Trying Something New: The iWorld

Just over a year ago I got a new job in my school district as an Instructional Coach. As Instructional Coaches were a new role in our district, my Instructional Coach partner and I had the good fortune to get new laptops instead of hand-me-downs from the previous position-holder. In fact, we were even given a choice about the type of machine that we wanted.

At the time, I was also teaching a night class for preservice teachers at our local college. This was an Ed tech class and so students had all types of devices including Macs and they needed to use them for all sorts of technical “Edtechy” tasks, not just word processing. Generally, I thought that I was less able to help my Mac-owning students as I could only do basic navigation and thus less problem-solving. So after some deliberation, I decided that I would be a brave girl and take the opportunity to learn about using a MacBook by using one myself. After all, it’s good to learn new things.

It has been just over a year now that I have been a MacBook user. My history is certainly in the Android and PC world, so this new device required some new learning. I watched some YouTube videos, I asked some friends when I was really stuck, and slowly, I got the hang of doing things the Mac way. Fortunately, I forced myself to experience a similar learning curve a few years ago when our school district informed us that we would be using iPads instead of Chromebooks for in-classroom devices. I saved up and bought an iPad so that I could plan and test learning activities for my classes on our new school set of 20 iPads. This earlier foray into the iWorld, including doing lots of online training to receive “Apple Teacher” status, img_0344 helped shrink the learning curve when my MacBook arrived.

Like many people, I would say that there are things I like better about both the PC World and the Mac World. But what I do like, is the fact that I have essentially become bi-lingual, or dual-device-competent, or whatever the official word may be. Of course, I often find myself “Controlling” or “Commanding” on the wrong keyboard, but that’s a quick fix with a head shake. It has become second nature to locate and navigate files and programs in both worlds. As an Instructional Coach, this is certainly helpful, although most of our district devices are PCs and Chromebooks.

To fully complete my Mac integration, last January the Instructional Coaches finally received phones – new iPhone 8s along with other Central Office personnel. Having previously only ever owned and loved Android mobile devices, this was another change. But now, a year later, this is just another platform where I have become bi-lingual.
It’s good to learn new things.


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, 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!

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-on paper in our novel study booklet- 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.

Chromebooks: Office 365 vs Google Experiment #1

edublogs-2k7t2ct-1oe30zfIn the first week of the Chromebooks, any writing assignments I had students do were completed within our Edublogs Digital Portfolio environment.

Today I ended up with an experiment. Since the Chromebooks are conveniently sitting in my classroom, I had my English students use them for a fairly short writing assignment. Previously this year, I have had them do any writing less than an essay in length  on paper, rather than go through the torture (for both myself and the students) of trying to login to Word in Office 365 on the iPads.

In the first class, I had them try and use Word through Office 365.  When I had tested this, I thought that the login would be accomplished through an icon on the login screen. However in class today, this was not the case, so I had immediate chaos. Fortunately, I was a quick thinker today and quickly diverted them to the Office 365 Student login link available through the PRSD home page which was staring at them in the Chrome browser.  Looking back, ALL students were able to successfully login to Office 365 without any error messages –that is a first for my classes. Once in Word (which we have used several times in class on the iPads, so there was some level of familiarity) we named the document and wrote a title in the document. Word is very ‘finicky’ and it doesn’t take much for a student to end up with a new document, or in an offline or different version. Eventually students got to composing, but overall it was still somewhat chaotic getting set up to write in a tool that they have already used several times!

Since I teach the same class in back to back periods, I sometimes do some experimenting. After the non-slick use of Office 365, I quickly decided an experiment was in order!

google docThere is a Google Docs icon on the bottom of the login screen on the new Chromebooks. In the next class, we tried Google Docs, which the majority of student have NOT used before. Of course it is a beautiful thing that they are already logged into Google through the Chromebooks, so they were all quickly in a Google Doc. The document naming and titling was much more efficiently accomplished that it was in Word. I also had time to have the students share the document with me –this process is exceedingly more straightforward in Docs than Word, and was successfully accomplished without glitches, even though the students had to type my whole email address (ie. it didn’t auto populate).

For today’s experiment, Google Docs wins hands down!  It is just so much more simple and straight forward.  I know that the Google experiment was successful by the lack of whining which often happens when students experience something “new”.  Google Docs was so slick that it didn’t even feel new or different.

The next experiment will be how much effort it takes to find and retrieve and finish the documents that we began typing. Stay tuned for a “Round 2” update….

Chromebooks: 1 week in

The PRRD Chomebook pilot has been underway for 1 whole week. The students have been eager to use them, and with the exception of a few perennial whiners, they are enjoying their speed and keyboards.  Most students are choosing to use the Chromebooks over their phones for paragraph length writing, when given the choice.  And if nothing else, they are learning their login/email addresses, which previously many had not bothered to commit to memory!

Here are the quick take-aways from the first week.

  1. They take a bit longer to distribute and return.

New Chromebook Pilot -machines have arrived

Because of the “plug-in” nature of the cart, and the “log-in” process, there have been a few times in the past week that I passed on having the students do a quick digital activity using the Chromebooks, and instead did a paper or oral version, that might not have been quite as effective, but was less time consuming.


EBHS iPad cart

I’ve become very accustomed to our iPad “cart”. The little cart wheels into the classroom, the students quickly and easily grab an iPad, and can instantly get onto an app. When they are done, they can easily slip the iPad back into the cart on their way out the door while holding their binders or backpacks. This system works so well because we have a wonderful librarian who charges them up every few days. img_1229Ms. Anton has truly been a key to the successful use of iPads in our EBHS classrooms over the past 2 or 3 years.  I’m using the Chromebooks almost every class right now because they are conveniently housed in my classroom right now (and I’ve spent the past few years developing all sorts of digital games, reviews, writing activities,etc.).

However, I’m not sure that I would be as likely to haul the big Chromebook cart to my class for the quick type of quiz/review activities I’ve developed for iPad use.  I’ve already adopted the practice of having students leave the machines on the desks for the next set of users to avoid the time-consuming distribution/return aspect.

2. At this point, they take a bit longer to use.

I discovered in a phone conversation with one of our Digital Technology personnel today, that the Google /Chrome operating system is very new for everyone in the office, so it will be a while before they are able to tweek the machines in ways that will improve classroom convenience/student usability, such as:

  • icons to apps/sites so we don’t have to type addresses into the browser and search for the sites (such as,,,
  • a quick access button to Office 365
  • a QR Code reader (ideally accessed by an icon!) to read QR codes already incorporated into paper lessons

3. We will have to wait a while for some features in our PRRD environment:

  • print capabilities – Apparently print capability is a costly aspect. For high school machines that will primarily be used by many teachers to word process essays, print capability is something we really have our fingers crossed for.
  • Google Classroom – I thought that this would be one of the features that I would be able to test-drive right away. Turns out we have to wait for a fair bit of background work to be accomplished before we will have access.

 Chromebooks: Day 1 and 2

New Chromebook Pilot -machines have arrived

On December 6th, Day 1, I had an occasion to use the new set of Chromebooks in each of the four classes I teach. There are going to be so many little lessons and take-aways along the way. Here are a few.


New Chromebook Pilot -machines have arrived

In Period 1, we were at a spot  in the course where we needed to make a short blog post. We’ve used our Edublogs account several times in this class, so this should have been a relatively safe way to break in the Chromebooks.  And it was.  I had 28 students in this class so if there were lots of the 30 machines with issues, this would be a disaster.  There were the usual, “I can’t remember my login email/password” issues and it soon became clear that some machines were not connecting to the wifi– they needed a password that I don’t have access to. I pulled three machines that were getting the same password issue and set them aside so that we did not encounter the same issues repeatedly during the day; this meant that some students had to use their phones ( happily) to complete the activity.   Take aways:

  •  Students struggled with the mouse pad.
  • Part of the assignment required a copy and paste. Many students had no idea that Contol+C , Control+V existed, or that you needed to press them at the same time.
  • We often access the blog site via a QR code. This is a current road block with the Chromebooks.  I’m assuming there will be some type of QR code solution, or at least I hope so…I rely on QR codes a lot to have students access sites.
  • The students enjoyed the key pads for typing better than the iPad keyboards (and I liked that there weren’t any dead keyboards, etc.)

In Period 2, we had a review game using Kahoot. I had all students use the Chromebooks so that a) the playing field was equal, and b) I was able to deal with all log in issues at one time. As these were grade 12s, they had not used computers as much as the grade 10s in Period 1. Many students could not remember the “magic numbers” for their new logins, so I had to look those up. Two students had not logged on to the computer a single time this year, so they were not able to log into the  Chromebooks at all. These students used their phones to play Kahoot, and had a definite advantage with the touch screen.  Take aways:

  • You can play Kahoot on the Chromebooks, but the mouse pad makes it less effective than a touch screen.

In Period 3 and 4, we used the devices to do an activity on Socrative that required typing. The activity itself took less than 5 minutes. When we’ve used Socrative on the iPads, students just click on the app.  On the Chromebooks, students had to Google ‘Socrative’, had to click on “student login”….this made many more places for students to get lost the first time.  Added to the time spent logging into the device, which doesn’t have to happen on the iPads, the Chrome books were more time consuming for a quick activity, especially the time spent plugging and unplugging them from the cart!  Take aways:

  • Is there a Socrative App that can be installed or accessed? Will I be able to accomplish this, or will I have to ask to get someone to install it?

Overall, I realized how efficient our little iPad cart system is. Having students get bunched up waiting to plug in their Chromebook is a big time waster. On day 2, I tried leaving the Chromebooks on desks when the next block was using them. This was a good time saver which I will continue to employ.

Still lots of questions:

  • Will we soon have access to Google classroom? I don’t even know what a Google access will require? Another login to remember?
  • How will Office 365 behave? Will it be as painful as using it on the iPads?
  • Will I have to redo all QR code access?

When tech fails when you are teaching about tech

The inevitable happened this week in the  college course on Education Technology that I teach to preservice teachers.  I was able to model first hand some oft-stated principles like always double check your links, always have a back-up plan! 

The majority of my assignment instructions were in a Smart Notebook file that did not properly upload to our Moodle site.  I had made some changes to cut down the length of the assignment and was reposting the file to the Moodle at about midnight the previous night. This is a step that I repeat successfully dozens of times a semester. As I have never had a problem with the process, I went to bed without testing the link from the student view.  

Next day in class, this link looked like it had something attached, but you couldn’t open it.  No problem….I have the original file on my hard drive, I will just upload it again. The crazy thing is that it just wouldn’t work. I double checked the file itself; no problems.  I deleted, uploaded, reuploaded, delete it again, to no avail. (There’s more to the story, and I did get the file uploaded later from home, but I still have no clue what went wrong over and over again.)

So this is where the teachable moments pile on. When I realize that this might be a complicated fix, I assign a 10 minute lesson segment that is accessible and that we will run out of time for later in the class at this rate.  And at this point students are starting to make some suggestions. The one that makes the most sense is to go to the blackboard site where Iam building  the course, but let’s say that it is in beta stage. The Blackboard lesson page has an out-dated lesson file which I delete (the things  we overlook at midnight!), and then proceed to upload the updated file. 

At first it looks like everything will be fine, but it soon becomes apparent that the majority of the class is unable to access the file. Another technology roadblock. The weird thing is that some students are able to get the file open without any issues while others are getting a zip file.  By now students are trying all sorts of things and calling out progress or lack there of.  One student discovers that if you just change the file extension  to .notebook that the file will not open (Kudos to Brittany). Of course it will and why didn’t I think of that.  But why did the file work for some and not others? Another student suggests that the person beside them is using Firefox and can open the file but they were getting the weird zip file in Explorer (Kudos to Victoria, I think). Of course Explorer is the problem (it almost always is!) and why didn’t I think of that sooner.

So this week’s lesson had some valuable unplanned outcomes:

  • When tech fails you, don’t be afraid to crowd source a solution. As the teacher you are likely  so busy thinking about how to alter the rest of your lesson, that an otherwise obvious solution eludes you.
  • When using technology, always have a backup plan. I can remind students of this over and over again, but what better way to learn it than when your prof has to model it firsthand!
  • Always double check your links and websites ahead of time. This is another thing that I remind students of frequently, and I am usually very  good at double-checking for  myself. This time I let the late night clock get the better of me, but I would always support improving a lesson plan over teaching the ol’ standby just because it is the easy and convenient thing to do.  
  • When a file or website doesn’t load properly, try changing web browsers. This is yet another thing that I suggest to students when they need to troubleshoot, but an even more powerful lesson learned in a first-hand experience. Like many networked systems, the college lab computers that we are using use Explorer as their default, so many students never even think to try a different browser.

In the end we were able to cover most of what I had planned, with the exception of some exemplar videos that were available for viewing later. Sometimes the unplanned lessons are just as valuable as the preplanned parts. I know that my students, some more than others,  will experience frustrations with the tech related tasks I set out for them during this course, so it is good for them to see that technology trips us all up from time to time…and that we just get back in the saddle and keep going. 

Besides, this tech hiccup was nothing compared to the two days of Microsft Office 365 hell that I endured with my high school English classes this week.  But we don’t want to get me started on that one!

EBHS Edublogs – first student accounts and posts!

On September 9, we celebrated a fairly successful first on our Digital Portfolio journey at EBHS.  Ms. Paxman and I helped my Social 10-1 class create the first student portfolios at EBHS. As I use the blogging platform often throughout my Social 10-1 course, I didn’t think I could wait until the Information Processing 10 classes get to Digital Portfolio creation at the end of September.

In the past I have used Kidblog, which was fairly easy to set up for students, but of course it makes sense to migrate to the new EBHS Edublogs site. Of course, this year there were SO MANY NEW COMPONENTS…

  • students had to log into the school computers with a username that they have never used before, and had to create a new password
  • they had to create a blog on a new platform (Edublogs) which they have never used before; they had to replace the gibberish password with one that they would remember
  • then students had to go to Microsoft 365 and use the email program that they have never used before to verify with Edublogs that they were not a spam-bot

Not only did all of this happen successfully for all of the students in my class, they also successfully added themselves to Mrs. Kannekens Classroom, so that we can use the digital portfolio platform in Social 10.

Another img_1890first. Today, September 13, most of those 28 students created their first blog post in Edublogs, all of them “nested” under a class for Mrs.Kannekens.  This feels almost identical to what my students have been dong for several semesters using the Kidblog platform, however we are now using this new platform, which will hopefully, eventually become second nature for all EBHS staff and students to use.

At this stage, so much is new:

  • Categories? Tags? ( and not the Period 3 kind)  – How? And Why bother?
  • “Oops, I forgot to hit “Publish” or “Save”
  • How do I get to the draft that I saved?

….second nature, all in good time!

The next first that I am anticipating will be having the students interact with what their classmates have written  (ie. Respond in respectful comments to their classmates).   Coming soon….

Class-wide Voice Typing: a Failed Experiment

Voice recognition technology has gotten so good, and iPads make it so easy.  I see this as an incredible tool for many of my learners, especially those who struggle with typing and spelling, punctuation, etc. So,in the past months, I’ve tried to convince a few individuals in my classes to try voice typing their essays. Typically they have been reluctant, however I have chalked this up to them not wanting to be different than other students.  In many cases I’ve figured that they have not given an adequate try, and are therefore judging based on little experience.

So this is where my grand experiment idea comes in. What if I had each of the students in a class of 25, all at the same time, voice type a piece of writing that they have already written?  An pre-written assignment would make the task quicker and easier. Because it would be a classwide assignment, all students would be obligated to try, and who knows, perhaps some of the previously reluctant may find that it is a good solution for them.

I realized going in that this could be a grand disaster, especially since logging into a Microsoft document in Office 365 is a difficult task in our classroom in the first place.  I had heard of classrooms where all students sit in their desks and voice type at the same time, so I figured that replication was possible. In the samples that I had seen however, most students had an Apple set of ear buds which comes with the microphone and this was not the case in my class. Nevertheless,  I thought we could give it a try and separate students into other areas as necessary.

On the positive side, the Internet Wi-Fi was able to handle the experiment at least as well as I had hoped. I was able to use the air server connected to my iPad to give a really quick demonstration of how effectively one could voice type, and taught them the simple voice commands of commas and periods.  At this point, many students seemed visibly impressed by how intuitive the voice-typing was.

Students, however, found the task daunting. Many were reluctant or found it creepy to talk to the iPad. Others complained that the iPad would not pick up their voice. Few could find the pace at which the software would reliably record their words.  I also realized that although it was very easy for me to make minor typographical corrections when the software produced an error, many students found it difficult to recognize errors, and also to physically correct them on the iPad screen.

At the end of class, while the experiment was fresh, I quickly had the students use Socrative to provide feedback to the following question:

Briefly explain your experience with Voice Typing.

Describe if you were successful or not.

Explain specifically what you liked or did not like about it.

As you can tell from some of the comments posted below, this was not a successful experiment overall. (And none of them responded by voice typing!)

Fortunately, some students found the trial “somewhat valuable”, so perhaps I’ve planted a seed of possibility for them.

For me, voice typing this entire blog as opposed to typing it on my iPad keyboard has cemented the value of voice typing in my mind. Hopefully I will be able to “sell” it to students better in the future.

The Geography + News Experiment

In September I wrote about trying a new method for how I include the study of Current Events in my high school Social Studies course. The biggest change to my previous methodology was a real focus on plotting our news stories on a world map, and identifying the location by longitude and latitude co-ordinates. The “testing” of our current events discussions was also a more formal method than I had recently been using.

The first thing that I noticed with students in September was how greatly deficient most students were when it came to knowing what to do with latitude and longitude. The first day, given two coordinates, over half the students in each class could not accurately locate the spot; many did not even know how to begin to guess. It was interesting to see them help each other as we practiced this in the early weeks of the semester.

The second thing that I noticed was that overall, many students just have a poor sense of geography. On day one, for example, several high school students could not identify the continent of South America. And while many indicated at the end of the semester that their understanding of where places are in the world had improved somewhat to significantly, many still are dazed and confused. Some still couldn’t tell you which coast of North America California could be found on. Some still could not identify where the Middle East was located, even though this was a semester where Syria was in the news repeatedly.

So, a new semester starts next week. What will my Geography + News Experiment look like?

  1. I will continue the format for a 2nd semester.
  2. At the very beginning of the semester, I will have them do a map where they label the continents and watch a video about how latitude and longitude work — yes, this is high school.
  3. I will incorporate some days in the semester where THEY are responsible for researching the most important news stories and writing an effective summary.
  4. I may change the testing format. The process was overwhelming to some students the first time they saw the test, and although most were very successful once they caught on to the format, the overall time it took to administer the tests was greater than I had anticipated. Stuck at time point on how to find the right balance…

So the experiment to increase general geographic knowledge along with an increased understanding of national and world events continues….