Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Common Sense Media's List of Best Ed Tech 2017

Common Sense Media's Educator Portal is one of my favorite sites for exploring new tools that have been evaluated by educators. The reviews with a focus on the impact on student learning is the best feature. 

They recently published their list of 25 best apps, games, and websites. The tools are broken down by categories: Arts & Socio-emotional Learning, ELA, Math & Science, Social Studies, Teacher Tools, and Tech Skills. 

Of the 25 tools listed, many of them were new to me! I will enjoy spending time exploring them. On the top of my list with questions I want to find out include:

  • Inq-ITS virtual labs (Will they work on Chromebooks?)
  • Beyond the Bubble history assessments (How are they different from more traditional assessments?)
  • Spiral instant feedback tool (Why is it called Spiral?)
  • Itch; a tool to help teachers teach with Scratch (Can it be true? I don't find Scratch to be that intuitive)

Enjoy the list: Best EdTech of 2017. Thank you Common Sense Media! 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre Bugs: Should You Be Worried?

I read news reports yesterday about two security vulnerabilities that worry me a bit, Meltdown and Spectre. Experts are saying that they affect nearly every processor made in the last twenty years! This includes computers, cell phones, tablets, and cloud services including music and video streaming sites. 

How it works is complicated. The best description I found was from the Intel website. "Most modern CPUs are able to predict what code they might need to run for a given process, and run it in advance so the results are ready before they are needed. This can significantly improve the overall performance and efficiency of a CPU, resulting in a faster and more capable computer or mobile device. CPUs may sometimes move data from one memory location to another for use by these processes. Although the system is operating exactly as it is designed to, in certain cases some of this data may be observable through these exploits"

Technology companies are working furiously to create patches to protect themselves and their customers. Amazon web services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Allure immediately deployed patches against Meltdown and there is no indication that the available exploits could work against them. Spectre is more deeply rooted and will be harder to fix. (Source: the Verge

According to a Bloomberg Technology article, the vulnerability will not prevent your computer from working and so far there have not been reports of anyone's computer being attacked. This makes me feel a little bit better. 

What should one do to protect your devices? Download and install ALL UPDATES! This means Windows updates, browser updates, app updates, antivirus program updates and firmware updates on any school or personal technology. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Annotate PDFs with Snap & Read

Image result for snap and read
Snap & Read just added a new feature - PDF annotation. Are you familiar with Kami? The Snap & Read annotation feature is similar. It is free with unlimited use for all Walled Lake Consolidated Schools students and staff and it works with Google Drive. 

This can come in handy for students to write responses directly on PDFs and  highlight important phrases. 

How do you use it? See written instructions and/or the video below. 

Step 1: If you haven’t already done so, install Snap & Read from the Chrome store. Accept the user agreement and then sign in with your WL Google Account.

Step 2: Go to Google Drive.

Step 3: Click on the Snap & Read extension (it will turn blue when active and the black toolbar will appear on the right).

Step 4: Click on the research button at the bottom of the toolbar.

Step 5: Click the three dots in the upper right corner.

Step 6: Open PDF from > Google Drive (or “My Device,” depending on where it is).

Step 7: Now you are ready to write on it. To do so, click the pencil in the upper left corner.  The buttons to write or highlight will appear.

Step 8: When finished, SAVE!

If video below is not displaying, click on it. The video is 1 minute and there is no sound.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hour of Code

by guest blogger, Amy Stasak, middle school instructional technology coach at Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, @abstasak

What is the Hour of Code?

The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify "code", to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts.

Geisler Middle School Student Coding Experience

This year I had the opportunity to bring a local company, AccelerateKid, to Geisler Middle School for a one-day Hour of Code event. 70+ students voluntarily signed up to attend an hour session in the Media Center, led by the owner and several of his instructors. They began by introducing the students to coding and where/why they might use it in their lives. Then, they connected the kids to a “broken” version of a Star Wars Jedi game on Scratch, a site where users program their own interactive stories, animations, and games. The AccelerateKid instructors walked participants through adding/editing/adjusting various coding steps, to essentially “fix” the game. They discussed important programming vocabulary and the various components to be used in the Scratch website. They posed challenges that students had to figure out how to complete successfully.

My Reflections

Several details struck me this morning as I observed the two sessions unfold. First, I was amazed by the diverse group of students that attended. Not only did this attract the stereotypical “computer geeks,” but we had almost half girls, over a quarter African Americans, quite a few English Language Learners and several Special Ed students. An interest in computer science is obviously growing to all populations. It was super cool to see the excitement on so many different faces. Second, it was refreshing to see young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively. Their brains were spinning and when they solved each challenge, the light bulb smiles spread throughout the room. Participants were all so willing to assist one another, applaud the successes, and even jokingly commiserate when their game spit out the “Game Over” sound bite. When asked at the end of each session who learned something new and who enjoyed themselves, the room erupted in “me, me me!” Overall, I would say this was a huge success and I am thrilled to have been a part of offering this experience to my students. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Creating Animated GIFs

I often listen to The Google Teacher Tribe Podcast with Matt Miller and Kasey Bell. This is a weekly podcast that lasts 30-40 minutes. I like the structure and always pick up a tip or idea that I can use as I support teachers in my district. It's a great way to keep up with GSuite updates. Sometimes there is a guest who talks about a topic related to educational technology. 

The topic of this week's episode was Supporting GSuite Learning with GIFs. The guest, Jake Miller, discussed why he decided to get started, which made me chuckle. He was on Facebook and saw a GIF of how to make a tater tot casserole; he liked that it was quick to view and kept his attention. He then reflected on some of his longer how-to video tutorials that hardly anyone opens and decided to try creating animated GIFs to see if more people would use them. OK, now I'm interested.

Jake creates his GIFs using Camtasia, a program that I have. (Thank you, TechSmith for providing this awesome program to Google Certified Trainers!) So, I decided that maybe I should at least figure out how to do it. I first went to Techsmith's video tutorials, but I didn't find exactly what I was looking for. I then did some searching and found a blog that was super helpful: How to Create a GIF Image with a Progress Bar by Jon Acampora

One reason why I haven't especially cared for animated GIFs is that sometimes it is difficult to tell when the video begins (due to looping), and often they are too quick for me to process multiple steps. Using Camtasia allows me to easily adjust speed and add a slider bar so that viewers can tell when the video begins and ends. Thank you Jon, for sharing how to do it!  

Here is my first attempt: Inserting Emojis into a Word Doc.

I still need to experiment with the publishing settings to figure out what works best. I first published with the highest HD settings, figuring it would be the clearest image possible. However, when I went to open it, it took awhile, and I know that each second is precious. I reduced the video size settings, but still don't know if it is the best. If anyone has suggestions for me, please let me know! 

I do maintain a Google Learning Site for teachers in my district (and anyone else who wishes to use it) where I post video tutorials and handouts to demonstrate how to use each of the tools in the Google Suite. My self imposed guideline is 2-5 min per video, trying to keep them at 2-3 minutes. I recently published some tutorials that can be found on my Google Forms page. Examples include Reasons for Use, Inserting YouTube videos, Sending out a Form to Others, Creating a Self-grading Quiz, and How to View the Data. I really do not think that I could use animated GIFs for these types of videos, as the verbal explanations are important. However, I could perhaps add some animated GIFs to my written handout. Maybe I'll try that next!  I'll also start building a library of GIFs as people ask me questions. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Where Are All The Teachers?

modified image: "plane taking off" from openclipart.com
Over the past few weeks, I've read several articles about the impact of the teacher shortage:

The teaching shortage is real, and it's a problem. I work in a suburban school district and it is November, and we still have teaching vacancies. It is difficult for teachers to attend professional development to improve their craft because there are not enough substitute teachers to cover their classes. 

Teachers go into the profession because they want to make a positive difference in the world. There is no other profession with the capacity to shape the futures of so many others. The work is challenging, yet very rewarding. As a nation, we must do much more to fully appreciate and support the work of teachers. 

The bills that are being considered in the Michigan legislature, related to allowing retirees to return to the classroom as substitute teachers will help. However, I think that policymakers should focus on strategies to attract talented individuals into the profession and improving teacher retention. 

The profession is losing out when high school grads consider career options. When they learn that teacher pay has gone down each year for the past five years, they look for other options. That's what my daughter did. She was interested in being a math teacher, and she would have been an excellent one, yet she chose to be an engineer. She weighed the pros and cons of each profession and the teaching profession lost the battle. Her situation is not unique. 

Every career depends on the work of teachers who are charged with people building. There is nothing more important than that. Please do whatever you can do to support policies that will help attract and keep teachers in the classroom. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Get Ready for Digital Citizenship Week: October 16-20

from JDJ from OpenClipArt.org
Technology is a part of all of our lives. Our students use digital tools at home and at school for a variety of purposes--to connect with friends, have fun, organize, and learn, to name a few. It up to us, as educators, to help them navigate the digital world and work to keep them safe. Any educator who uses technology as part of their instructional practices (therefore, all educators) must also teach digital citizenship. What does digital citizenship mean?

"Being a good digital citizen is more than learning your way around the web. It's about empowering your students with skills to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly online, allowing them to connect and collaborate in meaningful ways." ~https://www.commonsense.org

Take a look at standard 2 of ISTE's Standards for Students: 
from http://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
 Common Sense Media has some outstanding ideas and resources that can be used to teach digital citizenship. Take a look at Four Ways to Teach Digital Citizenship, broken down by grade levels: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12. There are short videos, discussion guides, and posters for the classroom. 

There is also a downloadable digital citizenship pledge that could be printed out and signed by students, and then posted in the classroom; get it on the Common Sense Media Website

All of theses resources are free and easy to implement.  Let's all do our part!