Thursday, February 11, 2016

5 Ways to Help Parents Connect with Google Classroom

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

#1. Login Sharing

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

There are some potential legal issues if a teacher provides a parent with login information. It is best if you allow the student to share the information with the parent.

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

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

#2. Home Work Calendar

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

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

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





#3. Print the "work" Page

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

#4. Use a Google Doc

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

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

#5. Setup a Website

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

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

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

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

BONUS: #6. Remind

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Techshare LIVE FETC 2016

Techshare LIVE opened up the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) this year. This fast paced session features four of technologists showcasing the gadgets, tools and hardware to watch. Some educationally focused, some not. Some practical, some not! 

 Adam Bellow (@adambellow)
  • Breakout EDU
  • Pi-top ($299.99) - raspberry pi laptop that you build your self. Great for teacher students how computers are built and the role of the internal components.
  • Pizero ($5) - ultra cheap raspberry pi controller that you can use to build all sorts of interesting things!
  • Makey Makey Go ($25) - turn anything into a key. Smaller, simpler version of the original.
  • Wave ($200)  - turns any screen into a touch device. Ideal for large TVs. 
  • diy.org - encourages makerspace activities. 
  • booktrack - attach sound effects to text. Creates engaging reading passages.  
  • Tickle - iOS app that interfaces with many electronic devices (Parrot drones, Sphero, etc). Create your own program using the simple drag-and-drop interface. 
Kathy Schrock (@kathyschrock)
Kathy's notes and resources: bit.ly/schrockfetc2016
  • Selfie Toaster
  • Wi-fi connected croc-pot
  • Mr. Coffee wifi enabled coffee pot ($134.99)
  • Yecup - view the temperature of your hot drink and recieve push notifications when it has reach your optimal drinking temperature. Oh, it also charges your smart phone. 
  • Orange Chef Prep Pad ($99.94) - displays nutrititional information on the food you are eating. 
  • Soundwave voice art - turn an audio recording into a piece of art, and hang it on your wall. 
  • Fonesalesman Furniqi - inductive charging table. Charge while you grade papers. 
  • Parrot flower power indoor plant sensor - receive push notifications on your smart device about the health and needs of your plant. 
  • Emberlight ($49) - turns any light into a smart light that can be controlled by your phone. 
  • Tado Smart AC Control ($199) - replaces your AC remote with your smart phone. Similar to Nest or other thermostat.
  • Petzi Treat Cam ($170) - nany cam for your dog that also dispenses treats. Wifi enabled.
  • Amazon Echo - Smart device for your home that can create a shopping list, order from Amazon, research information and more. Entirely voice activated. 
  • Mother motion sensors ($114) - attach a small strip to any object to record motion activity. Attach to a door, pill box, toothbrush, etc. 
  • Nail printing machine ($700-$1,800) - customizable printer for your nails. Looks like a 3D printer. 
  • Samsung Smart Hub Refrigerator ($5,000) - let's you look inside your fridge while you are grocery shopping or even mirror your TV to the LCD panel on the front. 
Hall Davidson (@halldavidson)
Hall's notes and resources: https://goo.gl/G3gN2q  
  • Google Tone (free) - works like a QR code, but with sound! Easily push website to any computer that has the Google tone extension installed. Install here. 
  • Reverse Engineering Google Docs (free) - turns the revision history of a Google document into a playable video, identifying the individuals who contributed to the document. 
  • Osmo - turn a hand-drawing into digital art. Combine with an augmented reality app to turn a 1D image into a 3D interactive experience. 
  • Kahoot (free) - use kahoot to evaluate the quality of the questions you are asking. Was the question too easy? Did it challenge you? Did it make you think? 
  • Puppet Pals 2 (iOS App - $5.99) - import JPG images from PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Presentation, etc to turn your presentation tool into an engaging presentation. 
  • Digital Picture Frames - turn an LCD screen into a showcase for digital student work. The next generation of the poster board in schools. 
  • Polaroid ($99) - the NEW instamatic! Takes digital prints and prints them immediately. 
  • Polymer Braille - highlight text on a computer screen and Polymer Braille will translate the text into Braille. 
  • Create your own holigram machine using your phone and overhead transparency film!
  • Daqri VR Helmet - the future of augmented reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). 
Leslie Fisher (@lesliefisher)
  • Lillie Selfie Drone ($799)
  • Terrafugia TF-X - flying helicopter car
  • Google Photos (free) -  auto organize and sort your photos. Uses Google's amazing image recognition technology to find and display photos that you search for.
  • See Saw (free for individuals, $ for districts) - multi-platform student portfolio tool. Students can send media (text, photos, video) from any device (iOS, Android, Chromebook, Web) to their portfolio. Teacher can review, comment, and publish content as desired. 
  • Formative - formative assessment tool that allows teachers to create next-generation asessment items, send them to students, and review results. Has features similar to PearDeck, Near Pod, and Socrative. 
  • Zip Grade ($7/year) - next generation scan-tron tool. Students fill in bubbles on paper test key. take a picture with the Zip grade iOS app to grade student work. Technology is similar 
  • Bloomz - messaging and class announcements in one place. Combines elements of Remind and Edmodo. Great tool to let parents see what is happening in the classroom. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Is Google violating student privacy rules?

On December 1 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced that it was filing a formal complaint against Google with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The EFF is focusing on "Chrome Sync" which collects and stores user information. The fact that Chrome Sync is enabled on by default on Chromebooks used in K-12 classrooms was the primary concern cited in the EFF complaint. The EFF claims that such data collection practices violate the Student Privacy Pledge of which Google is a signatory.

Google has not replied to the complaint, other than to say that they do not believe that their data collection practices violate the Student Privacy Pledge. It is not my responsibility to defend Google and their business practices. What I am interested in exploring is the increasingly cloudy area of data collection, mining, and use by large technology companies (Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, etc)

There have been dozens of lawsuits related to the collection and use of user data:

It would be fairly simple to conclude that "data collection / tracking / mining is bad and should be stopped". If only it was that easy. The services we have come to rely on are made better through the collection and use of personal information: 
  • If Facebook didn't know who your friends were, your stream would be chaos. 
  • If Siri didn't know what "home" or "call my wife" meant, she would be useless. 
  • If my Chrome preferences aren't saved and synced to all of my devices, I wouldn't like it as much. 
There is a delicate balance at play here between the collection of personal information and the use and application of that information. Furthermore, the majority of the web-based services we use are free. The "cost" of use, is your data. If Facebook, Google, and Pinterest aren't able to collect and mine information on their users, they would be out of business. 

So where does all this leave us? These companies have our information, and have the potential to misuse that information. How can we balance the personal nature of these products with privacy, safety and security? What is the responsibility of individuals in securing their information? As educators, how can we protect our students while educating them, and their parents, about the importance of digital citizenship?

I believe that individuals must carefully consider their own tolerance and concerns related to personal information that is collected by technology companies. I have four reasonable requirements for the companies that I allow to collect my personal information: 

1. Tell me what you are doing
I expect that technology companies will tell me when personally identifiable information is being collected. Not every time, but at least the first time. It is the responsibility of the user to be aware of these notices and take action as appropriate (see expectations 2, 3, and 4 below)

2. Let me review and adjust my settings at any time
I expect the ability, at my discretion, to review and adjust settings related to the collection of my personal information. These settings should be easily found and adjust, not hidden under layers configurations. 

3. Let me review collected data and delete it at my discretion
If I change my mind, I expect to be able to remove collected data - permanently. 

4. Protect my data
I expect companies that store my personal information will protect it with industry standard security protocols. I also expect that these organizations will not sell or make personally identifiable information available to others without my consent. 

This is what I expect from Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, etc. 

In exchange for the services that I use and rely on, I understand that my data will be used to serve targeted advertisements and offers. That's the deal. If I don't like it, I can stop using the service.

Monday, November 23, 2015

My 2015 Chromebook Gift Guide


If you are thinking about picking up a Chromebook for yourself, a son or daughter, or your parents, or a college student, this is a great time to get a great deal! Chromebooks, by definition, are much less expensive than their Windows or Mac counterparts, but they have gotten even more affordable during the 2015 holiday shopping season.

Chromebooks, for the most part, are identical. They all run the same software and have access to the same web-based tools. But from a user perspective, the hardware DOES make a difference. You can get a Chromebook at Walmart for $134.00 and it will work well, but I don't think you will love it. Spend just a bit more and your Chromebook will become your favorite device.

Costco members can pick up a super nice Acer Chromebook featuring 4GB of RAM (a critical upgrade for those of you who love loading up a million tabs!) and a HUGE 15.6" screen (Great for loading ALL the spreadsheets!). Costco is making this Chromebook available on their website for $229.99.

But if you want to be the cool kid (or teacher, or mom, or dad), you should check out the awesome ASUS Chromebook Flip a unique Chromebook that converts into a touch screen tablet. All that for $249! I strongly encourage you to purchase the 4GB model for your tab-a-holic. The Chromebook flip features a aluminum casing similar to Apple's macbooks which results in a very durable device. My only caution with the Chromebook Flip is the small 10.1" screen. If you do a lot of spreadsheet work, this probably isn't the right device for you.

Three Chromebooks at bargain prices- one for everyone on your list!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review: Chromecast Audio

My dated stereo system, now with a Chrome Cast Audio upgrade!

  

I've been a Chromecast user for a few years now and was super excited by Google's announcement of Chromecast Audio - a device similar to the original Chromecast that allows simple music sharing.

My family recently moved and our new home has built in home speakers on the main level that are connected to a nice, but dated, stereo system. While it had an audio input port, it was annoying to have to leave my phone on the counter anytime that I wanted to play music. Shortly after moving I researched replacing the stereo with a more modern system with WiFi / Bluetooth connectivity (i.e. Sonos), but was turned off by the high prices for replacing my otherwise sufficient system.

Chromecast audio seemed to be just what I needed; A simple, affordable device ($35) that bridges the gap between my low-tech sound system and my high-tech mobile devices.

I ordered a Chromecast Audio from the Google Store shortly after it was released. Currently you can only pick up this device from the Google Store, although it is reportedly coming to Walmart and Best Buy in the near future. Free shipping makes it easy enough to order directly from Google.

Neat Chromecast clam-shell packaging. 
First, I would like to say that Google has really upped it's packaging game. The clam-shell box that the Chromecast comes in is really cool! I guess Apple isn't the only company paying attention to packaging anymore!

Chromecast Audio is extremely small; slightly larger than a silver dollar. The size makes it super easy to tuck this little device out of the way; since it's powered by WiFi there are no line-of-site issues to consider. 

Chromecast audio next to a half-dollar
The device has two ports: a mini USB port on one end for power and a traditional 3.5mm audio jack (normal headphone size). Google generously provides an audio cable (very short 4"), power cable, and wall charger to power the device. This means that you'll have one less mini USB cable and wall charger to order from Amazon and makes the $35 price point an even better deal! If you're an audiophile, you can review the complete tech specs for the Chromecast here.

Setting up your Chromecast is easier than it was with the first generation. All you need is a mobile device (Android or iOS) and the free Chromecast App from Google. Launch the app and it will automatically discover the new Chromecast and walk you through the setup process to get it connected to your network. Once connected to your network, plug it in to your stereo system and you are ready to jam!

Chromecast supports a variety of streaming music services including Pandora, Spotify, Songza, Google Play Music and iHeart Radio. Launch a supported app and look for the "cast" icon to appear, allow you to send the audio signal to your device. Make sure you grab the free Google Cast extension for your Mac, PC, or Chromebook so that you can stream from your computer as well.

The bad news for iPhone users (like me) is that you won't be able to stream content from any of Apple's services (including iTunes or the Music app on your phone) to Chromecast. I wouldn't look for this to change...ever. The good news, is that you can automatically mirror your iTunes library to Google Play Music for free (unlimited storage). Download the Google Play music App on your iOS device, and you can play everything that is in your iTunes library - plus you have a secure backup of all of your music!

I'm guessing you have probably used some sort of streaming device (Bluetooth speaker, AppleTV, etc). Chromecast Audio is WAY better; and it's all in the technology. Once your mobile phone connects to your Chromecast and begins streaming, the Chromecast takes over, streaming content directly from the web into your speakers, cutting your phone out of the process. This significantly improves audio quality, eliminates buffering, physical line-of-site or proximity issues, preserves battery life on your phone, and allows you full use of the phones voice command and other features. It's AWESOME!

Another issue that you may experience in a home filled with mobile devices - what if a song comes on that you don't like but your wife's phone is streaming? Not much you can do except hunt down her phone and skip the song. With the newly designed Chromecast App, anyone can see what is currently playing, adjust the audio volume, and stop streaming. You can't currently change the song; hoping that feature is added soon!

I've only begun using Chromecast Audio, but I'm already sold. $35 is an absolute bargain for this device and it performs better than much more expensive and complex alternatives.

Every month I send out an email newsletter highlighting ideas, updates, and new Apps and Extensions for Chromebooks. If this sounds like something you would appreciate, you can sign up here!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Google Certifications for Educators

Google has been offering professional development and certifications for educators for quite a few years. It started with the Google Certification Academy and then expanded to include a certification program for Google Apps for Education. This week Google refreshed its flagship training programs and added two NEW certifications into the mix. Here's what you need to know:

Google Apps for Education Certification

The program to certify and authorize individuals as Google experts remains unchanged, although the name of the certification has change slight to become "Google for Education Certified Trainer." The certification badge has changed as well.

The certified trainer program is designed to identify experts capable of providing training and support for Google Apps for Education, Chromebook, and Android tablets. You can learn more about becoming a Google for Education Certified Trainer here.

The Certified Trainer program is very intense and requires a deep, technical knowledge of Gmail, Drive, Calendar, Sites, and Google hardware. Maintaining your certification status requires regular professional development activity (3 per quarter) and re-certification every 12 months. For educators in the classroom, achieving and maintaining this certification may prove to be challenging. As are result, Google launched 2 NEW certification program designed for classroom teachers


New Certifications


The big change is the addition of two NEW certification specifically designed for classroom teachers:
Unlike the technical training certification, the Certified Educator program focuses on classroom applications and integration for popular Google products like Google Drive, Search, and Maps. A robust training center guides teachers through a series of exercises and instructional information.

Teachers who which to quantify their knowledge can elect to take a final exam to become an official "Google Certified Educator." Exams must be purchased at a cost of $10 (Level 1) and $25 (level 2).

Complete details on the new Certified Educator program can be found here.

**Update 6/30/15**

I purchased and took the Certified Educator, Level 1 exam on June 30. The exam format is quite nice- a mix of multiple choice and drag-and-drop questions followed by a performance based portion that requires you to complete simple tasks such as setup a class in Google Classroom, create a form, share a YouTube playlist, etc. 

Unfortunately the exam content is a bit of a mess. I was repeatedly asked to reference provided resources that were not available and accomplish tasks that my account was not authorized to complete. Needless to say, I didn't pass. I took extensive notes and sent them off to my contacts within the Google EDU team. 

It appears that there are a few bugs to work out in the new Certified Educator exam. I have confidence that the Google EDU team will get things fixed up and this will be a great products for educators in the near future. 

I will post updates on this page as I receive them. 

**Update 7/1/15**

There are several growing threads that indicate that my experience with the new exam is not unique. 
Here is a Google+ thread and a Google support thread with stories to the same effect. 

I received an email from the Google EDU team acknowledging my concern. Later in the day the Certified Educator exams were removed from the Google Training site which now reads "coming soon."


Google Certified Teachers are now "Google for Education Certified Innovators."

Google has re-branded the Google Teacher Academy program into a new innovation focused event. Details on this program are sparse right now and are expected to be revealed this summer.

As someone who is a Google Certified Teacher (now "certified innovator"), Certified Trainer, and Certified Administrator, I can honestly say that these programs have significantly impacted my life. These three programs have connected me to people, ideas, and opportunities that I never would have had access to had I not gone through the program. I would highly encourage anyone to make the investment to become a certified educator, trainer, or administrator. Becoming certified takes time, energy, and a little bit of money (for exams). To help educators be successful through the certification process, I have developed the "Google Certification Academy" a 2-day program designed to help educators determine which certification is right for them and to help them work through the necessary steps to become certified. If you would like to learn more about the Certification Academy and bring this event to your school, you can check out my other website, www.gEducator.com.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why I Love the Chromebook

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I love Chromebooks. It's not because I'm a Google Certified Teacher / Trainer or because I don't like Microsoft, or [only] because they are cheap, or because they do something different than my Android, iPhone, iPad, Macbook, Windows computer.

I love the Chromebook because, in my opinion, it exemplifies everything that I love about technology and the potential for technology to impact education.

1. Simplicity

I have spent hour planning the perfect lesson; slide presentations, multimedia, practice problems and more. These are NOT the lesson that my students remember. My best lessons occur when I tell a story about my past or a real-life event or surprise them with a non-traditional style of instruction. For teachers, simple lessons can have the biggest impact. Tell a story. Let students explore. Let them teach each other.

Many teachers avoid technology because of the complexity of it all: Battery life, WiFi strength, bandwidth, storage capacity, logins, passwords, and more. Chromebooks are simple. Turn them on and you are ready to learn. Nothing to download, update, install, or save.

Technology should make us more productive and better able to communicate, create, and connect with others. If it doesn't, we should question whether we would be better off using a pencil and a sheet of paper.

2. Flexibility

Classrooms that are built around rules, procedures, and laws cause stress. Does my name have to be in the top right or left corner? Is it blue pen for first draft and black for second draft? The classroom that has clear boundaries in which students are encouraged to explore is the classroom I want to be in.

Chromebooks offer astounding flexibility as they mold and change with surprising ease. I love the fact that you can pull any Chromebook out of a cart, log in to your account and the device immediately becomes your own. The farther away we can move from technologies that are platform, OS, or device specific, the better.

Technology should create NEW learning opportunities, not limit what we can accomplish in the classroom.

3. Accessibility

Teacher access is a critical component to student engagement and learning. Have you ever been in a class that was so big you were just a face in the crowd? Have you ever had a teacher that was unapproachable or who had limited availability? Research indicates that the connection between the teacher and student is critical if learning is going to occur.

Just like every student should be able to connect personally with their teacher, students should be able to connect personally with technology; they must have access. Technology that is only accessible at school, or in a specific class, or on a specific device makes learning difficult. Chromebooks are inexpensive and run on the web which means are affordable and accessible.

We also have the responsibility to keep our student safe from harm and preserve their innocence. Chromebooks can do just that with safety and security capabilities that are best in class. When coupled with other innovative tools, we can even prevent cyber bulling and self harm.

Technology should also be available to all learners, not just traditional learners. There are many stories that highlight how Chromebooks are opening up new opportunities for students with diverse learning needs.

Technology should increase student access and opportunities regardless of the economic status or learning style, and technology should be used to keep our students safe and accountable.

4. Iterative Innovation

Can you imagine what would happen if administrators refused to let teachers modify their lesson plans or syllabus after the start of the school year? Teaching is an iterative process. Try something, revise, and repeat! Teachers don't wait until next school year to modify their teaching style or lesson plans, they update as often and as quickly as necessary.

The design of traditional software and devices makes them difficult to update. Find the perfect iOS app mid-year? Good luck trying to push it out to your entire fleet of iPads for class tomorrow!

Google pushes out a new version of ChromeOS every six weeks. Apps, Extensions, bookmarks, and more can be pushed out to ChromeOS devices instantly. Teachers can use Google Classroom or Google Play for education to send content directly to student devices without bugging the IT department for help.

Technology acts like a magnifying glass - it makes a good teacher even better and opens up additional learning pathways.

I want my classroom to be Simple, Flexible, Accessible and Innovative. That's the kind of classroom I would want my kids in as well. Perhaps that class would also use Chromebooks.