Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My Journey with Student-Led Conferences and Digital Portfolios

Student-led conferences have always been a part of my classroom and will continue to be a part of my classroom as they are an essential aspect of student ownership of learning. Having a student lead the conference puts students at the forefront of the conversation, right where they should be. When I started student-led conferences we had paper portfolios. The portfolios merely existed, we filled them with student work and the parent came in with the student and flipped through the binder, said good job to their child and away they went. To be honest, in my first year of teaching, I was relieved, it was quick, easy and I had my mind on a billion other things so the faster portfolio conferences were done and off my plate the better! The next year I knew I need to change things up, the conferences needed more purpose, I wanted my students to be proud of their work and really focus on their thinking and reflect on their work.

In my efforts to achieve such a dream, I gave my students a reflection card that had 3 stars and a wish. I provided time shortly before the portfolio conference night, to go back through the portfolio pick 3 pieces of their work they were most proud of and one that they would like to have done better on. I had Grade 4 students, so I gave them a little help with their reflection sentence, “I am proud of this assignment because…”. They couldn’t say, “Because I got a good mark”, so we brainstormed some reasons why they would be proud of their work. I also provided parents with a similar sheet, when they went through the portfolio with their child they would also write down or discuss what work they were proud of their child for (yes the same instructions were given to parents around “...because you got a good mark”) on three specific assignments. This definitely helped create a more purposeful and meaningful conversation around the student’s work.

In my perfect world, this process, or a similar process, would happen more frequently, but both myself and the world are far from perfect! I do my best to provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning through self-evaluations and comments, but time does not always allow for frequent reflection on learning for students (this is a whole other discussion around curriculum and time).

The next year I was asked to pilot FreshGrade, a digital portfolio platform, in my class. I’m not afraid to be a guinea pig so I jumped in head first. FreshGrade provides  a digital portfolio that is shared with teacher, student and parent only. Parents, students and teachers can comment on uploaded work/activities as soon as they are uploaded. Parents can get notifications to their phone (via the app) and/or emailed as soon as anything is added to the portfolio. This gave unprecedented access to portfolios in my classroom, access that parents had never had before. The digital portfolio also gave parents a window into my classroom to get a snapshot of the learning that was happening. Since the digital portfolio was new to me, I was spending most of my attention on getting students to add their work to the portfolios and assessing their work. I missed the mark in my pilot year on, what I think is, the most important aspect of the portfolio student reflection and parent interaction. Student reflection was relatively easy, that was a matter of ensuring provided the time and structure for my students to contribute to reflect and comment in their portfolios.

Parents, on the other hand, was not as easy. My first step was to provide parents with the information around what FreshGrade was and why I was moving to a digital portfolio, I sent this information out just before I had my students accessing their portfolios. The next step was at our portfolio night, I had students log into their portfolios to share their 3 Stars and a Wish. When the students were done I asked the parents their thoughts on the digital portfolio and then explained they could have access as well. I provided them with instruction on how to get set-up and discussed the importance of their comments on their child’s work. Any parents who did not show up for the portfolio conference night I sent the information home later. For families where internet access was an issue, I contacted them and let them know they were welcome to make arrangements with me to come in before or after school and use a school computer to access the portfolio. It was important for access not to be a barrier to families accessing a digital portfolio.

Increased parent access into my classroom through the portfolio also meant increased parent communication with me. Since I could the details of an activity into my students’ portfolios and then note if the activity was incomplete and parents were notified of a new activity, I started having less trouble getting some students to complete work. Parents were contacting me asking why their child had an incomplete and what they needed to do. That leads me to another aspect of digital portfolios (in this case FreshGrade specifically) that I really like, when I added an activity, I could also add my own resources. This meant I could include the assignment/activity/project instructions and rubric into the portfolio, parents now had access to what the assignments were as well as how their child was going to be assessed as well as the curricular outcomes that were covered in the assignment/activity/project. This caused parents to contact me about their child’s work sooner if they had any concerns and we could come up with a plan to support their child. This made portfolio conference conversations much more pleasant. Again, this process was far from perfect, I still had parents who did not attend conferences or connect with their child’s portfolio, however, my overall interactions with parents before, during and after portfolio conference nights were overall much more pleasant.

If you are considering starting portfolio conferences (student led-conferences) and/or making the switch to a digital portfolio for your students, I can not express how much it made my interactions with parents better and increased student ownership over their work.

Nathan McEntee
Learning Coach in Wolf Creek Public Schools
Ponoka, Alberta, Canada
Twitter: @mrmacteach
Google+: +NathanMcEnteeTeach

Monday, January 30, 2017

PhysEd Goes Google! Webinar and Resources to Make Your Day

Laurel Adolphe
- Head of Athletics, Rundle College Jr/Sr High - adolphe@rundle.ab.ca
John Long - Former Coach, Canada's National Senior Women's Rugby Team - long@rundle.ab.ca

Four Guidelines for Innovating and Designing a Book Unit

When I was a young student, I loved reading. I have memories of hiding under my blankets in bed with a flashlight, hoping my parents never caught me and made me go to sleep. When I reached the age in school where book projects, or book reports as they were called back then, started to be assigned, I was more than eager to share my reading experience with my classmates.

Unfortunately, the book report experience was a HUGE disappointment. One basic assignment, over and over again - write a report about the book. Of course there were other requirements, but each time it was an essay. No variety, no choice, no excitement to complete the work.

When I became a teacher, I vowed to change the “book report” for my students. I wanted them to be excited to read a book simply so that they could complete the project. It has taken me years of different projects and iterations of the same project, but I have some projects that I assign that I am truly proud of. Don’t get me wrong, I still do, and will continue to change my assignments, as they are never perfect. In addition, each year I find tweaks I can make depending on how they go over with each class. I offer four guidelines that I use when designing book projects for my junior high students:  

  1. STUDENTS MUST HAVE CHOICE - not all students learn the same, and not all students create the same, so we need to give them a choice in demonstrating their learning.  Several of my projects give them freedom and choice in WHAT they create, and HOW they create it.  

  1. INTEGRATE AN ELEMENT OF TECHNOLOGY - this is the world our students live in, so to me it is important to teach them these skills along the way. I always like to incorporate an element of technology so they can learn different tools and tech skills while developing a really cool project. This is also partly selfish, as I am not a lover of crafty things and bristle board projects laying around my classroom.  I currently use GSuite apps such as Slides, Docs, Drawings, and Blogger. In addition, my students use Youtube, WeVideo, iMovie, Canva, amongst others.

  1. INCLUDE A PRESENTATION PORTION - I am someone who was shy when it came to public speaking, and it was something I had to work on. I believe that by including an element of presentation, students can gain these public speaking skills in small amounts with each project. I never make it a large portion of the project, usually a minute or two, as I don’t want to scare them too much, but want them to take the risk of putting themselves out there in front of their class. One or two minutes has always been something they have been able to handle without too much anxiety.

  1. AVOID BOOK COVER REGURGITATION - I want to make my students think about the book instead of simply regurgitating the book cover. I push them to think about what it was about the book that made it a good read, or if it disappointed them they need to be able to articulate why.  In one project, I actually have my students think as the protagonist, and they need to be able to articulate thoughts the character may have by reading between the lines. This blog is one of the higher quality blogs I have had turned in. I want them to have to READ the book, so my projects are designed so they have to demonstrate that they have actually completed the reading.

I know that my students appreciate the work I have put into creating my book projects, as they tell me each time I assign one, and they write it on Christmas cards and end-of-year thank you cards. This to me is the best reward.  Each time I hear positive feedback, I know that I have fulfilled my vow to myself when I became a teacher.  

Charity Helman is based out of Bragg Creek, Alberta. Charity teaches at Rundle College Jr/Sr High School in Calgary, Alberta. She is an educator with a passion for developing a  quality learning experience by creating innovative projects and lessons enhanced by the use  of educational technology and GSuite. As a Level 1 and 2 Google Certified Educator, and a  Google Certified Innovator (#TOR16), Charity loves to empower her students and other  educators by teaching them about GSuite and other edtech tools.  


Friday, January 27, 2017

Google Forms & Group Discussion

Once upon a time, our fifth grade team decided to create a rubric to assess California State Standard SL 5.1:

“Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and
teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas
and expressing their own clearly”

which is followed by four substandards/descriptors (SL 5.1.A, etc.). This was all good until I realized that I could use my new skill learned at the San Diego EdCamp (thanks, Kyra Bowers!) to make a digital version and not fuss with a pile of paper and a clipboard as I walked around the room, or took notes during a Reading or Math group. Having my Google Form pulled up on a tablet is much cooler!

To create a digital rubric (I also use this technique to quickly check in Math and Reading Group assignments [separate Forms/Sheets]), I used Google Forms and chose the “Multiple Choice Grid” answer type.

“Question 1”: Assignment: Short Answer (answer type)
“Question 2”: Student’s name: Drop Down
“Question 3”: Student’s participation in group: Multiple Choice Grid

When setting up “question” 3, DO NOT type any kind of a title. If you do, the title will precede each descriptor on the Sheet, and you won’t be able to see the descriptors. The “rows” will be your standards and the “columns” are the descriptors for achievement (I’ve shown a sample of just the beginning of each section/question). The corresponding sheet will be set up differently, but don’t let the columns and rows confuse you. Keep in mind what you want your FORM to look like.

Be sure, when setting up the Multiple Choice Grid that you turn on “Require a response in each row”. This will ensure that the student gets feedback for each descriptor.

The GOLD is in the Google Sheet that is created. I use conditional formatting to color each descriptor so that I can see, at a glance, who may need some guidance and/or be observed again for mastery. I never feel like I have to assess every student during every discussion/lesson. However, I do feel it’s important to have more than one observation for each student per term. On the Form below, the students’ names are (not shown) at the far right:

Google Certified Educator
Temecula, CA

Want to go even DEEPER with Google Forms? Join our ONLINE Course HERE! Or check out our other EdTechTeam ONLINE offerings HERE!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Welcome Acer as an EdTechTeam Diamond Partner!

I will never forget my first computer. I can remember unwrapping it on Christmas morning and excitedly connecting it and turning it on. The new plastic smell still brings back those memories of pajamas and the satisfying experience of removing the plastic covering the monitor screen.

Many years later I had a similar experience when I opened my first Chromebook. I can remember being just as excited to learn all I could about this new type of device that pundits downplayed and edtech folks clamored to get. My first Chromebook was an Acer, and it was wonderful. The device booted quickly and the battery seemingly lasted for days on end. I bought Acer Chromebooks for my daughters, both for school and for fun.

Here at EdTechTeam, attendees often ask us which Chromebooks we recommend. Until now, we had not had an official answer to that question. Today, that changes. We are thrilled to announce that Acer has signed on as a Diamond Partner of EdTechTeam events around the world! We have had the chance to test out their newest devices and it is clear that Acer’s dedication to quality has not wavered.

In fact, you will soon be able to try out their newest, super fast devices at our events. We will be hosting the Acer Innovation Lab at select events in the U.S. We look forward to working with Acer to bring you the very best of learning. Also check out the latest Chromebook features coming out being announced at Bett2017 this week!

Chris Craft
Google Certified
Teacher and Trainer
Director of Partnerships
Irmo, SC

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

BETT for G Suite Visitors

Check out our G Suite for Education Live Panel with UK educators. Chat archive here.

BETT is one of the largest EdTech shows on the planet, but that also means you can spend a lot of time wandering, but not really seeing relevant products and services. So here we highlight nine great stops for G Suite users at BETT 2017.

  1. ACER (B109) - Right next to the main door, ACER often have a good range of Chromebooks on display, which this year will include their new durable Chromebook the C731.
  2. Texthelp (C141) - Texthelp have always produced a great range of solutions to support students with their learning. This year at BETT they have g(Math), the popular Maths extension joining their lineup, along with new features in Read&Write.
  3. Google  (C230) - A great place to see Chromebooks from all the major manufacturers and listen to a great range of speakers from schools who have “Gone Google”.
  4. Max Cases (H240) - If you are getting new devices, it makes sense to protect them and Max Cases have a range that are designed for use in education. Real teachers and students test all MAXCases products in classrooms and real‐ world environments. This process engages everyone and ensures the perfect fit with any new technology device that benefits the classroom.
  5. EdTechTeam (H240) - Join us at BETT this year where we will be sharing our new events for the UK, plus enter our competition to win a class set of EdtechTeam Cardboard VR Viewers.
  6. Salamandersoft (C300) - provide integration services, so link SIMS and G Suite, to automatically create your Google Classroom’s and map timetables into Google Calendar.
  7. Hapara (C300) - Hapara’s cloud based instructional management system works with G Suite for Education to provide added value. Hapara Dashboard remains popular with teachers and Hapara Analytics now enables Senior Management to easily track and report use across G Suite.  
  8. Soundtrap (C482) - Soundtrap is a user friendly, web-based recording and collaboration studio that teachers and students in a range of subjects are using to produce music and online podcasts.
  9. WeVideo (C454) - One of the best online video editing systems, WeVideo enables students and staff to easily capture and edit video.

Andrew Caffrey
Assistant Headteacher
The Streetly Academy
Google Certified Innovator
United Kingdom

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Making your School Something Special

There has to be something more.

We all hit moments in our lives where we look at what we do, even when doing well, and ask whether we are capable of more. For me, the hope was that starting a nonprofit might allow having a much larger impact than what I'd had in my classroom. Like many teachers, one of my first thoughts along these lines was that I could be part of what was needed to make my school something better.

Fast forward a decade or two and change, and the ideas I've gathered from my experiences and the stories of those I've met around the world have found their way into a book I call Making Your School Something Special.

I believe all teachers can improve what they do, and that the stories of their students' successes can inspire momentum for their schools. The result can be something that is far more personally and professionally satisfying for any educator. In my book, I hope I have gathered ideas in such a way as to map a path for you to make great things happen with your students and colleagues where you work.

Please consider buying Making Your School Something Special and sharing this book. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the charitable efforts of Next Vista for Learning as well. Please also consider staying in touch, as I hope the ideas we share will allow new successes - successes that will inspire students in need of something different.

Rushton Hurley
Making your School Something Special
Santa Clara, CA
+Rushton Hurley 

Get your copy of Making Your School Something Special today!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Donor's Choose and Inspire

I don’t know but I’ve been told,
Google Bootcamp is something to behold!

I don’t know but I’ve heard it said,
Donor’s Choose helps you get ahead!
Searching and knowing there exists methods to accomplish tasks, reach students, engage students, streamline instruction, and provide timely, effective feedback as a 21st Century educator, I found myself staring at the computer screen with the sought after answer right in front of me……Google Certification!! Scrolling and reading as fast as I could, I found what I was looking for and what my students needed, right there outlined by the Google EdTechTeam  - “Level 1 is perfect for the educator who would like to learn how to integrate technology into the classroom.”  Yes sir, that’s ME! Where do I enlist?
I begin to register but realize that I may not be able to afford Bootcamp at this time. My heart sinks. However, I am an optimist, a rolling stone and a believer in fulfilling your dreams. I thought, well I could ask family and friends for a loan but it is difficult for me to ask for anything for myself. If I am asking for my students, well then I have no shame and I am right out there with it. But wait, this IS for my students! This will benefit not only my current students but also all of my future students. Yes! Yes!! But how can I make this happen?

I turned to Donor’s Choose an organization started by David Best a high school teacher who very well understands the financial predicaments and frustrations teachers feel year after year, when all we want is what’s best for education. Carefully following the easy steps outlined by Donor’s Choose I post than share my project, and eagerly await good news. Discouragingly at first donations were slow, well there weren’t any actually. Then, one small donation and another small donation trickled in but time was running out.  I was becoming a little disenchanted at the possibility of not attending Google Bootcamp. Until two days before my deadline when I received an email from Donor’s Choose…………

It turned out that as the clock was ticking one amazing human, to whom I am eternally grateful, generously donated the remainder of what was needed to fully fund my Google Bootcamp Level 1!

And so it was on the morning of January 21, 2017 I set off for Newington, CT (90 mins away) to become a student and a Google Bootcamp participant. I have never jumped out of bed at 5:30 am on a Saturday with such excitement!!! Yet, I was a little nervous that I was not knowledgeable or tech savvy enough to make it through Level 1 - let alone the ultimate goal I had set for myself of Google Certified Innovator!! Yes I want to go all the way!! But am I facing a reality that I may not be able to do this zoomed around my head for the first hour in the car. I mean it’s GOOGLE, which I am madly in love with and can’t get enough of, complete with day dreams of visiting the headquarters in Mountain View, Irvine and NYC. Any time anything GOOGLE is mentioned my friends look at me waiting for the squeal. I think, will I let my students down, will I let my friends down, will I let myself down, will I let GOOGLE down? Stop! Deep breath!! I have arrived at Newington High School.

I don’t think it took more than 10 seconds to feel welcomed, at ease and reassured by my trainer Jesse Lubinsky and his assistant Jay Salerno!  Jesse’s  enthusiasm, knowledge and clear love of what he does shattered any apprehension or self doubt I was harboring. I got myself settled, wifi check, coffee, EdTech notebook, pen and ZOOM……. I was launched into THE  fastest 7 hours I have ever spent totally engaged, learning and grateful for every single minute. The added bonus was learning that my fellow comrades at Bootcamp had varying degrees of expertise and knowledge which made for the best learning environment. Throughout  the day we had meaningful discussions, supported each other, shared stories, exchanged contact information, and generally felt a sense of accomplishment and joy at what we set out to do as educators. Oh! And have I mentioned what we learned?  

Drive & Docs, Forms & Spreadsheets, Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Classroom, Groups, and more!! Seven hours of inspiring, useful, necessary content rolled out in a way which was most effective - hands on!           
Comrades -

I walked away knowledgeable, empowered and excited knowing that I have within me the tools needed to start supporting my students immediately using GAFE tools. And if that wasn’t reason enough to be floating on cloud 9, within the next few weeks I will successfully take the Level 1 Exam! But that will not be the end for me and Google. My intention is to go all the way and as long as Google will have me. Google Certified Innovator is in my future!

Teachers, please know that if  you have the drive and desire to provide a 21st Century Education for your students but your district will not fund your professional development efforts, you have a friend in education and it’s Donor’s Choose! Don’t hesitate for a minute to reach out to them for financial support for  your PD efforts! Donor’s Choose asks for very little in return. They ask for thanks! That’s all, just thanks! If not for them I would not have been able to participate this weekend. And so it is with enormous gratitude to both the Google EdTechTeam and Donor’s Choose that I write this blog post in hopes that it inspires more educators to turn to both institutions to further their dedication to 21st Century Education! And if you don’t believe me, Google it ;)

Now you know what you’ve told
Google Bootcamp is solid gold

Now you know what you’ve heard
Donor’s Choose, keeps it’s word

Tara O’Gorman
5th Grade Educator
Pulaski School Yonkers, NY

Want to begin or continue your EdTech Journey? Check out our Bootcamps and Online Opportunities HERE!