Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teaching Search Strategies

Google has so many projects that it is hard to keep track of them.  They have their BIG applications being search, drive, and gmail, but there are a huge number of apps that are lesser known.  Small projects that came from the 20% time model at google.

A Google a Day is a set of 3 questions every day.  Students search for the answer, while the app times them.  The wording of the questions increases the challenge of searching for the answer.  The google a day website is a quick and easy way to get students practice with searching on google.  I have used this as an opener in class and have required students to take screenshots of their successful searches to get credit.  It is a challenging and fun way to get students searching.

Every day you and your students can answer questions from three categories (pop culture, science, and sports).  The questions are hard, but there are enough clues to get the answer.  I have worried about typing in the question and getting the answer right away, but the webpage eliminates all posts during the day to get rid of all spoilers.  Just make sure they are searching within the tab with A Google A Day open.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Trouble with the NGSS

Today I was training the school technology leads in my district and toward the end of the time we had a chat about what kind of support they needed and what they felt were the needs of their teachers and their schools.  Near the end a teacher mentioned frustration he was having with the NGSS and I haven't been able to let it go.  This teacher wanted to know when science teachers would be getting more  concrete NGSS lessons.  He felt that he had been told what lessons were and were not supposed to look like and what components they were supposed to have, but that he wanted to be given some true NGSS lessons.

I think what troubled me about that conversation was the authenticity of the lessons he wanted.  Sure there are things cross cutting concepts, STEM concepts, science standards, and real life connections that need to be made with the common core and NGSS; but only incorporating those pieces is missing the point.  This teacher wanted a script of how to run the class, step-by-step methodology rather than best practice, pre-scripted examples rather than examples and ideas that organically flow out of conversations with students about the content.  That bugs me.

Is there such a focus on standards that we are missing the point that many of the standards open up the chance to talk about the connections that science has in the real world.  Even more importantly, it affords teachers the opportunity to inspire students to derive connections to their lives that we may not have seen.  It is hard for teachers to take more of a guide role and less of a teach role.  Guiding requires responding to what students say and their interests that day.  The role of the teachers is now to steer student interest and challenging students' preconceived ideas toward scientifically accepted theories and logical connections.  Yes, teachers can do this with a scripted lesson, but a scripted lesson loses the quality of being driven by student interest and engagement, rather it is driven by teacher agenda.  There is less of an organic flow to the learning and the conversation and topics are less authentic to the students.

That being said, there are excellent lessons out there that are amazing, but are they considered Common Core or NGSS lessons?  That all depends on the teacher.  The same lesson given in two different classes, by two different teachers may look very different as teachers know.  Are students organized in rows, listening, following directions, and completing work when told, or are they working in groups, working with the teacher to come to class-wide theories and shared understandings, rationalizing their theories with logic and content knowledge, and having thought provoking conversations with the ability to extend their learning and naturally differentiate instruction based on the interest they have in the subject.  Yes the latter is messy, pseudo-chaotic, and slightly more unpredictable.  I guess that is why we tend to focus more on what a NGSS lesson is and what it isn't, rather than some lessons that fit NGSS.

Why watch videos the day before Break... Have Students Code

In the past, teachers have given tests the week before the long breaks. After students finish the test, we tell them to wait until all the other students in the class are done. Then you put on one of the many movies until the end of the period because you know that teaching students new information may be a waste of time.  Lets engage students, show them a video, what is more engaging than that?

Why not have them DO something? Something that might grab their interest, something that might help them in the future, and something that is fun so they are engaged and proud of what they are doing. That is where I started with the Hour of Code. This was a safe way to get this in my classroom when the computer lab was open (who signs up for that the day before break), and I did not lose content time (unless my principal is reading this... I taught up until the bell that day, effectively engaging students in content area material).

The 'Hour of Code' is a nationwide initiative by CSEdWeek and code.org to introduce computer programming to 10 million students and encourage them to learn programming.(http://www.tynker.com/hour-of-code/)

As a teacher, what do you need to know about coding?  NOTHING!!!  Don’t believe me, try doing one, its actually kind of fun.  Even for the NOT-Geeky ones.

Through Code.org - Here you can make a class and track student progress.

Coding Games at Tynker
Hadi Partovi began in 2013 with a video to encourage students to take computer science classes.First video 2013: http://safeshare.tv/w/NtBOkMXLMh

Stats on Needs versus Availability of computer science in US http://code.org/promote

Class Available at all levels:     http://code.org/learn/beyond

What do these activities teach?
The puzzles and creative activities are designed to teach students computational thinking and the basics of computer programming. Students solve each puzzle by programming visual code blocks to achieve a goal.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Google Apps to use with English Language Learners

The best parts of having a computer in the students' hands are the availability of learning resources and the ability to access information in different languages.  This being said, I have found one of the biggest benefits of chromebooks being how they help my students who are not fluent in English.  Having a background in Spanish, I have been able to help many of our EL population in southern California, but Spanish is not the only L1 of students.

There are free games and resources for students to play to learn conversational English and even academic English.  On the flip side, if you want to learn another language, there are apps for that too.  Here are a list of apps, by no means comprehensive, that are actually pretty fun to use for practicing English.
Learn English and Learn Spanish are apps that are free for introductory material, but also have a paid subscription for those wanting more.  Easy to use system.

Language Games and English Memory - this is an organized set of links to a games website.  This might sound bad, but the app takes students right to the games.  The games are amazing.  There are many games to choose from (20ish), they keep score, and there are a variety of topics to choose from.  Overall fantastic, not that I am addicted, but... ok, I'm back.

Duolingo - this is an entire learning system that students could use to practice English (or many other languages) for a long time.  There are discussion boards available to discuss successes and failures, hold conversations in different languages, and respond to others online.

Chrome Speak - This is a must have app and extension for your chrome browser if you have EL's in class.  With this app, you choose the voice students wish to hear in the options menu.  After that, on any webpage students visit, students can highlight text, right click and have the voice read the text.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Using Google Scholar

For the longest time I thought Google Scholar was simply a search engine to help find articles that were peer reviewed, recent, and relevant.  I have found so much more use for Google Scholar with the added functionality afforded by this search engine.  Having read the topic on Mashable I do not wish to bore others with a replica of the reading, I suggest you look over the ideas suggested.

What I found interesting were the possibilities of students' libraries of research articles, one-click citations, and, my personal favorites, the cited by and related articles options which allow a student (or teacher) to follow the conversation among researchers as an idea transpires, changes, and is challenged from article to article.

By introducing students to the Google Scholar search engine, not only do you give them a method of searching for reliable resources, you show them how to find more, relevant articles.  You could also combine this tool with a web application like timeglider to create a timeline of citations of early articles and show how ideas evolve through time.

Set up a Google Scholar Profile, like everything Google, it links to your Google account.  If you have published articles you can search for them and add them to your profile.  Search on Google Scholar for an interest you may have.  If you are the one person reading this, then you may be interested in educational technology.  Search in Google Scholar and instead of reading an article, click on SAVE below the article.  It will be added to your library.  What's the worst that could happen, you lose 5 minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Geddit - Digital Formative Assessment and Self Eval Tool

I read a tweet yesterday about Geddit being a new Formative Assessment tool.  Being as how I have used 6 others, I figured that this would fit into the realm of just like the others with a nuance here or there.  From the formative assessment tools I have used, this is my favorite, if you are willing to front-load a little work (inputting your students).

You can choose to have students enter a code upon signup .  This is a feature that works great with other programs, but I can see how this would be an issue with this program.  As a teacher you have a single code.  When a student enters your code, they choose which of your classes to enroll.  I would rather sidestep this and get a list of full names and usernames for students and input them myself, probably using a google form and a bunch of copy and paste.

That aside.

Questions and Lessons.  Through this app there is the option of making questions that students can answer (multiple choice, text, long text, and poll)  where you can formatively assess students throughout the lesson.  This is also the only tool like this, that I have found, that has an equation editor.  The lesson is a cool feature.  Questions are organized into a lesson that you create and you can adjust the order of the questions in a lesson, ask all or some of the questions now (meaning that students will see the questions when they join the class) or ask questions later (meaning they only appear when you click ASK in the app.

Aside from that, there is the self evaluation aspect of Geddit.  Students can check in at any time to let you know if they are lost or if they are getting it.  They can also raise their hand at any point on their screen and you will see that they need attention.  I thought this was a great feature as students can respond to what you are doing even if you are not asking them questions.  Promoting proactive learners.

Lesson Data.  When you finish the lesson and hit end, there is a great amount of data presented to you.  You can see how all students have done in your class, you can see question data, response frequencies, check-in data, check-in data throughout the time in class to see if students moved toward understanding or not.  You can share data with students, you can see who had trouble with the lesson versus who had ease in learning material.  You can export the data, but I did not find that very helpful, I liked the data visualizations online.  Give it a try.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Technology changes our idea of intelligence

Now that students have access to the internet and search engines such as google through their computers, phones, and classrooms the expectations for learning should change.  Many of the facts that I studied as a chemistry major are now available to students through a simple google search.  Does that mean a student know chemistry if they can answer simple chemistry questions, or does that mean that they know internet Kung Fu?

Whether using Chromebooks, iPads, laptops, BYOD, etc. The fact that many of the questions from assessments can be found on the internet begs the question, how do we change our content delivery to take advantage of this new connectivity in class? Is instruction of factual information partially replaced with instruction and reinforcement on how to find information? How do we create opportunities for students to use facts, connect content to their lives, and develop skills higher on the Blooms taxonomy scale?

For those implementing technology programs, know that there are 2 ways to look at technology in the classroom.  Technology can be a media for students to cheat. In which case teachers may be resistant to the idea of implementing technology because they are not experts in technology and/or they are unaware of the tools students can use.  Technology can also be seen as a resource to help students learn.  In which case teachers need to experiment with what they can expect students to find and learn with the use of technology and what students can only learn from teachers.  Teachers' content knowledge is particularly important in extending student knowledge and developing critical thinking and reasoning.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Digital Posters with Google Drawings

Originally, I did not see the point of Google Drawings.  You open them up and it is just a blank canvas.  Then I went to a middle school and watched English teachers have their students create family Trees, book reports, and presentations using google drawings.  To do this there are a couple of things that you want to know.  This is assuming that you have worked with google drive at some point and that you know how to create a new google drawing.

Things to know

  1. How to insert a textbox - click on the box with a "T" in it and place the text box on your drawing.
  2. Set the Size of your page - Click on File and Page Setup, then set a custom page size, can use 8.5 x 11 to make the drawing printable on a piece of paper.
  3. Add and Cite pictures
    • Can add pictures from your google drive, your computer, .
      • Click on the box with mountains.
      • Select your image.
    • or From the Internet
      • Click on Tools, then Research to open the research pane.
      • Search for images
      • Drag and Drop the image you wish to use.
      • Once the image is placed, you can resize it.
      • To Cite the image you click on the image, then grab the URL that opens and drag it to the side, up, or down and let it go.

Changing Roles

There has been quite a long time since my last post to this Blog.  The reason for that is easy, the district had Blogger blocked, but it is now back open.  In that time I moved out of the class and have now become a teacher on special assignment in the Educational Technology Department.  Now, rather than only seeing what I do with chromebooks in my classroom, I get to see the things that are done in many classrooms around my district.  So far teachers have shown me amazing things and students have taught me better ways of creating in google drive.  I just wanted to warn the 2 people who have seen this blog that the point of view will tend to shift from here on from what I use in my class to what I see others use in theirs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Eversync and FVD Speed Dial

In order to get the speed dial on every machine that you use to access google chrome, you need to download an extension called eversync.  Here is my recommendation.

Set up the FVD SD on one machine and get it to look like what you want.  When you are satisfied, download the eversync extension and upload you speed dial to the server.  This is one of the sync options.  It will give you a warning, are you sure, box that asks if you want to overwrite the server data.  I went ahead and did it.  On you other machines, open the eversync extension and in the sync options, download the data from the server to your computer.  This will make sure that it looks the same.

For some reason, the background image that I had on my first computer did not transfer over to the second, regardless, I just added another image from google images and I am set.  Whether or not you do the same thing is up to you.  If you try it, let me know if you figured out how to transfer the background image.  I kind of like having different ones because it changes things up, but it would be nice to know.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

FVD Speed Dial

I had already written about Speed Dial in a previous post, but I was starting to get a little bored with the background being a standard color, I wanted a picture to display on the new tab.  So I checked out some themes and found one by FVD Speed Dial.  Once I found the theme, I thought I would just check out the FVD extension.  So I looked at it and decided to download it to the browser.

When you initially download it, the download stopped at 75% and then asks if you want to install something else.  I didn't install it, but the extension was already loaded onto my browser, so don't worry if you don't want the other app that it is asking you to get, guess that is just how they make money.

The FVD speed dial is great.  You can set the tiles to whatever URL you want, but there are some nice features that the other speed dial did not have.  Instead of loading an image of the webpage you are going to, you can add the URL of another image and use it instead.  I thought this was nice as using the logo of the website was prettier than simply a preview of the webpage.  They do have some suggestions for some sites that you might type in, but for others I simply did a google image search for the site and found logos and used them instead.

I was then able to add a background to the speed dial.  They have themes that you could use, but I went ahead and did another google image search for what I wanted to see in my new tab.  I copied the URL of the image and pasted it into the speed dial settings and now have a much nicer speed dial than the one I had before.  The setup took about 10 minutes, but I think I will like it much better and I chose an image that was soothing to me.  Here is the image of my new speed dial.  Hope this helps.

Chromebook Not Necessary

So I know I have been talking a lot about the chromebook apps, but that is not the whole story.  The things that you can do on a chromebook, you can actually do on any computer with the chrome browser.

When you open the chrome browser, you can click on the menu icon in the upper right hand corner of the browser and select settings from the option.  Once in the settings tab you can add accounts to the browser.  Add as many as you have and the browser can be customized to each of the accounts you have.

When you are logged into an account, go to the chrome webstore and add whatever apps you want to the browser and they will be available through the browser.  You can access them through the Apps button in the bookmarks toolbar.  Even if you do not have the chromebooks, you can still use the apps through a desktop or laptop computer.

Another great thing.  Say you open the chrome browser on one computer and add Apps under one account.  If you open the chrome browser on another computer and log in under the same account, you will see that the same apps are there.

Just a side note, if you have more than one google account and you set them up in your chrome browser, you can click on the icon you chose for your main account in the upper left of the screen and change to another account and set the browser for whatever you want in that account.

If you have questions, let me know.  Hope this was helpful.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Apps versus Extensions

I have mentioned apps and extensions in my previous posts, but I do not know if you know the difference.

Apps are basically links to webpages.  The app adds a tile to your menu on the chromebook and when you click on it, your web browser opens and takes you to that website.  If you download an app from the google webstore and don't like it, simply right-click the tile on your menu of apps and you can remove the app from chrome.

Extensions are things that are added to your browser.  When you add an extension, it adds something to your browser.  This is usually some type of functionality.  In previous posts I have talked about 2 extensions, Skiblz cam and speed dial.  These are things that allow me to do different things in my browser.  Speed dial allows me to change the look of my new tab to a set of tiles.  Skiblz cam allows me to record a screencast of what I am doing in the browser.  These are embedded in your browser.  To remove an extension, you must click on the chrome browser menu in the upper right hand corner of the browser,

then select settings from the list that appears.  When the settings tab opens, choose extensions from the menu on the left 
and delete the extension that you wish to delete. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Speed dial - Extension

So there are a couple of extensions that will do this, but speed dial is simple and it works.  It is an extension that allows you to add tiles to a new tab page.

Basically, when you open up the chrome browser to a new tab, there is a basic google search page.  I find this redundant as you can just type your search into the line at the top of the browser, that is where the website address is on this web page.  I would rather that the space in the new tab window had things that I could just click and take me to my favorite pages rather than type.  That is what speed dial does.  You add however many tiles you want and set them to web pages that you use and do not feel like typing in.  I have these set to websites that I have my students use throughout the year.  This way they do not have to find the websites or type in long web addresses, they just click on the tile and it takes them to the webpage so they can quickly get to work.  Currently mine looks like this...

Like I said, there are other extensions that allow you to do this, but this one is simple and easy.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


CK-12 has been working on digital textbook publication for some time now.  Part of the California free digital textbook initiative.  They are good books and have content that is available online and free for students to use, but the questions and practice problems are still a little iffy.  These are not books that I would adopt for a classroom just yet, but they are a good source of information for students and they do have good information, but the practice and reinforcement is still lacking.

The website they have been creating has gotten a boost over the last few months and does seem to be making improvements.  The user interface is a little bit weird and does not mesh with the rest of chrome, but again, they are getting better.

One of the things that I would like to see are more thought provoking questions.  The questions they have for science are a mostly rote memorization questions.  As we are moving to common core testing, text, and questions I wonder if the questions will change at all.  I imagine they will, but that will require another overhaul of what they already have going as the questions are all teacher submitted and there would have to be a way for teachers to input these questions.

For what it is currently, this is a good website to have and a good resource for students to use with the chromebooks.

Scientific Calculator

So there are many calculators out there, but I teach chemistry and there are certain things I tell my students to look for when they are getting a calculator.

1. a 2 line display so you can see the order of operations and have an easier time manipulating it with parentheses and such.
2. log and ln buttons so they can do problems that have to do with pH later in the year.
3. sin, cos, and tan so they can use the calculator for most of the math classes they will take.
4. a scientific notation button.  This looks like a x10^x, exp, or EE.  These are the most common ways that this appears.  This way I can have students easily put in numbers like 6.02 x 10^23 and use them in a calculation.

The scientific calculator from silentmatt.com fulfills all of my requirements.

When you open up the calculator if you click on the "Sidebar" option, the display is nice and simple.  you can then type in what you want and click on the necessary buttons.

If you have other requirements or other calculators that you have used that work, please let me know.

Skblz cam - extension

The skiblz cam allows you to create screencasts of browser activity.  Since the entire chromebook is in the browser, that can be pretty much anything.

I added this extension to allow me to create videos showing them certain things that I might have them do online.  I might create a video where I show them how to access a website or where I give them a tutorial on how to use some of the apps that we will be using in class.  I think in the future, I might have them create videos of things that they are doing online or to create tutorials that they could share with me or their friends about how to accomplish a specific task.  I have not played with it that much.  That being said, I am using it at the moment to record my typing this blog post and will be posting it below to show what it can do.  All I do is click on the extension button at the top of my browser.  It looks like a small video camera and the video camera begins blinking with a red dot.  when I am done, I click it again and it stops recording and produces a video...

Typing as I wait for the video to load, I can tell you that I have had several messages that the extension has crashed and I just click the reload button on the browser.  I think this is why I have not used it too much.  The video I created was about 2 minutes in length, but the extension likes to take its time making the video... Just a wheel showing me that it is thinking.  Maybe I will post the video in another post.

I think the concept is a great idea and seems to be simple enough, however, their seems to be some bugs that need to get worked out with this.  I will get back to you on that one.

Coding and publishing websites

I have found that codecademy and editey are great apps for teaching the coding process and then using the coded pages to create websites.

Codecademy - this is the site that walks you through the coding of several different computer languages.  You learn to code while creating a product that you can see.  Students can become familiar with the languages used to create websites.

Editey -  is an app that lets you create google documents that are html.  Not only can you design simple webpages, but you can then have google host the websites for free.  I have played around with the idea of having students create webpages that are shared with the other teachers in the school.  A place where they can showcase the work they are doing in their classes and post things like resumes and documents that could eventually be shared with college admissions.

Students could also embed videos they have made with movenote onto the webpages to catalog the presentations they have done in their classes.  I know there are a lot more applications for both of these, but am hesitant as there are also security and publication issues with students putting material online for the world to see.

Daum Equation Editor

I have always stayed away from equation editors as they have had some quirky issues and lag that just made them frustrating.  I really have started to like this editor as it is simple with an easy to use interface.  Also, there are some buttons at the bottom of the page that make it very appealing.

As you are creating your equations, you can click on the save as image and the editor will take a screenshot of what you have typed thus far and save it.  I find that this helps when working out problems as I can show students the process that I go through to solve problems and not only the final worked out solution.

I have created videos with movenote where I take these screenshots and use them as slides for the video that I am making.  This way I can talk through each step of solving the problem and click to the next step when I want to.  An example of this can be seen if you Click Here.

These presentations of problems take little to no time.  I have also found that my special education students have an easier time with math problems in using this as their organization of problem solving is forced to improve as the flow of the problem is vertical and the progression of one step to the next is easy to follow.


The idea of having my students create presentations does spark my interest, but presentations take up a lot of time and are usually good for a one time presentation.  I wanted an app where students could make small presentations for little things that we go over in class.  These could be anything from tutorials about how the students solved a problem to presentations where students outline how a theory applies to a real world application.  Ideally, I wanted students to be able to make videos that they could post to some place other than youtube as that website is not accessible through the school internet.

I came across movenote where students could create videos of a slideshow.  The slideshow could be a presentation or any google doc that has been changed into a pdf, jpeg, or png file.  These documents can be loaded into the movenote interface and the students can talk through them.  While they are talking through the files, they can highlight words or pictures in the files.  Movenote also can access the webcam of the chromebooks and record the person as they are talking through the presentation to make it more personal.

I have played with this a little and have made some tutorials for some homework problems that I gave students yesterday.  If you would like to see it, Click Here.  In the video I also use another app that I will be talking about in another post called Daum Equation Editor.

I can think of several uses for this app.  There is the obvious application of having students record presentations and submit them for credit.  With this also comes the possibility of sharing the videos with other members of the class to peer review.  Students could also create tutorials of how to solve certain problem types.  Students could record Pecha Kucha presentations to work on presentation skills.  I am sure there are other applications that I have not listed.  If you think of any, please share.

Getting Started

I am currently piloting chromebooks in my science class and am starting this blog to share the ideas that I have come across and also looking for ideas to implement in my class.

A little about me.  I have been teaching for 10 years and currently am finishing up my doctorate on the teacher designs of technology activities in the classroom.  I have had some fun looking into some of the resources on the chrome webstore and have found some apps that I think will find there way into my classroom starting in February.  That is when I will have a class set of chromebooks, one for each of my students.  I will be spending some time reviewing some of the apps that I have found and possibly sharing how I think I might use them in class.  If you have ideas, please let me know as I would like to incorporate things that not only have a high level of thought and rigor, but that also help my large population of english language learners.