Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pack your Backpack for YRDSB Google Camp

With only four days to go, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about what you might want to bring to
YRDSB Google Camp.

When I prepare for a camping trip, the first part involves making a list of all the equipment that I'll need, and making sure it's in good working order.  For YRDSB Google Camp, this involves bringing a laptop computer with Google Chrome installed on it.  For YRDSB staff, you can test your gear by bringing it to school this week and making sure you can connect to the school board's wireless network.

The second part of preparing for a camping trip involves establishing a mental attitude that will help ensure I'm happy and successful.  I want to approach each trip knowing that the weather may change, a portage may be much longer than it seems when looking at a map and that if something goes wrong, I can deal with it.

For YRDSB Google Camp, here are some attitudes that I'm packing to ensure a great experience.

  • Prepare to be inspired:  You will have many opportunities to see different ways in which you can use Google Apps for education in your role.  However, in one hour long sessions, facilitators may not be able to take you step by step through everything they share.  Many will have links to resources that can take you step by step through what they are sharing, and there are incredible resources developed by teachers around the world all over the web.  You'll likely want to adapt what you see to your own setting as well.
  • Prepare to get connected:  With over 500 teachers, administrators and support staff in attendance, try and connect with someone that you can learn from or learn with.  Our session leaders are people who have already volunteered to share how they're using Google Apps in their classrooms and there will be many more people in attendance who are already using Google Apps.  Consider joining our Google+ community to stay in touch with other campers, share your learning, and ask questions to a wider audience who are willing to help out.
  • Prepare to innovate:  Imagine new ways that you can use these tools to engage your students and work more efficiently.  When you walk away from YRDSB Google Camp, commit to trying one or two things in your classroom or role.  It might be a commitment as simple as personally trying to move away from your regular desktop editor to using Google Drive when you want to create a text document, or it might be as challenging as committing to use Google Forms for effective formative assessment purposes on a regular basis.  
  • Prepare to collaborate:  The biggest game changing feature in Google Apps for Education is the ability to collaborate.  Commit to trying to change your own attitude to how you work and learn by sharing with colleagues and students.  Try to get comfortable with giving up some control in order to become a genuine co-learner with your students.  Try to make a connection with someone that you can collaborate with, in your school, across the board, across the province, or around the world.  
I can't wait to see everyone on Saturday!  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Educators who are Excited to be Learners

Even though we're only a couple of weeks in to the school year, I can't help but reflect on how exciting it is to work with educators who are excited to be learners.  In my role, I frequently work with teachers and students who are excited about developing their collaboration skills and integrating digital literacy skills into their work, but over the past two weeks my experiences with YRDSB Google Camp and my first online M. Ed. course are helping create a positive feedback loop of enthusiasm.

YRDSB Google Camp has been an organically growing event that seems to have just passed its tipping point where enough people are involved and excited, that a small buzz is being generated outside of the initial target audience.  YRDSB Google Camp was envisioned as an opportunity for York Region District School Board teachers who were already using Google Apps for Education or who wanted to get started using Google Apps for Education to get connected and learn with and from each other.  We wanted to help facilitate the development of a community that could inspire and support teachers within the school board and we wanted it to be accessible and affordable.  I'm excited to say that even though registration has been open for less than two weeks, we have over 500 people registered and not just teachers.  We have occasional teachers, principals, superintendents, consultants, educational assistants, administrative assistants and more coming.  A very diverse audience!  Those who are coming are excited to learn, and I'm so thrilled that approximately 40 YRDSB teachers are going to open the doors to their teaching practice and share what's happening in their classrooms.  Sharing your practice in public (much like blogging), can seem risky and intimidating, but I know that these teachers are passionate about the ways that Google Apps allows them to work differently and collaborate with their students to become truly become co-learners and will do a great job helping others.

I've also just finished my first week of my first online M.Ed. course through Nipissing University and it's great to join a new community of educators who have diverse range of experiences and backgrounds.  We spend the first week discussing a journal article documenting a first person experience with online learning and it allowed us the opportunity to open up and share our own feelings regarding online learning.  We're in the process of developing norms for the group, but what I've been really impressed with is how these individuals are open to sharing not just their successes, but also their fears about entering this kind of learning (for many of us it's our first M.Ed. and a return to "academia" after many years).  

Working in these kinds of environments just re-energizes my own passion for teaching, reinforces the need for me to question my own practices and assumptions, and makes me excited to work with educators who never stop learning.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thank Goodness for Digital Dictionaries

Image Source:   greeblie.
Creative Commons 2.0 License
I like to think that I'm a relatively well read individual. My family would likely say that I read a lot. I'm not terribly intimidated by listening to Rex Murphy on the CBC, and I can usually decipher the meaning of unfamiliar words from their context. However, now I'm in a position where I must do some academic reading, and whether I understand a word "mostly" or "exactly" matters.

Instead of purchasing the traditional hard copy version of a text for an online course I'm taking, I purchased it through Google Play. For me, a digital text was the way to go for a variety of reasons. I usually have at least one digital device with me, so if I get some time, I can keep reading. I really like being able to search through a text digitally (as opposed to thumbing through it), and when it comes to taking notes, sticky notes and notes in the margins just won't work for me. First, I'm too slow and sloppy when handwriting (I'm a lefty), and second, I like the flexibility of moving typed notes easily between different places, so I can quickly move my notes into the rough draft of an essay without replicating work that's already been done.

Perhaps the best feature of online texts, is the ability to quickly define an unknown word. On my tablet, I simply press on the word and choose "define" from the pop-up menu. Instantly, the built-in dictionary gives me the definition of the word, it's origins, usage and related words. If that's not good enough, I can copy and paste it into another dictionary or thesaurus app and see what results appear. And, in the case where the built in dictionary or apps don't work, I can always query Google (define:erotetic - it's not what you think).

I know that I could do these things with a hard copy dictionary, but then I'd have to carry it around with me, and even though I understand alphabetical order completely, it's just more effective using the digital tools. I'm not advocating that students don't learn how to use dictionaries, but using voice-to-text to "look it up" just makes life easier.

Here are some of the tools I've used or currently use:
Merriam Webster Dictionary (Website)
Concise Oxford English Dictionary
Dictionary.com Dictionary and Thesaurus (Website)

Most E-Readers have a built in dictionary that you can access.  In any Google Search box, type "define:" before the word you'd like to look up.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back to School

It's the first day of school and I'm excited to be continuing in my role as a Digital Literacy Resource Teacher for the York Region District School Board.  I'm thrilled that our school board will be implementing Google Apps for Education for all staff and students (approximately 130 000 users) and I'll have a role in getting students, teachers and administrators engaged in using the tools to improve collaboration, assessment, and feedback.  We're also planning a YRDSB Google Camp for early October where YRDSB teachers and other presenters from around North America will share ideas for using Google Apps.

For the first time in 11 years, I'm heading back to school as a student - in the formal sense of the word - not just as a lifelong learner.  I'm going to be a part time M. Ed. student at Nipissing University and I'm looking forward to engaging discussions and course work as I begin that journey.  I hope that I can use this blog to reflect on my experiences with the M. Ed. work and also make connections to the work I do as a DLRT.

So, with that in mind, it's time to challenge myself to post to this space on a weekly basis.  I've challenged myself before, and failed, but I think it's important to keep trying.  I'm not promising that it will always be inspiring thoughts, and I think it will take some time before I develop a consistent voice and theme for the blog, but, I've placed this work on my weekly to-do list, so hopefully I will.

For all of the other teachers out there who are just getting started with  your students, I hope you have a wonderful year!
Photo Credit:  Creative Commons License by Damian Gadal

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Google Reader and Hello to Feedly

Over the past couple of years, I've frequently suggested that teachers try out Google Reader as a tool for professional development.  Sadly Google is ending support for Reader as they try and focus their efforts on a smaller number of products.

There have been many suggestions around the web as to what the best replacement for Google Reader might be, but I've chosen Feedly as my replacement for the simple reason that, like Google Reader, it can sync my read/unread articles across any device I choose to access them from.  The iPad and iPhone apps work well and are aesthetically pleasing (much like Flipboard).  Feedly is making the transition for Google Reader users to Feedly smooth and you can log in with your Google credentials and sync your feeds up automatically.

Feedly has apps for both iOS and Android devices.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

140 Characters Just Won't Cut It For Real Conversations

Recently I came across a post in my Google+ stream that intrigued me. It discussed the value of "the 140 character discussion" that occurs on Twitter.  +Doug Johnson made the point that Twitter doesn't really permit a true conversation or debate on any topic because of the nature of the tool.  His accompanying screenshot of a Twitter stream showed a variety of tweets and a couple of them  really stood out to me as a solid examples of why Twitter doesn't work for in depth learning.  That being said, I don't mind it for sharing links, but prefer to use a tool like Flipboard to read my Twitter stream so that those links are pulled to the forefront.

A couple of Tweets in the screenshot really stood out for me and connected deeply to why I feel that discussion on Twitter lack the nuance required for an in depth discussion.  I have to qualify my response here to say that I was not part of this discussion, and I don't know the people involved, but I'm guessing that they have more nuanced views than those expressed within the 140 character limit of Twitter.
"You have a bad PD program if you are teaching tools."
"The fact that teachers have to get 'trained' on Google Apps is pretty bad, though" 
At one level, I agree with these sentiments.  However, I don't think that they take the whole scope of teachers lives into consideration.  If I was to modify the first tweet, I would modify it to say "Your PD program may be lacking some effectiveness if you are teaching tools in isolation".  With respect to the second tweet, I would say that, in my experience, teachers are quite capable of using Google Apps in exactly the same way they have used Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  That is not the point of training teachers in using Google Apps.  When I work with teachers "training" them to use Google Apps in their classroom, what I'm hoping to get them to do is "think differently" about how they work together with their colleagues and with their students.  The ability to collaborate with anyone in real time and to give feedback while the student is actually engaged in the task is an incredible change in the way we work.  Teachers, like students, need time to engage with these tools, and re-imagine the way that some things happen in their classroom.  Describing it as "pretty bad" implies that either the individuals leading the training are narrow in their focus in terms of the desired outcome of the their training, or that teachers who don't immediately grasp the potential of some of the new tools to engage their students and give them choice in how learn and demonstrate their knowledge are "bad teachers".  The incredible responsibility of teachers to stay on top of planning, giving feedback, marking, communicating with parents, running extra-curricular activities, character development, and the other responsibilities that come in a modern classroom, means that many teachers may not have time to follow the latest developments in educational technology.

I know they Tweets above have bee taken out of context, so I apologize to the authors if I've offended, and I hope I've made it clear that I expect that with more than the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter that they would have more nuanced thoughts on the topic.  What are the best ways to have these deeper discussions?  I love the blog, and I'm learning more and more about Google+.  What are other ways to ensure we get depth and breadth?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Great Examples of Open Forms for Assessment

Molly Schroeder shared some great resources and some different ways of thinking about how to use Google Forms effectively for assessment purposes today at the Ontario Google Apps for Education Summit.  The idea behind a generic form like the one below is that it is ready to go whenever you need it.  You may use the same for each time (deleting responses as soon as you're done with the form) or you might create a copy of the form.  Check out her site for more examples of how you might use forms.

Ideas from the Google Apps for Education Summit App Slam

I'm lucky to be at the Ontario Google Apps for Education Summit (#gafesummit) this weekend, connecting with other educators who are using Google Apps.  One of the highlights for me has been the Demo Slam because I learned a few things and saw a couple of Chrome Extensions that could be very worthwhile in my work.  I haven't tried them all out yet, but recording them here might be a way of remembering to take a look at them.

Google Apps Training

Synergyse is a Chrome extension that provides training in the task you are interested in, when you're interested in learning it.  It looked pretty slick during the demo, but when I checked out the site, I saw that the free version limited you to 5 lessons.  After that, it was $10/year.

Ask the Gooru is a second Chrome extension that live in Gmail and provides access to training videos right on the Gmail desktop.  These quick and clear videos are also available on their site for Google Apps users who don't have Gmail access.

Tip Sheets

The folks at EdTechTeam who put the Summit together also have a great set of tip sheets on their website.

Free Alternatives

If you really like the iLife suite, aren't sure you would want to put out the extra money for a Mac computer, you might consider using the Chrome extensions Pixlr, uJam, and weVideo, along with Picasaweb to organize and share your photos.


Docstorybuilder appears to be a skin that is layered over top of the Google Docs page and makes collaborative story writing more playful.  I can see it a means to engage teachers and younger students and make them think about getting started with Google Apps.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Doctopus for Google Docs Management in the Classroom

For teachers who are getting on board the Google Apps bandwagon, Doctopus might make the sharing and managing of assignments in Google Docs significantly easier.

It uses your class roster to create a copy of an assignment for each student, shares it with them as an editor and sends them a notification.  All the copies off the doc are shared in the same folder and you can set up naming rules (no more Copy of Assignment1...).  When you're ready to assess, you can actually automatically change all students back to having view only access at the same time.  If you'd like, it will also email marks and feedback to students.

It does take a lot longer to set up and share than just pressing the "Share" button, but the advantage is that you aren't relying on students to create the document and share it with you.  You can also see all of the student assignments, when they were last worked on (edited) and link right to them from the doc.

Thanks to Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers for the tip.