Saturday, September 27, 2014

Google Classroom with Co-Teachers

Google classroom is a great tool with so many useful features. However, there is one tiny flaw; currently there is no easy way to build a classroom with multiple teachers. The tool only allows for one user to be the "teacher" or administrator to invite students, create assignments, grade assignments, view submissions, return submissions...etc. Which presents a problem if there are co-teaching scenarios, or if you are using the classroom for PLC's or other purposes where multiple teachers would be helpful.

Here are two possible workarounds. 

1) Share the classroom folder from Google Drive with the other teacher as an editor. The other person may not be able to access Classroom as a teacher, but they would be able to see and edit student work when "turned in." 

2) Use a shared or generic Google account in the domain. There is bound to be at least one test user, if not, I'm sure the administrators would be willing to create one for this purpose. This would allow both teachers to sign in, and assume the role of the teacher simultaneously. 

For now, these are two helpful options until Google addresses recent feedback and makes adjustments to this powerful tool. 

One thing we can do to help get this feature added is to use the "send feedback" option at the bottom of the tool. The more of us who point out the missing feature, the more likely it is to get fixed.

If you haven't used Google Classroom yet, take some time and build a classroom for you students. You will appreciate the simplicity and ease of use, and your students will appreciate how the classroom streamlines the collaboration process. Do not hesitate to send feedback, it will only help make the tool better. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I just had one of those "AHA" moments.

I've used QR codes before with my students. To be honest, it was a bit more of a pain that it was worth. It was a headache only because not every student had access to a device that could scan a code. My school does not have a 1:1 program, and it doesn't look like that will change any time soon. However, QR codes can be amazingly useful.

I was looking through my son's school folder and looking at all the "worksheets" and the other cool projects that come home. As I was mumbling about the amount of papers that come home, I thought, why couldn't this all be digital? Then it happened. The AHA moment. Why not do what Tony Vincent does and make QR code stickers. The teacher could send home the important work, and then store the rest online somewhere that we could access through a QR code scan. Here is the even bigger AHA moment, why don't I do that as a high school teacher? Instead of sending endless documents home at the beginning of each semester, simply send a sticker with a code home where parents could access all the files digitally, and digitally sign them. I think my desk just got even emptier.

Take a look at Tony Vincent's blog about QR codes, he offers some great suggest and tools to scan and create codes. I also use the i-nigma scanner on my android, and appreciate its simplicity. As far as making codes, I've used and to quickly make a code of a URL. Again, the blog referenced, offers some great tools for making QR codes. I can not wait to start making stickers to send home instead of sending piles of paperwork.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

OpenShot VIdeo Editor

The science computer lab at my school has become my adopted child. I have taken it upon myself to convert the computer lab to use all opensource software. This was mostly because the operating system, and other software on the machines constantly had issues. Trying to find an IT person to help was always more of a chore than if I could just fix it myself. Similarly, the way the Windows 7 machines were set up for students to log on, stored too much information on the local disk and filled up the 80 gig hard drive very quickly. The IT solution was to re-image the machine every six weeks or so. This started to become problematic for a lot of reasons that I'm sure you could imagine. One major concern was that the image that was used to "fix" the machines didn't contain all the science software we would like to use. Simple and common tools like java, flash,  Google Chrome, and Firefox were always missing. Then more specific tools like Stellerium, Blender, LoggerPro, or Google Earth were always missing as well.

After finally getting fed up with this process, I made a solid argument to the IT department that the science department should be allowed to be the administrators for our computer lab. Once that was awarded, we quickly wiped windows from  all the machines and installed linux. This made life so much easier. Currently, the machines all run Linux Mint 17 XFCE x64. The best part is, they all run, and are reliable. I won't go into the specific hard-rive partitions, and software, but lets just say that if a student "breaks" the the OS, it can be restored in a click of a button. Similarly, the entire system can update,  all installed software with one command. This command can be pushed out through the network as well, so all machines can update at the same time and run the latest and greatest versions of all programs for our students.

On that note, one of the latest and greatest additions to our opensource lab has been OpenShot Video Editor. I have recently been assigning students a lot more STEM work where they need to document their learning through an actual scientific documentary. Their entire problem solving and inquiry based journey culminates with a video documentary that displays their work and demonstrates understanding of the concepts needed to achieve mastery of the standard. We had been attempting to use WeVideo editor online, and YouTube editor, but found it to be a bit cumbersome to stitch a lot of video clips, images, voice, and other video magic into these programs. I have always had OpenShot on my personal Linux machines, and never really played with it much, until recently. I fired it up to pull a bunch of video clips and images from a students iPhone, and just like that, it strung them all together, and created a quick video. I quickly installed it in the Linux lab and my students were making high quality videos with ease. It is just as simple as iMovie but also has the capability to pull animations from Blender, and other screen casting tools. The really nice thing is that the opensource tool also has tools to export the video in a formats preset for Flickr, YouTube, vimeo, Picasa, Wikipedia, Metacafe, Apple TV, Xbox 360, Nokia nHD, and various DVD and Blu-Ray options.
OpenShot is an amazing opensource tool, the only downside is that in only runs in Linux. However, a live version exists, if you really wanted to use it you could download it here, and burn it do a dvd or usb and boot it on any machine without installing anything. It's pre-installed on AV Linux. A live session of this OS would also deliver a wide rang of other multimedia type of tools, again with the option to use them out without installing anything.

Here is a short video clip from a larger documentary that some of my students made. Their challenge was to design a robot that could navigate through a natural disaster to save a trapped person. When the project was over, we needed to deconstruct the robots. We figured the best way to deconstruct them was to have them battle each other in Robot Wars. (The robots can be remote controlled through a smart phone, in one shot you'll see a student controlling the tank,)

If you're in my neck of the woods come November, join me at Vermont Fest, I will be running a session about how to use the Lego Mindstorm robots to STEM-up across the curriculum. You'll get an EV3 kit, learn how to build, program and use it across the curriculum. STEM can happen in every subject, it's more than just science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These skills can be applied anywhere, and everywhere.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Google Classroom Grading Features

Classroom for Google has streamlined my teaching and organized my use of Google drive so incredibly well, that I don't even remember how I was able to maintain order, prior to this tool. Three cool features that I enjoy and my students enjoy are involved with the assignment options of Classroom. I can make an assignment for my students with a deadline complete with a date and time, and have a variety of options for grading, commenting, and returning work.

The "Turn in" feature and "sharing."

The first option that took some students a little bit to get used to is the fact that once they turn in an assignment through google drive, they temporarily lose access to their document. Which is just like if they were to print off the document, and hand it over for a grade. Once it is in the teachers hand, it is what it is, there is no turning back. I really appreciate this feature in the tool, the students are starting to get used to this as well.

Students can also "Turn In" their document directly from their Google Doc.


The "Return" feature

Once a student turns in an assignment they temporarily lose access to edit their document, until the teacher grades and "Returns" the doc. This is a great feature that allows me, the teacher, to look at the students work, provide individualized feedback, provide a grade and return the document back to their control with comments attached. Once the document is returned the student has access again to the document, and also has the option to resubmit. Which is great if you need a student to make revisions.

The Teacher Side

Finally, the teacher side where you can grade, comment, and track submissions is very useful. I can quickly see who has turned in their work on time, grade assignments with feedback, and get it "returned" to students in a timely way. This quick check streamlines a lot of organization and makes grading much easier.

If you haven't tried Classroom for Google yet, take a few minutes and set up a class, you will find yourself wondering how you ever got by with out it, and your students will appreciate the organization of their google drive. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to merge cells in a Google Doc.

Occasionally there is a need to insert a table in a Google Doc. There is a nice easy "insert" option for a simple table. Sometimes, you have the need to be a bit fancy with those tables and want to do things like merge cells and wrap text...etc. Here is where you start bad mouthing Google Docs. In Google Docs defense, Google Sheets is built to do fancy table work and spreadsheet things. However, there is still the occasion where you need a small table with merged cells, so how do you get that to work in Docs?

It's a bit of a round-about way, but it works like a charm.

1) Make your document that requires the Merged Cells table.

2) Make a new Google Drawing. Not just insert a drawing, but create a new Google Drawing from your drive "New" list.

Why a new drawing? The insert option in the doc has limited features, but if you make an entire new "drawing" you have access to more tools and flexibilty.

3) Once you have a new drawing, name the file, and Insert a table.

4) From there you can "right-click" to gain more options, just like you might be familiar with in other word processing programs.

5) Here is the trick. When your table is done or good enough, copy the table from the drawing

6) Once it is copied (use ctrl+c), navigate back to your Doc, and click Insert>Drawing to paste your copied table in the window. Use ctrl+v to paste your "drawing" in the pop-out window.

There you go, you now have a table with merged cells in your doc. If you need to edit the table, you can now use the in doc edit features and still have access to the table options.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Digital Planning Tool

In my efforts to run a paperless classroom, I was in search for a digital planning book. I tried using Google Calendar, and it was tedious and messy. I tried using a running journal type of document in Google Docs, and again found it cumbersome.

I turned to Google and searched "digital planning books for teachers." The search returned too many options, so I started clicking and playing with the different options. I looked at Planbookedu and and accessed the free trials, but didn't fall in love with the tools enough to justify paying more than a paper planner for a digital service.

I took some time and gave Common Curriculum the good old "college try" and again found it a bit overwhelming. The one thing I did enjoy about  Common Curriculum was the ability to pull in the common core standards. The overall interface was a bit too busy for my own liking. I want somthing simple, clean, organized, and with a lot of options.

Just as it always works, right when I was about to throw in the towel and use some budget money to purchase a planner, I stumbled across Planboard. I gave it a try and discovered, it can also link in the Common Core standards as well as the Next Generation Science Standards, with ease. There are great options for viewing a single day, week, month, class by class, create alternating schedules, upload files, add links...the list goes on and on. The actual piece of the tool that allows you to write out your plan is straight forward and clean looking.  The best part is, it's FREE! I found my tool, with some patience and some help from Google. If you are in the market for a digital planning tool, take a look at Planboard it has a lot to offer, and the paid version can even interact with Google Apps. For now, I'll learn the free version, an justify the paid options later.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Assingments In Classroom For Google

As I am becoming more comfortable with this tool, and my students are really enjoying the streamline organization of sharing and submitting documents. Here is a quick tip to share the same assignment with multiple classrooms, in Classroom for Google. It is very intuitive, but sometimes what is right in front of our faces remains hidden.

Here's how to share the same assignment across multiple Google Classrooms.

1) Log into one of your classes and organize your "assignment"

2) Once your assignment is set, click the down arrow in the middle of the assignment box as shown above.

3) Check the boxes for the other classes who require the same assignment.

4) Select assign. 

It really is that easy.