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

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.’

The Elusive ‘Open Culture’:#IMMOOC Week 4

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 4.

You can’t build an effective wall if your first foundational layer is weak or non-existent; every time you try to add another layer it will collapse within relatively short order.  I love that George has illustrated “Foundations for Innovation” with this wall image. 

The high school that I work at is wonderful in so many ways. We have ‘built’ many great programs and traditions in our short 20 year history.  But one wall that never gets very tall is the innovation piece.  When I consider this image, it all becomes clear: innovation doesn’t flourish in our school because we can’t seem to “Embrace an open culture” – the very base or foundation of the wall in the image.

Most change that we experience is calculated and strategically implemented in response to directives from the province or the school division, but change of the transformative, “this-looks-different”, out-side of the box type doesn’t happen. Of course, like in any school, there have been pockets of innovation. Often times, those innovative ideas have been relatively short bursts of success that haven’t lead to long term change or impact.  The wall image would indicate that without an open, collaborative culture, this is to be expected.

Unfortunately, it feels like we are stuck. Some colleagues fall back on the “high schools are just less open, collaborative places” mentality. On the other hand, I work with several collaborative, open, sharing colleagues and some of them do amazing things for and with their students. Yet, because of our lack of open culture, other teachers in the school aren’t even aware of these amazing things. We celebrate sports victories, musical achievements, and art contest successes, but, we don’t have a vehicle for celebrating the cool things that teachers are learning and trying with their students inside the walls of the every-day classroom. At best we might have a spoken staff-meeting moment of some of the things that are happening, but we don’t make or take opportunities to go watch and experience what is happening beyond the doors that line our hallways.

Some of us have been chipping away at creating a more open culture for a few years, but success has been limited. We tried a “pineapple chart” approach a few years ago before there was such thing as a pineapple chart. It was exciting for a few teachers, but fizzled out because the buy-in pool was so limited, despite efforts to grow it.

During #IMMOOC Season 2, I’m enjoying the opportunity to read about what innovation and cultures of sharing look like across the continent.  As a non-administrator, I’ll keep encouraging different ways of trying to get a wedge into our not-so-open culture. I know there is no magic bullet, but one day maybe we’ll find some bricks that help to build that “open culture” foundation.

I would love to hear how your high schools work on that open culture piece!

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.

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.

Chromebooks: Google vs. Office365-Priniting and “Handheld” access

Hooray for printing!  Our division office team has had me do some testing with printing from the Chromebooks and it seems like they have chosen/implemented an effective system.  From a student user standpoint, Google takes this one again, as there are just fewer “clicks” to get a document printed.  Having student print capability is so important for humanities classes where students benefit greatly from having a paper version to use for revising and editing (especially when they don’t have to wait in line for the teacher to print it!)

In our current environment there is one advantage to having students use Office 365, at least at this point. Currently when a student begins a project or essay in a Google Doc with our Division login they cannot complete out of class on their iPad or cell phone, as our current settings do not allow us access to the Division’s Google environment on a handheld device.  On the other hand, students can access their essays on their hand held device using the Office 365 login or apps.  This has delayed some students from my Google test group from finishing an assignment as quickly as they might have otherwise because they have to physically come to my class to use a Chromebook or be at home or school on a desktop to finish their assignments.  I’ve noticed it as a teacher because I have been able to read/mark/comment on student work done in Office 365 from my iPad and Android phone,  but I cannot login to our .prrd8.ca Google account on those same devices due to “restrictions”.

So, for the time being, Office 365 scores in the cross-platform category. However, I do have hope that at some point our overworked Division Office Technology staff who are trying to implement Chromebooks and learn the world of all things Google will at some point have time to tackle this issue. I fully empathize with the fact that handheld device access is probably not a current high priority in the Chromebook rollout that our division is envisioning, and they have done amazing work so far in this Chromebook/Google world that is unfamiliar territory to them.

Besides, Office 365 had to have an advantage sooner or later!

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?

 

Risk-taking and resilience cycle: #IMMOOC week 2

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

8-characteristics-of-the-innovators-mindset

This image is a summary of the 8 characteristics of an innovator that George Couros shares in his book. This week the book study community was challenged to reflect on how we embody the characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset. While I’d like to think that I have little snippet’s of all of those characteristics, the ones that jump out for me recently are “risk-taker” and “resilient”.

While I do not consider myself wildly innovative, I would say that  I’ve become more of a risk-taker. And I think that in order to be a risk-taker, one must be resilient. In my experience, those risks, no matter how well-prepared you think you are, often lead to some degree of failure. If it wasn’t for the resilience, one would never rise again to take another risk!

I am most comfortable taking risks in the area of technology in the classroom. When I look back over my career and technology, the lure of the possibilities that a new technology could bring to student engagement or learning always seems to out-weigh the potential road-blocks or failures. So, again and again,  I’ve gone ahead and tried something new, usually prefaced with :”Ok, we’re trying something new and different today. We’re being pioneers. Hopefully this works.”

Sometimes a new tool works even better than expected (like Goosechase or QuizletLive) and the kids say things like, “Why can’t we do this all the time? How about tomorrow?” Sometimes there are glitches and unanticipated stumbling blocks (like Spiral.ac), but the response from students still might be, “Why can’t we do this all the time? How about tomorrow?”  Sometimes things go totally disastrous (like anything to do with Office 365) and students wait somewhat patiently while I trouble shoot, and the student  response is, “Why don’t you just give up.” And I might say, “This isn’t working today. Here is Plan B for today, we’ll try this another day!”

Thus goes the risk-taking and resilience cycle.

 

EBHS Wordlist Goes School Wide

What started out as a pilot project based on a first-ever book study has morphed into a key element of our high school’s 2016 literacy plan.

Today our newly formed “Literacy Team” at EBHS met for a first informal meeting to put some wheels on projects that had already been set in motion for the fall; one of these projects is the school-wide implementation of our EBHS Word List.

We’ve added some basic math and science words (horizontal, vertical, factor, hypothesis, hypothesize), and we’ve added lists of transitional phrases.  Hopefully these additions will help this simple tool to have a broader appeal across subject areas and academic levels.

image

Sample student word list from pilot project

Our vision is that this tool will become a valuable go-to for students in all subjects, any time there is writing to do. As we learned from our pilot project, the success of this tool largely depends on how well each teacher integrates it into their classroom processes.  To this end, part of our fall implementation will involve an “infomercial” for students and staff to explain the what, when, how, where and why of this tool. Hopefully, if every school citizen has the same starting point of understanding of this tool, it will help to make its use common place.

Here’s to implementing strategies for improved literacy!

 

High School Literacy – Lightbulb?

Our school division, PRSD 8, has adopted a real focus on promoting and improving literacy since the beginning of this current school year. I’ve ended up, perhaps by default, as the Literacy Council rep for our high school.

From the very first meeting that I attended, I realized that having literacy as a FOCUS at the high school level would be somewhat of a challenge. So much of the discussion, the existing vocabulary, the current literacy focus was centered around younger learners. The division mandate however was increased literacy focus from K-12. Most high school teachers will agree that literacy is important, but will also state that they don’t have time to teach anything related to literacy in their core classes with jam-packed curricula. So as a high school teacher representative for the Literacy Council, this mandate feels like such an uphill climb.

Fortunately, I recently had a moment that could be a light bulb connection. At Teacher’s Convention, I attended some sessions with George Couros, an innovative Alberta educator who I’ve followed on Twitter for several years. In one session, George showed us Edublog as a student blog platform where students had multiple years of their work showcased – school work across all subject areas, not just the typical “writing” subjects.  Showcased work could include traditional written pieces but also photos and videos demonstrating their learning through out high school.

This digital portfolio could travel with them beyond high school as their own learning library. Currently, every grade 11 student at our school completes a portfolio in a 3-ring binder as part of their CALM (Career And Life Management) class.  This is a 1-credit project that has been occurring for at least 15 years at our school. While most students complete it and get the project credit, it is not an engaging literacy activity. In fact, other than a high school souvenir, most students rarely use it as a “portfolio” that anyone sees.  Changing this to a digital portfolio could make this a valuable real-world document. (Watch this video as George Couros explains how he uses a blog platform as both a personal learning tool and a career showcase tool).

What if we used this digital platform as the springboard for literacy -which includes digital literacy – in the challenging environment of an increased focus on high school literacy. Each of our grade 10 students takes a mandatory Information Processing course where they could be introduced to the blogging platform and become familiar with the operational side.  Each student spends 40 minutes a school day in TAG (Teacher Advisory Group) where they would have time to update, edit and curate their blog space. Various teachers who already use blogging in class could continue to have students blog, but in what is now a multi-use space.  Click here for a rough idea of the concept.

Check out this sample student portfolio/blog space via George Couros and Parkland School Division.