Trying Something New: District Wide Virtual Flipgrid Book Study

Our Prairie Rose School District is a geographically vast space in southeastern Alberta covering over 29,000 square kilometres. It borders Montana in the south and Saskatchewan in the east. Our central office is located somewhat centrally, yet when teachers assemble for meetings they travel from schools located over 2 hours from the north and almost 2 hours from the south-west. So, as you might imagine, gathering teachers for professional development is a challenge.

Fortunately, it is 2018  and it is time that we started to better leverage all of the amazing access that we have to digital technology.  Many of our small, remote schools connect students via video-conferenced classes, but it seems we are generally less likely to connect virtually as educators.  To remedy that, my fellow Instructional Coach and I decided that we would try to provide valuable PD that didn’t require travel. By what magic you ask? We are attempting some district-wide book studies using Flipgrid as our platform.  Some of our participants are already using Flipgrid in their classes or school, and some will be catching #FlipGridFever for the first time.

We are featuring two books that align with our district goals of Deeper Learning and Literacy.  Participants will have approximately 2 weeks to read a chapter/section and respond to their choice of discussion questions. Then, to make it a ‘conversation’, they have an additional week to ‘respond to’ the musings of at least two other educators on that same chapter.

Have you read the books and want to join the conversation? Our participants include teachers and administrators from primary to highschool!

Out of district? Go to flipgrid.com and use this guest code to check out the conversation about Disciplinary Literacy: a8d729a2

In PRSD8? Click here to check out and/or join our Flipgrid discussion on Disciplinary Literacy (or join code fea160)    or here for Learning That Lasts (or join code 4171a7)

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Using Blogs as a Reflection Platform to Deepen Learning

A classroom or school-wide blogging platform is a great tool for having students reflect on their learning. The beauty is that it can be used in ANY subject area, and perhaps is even more powerful in subjects where students don’t traditionally “write” in class.  Scaffold the reflective process for students by providing a list of possible questions that probe into their learning process.

For younger students – use SeeSaw or Fresh Grade –   While many elementary classrooms use Edublogs, other popular options for younger learners include platforms like SeeSaw or FreshGrade.  These sites facilitate parent views more easily, and provide easier access to including video for pre-readers and writers. Check out a SeeSaw overview here (grade 1 class)

Check out these student examples. Notice how the learning is deepened and extended as students reflect on their process.

1. In Foods Class: Appetizer

Student Reflection: For an appetizer we made Beet, Goat Cheese, Arugula Salad with a vinaigrette as a dressing. This salad stimulates the taste buds and therefore is a great choice for an appetizer. It altogether is very colorfuland flavourful.

This salad has a variety of shapes, from the thin sliced apples to the long cut red onion and even further with the crumble of the goat cheese and the unique shape of the arugula leaves. The texture also varies in this appetizer. The red onions are crunchy along with the apples while the goat cheese is smooth and melts in the mouth. The vinaigrette coats the salad and gives the dish extended flavor and shiny appearance. The salad has many colors within it. The bright red of the beets contrasts with the green of the arugula leaves. Red and green are complimentary colors and brighten the dish altogether. The clean bright white of the goat cheese contrasts with the other garnish, craisins which is a dark red. A variety of sizes are also incorporated into this dish. The leafy arugula, the sliced apple, and the crunchy pecans all help bring balance to the dish. With the contrast in texture, shape, size and color this salad is a great example of an appetizer.

If I were to make this salad again I would add less of the vinaigrette to the salad as it was drowning in it. I would also think ahead and plan the plating so that more of the toppings for the salad are visible on the plate. One thing I would keep the same is the placement of the beets. I placed them directly on top of the arugula leaves which allowed the other garnishes to stay clean and free of the red beet juice which would dye them.

2. At the culmination of a semester-long Current Events Project

Student Reflection: I learned about multiple events that I was not even aware that they had occurred. First of all, China and the United States have a well rounded relationship with many trials and tribulations. They are not always the best of friends to one another and can be focusing on their own national interests at times. However, China and the United Sates have a very important and on going tie to one another. Trade between the two is so vast that China is the second largest trading partner next to Canada. The relationship is beneficial to both and that is why it is still and will continue to be a fulfilling relationship. One thing that I was unaware of was that NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy building while bombing Serbians that were in Kosovo. This was a substantial event for this relationship.

I definitely learned much more about the world than I did before. Before this project, I was unaware of the significant impact that international relations have on each country and even further how it affects those around them. Taiwan, for example, was something that I was familiar with but I was unaware of the depth of the issue. Because of the project I can tell others about what I have learned and further explain the controversial relationship between the US and China.

Despite me learning a widespread of events that occurred between two nations I found that after numerous amounts of research it appeared to be a continuous spectrum of the same issues. Trade between these two countries was one of the main necessities for the relation and other than that there was not much to the relation. Learning about the history was interesting but if I could have switched I would have preferred a more impactful and possibly devastating topic to explore. These issues although information can be harder to find, would be more interesting to me. If I could have switched I would have taken that opportunity.

Some of the biggest challenges for me was not necessarily finding the information needed but finding the benefits and draw backs that came with the relationship. I myself did not fully understand the relationship even after researching it because there was numerous opinions about it. I was unsure which to believe. Citing my information came easy to me and I found that part of the project time consuming but easily done. I was hardly ever stressed over this project and I believe that is because i took time almost every weekend to do a little bit of the work and when the checkpoint came I was already finished.

To finish, my project is obviously an on going issue/relationship and therefore much will change. I will most likely still hear about the issue/relationship but wont go as far as researching it on my own. I learned vast amounts of information about events that occurred in the world and between the United States and China than I probably ever would have with this project. Therefore, it was a great way to help students learn more about the world and some of the issues that are arising and those that are continuing.

 

3. After a group project in Psychology Class

 Student Reflection:  I think the most enjoyable part of this project was being able to come up with different ideas and using that to our advantage. For example, we chose to make the project funny and a bit goofy, but at the same time still taking into consideration it needs to be professional as well. I believe one thing my group did really great on is coming together and deciding which aspect is our best qualities to work on, in order to get the project done. The part of the project I am most proud of is how well the project came together. Saying that, sadly we did not decide to dress up. However, it still turned out very well and my group still shares laughs while reading this. Some of the challenges my group faced was being able to focus and not being able to contribute enough. Since our project was so small it was hard for everyone to have something to do at all times. I enjoyed working in a group because this was a huge task, and I found it really cool how we got to pick our own and communicate our ideas effectively.

From Smart Notebook to Chromebooks

Like many of my colleagues in our school district, I use Smart Notebook with my Smart Board. All day, every day.  The lessons for just about half of my career have been developed in Smart Notebook, representing hundreds of hours of planning. But now we are getting more and more student devices in our district (some iPads and now lots of Chromebooks), so many of our classes can be operated in a one to one type of environment.

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Smart Notebook software

Being a Smart Notebook geek, I get asked the same question very often: how do we make our Smart Notebook lessons work in a Chromebook environment? As a result, I will offer several options here, but there is a bigger issue at hand.  I don’t think that simply moving content from one platform to another is really the answer. When we first got our Smart Boards,  all eyes were on the Smart Board, and the only computers were in labs, or laptops/netbooks on carts that took 15 mintues to log into. But now that students each have a Chromebook, iPad or phone that they can access in a matter of seconds, it is time to design our lessons differently to take advantage of this opportunity for each individual student to have a voice and an answer.

First of all, let’s be very clear on one thing. There is no product that does all of the things like Smart Notebook does, such as save your written notes, allow you and students to rearrange objects on the screen with a simple drag, seamlessly insert screen captures with a single click, or even create new content with such ease. So if you are looking for an alternative, to some extent you will have to choose which Notebook-type features you are most interested in recreating or retaining, as that will influence your choice.

Here are several ways forward as we move to a more cloud-based environment.

  1. If you mostly use Smart Notebook as a glorified Powerpoint and show slide after informational slide with little interactivity and rarely write in the Notebook, then switching straight across to Google Slides is probably a fine option.  If you are like some of my colleagues and have been painstakingly copying and pasting the content from your Smart Notebook slide by slide to Google slides, there is a more efficient option.  From your open Notebook lesson, Export to Powerpoint, and save as a Powerpoint (this works best if you have not extended your Notebook slides beyond their default page size). Then open a new Google Slide deck, and Import from Powerpoint. You can choose “All” toward the top right, or select only certain slides. Your Slides will NOT be perfectly pretty and will lose animation from Smart, but web links should still work and most text and images should be individually editable. At any rate, this should beat the physical monotony of copying and pasting hundreds of Notebook Slides.

2. If you teach in a situation where you still have a desktop computer (with a recent version of Smart Notebook installed) connected to a projector, keep using Notebook! There are many ways that you can incorporate students and their Chromebooks from this set up.

a. Use Smart Lab activities. Starting in Smart Notebook 16, you can use the puzzle, monster or checkmark icons in the toolbar to have students connect with your Smart Notebook lesson from their devices.  When using these feature the first time, you may be prompted to make an account, which creates a “classroom” for you. If your school division has Smart Notebook licensing (such as Prairie Rose), simply use your division email to be recognized for an account.  This account will allow you to save game content across and between lessons. Now, using Student Response 2 (checkmark icon) or Smart Lab games (Monster icon) that have a phone device icon (such as Shout it Out) you can have students instantly send responses (text or photos) from their device to your lesson page.

b. Keep using Smart Notebook to display your content, and use a learning management system such as Google Classroom to push student activities to the Chromebooks.  You can do polling and feedback from within Classroom. Students can work independently or collaboratively in Google Docs or Slides or Drawings.  To take individualization a step further, you can take the video and website links from your Notebook slides and put them into Google Classroom assignments or announcements. Unfortunately, with Classroom, you can’t include much of the context and individualized instruction that might be included in Notebook, unless you insert each link as an individual assignment.

3. Use www.suite.smarttech.com Upload your current Smart Notebook lessons to the cloud with Smart’s attempt to go cloud-based.  Here lies one of the best solutions to the Smart meets Chromebook issue, but the technology is still very much in a growing phase.  You will be prompted to log in or create an account (see 2a) and then you can use the green + to upload existing Notebook lessons, PowerPoint, or PDF content.  These lessons now have a web link which you can send to students via Google Classroom, or students can go to HelloSmart.com and use a code to get to your lesson by joining your Classroom. Multiple students can then use their Chromebooks or iPad or other devices to navigate through your lesson at their own pace by moving objects, writing on the screen, pressing links. So for example, you could have 3 iPads at a center in your grade 2 classroom, and each student could be going through several slides of Smart Notebook activities at their own pace.

Over the summer, Smart will be adding the ability to actually view and save the students’ individual work by adding “Activity Pages” to your lesson.  When I first learned about this online portal about a year ago, I thought that this was the perfect solution to taking Notebook to the cloud, but there are some drawbacks. The biggest down-side is that currently, students can only view and/or interact with lessons that are open on a teacher device.  That means that if you put the link in Google Classroom, students cannot access any Notebook lesson of their choice at home, because it isn’t open from the teacher account.  Smart technicians do say they are working on this solution any time I have asked, but it does seem that the ability for any student to access any Smart Notebook from your Classroom/library at any time is a ways off yet.  Nonetheless, this is the most obvious solution to respecting the hundreds of hours you have spent developing Smart Notebook lessons!

4. If you realize that you might have to change a bit with the times, despite your love for Smart Notebook, there are some great solutions that take advantage of the digital access that our students have on a regular basis in our classes.  Products like peardeck.com or nearpod.com allow teachers to guide students through lessons giving all students a voice, all the time.  With these types of products, students join a classroom and participate in activities as the teacher pushes through the lesson. Activities could include typing an answer, answering a multiple choice question or poll,  drawing or identifying parts of a picture, or my favourite, put their opinion or position along a spectrum or agree/ disagree graphic.  The teacher can then choose to show all student responses anonymously on the screen in real time. The teacher also has a separate dashboard (open on a separate device like an iPad or in a separate brower window) where they can see each student’s responses.  The downside is that both of these options are quite expensive for the individual teacher, with Nearpod.com coming in at $120-$349 USD per teacher/year and Peardeck at $149/year. They do offer some free content, but only enough to explore a few lessons.  Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 10.37.38 AMAbout a year ago, Peardeck came through with a real game changer when they offered a free “Add-on” to Google Slides.  The functionality is a bit less than the Premium version, but it is robust enough that you could use it do design all of your lessons. Check out a demo video.

So there you have it! Several different pathways to move – at your pace – from Smart Notebook all day, every day, to an environment that takes advantage of the growing number of in-class devices that our students have access to.

We’ve been published: Google Expeditions #LoveWhereYouLive

I received a very exciting email in the final teacher day of school. The VR projects that we (Grade 7 students in Mr. Duchscherer’s Schuler/Jenner video-conferencing connected class) had created for Google Expeditions BETA creation project had been published to Google Expedition. (You can find our tours on the Google Expeditions app by searching #LoveWhereYouLive- both of our tours have Southern Alberta in the title). We are very excited to add some much needed Alberta/Canada content to Google Expeditions. Unfortunately, the students will have to wait until September to experience the fruits of their labour with the VR googles.

Just before our tours were submitted for approval, Google announced the launch of their Tour Creator software. With this software, anyone can create a guided tour in a 360 degree image, but these tours cannot be viewed in Expeditions, so cannot be used to “guide” a class like we are used to. Nonetheless, this new software should make it much more accessible for classes to create some great projects, and I look forward to helping more of our PRSD8 teachers learn to use the software with their classes over the next year.

Here are some tips that I should remember for next time:

1. Use photos as points of interest, (but take them as “square”on your iPhone/iPad,as this is the dimension the program requires). Photos are a way to provide a “closeup” of interesting points in your 360 scene, as you can’t “zoom in” with the VR googles.

2. Do all of your planning and writing in a template document. The tour creator is known to crash if a few students are working the same scene of a tour. This is a simple copy & paste solution if your planning has been perfected in a Google Doc.

  • The tour creator has character limits in the descriptions. Cool tip to check your character count: highlight your text and select “Control” + “Shift” + “C”

ISTE2018:The adventure begins

For years I have longingly read Twitter and blog posts about the ISTE experience – probably the largest educational technology conference in the world. Now here I am with my good friend and colleague Heather at ISTE2018 in Chicago. We are ready to have our minds blown with interesting edtech exploits.

1st day at ISTE

Here are a few pictures to show the size of this venue at McCormick Place in Chicago.

My first session is one on Virtual and Augmented Reality. This will be interesting after the past few weeks that we have spent creating Virtual Technology!

Creating VR via Video Conference

I’ve just pressed SUBMIT on the 2nd of 2 Google Expeditions tours that I created with some Grade 7 students for Google Expeditions #LoveWhereYouLive BETA tour creating project.  This project was fascinating for me on many levels, but over the past two days of finishing up the project, I’ve been reminded of the power of technology to leverage learning in rural areas. beta process 2

The setting: The class that was joining me in this adventure is made up of grade seven students in two locations taught via video conferencing. To drive directly from one school to the other takes about 1.5 hours. If I drive to either school from my location it takes about an hour.  In total there are about 12 students: seven at one site and five at the other. These two groups usually only see each other via video screen so there was lots of excitement last week when we all joined together on an overnight adventure to take 360-degree camera footage and supporting regular pictures at some sites of cultural and historic significance in southern Alberta. Our school division has a set of Virtual Reality viewers and we use Google Expeditions extensively; we are excited to be able to create some Alberta content and hope that it will be published for others to use.

The marvels of technology: So after the field trip, we have the task of working to do the hard work of scripting and processing pictures and moving all of the pieces into the tour creator. All of this separated by great distances. This is where the marvel that is Google comes in. We had all twelve students working in eight documents where they were scripting and adding links to pictures. The Social Studies teacher and I, from different sites, were able to check in and provide guidance to all students. Additionally, all three sites were connected by video conference. It did take some work to get all students into the required incognito Chrome browser and then logged into the @dryeraseacademy.net account to actually create in the tour creator. The first day, of course, was the hardest, as logging into something new always is, but it was easier on subsequent days. It was a great lesson in resilience for students as we had some tour creator crashes along the way and work had to be re-done.

Bucket List: Attend ISTE

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Bucket List: Attend ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education. This year, 2018, held in Chicago.

It seems that I will really, actually be able to attend ISTE 2018 due to some fortunate circumstances in my school division this year!

After registering, I was somewhat overwhelmed with the volume of PLNs that one can join, upon registering, however, “Ed Tech Coaches PLN” sounded most like my people, and what better way to meet people in the virtual world than in the teacher blog-o-sphere.  I look forward to meeting and interacting with some fellow Ed Tech Coaches through our various blogs since I have joined the “Blogging Buddies” mini PLN.

Hope to meet some of you soon!

 

Padlet: Premium Panic Put to Rest

Less than a month ago, I wrote a passionate ode to Padlet for my college pre-service teachers who really didn’t seem to “get” Padlet’s adaptable uses for the technology-infused classroom.  Over the past year, I have fallen in love with Padlet again and again as they have added so many great new features; it has morphed significantly since I began using it in 2012 when it was still called “Wallwisher”.padlet 2

So, you can imagine my dismay, when an email from #DitchThatTextbook, a blog that I follow, was advertising a podcast called, “What to do now that Padlet isn’t free”.  I went into panic mode, as I use Padlet quite frequently in a number of settings – with my high school students, college classes, PD sessions as an Instructional Coach, as well as many other general uses such as mini-travel blog!

When I finally logged into my Padlet account, I did heave a sigh of relief, as I read Padlet’s “Dear User” letter. They informed me that I had a limit of 53 free Padlets, and my current count was only 50. So, I could sign up for the Premium version at $8.25/month, or just keep my account under 53 Padlets.

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I’m sure you can guess which I chose! And honestly, it was pretty easy to delete a dozen ‘stale’ Padlets from courses that I haven’t taught in a few years, or class duplicates.

Check out the podcast by #Ditch That Textbook’s Matt Miller, as he explains some rationale behind Padlet’s move to Premium.

 In the end, I applaud the number of features that Padlet has maintained on their free side. Unlike recent pay increases from companies like Thinglink.com, who have made it nearly impossible to use with students without bucking up the cash, Padlet still has a giant “free” learning playground.

Something new: BETA student creation of VR Google Expeditions

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 8.05.52 PMUsually, when I have applied to be a part of a new Beta program, the response is that it is only available for residents of the USA (like when I applied to be part of Google AR[Augmented Reality]). Not this time! After bringing Google Expedition experiences to over nine hundred students in the past four months in Prairie Rose School Division, I was quite surprised when we were essentially “short-listed”, instead of the “thanks but you’re not from the USA” response. I had planted some feelers with Mr. Duchsherer’s Social 7 video conference class of Schuler and Jenner students in the off chance that this became real — good thing!

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30 VR Viewers inside MAX

 

So now we have a lot of planning to do. The big goal is to provide some Canadian content for Google Expeditions. Every time that a Social Studies teacher contacts me to do VR with their class, I hope that they are not teaching a year that is predominantly Canadian content! There are bits and pieces, but not many great fits for our Alberta Social Studies curriculum.

Some early ideas include historical and cultural sites within a three hour drive: NWMP Forts MacLeod, Whoop-up, Walsh; Medicine Hat teepee; Writing on Stone; Cypress Hills; Empress elevator; teepee rings. Perhaps we even do a Prairie farm and Ranch topic?

Lots of decisions and planning ahead!

Be sure to “Follow”this blog to follow along on this exciting journey!

Padlet reinvents itself…again

Every semester in my #EDtech class for pre-service teachers, I do a section called Interactive Systems. First they wear a “student hat” where we play with several easy access web tools that increase student engagement and student voice. The next step is creating a few questions in each program wearing a “teacher hat”. Poll Everywhere, Plickers, Kahoot!, Socrative, Wizer.me, Quizlet.live, Peardeck, SMART lab, Spiral.ac are among the sites we explore; into that mix I always add Padlet. padlet 2

Poor Padlet. Because it doesn’t have the ‘game’ feel of several other sites, most pre-service teachers are quick to dismiss it as the one they are least likely to use. Despite the low ranking it often receives, I always keep it on the list as it has capabilities that the others are lacking, AND it is constantly reinventing itself.

Padlet started out as Wallwisher. Its genesis was essentially an online bulletin board where different people at the same link could simultaneously post text and then read what others had written. Although many other platforms now offer the same capability, it was one of the first of its kind. If you have ever gone through the pain of 20, or even 10 different students physically writing a thesis statement on a whiteboard around the room, or even the Smartboard, you too would see Padlet as an astronomic improvement!

Polleverywhere, Socrative, Peardeck and Spiral all can mimic this “instant voice” capability, but the advantage that Padlet has long had, is that students can add images and Weblinks of their own. This means that participants can add research and data for all to access. Students can post a picture of their math solution, their drawing, or their favourite book, and then type an explanation defending their choice, or explaining their methodology.

Padlet is also extremely easy to access; all that is needed is the web link. Teachers can customize the URL to make it easier to type, and Padlet also auto generates QR codes to make getting to the link quick and painless. A few years ago, Padlet added the ability to create classes and have students “join”, just like most other sites. I have appreciated that they have kept the simple web link access available and I continue to have my classes access it without “joining”.

Now for the latest improvements.

  • Students can now add audio and video directly to a post. You could always upload a pre-recorded video, but now you just push the button and record, much like the fast-growing Flipgrid. No more struggling to type on a small phone screen! Great for young learners and ELL learners.
  • Padlet has added a drawing canvas. Students can draw a response, like Spiral, Nearpod or Peardeck. A super cool difference is that you can switch the canvas from a white to black background. Padlet adjusts the colours for great visibility as you switch back and forth.
  • A few months ago, Padlet added the capability to add comments to posts. This makes for a quick hack-blog platform, and is also great when students are using the Padlet board as a research gathering tool, as they can leave comments for one another.
  • You can now change the colour of the background of each post, similar to Google Keep. Think of the possibilities for sorting and ranking!
  • And to add more ranking, you can now ‘like’ or vote on posts. The moderator chooses the type of “reaction”that students will have access to: like, thumbs up/down, 1-5 stars, or a numeric grade