Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The end of #NaBloWriMo 2016

So this is the last night of #NaBloWriMo 2016.  I will take a moment to reflect on the process..

Things that were tough...

  1. Writing. Every. Day.  I was often writing late at night and I am VERY tired.
  2. There were some days I just could not think of anything of substance to write. 
  3. Not knowing if I had an audience.
  4. Feeling comfortable putting out my vulnerabilities for others to critique. 

Things I love...
Grandpa & me...picture #1

  1. Growing my PLN.
  2. Having the posts to look back on and use as resources
  3. Doing it!  I am proud that I actually stuck to it.
So, today is brief...I would love to elaborate but my Grandpa passed away and it has been a long few days.

Until next post....which will come...and #NaBloWriMo 2017

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Giving Google Feedback

I did some training today around GSuite for Education.   I gave the delegates some advice that I thought I would share more globally.

From what I have heard, google puts most of its money into R&D, leaving support to be crowd sourced.  While I sometimes find this frustrating, I do love how Google is constantly improving their products based on feedback from their users.

Last year I was frustrated that I couldn't schedule posts in Google Classroom.  I started sending feedback every time this annoyed me by pushing the little question mark icon (in the bottom left hand corner).  Low and behold, soon after scheduling was added.  The same thing happened with parental communication and viewing in Classroom.  Same thing for tagging topics (although that one could still use some work).

I now use that little check mark (or Help --> Report a Problem) every time I see something I want improved, and I really encouragee you to do the same.

Monday, 28 November 2016

What's the Hype with HyperDocs?!

"We want our students to be creative,  collaborative, critical thinkers and communicators - and then we ask them to sit quietly while we explain everything and tell them exactly how to do a task."
-The HyperDocs Handbook

This past summer, while on Twitter, I kept hearing about HyperDocs. The more I saw, the more intrigued I became. I went on Amazon, bought the HyperDoc Handbook, and I was hooked.

HyperDocs are Google Docs, with interactive elements, designed to replace the worksheet method of delivering instruction. By sharing a link to a HyperDoc, teachers can get students thinking, exploring, collaborating, and creating all on their own, shifting teachers from the lecturer to listener. teachers are now able to personalize the learning experience and better connect with students.

In every lesson, be it a single lesson, a series of lessons, a unit, or an entire course, students cycle through activities for engagement, exploration, explanation, application (I like to call it creation), sharing, reflection and extension.

The lessons speak to individualization and deep learning. Hyperdocs allow for easy differentiation. It is a perfect way to go paperless. Every time I have introduced it to teachers, they create one the next week.

The best part? The community. Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis (HyperDoc creators) have created a great site - Teachers Give Teachers (a deliberate play on that other site) wherein teachers share documents they created. Follow the twitter hashtag #HyperDocs and you'll see all the hype.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Become a GSuite Wizard

About a month ago, I was asked to do some PD in the last hour of a Friday PD day.  I knew the topic was great and important, but I also knew that the audience would be fried from a long week, in a long month.  I was struggling with how I would present this topic and get buy in when it dawned on me...I needed to let the learners control their own learning.  Moreover, I needed to give them tools that would guide them, but that they could come back to at a time when they were more fresh.  

Taking a page from the HyperDoc Bootcamp I did earlier in the fall, I decided to to create a Multimedia Text Set (MMTS).  This curation of links to videos, infographics, docs, slide decks, etc, is now a rich resource I share often.  It offers the learner a place to go to hone skills, and come in at different entry points.  I have a section for general tips and hacks, beginner, intermediate, and expert tips for each app, and an area for experts.  I add to it often and it has become a great primer for the GSuite (imho).  There is a link below; feel free to explore and learn.

Have a look at the MMTS here

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Unlocking the Small Powers of Google Sheets

Tonight I worked on a presentation I am doing on Google Sheets. I think it is a very underused tool in education. I need to learn more but here is a beginner's primer. Note: This is mostly a curation from other sites and I will be adding references when it is not after midnight!

Unlocking the Small Powers of Google Sheets

Hiding Columns

To hide a sheet:
  1. Click the sheet you want to hide.
  2. On the sheet tab, click the Down arrow .
  3. Click Hide sheet. This option won’t show if your spreadsheet doesn’t contain two or more sheets
To unhide a sheet:
  1. Click ViewHidden sheets. If your spreadsheet doesn’t have any hidden sheets, this option will be grayed out.
  2. Click the sheet that you no longer want hidden.
  3. The spreadsheet will reappear.

Use Autofill to Complete a Series

  1. In a column or row, enter text, numbers, or dates in at least two cells next to each other.
  2. Highlight the cells. You’ll see a small blue box in the lower right corner.
  3. Drag the blue box any number of cells down or across.
  • If the cells form a series of dates or numbers, the series will continue across the selected cells.
  • If the cells don’t form a series of dates or numbers, the list of values will repeat across the selected cells.


Filter your data
To filter your data:
  1. Select a range of cells.
  2. Click DataFilter.
  3. To see filter options, go to the top of the range and click Filter Filter.
  4. To turn the filter off, click DataTurn off filter.
Filter by condition: Choose from a list of conditions or write your own. For example, if the cell is empty, if data is less than a certain number, or if the text contains a certain letter or phrase.

Filter by values: Uncheck any data points that you want to hide and click OK. If you want to choose all data points, click Select all. You can also uncheck all data points, by clicking Clear.

Create, save, or delete a filter view
  1. Open a spreadsheet in Google Sheets.
  2. Click DataFilter viewsCreate new filter view.
  3. Sort and filter the data.
  4. To close your filter view, go to the top right and click Close X.
  5. Your filter view is saved automatically.
  6. To delete or duplicate a filter view go to the top right and click Options Settings →  Delete or Duplicate.
Note:  If new data is entered on the spreadsheet the filter view will apply to the new data

Conditional formatting

Cells, rows, or columns can be formatted to change text or background color if they meet certain conditions. For example, if they contain a certain word or a number.
  1. Select the cells you want to apply format rules to.
  2. Click Format →  Conditional formatting. A toolbar will open to the right.
  3. Create a rule.
    • Single color: Under "Format cells if," choose the condition that you want to trigger the rule. Under "Formatting style, choose what the cell will look like when conditions are met.
    • Color scale: Under "Preview," select the color scale. Then, choose a minimum and maximum value, and an optional midpoint value. To choose the value category, click the Down arrow.
  4. Click Done.

Data Validation

Use data validation rules to control the type of data or the values that users enter into a cell.
  1. To use data validation on a set of cells, select DataValidation
  2. Next to Criteria, choose an option:
    1. List from a range: Choose the cells that will be included in the list.
    2. List of items: Enter items, separated by commas and no spaces.
  3. The cells will have a Down arrow. (You can remove the arrow by uncheck "Display in-cell button to show list.")
  4. If you enter data in a cell that doesn’t match an item on the list, you’ll see a warning. If you want people to only enter items from the list, choose "Reject input" next to "On invalid data."
  5. Click Save. The cells will show a drop-down list.

Useful Add-ons

Copy Down - automatically copies formulas to new rows. Just add the formulas to a top row in the spreadsheet worksheet where your form results will be added—row 2 by default—and turn on copyDown. Then, as results are added to your spreadsheet, it'll copy those formulas down to each new row, calculating values, evaluating results, and more automatically.

rowCall - creates a new sheet for each unique type of response and sorts the data into the appropriate sheet automatically, so you never have to search through and filter form data again.

autoCrat - AutoCrat is a multi-purpose document merge tool that allows you to take data from a spreadsheet and merge it into a document via a template.  Tell autoCrat which fields to merge via <<merge tags>> and then let autoCrat mass-generate personalized documents.  Optionally send the documents as email attahchments.  Optionally tell autoCrat to run when new forms are submitted to created truly automated processes.

Split Names - Quickly split full names to several columns with first, middle, last names, titles, and/or post-nominal letters.

formMule - sends targeted, personalized emails from a Google Sheet.  Run as either a manual email merge or -- more powerfully -- as a triggered merge that runs automatically on form submit or on a timer.  Can use up to 15 different user created templates.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Symbaloo - All your favs in one place

This summer I did a course wherein I learned about a site called Symbaloo.  It was developed based on the idea to make surfing the web easier.

It is a free tool wherein you customize tiles to link to different websites. As they say, it helps you organise the best of the web.  It is easy to use and have a lot of great educational benefits.
  1. It can be used to as a resource for students for direct links to all important course related sites.  This would also be a great way to have parents in the loop about course content.
  2. It promotes safe surfing.  For my own children, I have a Symbaloo page as a homepage on our Chromebooks.  They know these are the only ones they are to visit.
  3. It would be an easy way to curate all class blogs.  Off one site, all the students could access each other's work.
  4. I have a lot of ed blogs and pages I love to check on from time to time.  I use symbaloo as a one stop place to link them all.
  5. Symbaloo boards can be shared...great for collaboration.
Check it out and build one yourself.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Reaching your Audience

In my role, I often feel like I have so much knowledge to share, but so little time to share it since I have so many teachers to support.  I have this blog, but I have not shared it with my schools at large. I have twitter, but not all teachers are on twitter...though they should be.  I thought about creating a G+ community, but not everyone checks that regularly...and notifications are often turned off.  I had yet to find a solution, until now.

I was listening to podcasts (as always) on the way to work a couple of days ago and the speaker was talking about using Remind to push information out to the system.  It suddenly dawned on me that I could do this.  Since we are a GSuite for education district, I have decided to use Google Classroom. Since many teachers use Classroom, I think this vehicle will see a lot of traffic.  I am not totally sure how I am going to use it yet (please leave suggestions in the comments) but here are some initial thoughts.

  1. Push out operation items via announcements about relevant tech and modern learning PD.
  2. Share documents of interest - resources, learning materials, etc.
  3. Post articles that might inspire and advance rich pedagogy
It is a to sit down and get it done...

Monday, 21 November 2016

Screencasting for deep, rich learning.

When I want to learn how to do something, I immediately go to YouTube to see if there is an instruction video.  For a long time I wondered how people could record their screen to explain what they were doing in a program - then I learned how to screencast.

Screencasting is "a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration" (from Wikipedia).  At first, I saw it as a simple how to tool, then the more I explored, the more potential I saw.

Here are my top three Screencast benefits:

  1. Saves time.  How many times have you stood in front of a class and given instructions on how to do something and then, minutes later been asked to show what you just demonstrated?  I am going to hazard millions.  Creating screencasts is a time saver since you don't need to re-explain - and students can pause when they are stuck or have a question!
  2. Helps me remember.  There are things I do in my job that I learn and I know I will forget.  Now, while someone explains something I will need to reference later, I turn on my screencast tool of choice (Screencastify) and record what is happening on screen.  A video is created that I can come back to and review later.
  3. Alternate presentation method.  Having taught a lot of students with presentation anxiety, I am always looking for ways to present without being live.  Have students narrate a screencast of a slide deck is a great way to do this.

I prepared this Screencastify HyperDoc a few months ago.  If you are interested in exploring screencasting in more depth, check it out!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Zoom In, Out and Back to Normal

OK....a bit of a cop-out this post -- crazy weekend!

Quick tip for the Zoom feature on a Mac:
  1. To zoom in tap - "CMD" & "+"
  2. To zoom out tap - "CMD" & "-"
  3. To reset to normal view -  "CMD" & "0"

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Quick tip for making groups

At the Toronto GAFE Summit in October, I sat in on the workshops of the very talented Jeffrey Heil.  In one session he should us a cool, easy way to make groups.  He had us fill out a form like the one to the left. This form was different from your standard form in two ways:
1)  The question about one's name was the second last question.
2) The last question just seemed like a silly, just for fun question.  In this case, it was "What animal bet represents your personality": 

It seemed innocent and fun enough.

Once everyone completed the form, he opened the associated Google Sheet (with the responses) and sorted by the column with the chosen animal.  Suddenly, he had a list with the animals sorted with people's names beside it since that was the preceeding question (no need to freeze columns).  Instant groups!  Moreover, everyone had a little pride in their group because they were all Precocious Pig (or whichever they picked)!

It was simple, but really made me see the power of forms in another way.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Power of Twitter: A Primer for Beginners

My Sketchnote tweet was retweeted by Future Design School
- I was so excited!!!
Today, as the rest of my team attended the first day of a big conference we have been preparing for, I sat in a courthouse for jury selection (shout out to my new jury buddy Nana Marcia - thanks for the yummy oatmeal bars!).  I was very disheartened.  I wanted to be in the action.  I wanted the opportunity for rich learning.  Luckily, I had my phone, and on my phone - Twitter.  By simply following the conference hashtag I was able to participate.  I read and retweeted and learn - all remotely.

Educators seem to be in one of two camps - Twitter loathers or Twitter lovers.  I am, clearly, the later.  I often encourage teachers from Camp A to give it a try.  You see, in education, Twitter is not about what you ate for dinner, or benign commentary on one's day to day.  Follow the right people and it can be rich, dare I say the richest, PD.

If you are looking for educational inspiration, give Twitter a try.  Here are some of my tips for beginners:

1) Don't be an Egg Head.  For the love of Pete, put a picture in your profile.  It can be your Bitmoji avatar (see left) or an icon to represent you if you are not cool with your face being on-line but let people know who you are!

2) Be Selective.  Pick who you follow carefully.  Don't follow friends or someone you heard is good.  Go in and check out their tweets.  Do the last dozen make you reflect?  Do they inspire you?  Do they incite some exploration beyond Twitter?  If so then hit follow, if not, move on.  (Sidenote:  Twitter works on algorithms, being selective can really tailor your feed.  I listened to a podcast today wherein one of the speakers talked about the fact that he did not even get a single post on US election night about Trump's victory.)  If you find someone you thought would be good is not longer so, simply unfollow.

3) Creep. You don't need to engage and go all gangbusters right away.  Don't let those who tweet constantly intimidate you.  You don't need to be like that to engage on twitter and yield great results.  Set aside a few minutes a day (in line at the store, while on hall duty, anywhere but while driving really) to read some posts.  Hit like a few times.  (Note: these likes are saved and you can go back to them later which has proven helpful for me!)

4) Hashtags aren't hard.  A Hashtag is simply "a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.Following hashtags can make it really easy to find content you want and people to follow.  I get some of my best education reading from posts I found looking up a hashtag.  #EdChat is a great general education one.  I love #EdTech & #Makerspace.  Here is a great list of Education Hashtags.

5) Participate in a Twitter Chat.  Twitter chats usually take place over an hour and are led by a facilitator who poses a series of questions (Q1).  Those involved answer with (A1).  Here is a great list of Education chats.  Sometimes there are slow chats where questions are asked one at a time over days.  Think of them like a meeting with fellow educators who are passionate about something you are really into.  You know those hallway chats that make your day and fuel you up - Twitter chats can be like that.  (You might want to check out TweetDeck if you so a chat - makes it easier to follow hashtag)

So, get on it - and think about following me!  @VirtualGiff  😀

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Extensions, Add-ons and Apps

If push came to shove I am not sure I could really tell you the difference between a Chrome Extension, Add-on or App.  Well, maybe the app, but the other two, I'm not sure.  Today, I decided it was time I got it straight.  

After some exploring, I seem to have it.

Extensions are mini-programs that modify and enhance the functionality of the Google Chrome browser. They are the little buttons that appear beside the address bar in chrome.

Add-ons are extra features within Google Drive that enhance its functions.  These are associated with G Suite apps directly.  You find these in under Add-ons on the File Bar.

Apps are like desktop software programs you install on your computer, except that you use them directly within your browser.  You find these when you hit the apps button in the Chrome browser.

So now that that is straight I thought I would share eight of my favourites.

  1. Screencastify Extension - I love this extension.  It allows one to make screencasts.  It is easy, and a great tool for explaining.  The free version allows up videos up to 10 minutes.  This has help me teach and learn.  When I am engaged in new learning on my computer, I will turn it on so I can review later.
  2. Pinterest Extension - I come across so many great articles and tools in my day that I want to explore but don't have time in the moment.  I use the little extension to automatically pin these to boards called "Explore Later", "Read Later", or "Watch Later".
  3. One Tab Extension - My tab get out of control.  I mean I can have dozens open at a time.  This extension collapses them all to one page and I can go back and open them later.  Helps me feel organized.
  4. Ad Block Extensions - Say goodbye to those pesky ads on pages and before viewing YouTube videos.  Now, I will say I find this one is not always 100%...I have heard you need to be registered in an education domain.
  5. Form Mule Add-on (Sheets) - Run personalized e-mails from Google Sheets.  They can be run on triggers of manually.  Be sure to watch your fields if you use it for a while - Google changes things from time to time and it can mess with your settings.  This is a great way to keep parents up to date.  See my colleague Kim Pollishuke's great tutorial on her Weebly page.
  6. docAppender Add-on (Forms) - Append Form responses to a selected Google Doc.  This is a great way to track observations.  See the Inspire and Inquire Website for a great look at how this works.
  7. Choice Eliminator 2 Add-on (Forms) - Ever have a form with multiple choice answers but want to limit the number of people who can choose a choice?  This is the answer.  With Choice Eliminator you can set the number of times an answer is selected then it will disappear as an option. It is a great tool for signing up for presentation dates, parent-teacher interviews, etc.
  8. Copy Folder App - In Google Drive you can copy a file, but not a folder...this can be a nuisance...until you get this app.  

Monday, 14 November 2016

Be careful of changes! Form Mule, Autocrat, etc.

Thanks to Trevor Beck in the EdTechTeam Global Community on G+ for the heads up....

"Changes by Google are going to mess up formMule, Autocrat and other add-ons

It appears that Google has recently made a change to the field that automatically collects email addresses, changing it from <<username>> to <<Email Address>>. As formMule and Autocrat basically create merge messages, it’s still looking for <<username>> and will generate an error in the send status column (e.g. Error: Invalid email: undefined). 

To fix this you'll need to go through all of your spreadsheets and edit your templates..."

Sure enough, my team has been affected while we get really excited about the new Google Form features (upload files!  Woot Woot!) be sure to check that your old loves are not affected.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The flipped classroom

My colleague Chris beat me to this in his post earlier tonight. So this post is a little of a cheat in that it is a day late and was originally a response to another blog, but I will count it.

The flipped classroom really speaks to me...the first time I heard of it was in 2011 as well. I was on the Go Train coming home from OISE watching Salman Khan speak. I was awestruck...literally yelling at my iPhone in excitement...I am sure people thought I was crazy.

I have tried it and love was recently that I had an epiphany.

My son is now in gr. 1 and he is getting homework. I have some pretty strong feelings around (read against) homework - especially in primary. I should not be having this six-year-old sit at a desk and copy patterns and practice matching pictures to french words. We should be out, exploring this in the world; that's authentic, meaningful learning.

Flipping the classroom makes for rich in class learning, but what about the out of class time it requires? How do we ensure it will get done and/or not turn off the learner (who, in Chris' case, might already be completely disengaged from school) ? What about a student who can't do the work at home - one who has a job to support the family? The student who does not have a home, or work space, or good home life? What can we do (or maybe how do we scaffold) to flip the classroom for these students?

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Micro-credentialing in Education

I heard the term micro-credentialing in education a little while ago.  The idea is that teachers can engage in professional development that earns them credits (often gamified in the form of badges).  Over the last two years, the idea has been revolutionalizing PD delivery and motivating teacher in ways that have never been seen before.

Personally, I love it.  Here is why.
  1. Teacher Autonomy - Micro-credentialing speaks to teacher personal desires.  Rather than being told what they need to learn - be it through their district or a formal learning institution - teachers can pick areas of interest.

  2. Just In Time Learning - Micro-credentialing can provide just in time learning.  Many micro-credentialling courses have multiple entry points or flexible start times.  Teachers can realise a need and find a solution -- and get credit for the learning.

  3. Job-Embedded Learning - Most micro-credentialing calls for learning embedded in a teacher's practices.  The beauty of this is that it is low risk.  Time is our currency in teaching.  If something takes more time then teachers avoid it.  Job-embedded learning allows teachers to engage in learning without the add-on that formal learning often has.

  4. Motivation - Remember when you were a kid and you got badges for passing swimming lessons? Or stickers for getting over 80% on a test?  How about in Brownies or Beavers?

    It was so exciting.  I'm pretty certain many adults haven't changed since those days.  Earning badges is motivating And you get to shoe them off in your signature (rather than your uniform sleeve).  

  5. Small commitment - In the past, teachers needed to commit to a long program like a master's degree for any credentialing.  This was not possible for many teachers due to time and/or financial barriers.  Micro-credentialing is micro-commitment.

Today I got my newest micro-credential - Google Certified Educator Level 2.  What will your be?

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Work Life Balance

I just started a new job which I love.  I am staying up too late at night working - but not because I have to but because I want to.  I am so excited about all the new learning and invigorated by the task set before me.  I have always been a hard worker.  I am often called a workaholic.  My mind just doesn't shut down, and I love to be busy.  The problem with this is that I often have trouble with my work-life balance.  I have noticed lately I have less patience with my kids and I'm not sleeping or eating how I should be.  (I have put exercise back in as a priority - I am typing this as I am on the treadmill.)   One of the foci of my district is mental health and so I know I need to fix this.  Today, the universe stepped in.

This morning as I drove from school to school, I was listening to Gretchen Rubin's Happier podcast.  (I have a major obsession with podcasts that you can read about here, and another one of Rubin's podcasts inspired the writing of my work manifesto.)  She and her co-host sister brought up Gretchen's Essential 7.  According to Rubin there are 7 basic habits we need to make or break to make life happier.  They are as follows:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (e.g., give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)
2. Exercise regularly3. Save and spend wisely (e.g. save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, make purchases that contribute to happiness or habits, pay taxes, stay current with expense reports)
4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (e.g, pursue a hobby instead of cruising the internet, enjoy the moment, stop checking email, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car, take time for myself)
5. Stop procrastinating, make consistent progress (e.g., practice an instrument, set aside two hours daily for uninterrupted work, learn a language, maintain a blog, keep a gratitude journal)
6. Simplify, clear, and organize (e.g., make the bed every day, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle, give away unused clothing)
7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world (call family members, read the Bible every day, volunteer, spend time with friends, observe the Sabbath, spend time alone in nature)
I got to thinking if this would help me with my work-life balance.  I figure it is worth a try.  So I present my Essential 7 - in hopes that these will help me balance.  
Note: While I do not remember exactly what Gretchen (or maybe Elizabeth) said, they did say something to the effect that the "promises" should not be too big or far-reaching as those kinds of promises are not easily kept.  I point this out for me as much as my readers so I can make small promises without feeling like I am copping out.
Here goes:
1. Eat and drink more healthfully: no more night snacking.  I will brush my teeth when the kids go to bed to avoid this.  Not sure how I will make that work at book club.
2. Exercise regularly: Back on the treadmill.  3-4 times a week.  4KM min.  I feel putting my desk on the mill might be a bit of a bad idea but it is working for now so....3. Save and spend wisely: 24-hour embargo on spending.  I love spending money.  I love internet shopping.  Moving forward, 24 hours must pass before I can buy an incidental.  (Not really work-life balance related but it will help with $ stress.)
4. Rest, relax, and enjoy: Cell phone stays downstairs at night.  This one will be hard because I love reading on my phone before bed and I use the flashlight on it to kiss the boys goodnight...BUT I think I also use those as excuses to do work/read about work stuff in bed.
5. Stop procrastinating, make consistent progress: Keep sketchnoting.  I wrote about this yesterday and commented on how it keeps me focused.  If I can monotask I think I will create fewer little meaningless tasks for myself that are work related.
6. Simplify, clear, and organize - I don't think I'm going to do this one as I am a compulsive organizer and it takes time away from what I am trying to accomplish. 
7. Engage more deeply: Make time to play with the boys more.  At least 3 nights a week work/dinner making or clean up goes on hold and we play (like monopoly last night) together, no just near each other.
I think these will all help me - wish me luck.
Think you could be happier?  Why not come up wth your own list?