Final Reflection

So, I finally finished 5 Things! When I signed up for the PD, I had no idea how busy my school year would be! It was my first year as a middle school librarian and there were so many things to tackle in curriculum development and in a physical space that hadn’t changed since the 1940’s. For me, a person who delves deeply into topics, each Thing took me at minimum 6-8 hours of work. I’m kind of embarrassed to say that, in actuality, some took about 10 hours, maybe more. So it was slow progress for me to get through the course and a fairly big stressor, especially writing the blog. Quite often it was finding the correct terms for writing about what I learned (technology content-vocabulary) that bogged me down the most. I learned as an online student for my MLS that having to write about something you learned took a lot longer than participating in a live classroom discussion or raising your hand to contribute a timely comment. But I also realized that, by having to write what I learned, I was forced to think more deeply about the topic, often revisiting the instructional texts to refine my thinking into something I could express succinctly and also to discover appropriate terminology (tech speak) to describe what I learned. So, I found my CoolTools blog to be just as arduous as learning a new technology. Probably more so.

I definitely believe the CoolTools course was valuable and I marvel at all the wonderfully vetted resources you offered Polly. The only downside, for me, was the timeliness. Having not had time to fully realize my library classroom curriculum or the middle school curriculum itself (along with collaborative opportunities for which I’d develop instructional resources) over the span of this course, I was faced with trying out new technologies where I had to invent a way to use them rather than adapt content I already teach. So in that sense, time spent practicing a particular technology was not time saved for a task I would have done anyway at my job.

However, and it’s a BIG however, almost all of the tools I tried have manifested into some actual goals I plan to tackle next year. I will be collaborating with next year’s Freshman Seminar teacher to begin the practice of keeping a Blogfolio with our 9th graders that I hope will expand to include work from other courses and have students use some of the curation tools to build their own “collections of knowledge” while learning to evaluate websites or compile an annotated bibliography about a research topic. There were some productivity tools I’ve already started using for myself and a couple that I will embed in my lesions, and I have more tools “in my toolbox” for building an engaging Google Classroom.

Thank you and have a great summer!!


Thing 7 : DIY – You Pick!

I have decided to finally learn about Google Classroom. I have been using google drive in a self-taught way for the past year. I’ve been swimming around in familiar terminology like Google Apps for Education, google docs, google slides, google, sheets, google Drive, Google Classroom, never fully understanding how they all relate to each other and what comprises a “Google Classroom”. First I did some searching around for a tutorial. I found one from August 2015 but, after creating some classrooms, I realized that the features shown in the video (for creating assignments, etc) were not the same in the current Classroom I was creating. After much searching around for an “everything in one place” set of current video tutorials (took much longer than I thought necessary, so I was frustrated), I landed on Vicki Davis’s 100+ GREAT GOOGLE CLASSROOM RESOURCES FOR EDUCATORS website, but it was more of a hodgepodge of sites rather than one that would take me from beginner and then move on to the next most useful ‘practices” and so on. I looked at a few of her suggestions and settled on this recommendation because Vicki referred to Alice Keeler as one of the experts.:

I’ve selected this blog post to start with: 10 Things to Start with in Google Classroom  What I like about it already, only having read the first few steps, is that she provides instructional tips/suggestions for using the Classroom apps with students, such as “I highly recommend you number all of your Google Classroom assignments. Start EACH assignment with a number such as #001, #002, etc… This makes is really easy to refer students to the correct spot in Google Classroom. This is also helpful since you are unable to reorder assignments and announcements in the stream“. Steps 1-9 took me from creating a class to posting an assignment and an assignment with a link and how I might manage the assignment with students. Alice’s suggestion to start with an announcement that lets the students “get all their silliness out” (since it’s probably the first time they’ve used Google Classroom also) prompted me to begin with “Welcome to our 6th grade library class Google Classroom! Let’s start out by posting a message from yourself to the rest of the class. What would you like to say?”.   At first it seems like an invitation for disaster, leaving the field wide open for inappropriate or attention-grabbing statements. But, I was encouraged by Alice’s followup suggestion to have the next announcement be “a friendly reminder of what types of comments are helpful to everyone in the class and when comments should be made or not made.” I’m still not sure if I’ll begin with this, because I’m not sure how I can avoid embarrassing certain students. However, her suggestion for having students introduce themselves for the first assignment, helped me recall a kind of “About me” activity I did round-robin style in the classroom. So for the 1st assignment in Google Sites, I adapted it to also give (me and) the students experience with an embedded, editable slide that would become a collaborative slideshow. Here are my first-draft instructions:
#001 “Once Upon a Time” slideshow: Is there a memorable book in your life, one that brings back a good memory?

Open a new slide in the attached slideshow and do the following: 1. Name the book (if you can’t remember the exact title, just try your best), 2. Give a brief description of what the story was about (just a few sentences) and, MOST IMPORTANT, 3. What is your good memory about this book? If possible, insert an image of the cover of the book and/or an image having to do with the book.
  • I began the assignment with a number as suggested in the tutorial since, according to Alice, since we’re unable to reorder the assignments and announcements in the stream.
  • I’m thinking I will follow up the lesson, which most likely involved students copy & pasting a google image of their book’s cover, with a lesson on image usage-rights and how to credit an image source.

Step 10 of Alice Keeler’s article, below, brings me exactly to the point where I question how  I will use Google Classroom when I want my informational focus (by my students) to be my library website and the resources I’ve made available there.

10. Develop this Mantra – All Things Start in Google Classroom
Do not use Google Classroom sometimes, use it for EVERYTHING. Getting students into the habit that they go to Google Classroom first for everything creates a very smooth workflow with your students.

I am thinking that I might rather, have my students access my Classroom from the Pathfinder section of my (OPALS software) library website. I just finished my first year in the middle school and have begun building grade-level pathfinders where I can post resources for content-area classes who are using library resources. In the Grade 6 section, I already have a link to Grade 6 Library Class. Yet, I wonder if, as I’m beginning to understand Google Classroom and how it is accessed by students, I’m thinking that it might be better to have a Google Classroom icon/link on my home page alongside my other shortcuts, such as our single-login database page. In this way, my library homepage is an alternative portal to all the middle school Google Classrooms our students have access to. What I could do, and what I’ve been wanting to do, is move away from the OPALS software Pathfinders page, which is a bit “old fashioned” and, in creating resource guides for content area classrooms, use one of the curation tools I learned about in Thing 5 and make that link available within their own classroom. To tie the resource content to the library, I could name the link Library Resources. Just thinking…

Next I chose a related blog post Google Classroom: What do Kids do First? and knew right away I found a practical tutorial when Alice began with this sentence: “I was asked on Twitter what the very first activity 6th graders might do when introducing Google Classroom. There is no “right” answer to this question. Here is my suggestion: We do not teach tech, we teach content with tech. While I would structure the first activities to acclimate the students to the Google Classroom environment, I would not do it solely for the purpose of learning the tech. Think of the educational learning objectives and create a simple activity around that.”  Again, her suggestion to use the first activity to “get the silliness out” (even for adult students) appeared, based on her experience. This time she suggests having students use the + sign at the bottom of the Stream to post “something appropriate for school”. Following up with a brief digital citizenship discussion focuses on this being a collaborative learning space and the kinds of comments (or questions) that can be helpful or help us as a class grow.

I have to stop here to state how thankful I am that I found a Google Classroom tutorial/blog that offers tips and practical techniques  for using the features in Google Classroom instructionally in addition to the steps needed for using a particular feature.
When I consider all the other tutorials I viewed and almost settled on (and my sense of frustration with the amount of time I was taking with nothing to show for it), I am so glad that I persevered.

As I continued reading other Alice Keeler posts on the blog I realized that I could use the About section of my Practice Class to build a resource list of my favorite articles/posts to keep on hand as I begin to use Classroom in the fall. I especially liked Google Classroom: LMS or NOT? which, while comparing and contrasting LMS and CMS with GC, I learned more specifically the value of each and developed a much better understanding for how GC relates to google Drive. The next most valuable post was how to use side by side windows (and about the Classroom Split Chrome extension) which enables students to view assignment instructions while at the same time working on the assignment. A burning question of mine regarding the arduous task of recreating a Class for each section (class period) I would be teaching  was answered in 5 Potential Mistakes in Google Classroom where Alice Keeler examines the original article by J. Sowash (link is within Keeler’s article) and offers workarounds/alternatives to some of the limitations (things to avoid) J. Sowash warns against, such as creating more than one class for each class: one Classroom that combines all sections (for assignments, submissions, and grading) and then each section’s individual classroom where discussions take place relevant to the lesson and the assignments. Since I haven’t used GC yet, I’m not sure whether or not this idea is workable for me. I also explored the Collaborative Notes article and strategies and Using a Writing Journal (thinking of my ELA teachers and wondering if they know about this idea). One thing I didn’t find or learn how to do is seeing my Classrooms from the student side. Alice Keeler’s article  Use This Image for Students Turning in Work explained that the thumbnail teachers see when they attachment a document to an assignment isn’t seen on the students end. Therefore, she has created 2 thumbnail images to attach when we attach an assignment document (image: “Remember to Click Open and Tutn In”) or, when there is not an attachment with the assignment (image: “Remember to Click Open and Mark as Done”). Keeler has made both of these available as PNG images to download, however I had trouble testing them out in my Practice classroom because I kept getting the message that I didn’t have the rights to post the images. I tried various ways of saving the images but haven’t solved the problem yet. But when I get the ability to use the thumbnail images, I won’t have the ability to see the benefits of using the thumbnails or not until I find out how to view the assignment from the student side.

Overall, I am so glad I chose Google Classroom for the DIY Thing. Now, as my mind often wanders to instructional ideas for the coming year, I have a schemata in which to visualize instructional possibilities and ways to engage students more directly as they work individually or collaboratively.

Thing 22: Productivity Tools

First, I must apologize to you, Polly, for making you work right up until the last day of my June 30th deadline! This is my fourth “Thing” and tomorrow and Thursday I will work on my last.

There were so many wonderful choices in the Productivity Tools lesson, but I focused first on google-related items because teachers in our school are beginning to use google apps for education and I would like to deepen my awareness of ways to use the apps to improve learning and be able to share this with teachers and students. I began with Joyce Valenza’s SLJ article on google Voice Typing. I believe this will be a valuable tool for some of our special education students (including one blind student and several who have difficulty writing) it is also valuable for our technologically-deprived students who haven’t had the typing experience of their tech-savvy peers. Being able to dictate what they say rather than peck away at the keyboard will better hold their thoughts. I don’t see dictation spelling errors (by google voice) as a big problem for this group who, most often, are our students with poor literacy skills, such as spelling. Students can get their “voice” (words) on paper first without worrying about spelling and then be guided back to correct any errors google might have made. Chances are, google will do no worse than they might have done. I believe I will even use Voice myself. Though I’m a fast typer, I often lose my train of thought while typing. Unfortunately, the tool didn’t perform well for me when I tried to use it to write about it for this blog entry. I am hoping it’s only because my laptop is old and very slow right now. Currently, there is a lag-time between my keystroke and the letter’s appearance in my google doc, so my situation isn’t ideal. I look forward to trying it out on my school PC.

The 2nd article I explored actually had to do with Chrome extensions: 15 Can’t Miss Chrome Extensions for Productivity; I also explored the links withing the article. The following is what I found most valuable for usability now.

  • Save to Pocket – For reading things later, which  I will only use for articles that I want to read, not for any other kind of bookmarking. I frequently receive articles from a couple of ASCD publications in my work email. Rather than save promising articles in an email folder, I will use Save to Pocket which automatically syncs to all my devises.
  • Ghostery– I loved the video embedded in the 15 Can’t Miss… article. It was a humorous and efficient way to explain tracking to students. I will use this in my Privacy Unit that I hope to use with next year’s 9th graders. I was going to offer this to them as a tool as well, but noticed the following in the Comments section of the article:
    • “Ghostery is owned by the ad company Evidon which helps companies to improve their use of tracking code by selling them data collected from the Ghostery users who have enabled the data-sharing feature in the extension.”

A quick search of Ghostery reviews has warned me off of promoting this tool. However, safer alternatives were recommended. I didn’t take the time to follow up on them but will do so before I teach the unit. The experience reminded me of an important point I want to drive home to students: Nothing is ever really “free” on the Internet. So added to this lesson on Privacy will be an activity where they’ll have to research some free tools looking for the “catch”. Most likely I’ll “share” a google doc in the form of a chart, with links to tools they have to test and columns for their analysis. Actually, if I divide the class into groups, each group can have a set of tools according to a theme (productivity tools, privacy tools, etc) and, after the analysis phase, prepare a presentation to the class of one ‘most recommended’ and one ‘hazard’, something like that.

  • LastPass – Because the Ghostery recommendation left me skeptical, I explored LastPass and a related article on password-saving apps warily. That’s why I will teach the following idea (copied below), or similar, to students instead because it does not depend on any online tool. (The idea is taken from one of the reader Comments in a related article on the makeusof website.)
    • First character of the website, in caps: M

      A % sign: %

      6 fixed letters: iefotu

      2 fixed numbers: 69

      Which means my password for this site would be: M%iefotu69

      And my Facebook F%iefotu69


  • Dayboard: I added this extension to my toolbar for my own use. I have been using Google Keep to form To Do lists, but I haven’t developed the habit of checking it daily. In fact, I often let other tasks hijack my day before I’ve even thought to look at my Keep lists. Dayboard limits you to 5 daily tasks and, each time you open a new tab on your computer, the list appears. Such as my item #1: “Finish CoolToolsforSchools by Thursday eve!!!

The 3rd article I explored was 10 Creative Ways to Use Google Tools to Maximize Learning. One recommendation was for teachers to use Voice Comment (rather than a text comment) for reviewing student writing. One benefit is that it reveals a teacher’s tone and inflections, something that written comments can’t do. So rather than seeming critical, a comment meant to be encouraging will sound that way. In the article I also learned about Google Drive Templates. I found the “Students & Teachers” templates most valuable, such as a template for writing a syllabus, for lesson planning, for creating grading rubrics, and 2-column notetaking to use with students. Another tip in the article was to have the class collaborate (using a shared doc – maybe the notetaking template?)  on a notes page based on a lesson or assigned reading.

Lastly, I decided to learn more about Dropbox, which I ended up installing on my laptop. At first, because I store most docs in Drive, I didn’t think it would be useful. But not everyone uses Drive, such as my library assistant, and this will be a great way for us to share record-keeping and library management docs. Also, I still have many work-related Microsoft office docs stored in files on my laptop that I’m not yet ready to upload into my school Drive but may need to access at some time in the future. So I began uploading some of these into Dropbox earlier today.

I wish I could explore more of the recommended tools and articles for Thing 22, but will complete the lesson now and begin my last Thing tomorrow.