Thursday, January 19, 2017

Harness the Power of a Summit

I was very fortunate that my school system last week hosted a special EdTechTeam conference for all teachers and staff. For the first session, I chose to attend a presentation by Jay Atwood, whose description exhorted attendees to not be be afraid of data.

Now, I remember years ago a fellow student teacher having to create a spreadsheet of how every student scored on every test item, every week or two. I was intrigued because I craved that sort of true understanding of my students’ learning, but it seemed overwhelming. Assessment has always been a challenge for me; quantifying things just doesn’t come naturally. As I’ve grown as a teacher, I’ve developed some strategies, but I wanted to do better, and struggled with how to implement that desire. High-quality, timely, and useful assessment seemed not so much an unscalable mountain, but one that was threatening to topple in an avalanche over me.

Opening his presentation, Jay asked if any of us were scared of spreadsheets. Maybe I was distracted by setting up my laptop, but I honestly raised my hand. (Hey, I’m an English teacher for a reason!) A moment later Jay asked if any of us had learned spreadsheets in our teaching training; again I raised my hand. He was bemused that the scared one was the only one that had had training, but I think the issue was I had too much training, or training in the wrong things. I recalled complicated formulas and a jumble of letters and numbers, and a general sense of dread that had kept me away from spreadsheets ever since. Jay’s straightforward class fixed all that!

Step by step and quickly, Jay walked us through how to use Google Sheets with examples directly demonstrating their usefulness to teachers. When I saw the reading log example, I sat up straight in my seat. I thought about all the records I keep, of student reading, writing projects, independent study choices... I could use Google Forms to create a handy, neat, manipulable record in Sheets? I learned all sorts of tricks and techniques for managing data in Sheets, mostly by clicking on buttons (or copy-pasting simple formulas).

Then in Ben Friesen’s session I learned how in Forms I could create not just general records but actual quizzes that Google would then score and put into a Sheet. Suddenly I was seeing how easy it would be to get formative and summative snapshots of my students’ understanding and learning. Google Forms and Sheets provide a powerful tool for finally conquering that scary data mountain! I could use a Form an an exit slip to check understanding at any time. I could use a Google quiz for the assessments I’m required to upload to students’ digital folders. No more scanning in hundreds of paper forms!

I learned about all kinds of tools that easily integrate to support my work and students’ learning. Screencasting can help me be there for my students and explain things (especially for those who always seem to benefit from hearing instructions again, and visual or aural learners) even if I’m out of class or during homework or home study days (every Friday in my school).

The new Google Sites is super-intuitive and allows teachers to tap into videos and pictures from online, as well as Docs, Sheets, or anything from their drive with a simple click.

There are other applications that can help me manage and track individual student engagement during class discussions and again funnel that into a record in Sheets.

As I left the conference, my mind was full of ways to use what I had learned to simplify my teaching life and to harness these powerful tools to be more effective at connecting with each student. As Michael Wacker, the Keynote Speaker, said, that connection is the most important tool we have as teachers. There’s a piece of art at the school site where we held the conference that includes the words, “Until you spread your wings, you’ll have no idea how far you can fly.” It made me think how, more than teaching me every technical step for using different Google tools, the conference showed me what was possible. I don’t feel afraid anymore, but empowered!

Leanne Schwartz
Humanities Teacher

Empower your teaching at an EdTechTeam Summit near you!

You can now take online courses at your own pace for Google Sites and Google Forms! And look more into a custom summit for your school here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Space: A Guide for Educators

Have changes in educational technology or pedagogy led to new (or more) conversations about how space is used in classrooms and schools? Thinking back to my earlier teaching days, I remember years ago having competitions with a colleague about making the best seating design for our respective classrooms. Aside from wishful thinking we didn’t talk or even think much about facilities. However, as an experienced educator I think a LOT more about how space is used in schools and how to get the most learning potential out of our spaces. “The Space: A Guide for Educators” is a thoughtful book that doesn’t begin with the assumption schools have to spend a lot of money building new facilities, but rather strategies to increase the learning potential of what your have, and cost-effective methods to make it happen. As project-based learning, inquiry based learning, and understanding by design have taken root in Western education I believe there are more conversations about how we use space. The authors, Rebecca Louise Hare and Dr. Robert Dillon, have a cleverly structured book that takes us on a journey of reflection, collaboration and student voice. They offer ideas to put ideas into action. The design of the book itself is unique, with many images, graphics, tables and labels - along with descriptive text - that cleverly gets the ideas across. The book doesn’t even have page numbers! Note: my comments are italicized.

The guide begins with a reflective process that brings students into the conversation, allowing them to consider what their learning environment provides. (and what it doesn’t) What’s the purpose of our learning spaces? Who are the spaces for? What kind of behaviours does our present learning space encourage? What kind of learning behaviours do we want to encourage? What implications does changing space have? I’m going to take the advice of the authors, out of interest, and survey students on these very things. Perhaps I’ll post on this blog the sample form. My current situation is a challenge, as teachers move to several different rooms. There are a variety of subjects taught in each individual room, so the “spaces” serve a wide range of people. That’s not a complaint; that’s the reality that will impact these considerations.  The overall message is a suggested process for co-designing learning space with students and tapping into collective creativity.  

The next part discusses the “things” - the physical materials - that could be used to change learning space. What will support student learning in that space? We’ve been having discussions in my current school with regard to our use of space - not new facilities that we need or want, but how we’re using space. There have been some good ideas. (ie) putting in new window blinds that can be used as green screens; mounting Apple TVs so that they are moveable; refurnishing that allows for the entire room to be mobile. Our Middle School classes all have whiteboards on the walls, which I’m loving. I disagree with the argument that brainstorming doesn’t support learning. So, what kind of things do the authors suggest? You’ll have to get the book, but here is a brief synopsis.

Spaces That Foster Collaboration

  • the need for movement and choice (reduce the use of old-school desks)
  • surfaces that support many people (everyone can see the surface, can contribute); idea walls, moveable desks and tables, writeable tables, bar-height tables
  • a variety of seating options (kinds of seats, tables and layouts)
  • routines that support collaboration

The authors also mention quiet spaces and spaces that showcase student learning.

Students as Designers
An important point made is that we can transform schools into places where students are creators, and not merely buildings in which students acquire knowledge. Creativity is digital, physical, spatial, and experiential. This is a discussion for the teacher who wants to transform their classroom into a creative space, offering suggestions to get started. They mention going to an Arts teacher, which makes sense, as students are often on differing tasks and moving around the room. I’m thinking that planning and management are the big issues here. The advice revolves around what to do with materials and establishing routines and classroom protocols, and moves on to emphasis that “creating is the learning process”. Hare and Dillon graphically outline a process that goes from curiosity and research to showcasing learning and building on that.

Spaces to Create
Start simple and don’t worry about having high tech equipment. Students will be creative and solve the problems of planning and production. Cheap green screens can be fashioned, cardboard and small whiteboards are great, and video editing is available. (YouTube Editor has come a long way if one doesn’t have common software such as iMovie or MovieMaker) The key principle is to create a space that allows for creativity. The author discuss physical maker areas. (also known as makerspaces: see or The authors give a number of suggetsions for creating this kind of space. Keep in mind that this isn’t simply another art room. They also differentiate between digital maker areas, spaces that make have green screens, whiteboards for planning, or allow for music production.

Spaces to Showcase
What is the point of making something that isn’t used or shared? However, the point Hare and Dillon make is to showcase the learning process - not just the finished product. Use the walls for learning, not solely displaying, showing the progress, making walls interactive and interpretive. Don’t just throw things around the room, but have space planned with colours, furniture and everything in mind. Get rid of clutter, leave some space open, and be mobile. The authors remind us to plan who is responsible for showcasing, when things go up and come down, who the audience is, and think about diversifying the kinds of materials showcased. Some of the examples they give include magnet walls, digital portfolios, and hanging ideas from the ceiling.

Space for Quiet
I think this is an important point. Students also need a place to be left in peaceful thought. School libraries are transforming into collaborative spaces, not the quiet places I grew up with. Some suggestions include reducing visual noise in the classroom, giving quiet time during lessons or playing quiet songs, or have moments of reflection. Hare and Dillon also suggest creativing classroom spaces that allow a student to hide for a little while (kind of like a Google office cubicle), or giving options to not collaborate sometimes. Overall, balance the stimulation in the classroom - we don’t have to be rapid fire, “go go go” all of the time. Have a look at the suggestions the authors provide.

The final section of the book takes time to offer some additional advice as you might choose to reimagine your classroom (or school) space, probably the most important encouraging us to be intentional. Create a culture of “yes”, encouraging students to try new things and push their limits, being unafraid of unknown results. There is a brief discussion on the impact of colour on learning. (something worth delving into more) What are some of the things we may not take into account in our learning spaces? The ability to control light on sunny and cloudy days; decorations; the nature of the windows. They remind us that materials we may need to foster creativity are revolving; when we don’t have all the materials we’d love to have challenge students to improvise and be creative in their problem solving; and that learning and creativity are central to the use of space. Hare and Dillon take into account the impact of digital tools, pointing out that we can’t ignore the reality that our students are growing up in a digital world. Maximize the use of digital tools. (insofar as it supports learning, with learning outcomes at the fore) Find ways to keep the spaces free of clutter so that you’re not tripping over power cables, etc, as you make your classroom mobile.

Another important element, which I find is often ignored, is going beyond the learning space. Strategies to connect the learning with those outside of the learning space to the wider community needs to be considered. (check out Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie, also from the EdTechTeam Press, and his Inquiry Open House approach to what he calls “public displays of learning”)

How Does All of This Happen?
So how does a school go about transforming spaces? Though this isn’t the final part of the book, I chose to place it here in this writing. The authors suggest three parts: initial prototyping, the launch phase, and concept reinforcement. You’ll have to purchase the book for further details. ;) They also provide a recap of the Seven Principles of Design, but apply it to rethinking school spaces.

Hare, Rebecca L., and Robert Dillon. The space: a guide for educators. Irvine, California: EdTechTeam
Press, 2016. Print.

Nate Gildart
History/TOK Teacher
Instructional Technology Coach
Google Certified
Educator/Trainer/Innovator Tokyo, Japan

Want to transform your learning space? 
Get The Space today!

Want more? Check out EdTechPress books here

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

G Suite: Google Classroom Part 2 Top 10 Tips

1. Create a "faux class"

Set up a fake class full of your reusable assignments and
project tasks. Use the Reuse Post feature to pull these
out into other classes when needed.

Here’s how >

2. Managing Class Files

Manage class files from inside Classroom,
not in Drive itself. Classroom keeps track
of everything for you!

Learn more >

3. Trusted Domain Feature

This tool lets you combine students from
different domains (like other schools or
districts) so you can work together. Talk to
your Admin to set it up for you!

Learn more >

4. Guardian Emails

Add Guardian emails for your
students to keep parents and caregivers
up to date with their child's progress.

Learn more >

5. Hand Drawn Feedback

Use an iPad for grading student work so you can
use hand drawn annotations to mark up their work.

Learn more >

6. Photo Submissions

Students can submit photos taken on a
mobile device by using the Classroom
mobile app.

Here’s how >



7. Adding Topics

Be sure to add a topic to each post
in the Stream. It helps categorize
posts and makes it much simpler to
find things as more content is
added as the year goes on.

Here’s how >

8. Handwritten Attachments

Students can create a new blank PDF file,
write directly into it with the annotation
tools, then save it as an handwritten
attachment for their assignment.

Here’s how >


Leave a comment trail on
student assignments. Try to give
actionable formative feedback
before the due date so they can
learn from it and improve their

Learn more >

10. Mobile Notifications

Let your students know about the mobile
Classroom app for their phones and tablets so
they can get notifications of announcements
and assignments.

Learn more >

> iOS app:

> Android app:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Video Interviews with iPads: The Power of Mobile Technology

It was not that long ago that making a polished video required a lot of expensive equipment and detailed know-how. But the age of mobile devices has changed all that. Students are making high-quality videos with a few taps of their fingers and a little imagination. And that creates a whole new world of opportunities for education.

I am a technology teacher and tech coach at St. Mary's Academy in Portland, Oregon, and I currently teach SMA's mandatory first semester 9th grade Digital Literacy class. This class primarily serves to help our students adjust to the expectations of a 1:1 iPad high school and gain some basic skills in technology literacy and citizenship.

I am always looking for new ways to use technology for meaningful learning, and when I found out that my students needed to do a video interview for another class, it sparked an idea. In previous years, students had not received specific instruction on best practices for interviewing on video; thus, predictably, students paid no attention to framing, angles, lighting, audio, or editing and their resulting videos were not much fun to watch or grade.

I wanted to change all that, but needed to tailor the unit to apply to iPad cameras and editing apps. Thankfully, I found the Our Rock Video Project, produced by UnTamed Science, which offers well-designed, short video tutorials that were perfect for wiggly 9th graders. The video "How to Film Interviews" by Rob and Jonas' Filmmaking Tips plus a couple simple, visually demonstrative written resources were perfect for what became my favorite project of the semester.

By the way, I highly recommend this series of videos by Our Rock Video Project, particularly if you are running a video production class. Rob Nelson and Jonas Stenstrom do a great job of breaking down the basics in a fun, informative, easy to access set of short videos.

Here's how it worked:

Students chose a subject and set up a date and time for the interview, and their other teacher assigned a set of questions for them to ask of their subject.

We spent a class period in Digital Literacy exploring best practices for video interviews. We watched the "How To Film Interviews" video, then I demonstrated best practices in class using an iPad mirrored to our main screen so everyone in the class could see and discuss the results. We focused especially on simple tips for location, lighting, audio, and framing. Students then partnered up to experiment further in different locations around the school.

For my part of the assignment, I asked students to choose an interesting, quiet location with good lighting for their interview. They needed to frame their subject using the Rule of Thirds, then use their iPads to film separate clips for each of the questions and answers, along with a clip introducing their subject.

Once students had completed their video work, we spent a class period editing the videos using iMovie. Students added a title screen, credits, and subtitles or separate slides for each question. They edited each clip to remove any dead space or unnecessary information, and put it all together into a complete, polished final video. Videos were uploaded to a class YouTube account, and students created QR codes that they submitted to both me and their other teacher for evaluation.

I wasn't sure what the final videos would look like, given the brevity of the unit and the tendency of wide range of skill levels in my freshmen classes. But I was totally amazed. Across the board, students demonstrated a solid understanding of the basic skills we had covered and a pretty consistent level of polish on their videos.

But then I realized something--camera work has become a daily practice for most young people. They are constantly taking and editing photos and videos on their devices and already have an excellent eye for good camera work. All they needed was a little push and some tips, and they could fly. That's the power of mobile technology in a classroom when harnessed in the right way.

Want to try this in your classroom? Consider the following ideas for variations on video interview projects (and post some ideas of your own!)

--Interview a older family member about a historical period or event being studied in a social science class
--Interview a classmate about a topic raised in a class novel
--Interview an expert on a health issue being studied in a health or science class
--Create a "Dear Mr. President" video
--Interview a person who works in a particular field or profession
--Collect student reactions to a current event
--Create a personal vlog

Alyssa Tormala
Instructional Tech Coach 
St. Mary's Academy 
Portland, Oregon

Want to learn more about creativity and the iPad? 
Get your #AppleTeacher iMovie Badge! Learn more HERE!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Going Deeper with Google Classroom

I have used Google Classroom for several years with both my elementary and middle school classes. Each Google Classroom is setup to meet the individual needs of my students. I differentiate activities, lessons and resources. In my class we call Google Classroom my students’ personalized study guide. They login from home to view and utilize all of our anchor charts, interactive notebook pages, journals, videos and online games to reinforce skills we have been working on.  

I love designing and planning fun math activities where my students can dive into the content and unleash their creativity! One of my students’ favorite activities is designing their own anchor charts! They use Google Slides to show what they know by connecting their unique learning styles. My students add video, record their own voice and use graphics to build their own anchor charts.

  1. Design your own Infographic
  2. Teacher & student designed Kahoot! games
  3. Digital Interactive Notebooks
  4. Interactive tools such as GeoGebra
  5. Quizlet for academic vocabulary
  6. Student created video tutorials
  7. Student created academic music videos

DTI Math Intervention Specialist
6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Math
Veterans Memorial Middle School
Brick, New Jersey

Want to get to know Google Classroom better? Check out the Classroom Updates HERE!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leaders in Educational Technology- Micah Shippee

This interview is part of a larger series profiling thought leaders within the EdTechTeam community and brought to you by Soundtrap - A Collaborative Tool for the Modern Classroom.

Guest- Dr. Michah Shippee

Dr. Micah Shippee is an out-of-the-box-doer, a social studies teacher and a technology trainer. He regularly explores ways to improve motivation in the classroom and leverages emergent technology to achieve educational goals.

Host - Dr. Rod Berger
Dr. Rod Berger, an industry leader in communications strategies for education companies, is a global education media personality featured on edCircuit, in EdTech Review India, Scholastic's District Administrator, and Forbes. As an industry personality, Dr. Berger has interviewed Ministers of Education, leading voices like Sir Ken Robinson, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten, and others. Dr. Berger is President | CEO of MindRocket Media Group and serves as Brand Ambassador to Soundtrap.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Dive Into Inquiry - A Framework for Successful Inquiry

Inquiry based learning isn’t exactly a new concept in education, and arguably has been done throughout the ages. My own classroom practice incorporates inquiry based learning. What Trevor MacKenzie has done with Dive Into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice is give teachers a clearly explained guide to bringing inquiry into your classroom. This book will appeal to novice and experienced teachers alike, as they can easily conceptualize or reimagine their own classroom inquiry framework. What educators will especially appreciate is a recognition for meeting curriculum requirements, time restraints, and the day-to-day demands of life in a school. The model explained in Dive Into Inquiry is realistic, and will give teachers the confidence that they can trigger student curiosity, and successfully implement inquiry based learning in their practice. MacKenzie even includes his own hand-drawn graphics that give a nice visual explanation of his framework, which can be shared with students. The book is also littered with excellent, real-life examples. Dive Into Inquiry author Trevor MacKenzie practices what he preaches.  

As the book’s subtitle suggests, learning and student voice are central. Trevor MacKenzie’s approach begins with building the right environment, one that establishes trust and gives students some measure of classroom control, and hence more control over their learning. This includes giving some measure of input into course curriculum. Students are primed to understand inquiry based learning and what the coming school year will look like, as opposed to jumping into their own inquiry straight away. MacKenzie clearly describes four “Types of Inquiry”, and how to move from one to the next, building student understanding and confidence as the year progresses. (structured inquiry, controlled inquiry, guided inquiry, and free inquiry) Ultimately, by the end of the year students will have the experience, skills, and confidence to take on Free Inquiry.

MacKenzie breaks the process down further with his “Four Pillars of Inquiry”. These acknowledge key elements of inquiry: exploring a passion, setting goals, delving into curiosities, and taking on new challenges. These are clearly student centered, and highly motivating. Dive Into Inquiry gives us a framework for success. The reader is offered strategies that help students develop questioning techniques, a Free Inquiry Proposal, and research strategies. Constant reflection on the learning process is an important element. Another key piece to the framework is creating an “authentic piece” - a demonstration of student learning. Here again, students have control over how they will demonstrate their learning, with teacher support. For myself, the final step is golden - a public display of understanding, which MacKenzie cleverly refers to as an Inquiry Open House, giving students a truly authentic audience for their authentic piece. The open house wraps up a highly personal, motivating learning process that reaches out to the community beyond the classroom. Simply brilliant.  

Dive in for a swim!

Nate Gildart
History/TOK Teacher
Instructional Technology Coach
Google Certified
Educator/Trainer/Innovator Tokyo, Japan

Get your copy of Dive into Inquiry today!