Welcome to Jennie Magiera's Technology in Education Blog:

Redefining the (digital) Classroom

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reflecting on 2013 through Social Media

As each year comes to a close, we all tend to get reflective. We look back on the past 12 months and think about what we've done, what we've accomplished and set goals for the new year. More and more recently, social media has stepped up to help us with this charge. From Facebook to Google+, there are now more ways to visually reflect on your trip around the sun.

Here are some interesting year-in-review social media recaps you can explore:

Another interesting thing I started doing... which isn't really about reflecting on my entire year but more my recent activity, is to explore which sites I've been visiting most frequently by checking out my OmniBox's auto-fill. I just typed in a, then b, then c, etc and saw what popped up!

So, here they are:

A ausl-chicago.org/schools
B bit.ly
C calendar.google.com
D drive.google.com
E evite.com
F facebook.com
G gmail.com
H hapara.com
I imdb.com
J jerryssandwiches.com
K kayak.com
L linkedin.com
M maps.google.com
N newyorktimes.com
O opentable.com
P plus.google.com
Q quadblogging.net
R realtimeboard.com
S schoology.com
T twitter.com
U united.com
V volume.itunes.apple.com
W wallet.google.com
X ---
Y youtube.com
Z zaption.com

Hope you enjoy reviewing your year and recent activity. Here's to a Happy New Year for all!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Five Ways to Power Up over Break

A cross post from my EdWeek Blog:
Many educators are enjoying their winter break. This time is great for connecting with family, enjoying holiday traditions, travel or catching up on much-needed rest. And yet after the big meals, parties and festivities are done, this might also be a perfect time to power up on some new digital learning ideas to jump start 2014. Here are a few things to check out in your down time.
#1 Create a Class Twitter Account
Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 11.05.34 AM.pngAs your students explore, learn and grow, it is great to chronicle their journey. Amplify their voices and experiences with social media! Creating a class Twitterhandle or Tumblr account will allow you to share the magic that happens in your classroom with your students' families as well as other educators and experts around the world. Twitter is best for quick, 140-character thoughts collected from your students or asking quick questions. Tumbler is great for sharing photos of learning, student work or field trips. In both cases, be sure to speak with your principal to find out what your district's policy on social media is and also get permission from parents before posting anything of or by their children. Once all of the paperwork is complete, encourage your students to share their thoughts and create a positive digital footprint! Recently a kindergarten teacher colleague tweeted to Mercer Mayer and got him to read one of his Little Critter books to the all of the school's primary students! It's great moments like this that shine a light on how social media can be a true friend to educators.
#2 Jazz Up Your Presentations
A lot of educators are using PowerPoint to teach lessons and present content to their students. However, the same old stale bullet points and word art can get a bit dull. Lucky for us that the iPad app, Haiku Deck, is now available on web browsers for our desktops! Try jazzing up your lessons with visually stunning slides and simple text. Explore how to leverage this free tool to allow your students to communicate content to one another and world... then tweet it!
#3 Create a Library of Your Own Digital Content
Beyond slideshow presentations are video lessons. Get started on flipping your classroom or cloning yourself in-class through differentiated video content. To do this, check out Explain Everything - a great app that is available on both iOS and Android devices. Explain Everything will allow you to... well... explain everything. From creating screencast videos showing your students how to multiply to annotating over primary source documents or creating interactive texts for your students to read along during class, this app has a myriad of different possibilities.
#4 Start Your Own Blog
Maybe you already have a class Twitter handle. Or perhaps 140 characters isn't enough for you to share what you've got cooking in the classroom. Create a class blog! Try KidBlog for your students or Blogger for yourself. This online-journal will allow you and your students to reflect on your learning and share with the world! It doesn't matter if you feel that you're a content expert or a tech newbie. We all have stories to tell, and students whose voices should be heard.
#5 Automate Your Life
Tired of grading quizzes? Sick of sending dozens of repetitive emails to parents, colleagues or students? Having trouble scheduling conferences or appointments? Try some automated tricks! Check out Jay Atwood's Sandbox - a great website full of tutorials on how to use automagical tools like Google Scripts, Gmail labs and other super helpful workflows!
Whether you dig into one or all of these ideas, or you find some of your own, break is a great time to brew a hot cup of caffeine, sit in your jammies and dig into some cool new ideas. What are your plans for powering up on EdTech over break? Share them below!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

11 Shining Blogs

Thanks to MathyCathy aka Cathy Yenca and Craig Dunlap for listing me on their Sunshine Award blogs! This is something that's being passed around from blogger to blogger. True, it is a bit of a blog-afied chain letter, and while I normally try to stay away from chain letters, the Sunshine award is a great opportunity to learn more about 11 other bloggers and share their voices. And plus, 'tis the season of sharing, so here I go. Here are the details from Cathy's post: 
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger. (Thank you Cathy and Craig!)
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself. 
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
11 Random Facts About Me
  1. My last name is pronounced Muh-gare-uh. Hard g, long "a".
  2. I was a varsity weightlifter in high school.
  3. I won tournaments because there was no one else in my weight class and all I had to do was lift the bar. A "girl bar" that weighed 35 lbs. 
  4. I love karaoke but am a horrible singer.
  5. I am a huge Star Wars nerd. I've read all the books and even made my own Sabacc game when I was in middle school. 
  6. I have a black and silver miniature Schnauzer named Pepper. Despite her manly schnauzer features, she is a girl.
  7. I have the same weird thumbs as Megan Fox, but that's where our similarities end. 
  8. I don't like fruits or vegetables.
  9. I put Tabasco sauce on everything.
  10. I was born just outside of Boston, moved to Orlando when I was 6, went to boarding school in NH and then college in NYC. Now I live in Chicago.
  11. When I was little, I thought Chicago was a state.

Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  1. What’s your favorite thing about blogging? I love connecting with fellow educators and hearing what they think! So getting comments, challenges and ideas about my posts is my favorite thing.
  2. Favorite hobby? Eating out. I like to cook, but I love restaurants. I even have a Google Doc of my Chicago faves: tinyurl.com/jennielovesfood
  3. Favorite movie of all time? That's really hard... I don't think I have a #1 favorite. I love Sci-Fi, Comic Book movies and anything by Hayao Miyazaki.
  4. Favorite place to travel? Hawaii or Northern California
  5. Favorite Twitter chat? Also can't pick a favorite here!
  6. Favorite educational website? I love Jay Atwood's Sandbox! Scripty fun!
  7. Least favorite food? All fruits and vegetables. But if I had to pick one, raw onions.
  8. Favorite book you’ve read in 2013? Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
  9. Your unique talent? Not sure I have any... I'm a fast typer....?
  10. Proudest moment? Meeting the President :).
  11. Funniest thing you ever said in front of a group of students/educators? Once my husband gChatted me in the middle of a presentation: "I just took the best poop at work". I didn't notice for a few minutes. The audience (of teachers/administrators) just about died laughing.
Finally, according to the Sunshine Award rules, it’s my turn to ask 11 questions of my nominees... and I'm stealing these from Mathy Cathy because I'm lazy ;)...
  1. What’s your favorite thing about blogging? 
  2. Favorite hobby?
  3. Favorite movie of all time? 
  4. Favorite place to travel?
  5. Favorite Twitter chat? 
  6. Favorite educational website? 
  7. Least favorite food? 
  8. Favorite book you’ve read in 2013? 
  9. Your unique talent?
  10. Proudest moment? 
  11. Funniest thing you ever said in front of a group of students/educators? 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Fine Tune your Font Selections!

Once I was in a PD where they asked us what our super power is. We went around and said things like "Masterful Mediator" or "Powerful Procrastinator". But one person said "Font-Man"... by which he meant he could pick the perfect font for any occasion. Not only did I find this hilarious, but incredibly useful. I have a few friends like this... Carolyn Skibba can name a font just by looking at it. I would love to have this super power. I spend way, way too much time selecting the just-right font for that presentation, invitation or poster. Now that I've found the Google Fonts site, I too can be Font-Man!! Err.. or Font-Woman.

The Google Fonts site is simple, it's a font selector. It allows you to toggle the settings you desire for Thickness, Slant and Width. It even allows you to type your own "sample text" and see a single word, paragraph or a poster. I've already updated several projects with fine-tuned fonts in the past few minutes.

Check it out and see if this saves some time and improves some aesthetics for you as well!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rebooting 2999 and Some Posts from TTT

As promised, here is a quick recap on where I've been in the last month or two. I mentioned back in September that I was going to be writing a new blog called Teaching Toward Tomorrow for Education Week. While I meant to continue writing for both blogs, work/life got the best of me and I spent most of my time writing over there. Apologies! I promise that I will be writing more on this blog starting now... Teaching Like It's 2999 is my first blog, and I will not forsake it!

With that being said, if you're interested, here are a few posts I've written at Teaching Toward Tomorrow that I'm excited about:

Booting Up Your Digital Classroom: These are a few quick tips, tricks and ideas for how to get started with technology in your classroom!

Creating a Culture of Innovation: How do you support teacher growth and thus student growth when it comes to technology? How do you convince a tech-resistant staff to adopt new devices or pedagogies? How do you create and sustain a culture of innovation? While there isn't a single answer to any of these questions, here are six strategies I've found successful so far.

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Strategies to Empower Student Voice: This post shares five tried-and-true strategies to amplify your K-12 students' voices and empower their ideas.

And also on TTT is a series of posts I'm calling "The Digital Buzz". In these posts I'll be interviewing amazing EduStars... educators who are making magic happen with digital tools in their learning spaces. In the first three installments, I've had the pleasure of chatting with:
Hope you'll visit Teaching Toward Tomorrow and share your own ideas, reactions and questions in the comments of these posts! If you have any ideas or requests for things I should explore, or people I should chat with - on this blog or TTT, please share in the comments below. Thanks everyone! :)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

We are All the Champions of Change

Wow... I can't believe I've taken such a long hiatus from this blog! Apologies everyone! It's been a busy few months... more on that in the next post. However today I wanted to quickly share about an incredible experience I was so fortunate to have. I recently found out that some amazing colleagues had nominated me for an award - the White House Champions of Change. And the crazy thing is... I was selected! Whoa!

I am honored to say that I was one of 10 educators invited to the White House last Thursday to share our stories as Connected Educators leveraging digital learning tools in our learning spaces. I was downright giddy to visit the White House (I've never been) and had to restrain my school-girl glee when meeting the President. But it was most inspiring to hear about all of the other champions' work... from Mark Coppin, an old friend from ADE institutes who makes magic with assistive technology, to S. Dallas Dance, a new friend who runs the Baltimore County Public Schools. I even got to know Brian Walsh, who doesn't work with young children but adult offenders - running the offender education program at two state prisons in Washington State. Despite everyone having a very unique background and educational space, we all had one thing in common: a passion for bringing transformative technology into students' lives.

Another big "wow" moment for me was that we were told there were around 6,800 nominations. While my initial thought was that I'm incredibly humbled to have been chosen, my lasting reaction is to be amazed and proud of our profession. That means that there were around 7,000 educators who were doing such amazing work with EdTech that they were nominated to be honored - a recognition in and of itself. And moreover, there were thousands of nominators... people who are connected educators simply by working with these folks, being online and knowing about this program and taking the time to fill out the nomination. They also deserve recognition. Additionally, there are all of the collaborators, members of PLC/PLNs who inspire and work with these teachers on a daily basis. After all, none of us can succeed or grow in a vacuum. We need the support of our colleagues to push us, help us face challenges and ask us difficult questions. And they, too, are doing amazing work and deserve a hat tip. So when folks want to say negative things about our education system... and the educators working in it... I'm definitely going to point them to this #EduWin.

All in all, this has been an incredible experience. I want to thank the friends who nominated me and everyone who I work with in person, learn with on Twitter and Google+, collaborate with at conferences and events, and read this blog... you all make me a better version of myself. You deserve this recognition just as much, if not more than I do -- you all are Champions of Change in my book.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Google Chrome Tricks: Raising the [Omni] Bar

If you aren't already using Google Chrome as your web browser, I strongly suggest you dig in and give it a try. In addition to ubiquitous access to your open tabs and bookmarks, there are also the excellent extensions and the omnipotent OmniBox.

Sometimes called the "URL Box" or "Address Bar" in other browers, the OmniBox is aptly named as it has so many more functions beyond www.website.com.

#1 Google Search from the comfort of your OmniBox. 
Who has time to type www.google.com, load the page and then do a search? Just type your search term right in the OmniBox and bam - there are your results!

#2 Anything Search from the comfort of your OmniBox. 
But Google Schmoogle, I want to search my Google Drive! No problem. Type "d" then hit "tab" and look who's searching their Google Drive without even navigating to it!

But wait, there's more! You can also search other pages such as YouTube, Allrecipes, Gmail, etc. Go to the settings page in your Chrome Browser. Then find and click on "Manage Search Engines". Then scroll down to "Other search engines." This is where you can add more shortcuts for searching sites from your OmniBox. You just need to input a name for the search engine, a keywork or hotkey (whatever you want it to be), and the search URL. 

To save you time, here are a few of my favorites (with some suggested keywords):

Keyword: d

Suggested Keyword: g
URL: https://mail.google.com/mail/ca/u/0/#apps/%s

Google Image Search
Suggested Keyword: i
URL: https://www.google.com/search?site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1162&bih=549&q=%s&oq=%s&gs_l=img.3..0l10.1455.1974.0.2222. 
(Thanks to Sylvia Duckworth for finding this one :)!)

Suggested Keyword: all
URL: http://allrecipes.com/search/recipes.aspx?withterm=%s

Google Art Project 
Suggested Keyword: ap
URL: http://www.googleartproject.com/search/?q=%s

Suggested Keyword: im
URL: http://www.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=%s

Suggested Keyword: y
URL: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=%s&page={startPage?}&utm_source=opensearch

Want more? Quick Trick: If you don't know the search URL for another site and want to add it as an OmniBox search shortcut, simply go to the site, right click in its search box and select "Add As Search Engine". Then, in the "keyword" box, type in the keyboard shortcut you'd like to use!

#2.5 Add Calendar Events from your OmniBox!
This is the exact same workflow as the above example... but it adds Google Calendar events! Go to your settings of the Chrome browser, click on Manage Search Engines... then Other Search Engines...

In the "add new search engine" box, type: Add Calendar Event
Keyword suggestion: cal
URL: http://www.google.com/calendar/event?ctext=+%s+&action=TEMPLATE&pprop=HowCreated%3AQUICKADD

Then open a new tab, type cal then hit space bar... type your event... "lunch with Priya tomorrow at 1pm"... and it adds to your calendar!

#3 Get ready to travel!
You can search for flight status, time in a different part of the world or currency conversions right from that OmniBox. Try typing "time in Seoul" or "Won to USD" or - ready to be really impressed - try typing "aa27". Spoiler alert... here's what you would see:

"Time in Seoul"

"Won to USD"


Instant information - no searching currency exchange websites, timezone charts or airline flight trackers. By the way... this works from your Chrome browser on your phone, too.

#4 Math the OmniBox way
Ever get an email asking you to buy tickets to something or are exploring a webpage only to find that you need to do some math in your head... and your head has forgotten how to mentally multiply $175.12 x 5 people? No worrires... just type 175.12*5 into your OmniBox... don't hit enter... just type it. What do you see? 
Did you see this?
Notice the =875.6 at the bottom? That's right... the answer to your problem. Literally. You don't need to navigate away from that website or email -- just type in the math problem and the answer magically appears.

#5 And just for fun...
Try typing your favorite movie star's name and then the phrase "Bacon Number" after it. For example, try typing Miley Cyrus Bacon Number and then hit enter. If you don't understand the result, it won't be funny, but here's an explanation.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Announcing My New Blog on EdWeek: Teaching Toward Tomorrow

I'm so excited to announce that I have a new blog on Education Week! I will be blogging regularly (about 2-3 times a month) on this site with my new column: Teaching Toward Tomorrow! Please visit, comment and share your ideas / wonders / challenges / successes... anything and everything! Blogs are so much more fun with a discussion :). Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Today's Meet is Yesterday's Backchannel: Getting Chatty with Google Moderator

"Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks." - Wikipedia

That's what Wikipedia calls backchanneling... I call it "sanctioned note passing." However you describe it, if you haven't tried using a backchannel as part of your teaching practice, I would definitely recommend it. From students discussing the lecture and asking questions to allowing all students to interact with a "virtual presenter" brought into a classroom through video conference technology, a backchannel offers a myriad of opportunities. We've also used a backchannel frequently when presenting at conferences so that participants can interact with one another, comment publicly on the content and ask questions of the presenter

Many use the amazing and free website, Today's Meet, which you can see on the right. Today's Meet's interface is somewhat similar to Twitter. You start by entering your name and clicking "Join." Then you have 140-characters to say what's on your mind.  Here are some of the fab features of Today's Meet:

  • Personal URL - You can create a chat "room" with whatever name you want - "Ms. Smith" or "3rd grade chat". This name appends to "todaysmeet.com" -- i.e., "todaysmeet.com/mssmith". The nice thing is that you can set when the chat room name expires / closes... so it can be used by someone else. This allows for many more choices when creating your "chat room" name.
  • No login necessary - kids and participants don't need email addresses or accounts.
  • 140 Character limit - this can be a pro or a con. While it's limiting, it also forces folks to be succint and get to the point. 
  • Archivable - You can print or save the stream of discussion

While my colleagues and I have used Today's Meet for a some time, there are many other options for backchannels - Edmodo, Schoology discussions, Twitter itself. However recently I've been trying to get more folks to try out Google Moderator.

This is a free platform that allows you to backchannel with a group of students or participants, set up a discussion forum or an FAQ board. Why do I love it? Why should you try it? Here are few of my favorite features and use cases for the classroom:
  • Direct threaded responses - unlike the discussion streams in Edmodo, Today's Meet or, for the most part, Twitter, you can have easily visible threaded responses to questions, comments and ideas. 
  • Voting on comments - you can vote - positively or negatively - on questions, ideas and comments. This helps you crowdsource what students agree or disagree on. I love this for Socratic Seminars / discussions. I've used it with a middle school teacher to discuss a novel the kids were reading -- they had to discuss the motivation of a specific character. As they suggested their ideas, students agreed or disagreed with their comment via this voting tool. Moreover, they were able to reply directly to the comment with text evidence explaining why they did or did not agree. Bam!
  • Attaching YouTube Videos - I know not everyone has YouTube open in their districts, which is unfortunate, but if you are lucky enough to have it open, you can not only attach a YouTube video to the moderator description - but also allow students to attach videos to their responses. This is great to add another layer to the discussion. You can prime your students with a video of a current event report, or a science phenomenon. Then students can create their own screencasts, talking head videos or even full multimedia presentations to respond to the discussion / forum prompt. Imagine you ask students to come up with a 30 second PSA about water conservation. You start with an example of a PSA. They create their own on iMovie or even the YouTube.com/editor. They submit their PSAs to the moderator. Then students can respond directly to these videos, vote on their favorites or add ideas for improvement. Bam Bam!
  • Sorting responses by popularity - You can sort the questions based on which had the highest votes. This is great when using Moderator as a Q&A board. I got this idea from Hank Thiele, who used Moderator as an FAQ forum when his district was going 1:1 with Chromebooks. He allowed parents to ask any questions or concerns they might have and then responded to each with threaded replies. I used this idea not only with my own adult learners and colleagues in PDs, but also with students. I helped one of my teachers use Moderator in her math class. As she taught, and students had questions, they could hop on the moderator to backchannel and ask questions. After school, she responded to each. The great part was that students were taught to first scan each other's questions before asking a new one. They up-voted a question if they saw it was the one they had planned to ask. The teacher could then see common confusions and misconceptions - knowing whether kids needed a simple small-group check in or the whole class needed further instruction.
  • Series and Topics - If you really take to Moderator and start using it frequently in your classroom, you will find that you have many different moderator chat streams open. Not to fear! Google has anticipated this! Moderators are created in Series. This is an overarching idea or theme. For example, you can have a series called "Fractions" or "European History". within a series you can create sub categories: Topics, Events or Meetings. Topics make the most sense for a classroom - for example under "Fractions" you could have "Adding and Subtracting with Like Denominators" or "Ordering Fractions". Each of these sub topics have their own moderator chat stream and unique URL. Events and Meetings make more sense for PD or adult learning. I've seen many examples of using Moderator for book clubs or Home Owner's Association meetings -- use cases where "Events" and "Meetings" would come in handy.
  • Moderation - You can moderate questions / responses. This can be tricky. While I have definitely experienced the inappropriate comment coming up in a backchannel when I used it with my 5th graders, there's something damaging about moderating an open stream of discussion. I found that I lost some trust with my students when they felt that what they said could be "censored". However, if you want to scaffold some particularly feisty adolescents into the wonderful world of open communication, this little tool can come in handy.
  • Change the tone of the discussion - Moderator also allows you to change what it is your students or participants are submitting. When creating your series, you have the choice between questions, ideas or suggestions. With the simple change of this terminology, you can create a discussion board, QA board, idea board, or suggestion box.

There are some cons to Moderator, of course. You need a Google login to use it - ether a district GAFE domain Google account or a public gmail.com account. Some folks also are so used to their own back channel, the added features confuse them. However, despite this, I would recommend checking it out. After all it's free - what do you have to lose?

If you'd like to learn more about Moderator, here is a quick YouTube tutorial I created.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Workarounds for Scheduling Woes: When is Jennie Free?

In my job, I have to be in a million places a week with a million meetings at each place (slight overexaggeration, but not by much). I have tried lots of different tricks to schedule these meetings with a million different people, but they all were lacking in some way...
  • Google Calendar Appointment SlotsOftentimes I have multiple folks I need to meet with. Appointment slots makes it difficult to schedule group meetings with more than one person. Additionally, I can't create multiple open blocks of time under the same link. If I want to schedule a single meeting, but want to give folks options of Monday 2-6, Tuesday 10-2 and then again 3-5, I need to make 3 separate appointment slots. #Annoying
  • Doodle: I love this one, and probably use it the most for group scheduling (especially because it has Google Calendar integration). In some cases, I like it even better than the solution I'm going to share below. BUT, the big weakeness with this system is that I have to delineate every time I'm free. If the slots that I choose don't work for that person or people, then I have to start all over again with a new Doodle. #AlsoAnnoying
    • Shared or Public Google Calendars: This works great if you are all in the same network and have public calendars. However a lot of folks (myself included) don't want everyone knowing exactly where we are and what we're doing. So I tend to stay away from this.

    So, here is my current "solution": 
    A public "busy" calendar embedded in a Google site

    Here's what it looks like:

    What is a public "busy" calendar?
    In your calendar settings, you are able to go to a menu called "sharing". From there, you can decide if your calendar is public or private. Additionally, if you choose "public" you can set it to show only busy/free information - no info on where your appointments are, with whom, their titles, etc. Simply that you are "busy". So that could be anything from an epic Game of Thrones marathon to a full-day teacher PD. I love this option because while folks know when I'm busy and can't meet with them, they don't know why or where I am. So some semblance of privacy. 

    Why did I embed it into a Google Site?
    You don't have to do this step. In fact, you can find the public "link" to your calendar by going to your calendar settings, clicking on the "calendar details" tab and looking at the bottom of that page. There you'll find "Calendar Address" - and can click on the "HTML" button for the direct web link. I used to share this first link with people when I tried this method (I created a TinyURL for it so I didn't have to memorize the long gobble-dee-gook URL that Google creates for your calendar). HOWEVER, this takes them to the month-view of your calendar... which only shows the beginning time of your busy windows. As such, I had lots of people see I was busy at "9am" and they automatically assumed this was an hour-long slot. So they'd email me and say, "Hey! I'll see you at 10am!" Then I'd have to go back and explain that my 9am meeting was really three hours long. 

    SO - I created a simple 1-page Google Site that embedded the calendar right into it. All it has on it is my calendar and a few disclaimers, explaining how to read the calendar and reminding them of my time zone. The nice thing about putting my calendar in my Google Site - beyond being able to type a quick message or disclaimers to go with the cal - is that when you are embedding it, the site gives you options on what view people see and how they navigate it. SO, I was able to embed my calendar in "week view" - which shows the FULL busy window. 


    So now I use this public calendar (which I've also created a TinyURL for) when scheduling appointments with one person or with a small handful. When there is a bigger meeting, we still go to Doodle since it allows for easier scheduling across many different schedules.

    So far, this has been working great for me - and I've gotten lots of "oh wow, how did you do this!?" comments. Thus, this blog post. This is how I did it :).

    Saturday, June 15, 2013

    What the GIF?

    GIFs. Graphics Interchange Format.

    Perhaps you see them on blogs, in Andrew Stillman's scripts or flashing at you in website ads (if not - here's a sample GIF to the right for your viewing pleasure). BUT have you ever thought of using them in class? Today let's explore that thought...

    We interrupt this blog post for an important Public Service Announcement:

    GIF is pronounced with a soft g - as in "jif". To those who dissent, please refer to the creator of the file format, one Mr. Steve Wilhite. Go to 0:45 of this video for final proof on this.

    END PSA. You may now return to your regularly scheduled blog post.

    ... anyway... so....

    GIFs in school! How could this be useful, you might ask? Great question! Think: sequencing - or cause/effect - or cycles in science - or even math problem solving! Imagine your kids are using an iPad app like Drawing Pad or creating a Google Drawing to show the life cycle of a butterfly, the three main events in a short story, the steps they took to solve a math problem... etc. Normally, they'd just send these images to you or post them to a site. What if... they could create an animated GIF - not only because it's "cool" and "fun" but also because these could be an animated way for others to see - in just a few seconds - exactly what the student knows.

    Why not just create a video or screencast? Well, these have their place in the pantheon of student creation - absolutely. However sometimes it's nice to have a quick, succinct visual for kids to show what they know. Moreover, the file size of a video can sometimes be a problem for certain sites, emailing files or even the WiFi in a building. GIFs are mini files that say a lot in a small amount of time and bytes. Additionally, GIFs can be embedded easily into Google documents, websites, presentations - etc... not worrying about sound, uploading to YouTube or embedding from a third-party screencasting site.

    So how do you make a GIF? There are tons of websites and tools to do this, but here are two that I find to be the most simple:

    Recently the amazing Kevin Brookhouser shared this video that teaches you how to auto-create a GIF with Google+. In this workflow, you simply upload a series of photos with similar backgrounds to Google+ and the little droids who work in the Google cloud create a GIF for you. All you have to do is sit back and wait (Kevin says about an hour).

    If you don't mind getting your hands dirty and doing the work yourself - or want immediate results - my favorite site to use is Picasion. It's free, simple, and allows you to download an unwatermarked GIF to your desktop (or use a direct link, or get an embed code). You simply upload your series of pictures and BAM - GIF - in a giffy. ;)

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013

    DocsStoryBuilder: Make your own Google Docs Commercial

    Back in January, the amazing Ken Shelton came to Chicago to keynote at our CPS Tech Talk. At that time, he showed me a great web-based creation tool: DocsStoryBuilder. Since then I've used it a ton to provide an expressive outlet for students, illustrate a point and inspire learners big and small (read: kids and teachers). As such, I am beyond thankful to Ken for sharing this site with me. And now I'm going to share it with you!

    So to understand what DocsStoryBuilder can do, try and remember the series of Google Docs commericals that aired a while back. If you can't remember, here's something to jog your memory...

    And this too...

    Funny, right? Now look what I made with DocsStoryBuilder (based on a true event)...

    How does it work? Well you get to create "characters" - essentially editors in a fake Google Doc. You have them type or interact in the document - either as a dialogue or editing the text. Then you can add some music - then voila! You've created a funny little video. You can speed up or slow down the typing, add a dramatic pause for effect or change the color of each "character" or editor.

    So far, in 5 short months, I've used this site to:
    • to kick off a staff PD
    • illustrate the power of a Google doc
    • add a silly interactive segment to a keynote
    • have students retell a historical event
    • have students summarize the plot of a book
    • have students summarize their reactions to a scientific exploration
    • (of course) have students write creatively 
    Honestly, there's a million ways to use this tool. How have you used (or do you plan to use) it? Share below!

    Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    An Amazing Week: A DC Adventure with the Stars and A New Blog Post

    This has been a totally surreal and exciting week. First off, I was honored to be one of 3 educators invited to chat with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Clippers Point Guard (and education activist) Chris Paul at the Reimagining Education Conference in Washington, DC. Beyond having the opportunity to discuss innovative education with these famous folks, a huge highlight was meeting amazing teachers Shira Fishman (namesake of the prestigous Fishman Prize) and Jose Rodriguez (all around great guy, Texas teacher and former US Teacher Ambassador Fellow). We hit it off right away and I felt like we'd been friends for a long time. This helped a ton when we took the stage and engaged in a live, televised discussion about the innovating the US education space. To view the archived telecast, visit the CSPAN video here.

    While being on TV with four rocking edu-stars was pretty neat, I must say that I was most excited to meet Caine Monroy of Caine's Arcade - also there to talk innovative ed. You might have seen this YouTube video of a young boy (Caine) creating an entire arcade out of cardboard. Perhaps you, too, teared up at his perseverance, imagination and positive attitude. Perhaps you, too, got your kids to watch and saw them become inspired to try new things. Well, then you can imagine how starstruck I was to not only meet Caine but also get autographed Fun Passes to his arcade. And what was he like in person? Just as earnest, positive and amazing as he is in the video. Perhaps even more so. I was most impressed by how simple he views his own innovation. He sees problem solving, constructing and exploration as normal, everyday activities. Now wouldn't it be great if all our kids thought that way?

    Finally, a last bit of news (and some shameless self-promotion. Today a new Education Week blog post of mine was published - Fighting Teacher Isolation with Technology. This post is a high level overview of four tools to create your own Professional Learning Network (it was originally called DIY PLNs - but that's a bit too acronym-y for a title, yes?). I explore Twitter, Pinterest, Google Hangouts and the CTQ Collaboratory as potential tools to expand your professional learning. Please check it out, comment and share if this is something you're interested in exploring!

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    The Gripe Jam: Getting everyone on the digital learning train

    As our network continues to expand digital learning efforts, including spreading 1:1 mobile learning to scale, we are moving beyond our "early adopter" teachers and starting to engage our more technophobic colleagues. We know that buy-in is key and so have used two mantras to help drive our efforts: "Clear their plate - don't add more to it." and "Respect the learner, respect their needs."

    Keeping this in mind, we start with a problem of practice they currently face. Teachers deal with a myriad of challenges everyday: struggling to differentiate with large classes/high numbers of IEPs, grading hundreds of papers a week, challenges with unearthing student metacognition, finding effective real-time assessments. I show them how digital learning can often alleviate or even solve many of these issues by using a strategy I like to call the "Gripe Jam".

    This originally started off with me bringing a large, empty jar to one of their weekly staff meetings and labeling it "Gripe Jam". I put a few pads of sticky notes on tables and played a rock anthem like "We're Not Gonna Take It". They had until the end of the song to write down any and all issues they are facing in their classrooms. I took these sticky notes, went home and created a Google Doc / Spreadsheet showing how as many of these challenges as possible could be addressed by digital learning tools/strategies/sites/etc. When I returned the next week, I shared this spreadsheet. The teachers then voted for or select one strategy they'd like to learn more about. This is how we decided where we began our exploring of digital learning.

    This crowd-sourced PD has been a huge buy-in generator. Acknowledging that many teachers respond better to new ideas when we first listen to their current issues makes them feel heard and respected. Showing them how what we're trying to sell is actually responding to these issues makes them interested. This then opens the door to learning more about the tools and how they can enhance other areas of practice. Teachers started seeing how digital learning could create new opportunities to make their jobs easier and solve problems they might not have realized existed. From there we've shared the SAMR model to guide their use of digital tools and shared ideas to transform teaching / learning for their kids (such as Challenge Based Learning). And even though this often created new helpings / tasks to add to their "plates", they were suddenly more amenable - and even excited - about this.

    I don't always bring the physical Gripe Jar into a room anymore - I usually collect this through a Google Form and email the spreadsheet. Yet when I face an especially skeptical collection of colleagues, I break it out again. All the while, I try to keep in mind: respect the learner, be it a child or an adult, and respect their needs.

    Saturday, May 4, 2013

    Ecstatic about Extensions

    Have you had a chance to explore Chrome extensions? For those of you who haven't, a Chrome extension is a (usually free) plug-in to your Chrome browser that enhances your experience. As opposed to Chrome apps - which are like links to stand-alone webpages, extensions appear next to your Chrome omni bar (at the top right of your browser window) and are tools that can be accessed as you explore the web.

    From add-ons that save you time to some that give you added tools, extensions can truly transform your life! They can be found in the Chrome Web Store and most have a handy video or screenshots to show you how they work / what they do. I highly encourage you to explore and find one that gets you excited. Below are a few that are geeking me up lately. For more great extensions and apps, check out this Google Doc from the GCT Chicago Reboot!

    Reads the webpage to you... and blurs out all but the selection being read. Great for readers who not only struggle to decode the text but also need to focus on one section at a time.

    Evernote Clearly
    Distracted by all those pesky ads and other text around your online news/magazine articles? Evernote Clearly cleans it up and creates a webpage devoid of all distractions... keeping only the article text and associated media. Sign into your Evernote account for the added tools of highlighting, annotation and saving it all to your Evernote notebooks.

    Webpage Screenshot

    Want to take a screenshot (picture) of a webpage beyond what you see on the screen (i.e., the entire page, scrolled down)? Or, ever want to edit the New York Times by retyping the headline or changing the titles of the bestsellers list? With Webpage Screenshot you can do both! You can take "full page" screenshots, edit type/text on a live webpage and even annotate over the shot with drawings, type, highlights, etc!

    Screenshots of your Chome browser, saved to your extension button, ready to be pasted into another browser window. Also allows you to annotate over the screenshot!

    Ever needed to get the text color on your webpage or document to better match a logo, photo or something else? Use this extension to find out the exact color code of any part of an image, then match the color of the rest of your document/site features as you so choose!

    This great extension helps you learn the keyboard shortcuts for Gmail, saving you time and energy! Each time you use the mouse to click for a command that a keyboard shortcut could have done, a pop up appears to gently remind you!

    Have you ever been filling out a long online form... only to have your webpage die, connection drop of form fail to succesfully submit? Frustrating! This extension saves your form input and allows you to magically recover all that work! Hooray!

    Friday, April 26, 2013

    Soaring with Storybird

    My "I need to play with this" list is comically long and expanding everyday (as I'm sure all of yours are as well). However, recently, a resident teacher inspired me to revisit a particular entry on this list - Storybird.com. And boy oh boy--- am I glad she did.

    This iPad-friendly website describes itself as "Artful Storytelling: Create, read and share visual stories." And... that's exactly what it is.

    Students begin with original, professional drawings. These brightly colored illustrations draw you in from the moment you enter the webpage. The kids then can choose to create a storybook or a poem. From there, the platform puts them into a book creator with more colorful images of the same genre literally strewn around the edges of the book canvas. Kids can drag and drop new illustrations, create new pages and rearrange their story. All the while, they are entering the words that are inspired by the visuals they see.

    Teachers can help manage this for their students by creating a class and adding their students (no email addresses required). They can assign stories or poem prompts to their kids or just let them create with free reign. All of the class' stories are viewable on teacher dashboard. This is all free - however there is a paid option that allows for more dynamic editing and visual options.

    Something that really struck me is how many educators have chosen to use this. While there is the obvious "let the kids create amazing innovative creative stories / poems / etc inspired by great illustrations" - foreign language teachers have taken this to the next level. By having their kids do it in German. And French. And Italian. In fact, they've banded together to create a Wiki to collaborate and share these publications with the world. Awesome stuff.

    And to add amazing to inspiration, families, colleagues and fans of the students' work can buy print versions of these stories for a small price. In fact, you can even turn this into a class fundraiser. Teachers can earn $5 for every order a family member places!

    I've already begun to explore this tool with the students I work with in my Student Innovation Team, and have presented to a few teachers who are trying it out in their own classrooms. Please share how you are using it in yours below!

    AskMe about Ask3

    So I have a new favorite app... Ask3 (from TechSmith, the makers of Jing and Camtasia). Why do I love it so? Well, I'm glad you asked!

    Reason #1 to love it: The app developer, a great guy named Troy Stein, created it for his son who struggled with high school math.

    Reasons #2-100 to love it: It is screencasting software, collaboration tool, differentiation platform and scaffolded support system all rolled into one FREE app.

    So what does it to? It is an iOS app that starts off as a simple screencasting tool. Students or teachers can draw on a virtual whiteboard, record their drawings, narration and even annotate over pictures. This part is very similar to apps like ShowMe, Educreations and Doceri. All great tools - all great ways to both create differentiated digital content for kids, and also - conversely - to unlock student metacognition.

    But wait, there's more.

    It also allows kids to automatically upload these screencasts so that they are instantly viewable from all iPads logged into the same class. So if Jaheim creates a screencast asking how to solve a story problem he's struggling with, or Kayla creates a screencast to show off her latest science investigation, the rest of the class can view these digital creations right away. Some other apps allow for uploading to the web for classmates to see, but the upload system on Ask3 is so smooth and seamless, I couldn't believe it was possible. I've demo'd this in an auditorium of over 400 confrence participants before - and it worked then too. Wow.

    But wait, there's more.

    It also gives students the ability to comment on each other's video --- from within the video timeline. So, if the child is at minute 1:42 of a peer's screencast - or the teacher's instructional video - they can pause it and add their own comment, question or suggestion. All of these comments are instantly viewable for the class and teacher to see and reply to. Thus, "Ask3". The app is named after the addage "Ask 3 before Me" where teachers encourage student collaboration by crowd sourcing support for those who are struggling. With this tool, students can literally "ask 3" through the app without even leaving their seat.

    But wait, there's more.

    Perhaps text isn't enough to answer a question. Perhaps a child needs to demonstrate how to solve a problem, interpret a text or analyze an diagram. They can pause the video where they want to help, comment, ask a question or solve the problem. The app then allows them to screencast over that paused image and create their own video response, taking over from where the original video left off. This video response is then available for the class to view in the timeline as well.

    But wait, there's still more!

    Or, there will be. Another reason I love this app - Troy (the developer) is constantly iterating and improving on it. He has an entire blog dedicated to getting feedback and sharing teachers' use of the app. He is always looking to visit classrooms, learn how to make it better and increase support for all students. Try out his app today by downloading it here (you've got nothing to lose - after all, it's free) and share your reactions with him here.

    Want some more ideas on how to use this awesome app if your classroom? Check out this post by Troy - 21 ways to use Ask3!