Trying Something New: Google Maps Games and More

Recently I attended a Google Education Summit hosted by the Ed Tech Team. It was two days of intensive, brain-busting, ed-tech heaven.  In addition to keynote addresses and app slams, there were eight sessions, each with over 5 options to choose from.  Although there were only about two people that I recognized from my own school division in attendance, a colleague from another school has suggested that I share some of the nuggets here in my ‘Trying Something New’ space.  So here you go, Sherry….

One of my biggest passion areas is geography, so why not start there? I attended a great session on Google-Mappy-Goodness, so here are some of the highlights.

  1. https://smartypins.withgoogle.com/ – This is a most addicting geography game. It’s not the first or only one of its kind, but I do like that it gives hints after the ‘bonus’ time clock has elapsed. Basically you get about 1600km to start with; every kilometer that you are away from the target, you lose kilometers …at zero your game is over. On my iPad, I eventually realized that I could chose a favourite category, such as ‘Science and Geography’; this was helpful as I could avoid the ‘Entertainment’ category!  A significant downside to this site is that it is VERYsmartypinsAmerican based, although it does allow for kilometers. (Fortunately, I am able to do well at the game because I have traveled to Washington, DC several times and every 3rd or 4th question seems to be located in or near the American capitol.) In fact, although I have had a few Africa and Australia questions and handfuls of Europe questions, I have not encountered a single Canadian question.  I can’t seem to find anywhere to change the settings to amend this.   Addicting nonetheless.
  2. Another fun geography game is geoguessr.com  This is great game for critical thinking.  It gives you a google maps image of a town or country side and you have to guess where in the world it is. Sometimes I can’t even get on the right continent, but types of vehicles, houses, road conditions and of course vegetation and topography can all be clues. Now and then they will throw you the occasional road sign to use as a hint.  Now here is a great Canada option!  Once you are in the game you can substitute “Canada” for “world” in the url, and it will give you Canadian locations. The screen shot below shows your score at the end of the game and how far off you were for each guess.geoguessr
  3. Of course the most exciting aspect is learning again what new powers are in Google Maps.  Check out https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/   to get to Google’s My Maps.  From here you can create all sorts of wonderful layers of maps. You can turn the layers off and on. Like any good Google map, you can add place pins with biography notes, pictures (slide shows even!) and videos.  You can even draw an outline around a country, thus creating a polygon. You can then drag polygon to anywhere on the world map to compare its real size –try this with Greenland! Here is a link to the map that I am trying out as a new format for my class Current Events notes. If the link works, it should look like this image below. Each pin is customized and contains a summary for our Current Events notebooGoogle CE Mapks, as well as pictures and even video links.  At this point I’m still getting used to the building process, and haven’t tried using it live with my class instead of  my reliable Smart Notebook file format.  Hopefully soon.  There are way too many features to Google Maps and I am far too inexperienced to describe their use, but it is certainly worth watching some youtube explanations about!
  4. Of course, there is the new Google Earth that geo-types are buzzing about…..more to explore!

So, that’s my Geo -Learning from my Google Summit Experience.  Thanks @armstrongedtech

Trying Something New: Flipgrid

Have you ever made a really cool assignment and then forgot to assign it? Well, hopefully this has happened to you, but every so often it is a trick I like to pull on myself.

When I first try out a new tool, I am always trying to come up with an engaging and yet meaningful and productive way to work it into the flow of my course. When I wanted to try out Flipgrid.com, I  created a simple but effective way to incorporate Flipgrid into a lesson on Digital Citizenship that I would be teaching at the very end of my college course for pre-service teachers.  And then promptly forgot about the assignment.

I re-discovered the assignment after the Digital Citizenship lesson, but before my students had submitted their final work for the semester, so I invited them to try out Flipgrid anyway. They were to read a newspaper article about teachers and social media sites in Ontario, as well as a legal response to the same article. Then, using Flipgrid, they were to record a 1-2 minute video reflection and post it in the ‘classroom’ for classmates to view if they chose. So basically, Flipgrid is a tool that lets students submit video responses to a prompt, and watch what their classmates have to say as well.  The paid “Classroom” version of Flipgrid then allows students to make video responses to their classmates’ video responses, but alas, as usual, I have a budget for the free version!

Check out the assignment and responses here.

Flipgrid does seem like a tool that I will use to create future assignments with….and hopefully remember that they exist!

Blogging: Where teachers ‘go to grow’

One of the topics for #IMMOOC Season 2, Week 5 (based on  George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset), is to reflect on the impact that the process of blogging has on us as a teacher.

Like most teachers I was interested in the concept of blogging but it took me a heckuva long time to pluck up the courage to actually think that I had something to write about.  It has been four years now and over 60 posts and even though few people actually read what I write, the process has certainly been an important one. I have found that the most powerful thing is going back and reading what I’ve written in the past, even if few other people did. It is amazing to be able to say,  “Wow, have I ever learned a lot more about that new thing I tried.”  If for no other reason, the blogging platform is a great way to follow our personal growth and morphing as educators.

But there are other reasons!

As a side gig, I teach an Education Technology course to pre-service teachers at our local college. When I took over the course, I really only made one significant change to what the previous prof had covered. I knew I had to help these new teachers grow their PLN and get connected to the thousands of other teachers out there who are pushing at the boundaries of what education can and should become.  To accomplish this, I had them create  a blog and a Twitter account.

Without fail, their first reactions involve eye-rolling.  As one student put it, “Isn’t blogging something that stay at home mom’s do to fill their time posting about recipes and hair-dos?”  And a typical reaction to Twitter: “Twitter is so ’10th grade’.”

Every semester I re-evaluate the value of these two platforms to educators, and come to the same conclusion….Twitter and the blogoshpere are two places where teachers “go to grow”. Perfect evidence is the tasks set out in the #IMMOOC Challenges every week: they involve Twitter and blogging.

Over the semesters, I have refined my approach to introducing these platforms to my college pre-service teachers, and it has resulted in greater buy-in. I have them start by reading pieces from two of my favourite educational bloggers: Tom Whitby’s “Do Educator’s Really Need Blog Posts”, and “4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Minds” by George Couros. I then send them off to a “Top 100” Educational Bloggers type site to hunt around; invariably, their minds are blown by the teacher-blogoshpere that they had no idea was in existence. I show them sites from around the world where teachers use the blogging platform as a window into their students’ learning such as  “Mrs. Cassidy’s Classroom Blog” where she showcases Grade 1 learners.  And so the value of blogging as a teacher is planted as a seed. Over the course of the semester, they create their own blogs, many assignments are submitted as blog posts, and we practice respectfully commenting on the posts of our peers.  At the end, most see the value of reading educational blogs, and some see themselves as teachers who will use blogging as a teacher or student process/tool in their future classrooms.

To sum up, whether as readers or writers, blogging is where teachers ‘go to grow.’

Creating vs. Consuming: #IMMOOC Week 3

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 3 with a “short blog” challenge.

School vs LearningI believe that there certainly is a danger as we implement technology into our classrooms that we fall into the CONSUMER trap.  So many apps, especially it seems for younger learners, are what I would call CONSUMER apps.  Students have access to a variety of apps where they play games to help them practice reading, writing skills, math skills, geography skills. They are fun and engaging for a time, but kind of like the TV/iPad as babysitter idea.

I teach an edtech college course to pre-service teachers and I try to expose them to tech tools that they can use with their students to CREATE. It is these CREATING tools that really move our classrooms from school to learning.  When you give kids a device to capture their learning in picture format, video format, digital poster format, meme format, book snap format, etc., the wheels start turning and all sorts of wonderfully creative divergent thinking can pour forth.

That’s what learning looks like.

Better Last Than Never

There was a curious announcement at our staff meeting earlier this month:

In 2017, our high school had finally gotten a Twitter account.

I’m most curious to know why now, after all this time?   In our smallish rural school division, we are the largest school, but the last to join Twitter.twitter

It isn’t that Twitter has been taboo in our school division.  Many of our district administrators have Twitter accounts that they occasionally use, and most every other traditional school in our division has had a Twitter presence for some time. We have schools in our division with only a few dozen students yet they have posted hundreds of tweets over the past several years, providing a window for the wider world into the activities and rhythms of their learning communities. Over half of our teaching staff have Twitter accounts, and about a third of our staff are at least occasional tweeters, or have had periods of avid Twitter use.

I stopped advocating for a school Twitter account fairly early on, even though for me, Twitter has been the most incredible source of professional learning.  Twitter has profoundly shaped many of the methods and technologies that I use in my classroom. Yet, it was evident early on that our administrators, who are mostly non-Twitter users, did not see the same learning and sharing power that could exist for teachers in the educational Twitter-verse.  Perhaps it seemed like one more complicated to-do list item, especially in the earlier days when school presence in social media places was still seen as risky or debatable.

In the early days of Twitter, many schools jumped to create accounts as a potential means of communicating with the adults in their school community.  In most cases, this didn’t prove to be effective as there were too few parents who used Twitter for anything other than following the school, so it wasn’t a very effective method of reaching parents.

Essentially however, Twitter has become a great mode of free advertising for schools, and a way to stay connected with community and even alumni. Schools have gone from advertising meeting dates (or anything else time sensitive), to celebrating learning and building community: sports results, art work in the hallways,  field trips, guest speakers, progress on building projects, a window into assemblies, class activities….

Facebook can do many of these things as well, and our school has had a Facebook account for a few years now. Our Facebook account is a disseminator of information – events, and dates and places and times.

Hopefully our Twitter space will become a place of celebrating learning and the evidence of events and things that happen inside the walls of our school. Slowly, but surely.

ebhs twitter

Being Reflective: #IMMOOC Week 2

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC Season 2 : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 2.

As I ponder the Innovator’s Mindset graphic below trying to decide which characteristic I most exemplify in my teaching/ learning environment, I am drawn to #3 “risk taker”.  Just for curiosity,  I decide to go back through my blog archives to see what I chose in #IMMOOC Season 1 back in September. Turns out I chose the same characteristic and wrote the post “Risk Taking And Resilience Cycle” IMMOOC Week 28-characteristics-of-the-innovators-mindset

Looking back, since then I had an opportunity to take somewhat of a risk when I was asked to pilot the use of Chromebooks in our school division.  It wasn’t really difficult to say yes to the opportunity of having a set of 30 Chromebooks stationed in my classroom. It wasn’t difficult to say yes, since Chromebooks aren’t “new technology” but are actually commonplace in many learning environments.

So the Chromebooks aren’t a big “risk-taking” effort, but I did stretch myself in a pledge to reflectively blog about the process. (See #8- Reflective!)  The timing was terrible as my semester was a crazy busy one and it was December, yet looking back from even a few months on, writing about the implementation process has been valuable. When I go back and re-read, I notice that I had captured initial thoughts and reactions that I had already forgotten about. Our district technology guys have used the posts to adjust and refine the technology from the division office end. I’m not sure if my principal actually read the posts, but because I had so systematically thought about the Chromebooks and the implementation process, I was quickly able to sell him on why it would be a good idea to go ahead and buy more Chromebooks to replace some of our dying technology.

So, my take-away: risk-taking, even in moderation, is amplified when you take the time to think and write reflectively about the process.

Trying Something New: a “Blind” Kahoot

Today I got to try two new things in class that I’ve been waiting to give a whirl for a long time: Google Classroom and a “Blind” Kahoot.

I’ve been using Kahoots from getkahoot.com for 2 or 3 years now to reinforce and review concepts that my classes have covered.  Now there aren’t many things that make high school students audibly cheer, but this actually happens – out loud!- when I ask them to pull out or pick up a device and load kahoot.it. kahoot

About a year ago, Kahoot introduced a new idea called a “blind” Kahoot, where you essentially build the LEARNING into the Kahoot. Students go in “blind”, not knowing anything about the topic, and by the end, have mastered a new concept.  Check out this video description.

So for the past year I’ve been scratching at ideas for building a blind kahoot for one of my classes.  Building regular kahoots is super simple, but a blind kahoot takes a plan and creativity and conceptualization.  This semester, as I am re-imagining a grade 10 Social Studies course for at-risk learners, I finally found a place to try my hand at my first blind kahoot.  The objective at the end was to have students be able to differentiate between the following social studies basic concepts: economic, political, environmental, and social. Click here to check out my first blind kahoot.

So today we actually played the game.  My initial plan was to have students summarize their learning in their interactive notebooks after the Kahoot, but about 3 questions in, I realized that a blind kahoot would easily let us fill in this summary idea chart about each term during the game!  Even the most reluctant note takers quickly filled out their charts so that they would be ready to go before I launched the next question!  By the end of the activity the class had a decent understanding of some new terms, key words and examples for each term, and had had fun playing a “game”.  This type of activity and engagement is super important for these at risk learners, many who claim to “hate Social Studies”.

Blind kahooting….tough creation process for a teacher’s brain, but worth it in the learning dividends for students!  Have YOU tried Kahoot? Blind kahoot?

 

Chromebooks: New Life for Old Mice

This bin of old mice has been sitting neglected on top of our old lap top cart for years. The old laptops (netbooks) are only used in the most desperate of circumstances, and this old collection of cast off mice likely hasn’t been touched in over a year.

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Old mice get new life

At the end of the semester, we used the Chromebooks for a research project with a presentation done in either Powerpoint online (Period 4) or Google Slides (Period 5). When students were ready to put images into their presentations, very few could get the Chromebook track pad to cooperate.  I could barely get an image loaded using the Chromebook track pad.

Luckily, I remembered that there existed an old bin of mice, and was able to track them down.  This was an instant solution to our picture problem, and almost all students chose to plug a mouse into the USB port to continue.  Since then, some students have even chosen to add a mouse to their Chromebook even when they are doing assignments that basically require typing.

Thanks for whomever had the foresight to imagine that this bin of old mice might still have some usefulness!

 

 

Chromebooks and the Substitute Teacher

I did something with my sub plans recently that I would not have dreamed of doing in the past few years: I had my students type important in-class essay exams with the “portable technology” with a substitute teacher.

Chromebooks are so reliable that I took this risk.  I would NEVER have left a sub with this task a month ago when we had to rely on using Office 365 on the iPads.

There were a few steps I took to help this process go more smoothly.

  1. I had the class (who had not yet used the Chromebooks for writing an essay) totally set up their new document the day before. We named it and shared it, so that all they would have to do is open Office 365 and start typing.
  2. I created step by step visual instructions on the SMART board for the next day when students would have to find their way back to the document.

I was pretty confident this would work and it did! Every single student successfully completed their document. (One exception was a student that I have in another class who was absent on the set up day; he chose to use Google Docs as that is what his other class was using to type and share with me.)

Not only that, but because students had shared their documents, I was able to mark all of their essays online before the end of Christmas break without having to travel to school to get their work.

Chromebooks: Google vs. Office365 Round 2

At the end of my first step in the Google vs 365 experiment, I noted the next step would be how easily we could get back to our documents.  In the iPad/Office 365 environment that we’ve been trying to make fly for the past two years, it was always uncertain if a student would be able to get back into their account the next day to continue their work.

Turns out, both systems fared fairly well. In our Chromebook environment, we have one login that connects us to both accounts.  So once students have logged into a machine, when they open anything Google, or even press the Office 365 login link from our Division website, they get that personal greeting indicating that they are already logged in.  After all of the repeated login issues we’ve had with 365 on the iPads, this discovery of login ease made some students giddy!

Beyond that, Google was more straight forward. As we only have a Google docs icon on the homepage tray, as soon as they press that, they go straight to thumbnails  of the documents they’ve created . One click and they are back to work.  The 365 login, on the  other hand, takes them to a clump of twenty icons, from which they have to choose Word.  Once they’ve clicked on Word, the ‘new document’ prompt is prominent, and some had a tough time locating their existing document from the side bar.

At this point we are unable to print from the  Chrome books, which means that someone has to print the documents from a desktop.  Google wins in the printing department, too. When I click on the shared document, I can fix font, spacing or labelling issues immediately, and then print. In 365, I have to click on an “edit” button which downloads the document in order to make any font, spacing or labelling changes. After I click the print button, I then have to click again to open the PDF that it creates.  Those extra clicks aren’t a big deal when printing an individual document, but become more time consuming over 20 to 30 papers.

The day ended with a telling sign about the Chromebook environment. We were about to write a controversial response paragraph after finishing the novel Of Mice and Men.  One brash student just got up and said, “I need a Chromebook.” Following this, four other students picked a Chromebook from the charging station, logged on (to Google, which this class had used the previous day) and began typing. A fifth student sat down with a Chromebook, started to login, then put it back, as the login, document naming and sharing was “too much hassle when I don’t have to.”  This never crossed their mind as a desireable option when the iPads with 365 were available, but just made natural sense in the Chromebook/Google environment.