Connecting Virtual Rural Classrooms with PearDeck

In our southern Alberta rural school district we have many very small schools. Sometimes there are only three or four, or even one or two students in a grade level. In primary and elementary levels the solution is triple graded classrooms, however, this is less practical or realistic once students hit junior high. One solution that our district has employed is the development of a robust video conferencing network, supported by reliable technology.

While our division has been connecting classrooms via video conferencing for over a dozen years, the supporting technology has changed and sometimes outpaced the technology that our teachers are using. In the early days of video conferencing teacher assistants would fax and/or email student assignments back-and-forth to the teacher to be marked. Of course, this was time-consuming, and the time it took to digitize these paper products added to the length of time students waited for projects and assignments to be marked and returned. As technology has become more 1 to 1 it is important that our teachers shift from the fax and email mentality to using the many tools that are now available to not only make accessing work easier, but also more engaging.

Our ninth grade video conference math teacher is located in one of our larger centres but teaches math to four different school sites, each with 1 to 5 students.

Math 9 via Video Conference

5 sites are joined via video conference for Math 9

Each group of students is assisted by an Education Assistant (EA) who helps with the content on site, as well as the logistics of getting materials back-and-forth. Despite the support, it is still a challenge to keep students on task and to help them as much as they need. To alleviate this, we have been working together to come up with solutions for this teacher and one of the very best has been in the form of Pear Deck.

The Video Conferencing Pear Deck Revolution

The teacher pushes her Google Slides lesson out to the students and they join the Pear Deck session on an iPad. As they work through the lessons, she can watch in real time as students respond to questions.

Pear Deck real time

The video conference teacher using Pear Deck can see thumbnails as each student answers questions in real time – from 5 different sites.

Unlike some other platforms of this nature, students do not have to press submit to send their work. This is very important in this situation because the teacher can see who is stalling, off task, or struggling. After the modelling portion of the lesson, the teacher turns the lesson setting to “student-paced” so students are able to work through remaining questions/slides at their own pace, while the teacher can move between slides to support individual students.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher publishes “student take-aways” – a premium feature – which automatically puts a Google Doc copy of all notes/slides and a copy of the student responses into a Pear Deck folder in each student’s Google Drive, organized by lesson date and title. The teacher also has a copy of this document for each student so she can use portions of it for individual assessment if desired.

Other video conference classes in our district have also been using Pear Deck, but since they are humanities-based, students can type many of their responses on Chromebooks. Trying to have students type Math just to use Pear Deck would be a deal breaker, so we have found enough iPads (sometimes old ones) to allow each student to use a stylus + iPad to “write” their math. This has taken some getting used to, but it is becoming more normal. We have solved the issue of “not enough writing space” by increasing the custom slide length in Google Slides – this allows the students to scroll down to continue their answer, something they can’t do when the lesson is on a standard-sized slide.

Of course, there will be ‘bad internet days’ when a cloud-based technology like Pear Deck just doesn’t work.  Fortunately, there is always pencil and paper as a backup!

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Success! Google for Education Certified Trainer

Sweet relief!  I will admit that I literally did a dance of joy when this email flashed across my iPad img_3899screen in the middle of leading a Virtual Reality session on bugs and insects with a grade 2 science class!

After a lengthy application process, I have been chosen as a Google for Education Certified Educator.  The application involved 6 hurdles:

Why bother? Here are some of the benefits:

  • access to more Google training
  • early access to some of Google’s new product launches
  • connections for collaborating with and learning from a community of other Google trainers
  • a listing in the Google for Education Directory, which could lead to some additional opportunities to share Google tools

Tech Tip – Deleting a Class in Google Classroom

If you are like many teachers, you have a few ‘junk’ Classes from when you were first learning and experimenting with Google Classroom. Or perhaps you just have classes you no longer need.  And if you are one of those teachers who like to have a neat and orderly Google universe, you’ve tried to delete those classes, only to find that you can only seem to Archive them.

Deleting Class in Google ClassroomFortunately, there is now a way to delete those unwanted classes.  Click here for video instructions.

  1. You start with the thumbnail of the class you want to delete and, using the 3 vertical dots in the top right, you first must choose “Archive”.
  2. Next, click the 3 vertical ‘hotdogs’ in the top left of Classroom screen, and on the pop-up panel, scroll all the way down and click “Archived Classes”.
  3. On the thumbnail that you just archived, click the 3 vertical dots again, and this time you will be able to “Delete” the class permanently.

Some reminders:

  • Any class assignments or student assignments that were created in that class will still exist in the “Classroom” folder in Google Drive. If you also wanted to delete those, you would have to go to the “Classroom” in Google Drive and delete the folder that had the same name as the class you just deleted.  (If you’ve learned about Google Classroom from me, I would have had you make that folder a colour, and had you label that folder “Google Classroom -Don’t Save Here”).
  • If you have thumbnails of classes that you have joined as a student, click the 3 vertical dots in the top right corner and select “Unenroll”.  Students cannot, of course, delete a class.

Click here for video instructions.

One Step Closer to Google Certified Trainer Status!

Sweet Relief! I passed the Google for Education Trainer Skills Assessment! This 25 question multiple choice test is one of six hurdles that one needs to surmount to APPLY for Google Certified Trainer Status.  Even though I carefully completed and then reviewed the Google Trainer Course (another hurdle) offered on the Google Training Website, I still was quite worried as soon as I was a few questions into the test – there must have been a few rocks that I didn’t look under!

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Fortunately, I have already passed two other tests in the form of my Google Educator Level 1 and Level 2 certifications (accounting for two more of the six hurdles).   Now the final two hurdles remain:  finish off my 3-minute trainer video (which already has about 18 failed takes!) and submit the detailed application, complete with many links and “evidence” of skills.

Onward!

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.

Implementing VR #4: YouTube Playlist

Touring our PRSD8 Google Expedition Virtual Reality set around our vast school division has been quite delightful. The first reactions of the students from K-12 to the virtual world brings a smile to my face every time–as does the grinning teacher,  watching the first reactions of his or her students.   Yet, there is so much more to discover in the virtual reality world than Google Expeditions, especially since it (Expeditions) is so American based in content.

So it was with great excitement that we were able to successfully launch our first YouTube 360 playlist. A school in Oyen wanted to use VR “to do Olympic events” for an Olympic-themed day that they were having. Since nothing of the sort currently exists in Google Expeditions, I knew this was the opportunity that I had been looking for to push myself to try and create a YouTube playlist and use it with a class of students.

It turned out to be a great success, as over 10 groups of 10-13 students filed through our ‘viewing parlor’, took a comfy seat, and launched into our Olympic events playlist: bobsled, ski jump, luge, skeleton, downhill skiing, snowboard cross.  A few teachers even made it through the whole experience!

Watch below as the grade 1 students in Mrs. Roberston’s class experience the thrill of the ski jump!

This particular playlist worked very well for the small groups of students that we had a one time. A downfall to using YouTube is that you have to click quite a few spots to get to the playlist AND get the viewer into “Google Cardboard” mode. Cathy and I clicked all of the buttons each time for each student, as one wrong click, and it takes much longer to get back to the correct place.

A key element to using the playlist was to have a distinct acronym in the title (PRSD8VR). This playlist was the only thing that came up when searching YouTube, which then made it easy to select and save to the “Library”. Once we had put the playlist in the Library of every viewer, it made it much more convenient to launch the playlist quickly.

The Olympic theme certainly made the YouTube playlist a great place for a trial run. Thanks Oyen Public for helping push problem solving!

Implementing VR #3: At a Hutterite Colony!

Classes in our school division have had access to Virtual Reality for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I , our PRSD8 Instructional Coaches, have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far, and we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

We had been looking forward to this ground-breaking day since before Christmas. Susan Martin, the teacher/principal of Jenner Colony School had gotten permission from the 20180112_110046_001883888399.jpgschool’s German teacher, Ron, to let the student’s experience the Virtual Reality viewers.  For those not familiar with Hutterite Colony schools, many do not allow any form of technology; that means the teacher cannot even have a computer at the school, and there is no internet or even television. So you can see why we were very excited to bring Virtual Reality to Susan’s colony!  The virtual reality experience would be a spring board for a writer’s workshop for grades 1-3 students on using exciting verbs and adverbs, and a grade 4-6 newspaper writing lesson.

20180112_131127424448441.jpgWe also learned some valuable lessons this day.  In our excitement to bring VR to a colony, it failed to register that a Google Expedition VR experience requires a lot of internet — and we were going to a place without internet.  So it is plain embarrassing to admit that we did not have this epiphany until we were actually in the school building and unpacking the viewers!

As a result of our incredibly embarrassing oversight, we learned a few valuable things:

  • It IS possible to run Google Expedition over a hot spot. (Thanks goodness!)
  • A hot spot can host up to 5 devices at once. With this, we were able to connect the “Leader” tablet and then 4 VR viewers. (Fortunately, this was a very small group of students, so we were able to accommodate all the students, the teacher assistant, the German teacher and 2 additional kindergarten students in 3 sittings)
  • Having two students share a single device is manageable
  • It is actually a really different – and nice – experience to just sit among 3 or 4 students and lead an Expedition

Thanks to Mrs. Martin and her lovely class for such a fun day. We can’t wait to come back – and not just because we got to wear slippers all day! Hopefully we will get to hear what is happening to Dorothy and her adventures in OZ!

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Implementing VR #2: Google Street View

Classes in our school division have had access to Virtual Reality for 3 school weeks now.  Cathy and I, our division Instructional Coaches, have done lots of learning and discovery as we have transported the VR viewers and run VR in seven of our schools so far; we will be visiting another two schools new to VR this week.  This week I will be posting a few times about our learning curve in this exciting new project.

At EBHS this past week, we tried Google Street view for the first time with our new set of VR Viewers. Mr. Wadman wanted his high school art students to get to explore New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and there were no Google Expeditions available.  It turned out that the only way to MoMA was by trying something new!  Google is so great because not only have they mapped streets, but also the inside of museums and tourist attractions–but when the building is empty! If you use an “identified” StreetView upload, (as opposed to a citizen upload), there are no other people standing around–you have the whole museum to yourself!

We started by installing the Google Street View app on all 30 viewers and then making the icon available in Kid’s mode. The high school students were a good starting audience for this experiment as they had to follow instructions very carefully to get to the right Street View gallery. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to “favourite” or identify the desired version of StreetView for something like MoMA that has dozens of uploaded options. Fortunately, the art class followed instructions well, and we all got to the same gallery room relatively smoothly.

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EBHS Art students visit New York’s MoMA – Museum of Modern Art , as Mr. Wadman captures yearbook photos

Mr. Wadman created a scavenger hunt for students once they were in the museum; this gave them a sense of purpose as they explored the many different rooms in the museum.

What we have learned:

  • We will be recommending StreetView for junior high and higher. Unlike Google Expedition where the silver button is not a factor, students need to use the button to “walk” or advance their way through hallways and doorways. This takes some time to get used to and would be difficult for younger adventurers
  • A class should start with a Google Expedition BEFORE taking on Google StreetView
  • So far, if a teacher wants to do a StreetView tour, we are advising that they create a scavenger hunt or similar task to help keep students focused and moving through the space — this may change the more we experiment with StreetView

Trying Something new: VR & Google Expedition

Google Expedition 1Check out this grand adventure!  This is way beyond Google Cardboard that I wrote about previously! This picture shows 24 of our 30 new Google Expedition viewers waiting to be fully formatted and set up so that we (the new PRRD8 Instructional Coaches) can get them into the hands of eager teachers and students around our division!

There has been lots to do to get this set-up ready to ‘hit the road’.

  • The tech guys have been formatting and securing the phones that go into each of the viewers.
  • Cathy and I have been doing lots of experimenting and app testing to get used to how they work and to decide on some of the basic apps, in addition to Google Expedition, that would be useful for classrooms.
  • We’ve had to buy a smaller wheeled-storage / carrying device to transport them in; the set-up in the picture takes two grown ups to load into a vehicle, and it won’t fit into the trunk of our cars!
  • We’ve also been stretching the limits of our YouTube channel and playlist knowledge as we come up with an expedient way to get additional content to all student in a timely manner when we are not use the actual Google Expedition app.

So, steep learning curve, yes, but a very exciting one! Can’t wait to update with ‘stories from the classroom’ once we are able to hit the road with this set-up!

Trying somethng new: Google Cardboard

Assembling Cardboard viewers

 

For at least a year, I have been planning to buy a Google Cardboard to experiment with, knowing that it would have so many possibilities in a high school Social Studies setting.

Finally, thanks to our school tech guy, we have purchased about 8 of the cheapest sets we could find ( the ‘$US exchange is a killer). When I pulled the first pieces out of the packaging, I wondered if our spend-thrift had been a mistake, but after finally figuring out the full assembly, we have ended up with sturdy little gadgets. My Work Experience student, Kamille, spent the better parts of two class periods assembling them, but, “It was fun.”

So now, MY learning starts. Fortunately I have a great list of VR education sites to start with–shared by a teacher at a Google Summit event who attended the “Cardboard” session that I didn’t have time to.   I might take my first practice group expedition the next time I supervise DT room…..