a small keypad?  They have tiny fingers and are more dexterous.  Fret no more!  Google Voice gives you the ability to send and receive text messages from your computer.  It will work on any computer that is connected to the Internet.  So, you can send out a group text message to your students from your school computer and receive and save their responses right to your desktop in the classroom.  This is a huge time saver and a great way to communicate to students on their level.  Send out assignments, homework and quiz reminders, provide additional resources, and much more with the power of the text.

The last tool that is becoming more popular among teachers is the use of educational social networks.  One example of this type of social network is Edmodo.  It is a powerful tool for reaching students through a medium that they are not only familiar with, but also one they are likely to engage outside of the classroom.  The appearance of Edmodo looks a lot like Facebook and has many similar tools that teachers and students can use to communicate and collaborate.   For example, once signed up and logged in an Edmodo teacher has the option to create classes for their profile.  The teacher is then able to distribute homework assignments, send out quick quizzes, and start online discussion boards.  These are all useful tools that can enhance and extend instruction beyond the classroom into a medium in which students are comfortable and more likely to participate.  Watch the video for a quick overview of Edmodo and its features and uses for the classroom.

For more information and how to set up your Edmodo account visit their tutorials page.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed a post or have something to add please comment below and let us know your thoughts.  We enjoy your input and are happy to answer your questions.  Technaughtlogy is about learning: to use technology and to create connections.

Powerful Presentations For Teachers & Students

Have you ever felt PowerPoint overload?  Now, think about our students- each having 7 class periods a day, day after day, sitting & viewing  PowerPoint after PowerPoint.  Although they have been magnificently planned and executed by an enthusiastic and talented teacher, these presentations may get a little repetitive to students, whom we want to keep engaged.  So, then, how do we present our content?  Here are some alternate ideas to add variety to your lesson presentations- and if you know or use another way to present, please share in the conversation by posting to comments section.  BTW- these are great alternatives for student projects as well- and you may find a better quality product!

For more ideas, check out this wiki I found- it has fabulous resources and ideas to spur your creative juices:  Cool Tools for Schools (http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/Home)

**Click the images below to open a link to the website.**

Prezi.com is my current favorite presentation alternative for both my lessons and for student projects.  This is an online “zooming presentation” site that is so much fun to create and view.  You can include text, pictures and videos and nest ideas within other ideas that are revealed as you zoom in or out.    Because it is online, you can create it and then present it anyplace you have internet access.  The Prezis can be kept private or made public for others to use- there are public ones already made and available for any subject.  The basic account is free, but teachers can get an additional upgrade for free ($59 value- look for the “Teachers & Students” on the Pricing page).  This is an example written by a college math instructor about using Twitter in the classroom: http://prezi.com/nsu8izuq8jxs/mathematweets/

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flickr.com



Create a slide show or photo gallery presentation.  The gallery you create can include examples of your topic, discussion starters, pictures to begin a writing prompt or debate, real world applications- the ideas are endless and foster higher level and deeper engagement of your topic.  Or, have student teams collaborate on a photo gallery presentation to take ownership of the content!  This can be a truly memorable way to present as well as a great way challenge their thinking.

MyPolkApps

Glogster EDU

Google sites & Glogster   Create a website or online poster of your topic for students to explore in a webquest or as homework.  Student teams can also create one as a research tool for their classmates.  One idea is to have student teams research different aspects of the topic as a project.  Then, have the other student teams research each other’s to “get all the facts.”  Access Google Sites through MyPolkApps (http://www.mypolkschools.net/google/)  link- sign in using your polk-fl credentials; there are tutorials available on the home page.  If they create a Glogster poster, they can also add comments to their classmate’s poster to embed other critical thinking skills and a social aspect (with explicit instructions about appropriate comments and include this in the grade!).  Be sure to use the Glogster Education site as the main site is not filtered and has some posters that you may not want to advertise.

There are many other resources to use to try to get out of the “PowerPoint rut”- but don’t get overwhelmed!  Try to update one lesson (I know mine need to be updated every now and then anyway) and watch your students’ reactions.  After my first Prezi, students in each class throughout the day said that they really liked the lecture and some even thanked me.  It was strange and exhilarating- not being used to a “thank you” after lecture notes- and it made me want to create more, for both of us!

Presentation Zen:  Try some new ideas in preparing your presentations.  Students are experts at copying notes word for word.  To help teach listening and note taking skills, try to use less words and more graphics.  If the presentation can run without you (because everything you want to say is printed), then they don’t really need you.  Use the graphics to enhance your teaching.  You can embed valuable skills through modeling and having pairs compare notes that will go with them into college and their careers.  (Adapted to educational presentations from Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds)