Fresh Grade Redux

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A recent blog post by our superintendent brought up the idea of recycling or revisiting previous work, with a goal of enhancing it or adding new perspectives or ideas. Since Sean Nosek, Associate Superintendent for our schools, will be sending out an email today letting staff know that Fresh Grade is ready to use for our elementary schools, I thought I would reuse/recycle/revisit my post on Fresh Grade from last year, with a bit more perspective and some added “bits”! (Also, I ate lunch at 4, didn’t get home until 7:30 and was on a conference call until 9:30 so I am not sure I have it in me to write an entirely fresh, new blog post tonight. Like my family, you’re all getting leftovers!)

A couple of quick tidbits….this year, elementary teachers in West Van have a choice of reporting platform. Teachers can choose to use MyEd BC, which had been re-jigged to the point where we can create a very “West Van” type of document, or they can choose to use Fresh Grade, continuing on with what was started last year with a pilot group of about 20 teachers. Teachers who choose to use Fresh Grade as their CSL platform do not have to use it as an e-portfolio if they choose not to, although I would argue that it is in its use as an e-portfolio that Fresh Grade truly shines!

On with the leftovers…er…information! I am really going to focus on using Fresh Grade as an e-portfolio here – information about using it as a CSL document (along with supporting training videos) will be out to teachers soon!

Free vs SD45 Account

Yes, you can get a free account but the district has an enterprise account and I advise you to use that one. Go to app.freshgrade.com and make sure you log in with your sd45 account. Note that in a shared teaching setting, the enrolling teacher is the one who “owns” the Fresh Grade account. However, they can easily invite their teaching partner into the classroom. Here’s how! When you use the district account, the students are already in your class and parent emails are already added in. All you need to do is check permissions and send invites to parents.  Also, district accounts are automatically archived and a student’s work will follow them from year to year.

Names, Names, Names….

You have likely noticed that the names in your Fresh Grade classroom might not exactly match the names of the kids you see in your room every day! That is because Fresh Grade pulls names and data from MyEd BC, where students are known by their legal names. Those might be quite different from the names you use in class! At this time, there is no way to change those names. I ended up taking pictures of my class and uploading them for each kid – it helps with identification!

Post Once, Twice?

Think about how often you are going to post to Fresh Grade, what you are going to post and who is going to post it. Make sure you set reasonable goals for this. I know a kindergarten teacher who made a goal to post a Math centres picture with an explanation to all her students’ accounts once a week, a Grade 3 teacher who taught her students to use the iPads to post a picture and reflection of something they were proud of each week and with my Grade 7 class the students posted pictures and reflections of their work and I posted video and assessments on a weekly basis.

How often you choose to post and who does the posting will be up to you. However, be thoughtful about it – the idea is to post exemplars and indications of learning and progress. In my experience of using Fresh Grade over the past few years, my students’ self-reflections have been very powerful indicators of their learning and self-awareness.

What To Post?

Images – Pictures do tell a thousand words! And they don’t need to be pictures of the students themselves. Post pictures of their work, centres or activities you do in class or even field trips. The one caution here would be students whose parents have said “no pictures” – be careful not to include those students in pictures that go out to everyone else.

Video – I often use video to capture my students doing presentations. There are two advantages to this – parents get a window in to the classroom and I can mark their presentations later rather than scrambling to mark them as I watch them. Just be aware that video clips can’t be too long and that uploading them at school can sometimes be slow.

Sound – One of the coolest uses of this I’ve seen was from a primary teacher who recorded her students reading once a term. At the end of the year, you could listen to all three recordings and really hear how much the student had improved!

Self-reflections – As I noted before, this can be very powerful. I do spend a bit of the time at the beginning of the year teaching my students what a good self-reflection looks like and before long they are writing self reflections that are in-depth and very interesting. Here is a year-end reflection from one of my Grade 7 students. I think it’s a very powerful reflection of her as a learner.

This term I have had many learning experiences that have helped me grow as a learner. For example, I have discovered that as a learner I like performing in front of people. This is very interesting because in the beginning of the year I was scared of presenting and always tried avoiding it. However now, I realized that presenting makes me happy because I get to see smiles or intrigued faces on other people. I learned that I enjoyed presenting when I performed my poem in front of the entire class.

Written work – students can add writing right into Fresh Grade. If the work you want to include is on paper, I suggest taking a picture of it. If you want to upload a digital file, it needs to be in PDF format at this point.

Help and Support

Finally, if you have questions about using Fresh Grade, they have loads of support! You can find support on the website here and there is often interesting information in the Fresh Grade blog here. You can also check out their Youtube channel. Here’s a video they made last year about the Fresh Grade experience in West Vancouver!

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Read! All About It.

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Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pexels.com

I like to think that, at this point in my career, I’m a pretty good teacher. I might even have days or moments where I’m really good!  But (there’s always a but), there’s room for improvement. This year one of the things I would like to focus on is reading. I want to read more often, I want my students to find things they enjoy reading, I want them to help them become better readers and I want to help them become more critical consumers of information. So, with that in mind, I thought I would share some great digital reading resources with you.

The first one is a site called CommonLit, which can be used with students from Grades 3 to 12. CommonLit has fiction and non-fiction reading passages, searchable by grade, genre, literary device and theme. They also have text sets (a variety of texts about a similar topic like “Ancient Egypt”) and Units. Units present a number of reading passages, assignments and questions around a theme. For instance, in Grade 5 and 6 there is a unit on “Outsiders”, with an essential question “What makes someone an outsider?”. Reading passages in this unit include a paired set from Harry Potter and Cinderella, as well as another paired set about what it’s like to feel outside because of your culture.

CommonLit is free for educators. You can set up an account and then have your students sign into your “classroom”. One caution: DO NOT use Sign in With Google – for yourself or for your students. This IS NOT part of the G Suite for Education environment. Another caution: when setting up student accounts, I do not use full names for my students. I use their first name and then as a last name I generally use the school mascot. As student email are optional, I do not use emails and I do create the students passwords, rather than using the very long ones CommonLit assigns.

With these cautions in mind, CommonLit is pretty awesome. Once you have found a reading passage you like, you can assign it to your whole class, or to a small group of students. Or you can just download it as a PDF! Reading passages have a toolbar very similar to that of Read & Write for Google. Students can have the text read out loud to them at a variety of speeds or in a variety of languages (including Chinese. Arabic, Korean and Japanese – no Farsi yet), they can look words up in a dictionary and they can highlight text.

Selections have reading comprehension questions, discussion questions and some even have a built in “guided reading” feature that stops students at certain points, asks them a question and only lets them continue if the question is answered correctly. Most texts also have Paired Texts, that match the first in either genre, theme or literary element. There is also a Parent Guide you could send home and Related Media, such as small related video or audio clips that enhance the learning experience.

From the teacher dashboard, you can track what your students have read, how they’ve done on the comprehension questions and a variety of other things. From the original Cinderella, written by Charles Perrault in 1697 to an essay about Rosie the Riveter and her impact on women’s rights, CommonLit has lots of great reading and learning opportunities. They even have learning opportunities for teachers, with weekly webinars on how best to use the site.

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Photo by George Dolgikh on Pexels.com

Another, very similar site is Newsela. Newsela focuses strictly on non-fiction articles and it has both a free and a paid version, although you can do almost everything using the free version. Newsela has articles from Grade 2 to Grade 12 level. If you create a Grade 2 to 5 class, your students will only see articles that are deemed “Elementary” in nature.

The sign-up process with Newsela is similar to that of CommonLit. Again, I caution you not to use the Sign in With Google option and to stay away from using personally identifiable data such as full names. With that in mind, Newsela can allow you and your students to examine all kinds of up-to-the-minute topics from the news. Most articles have up to 4 different Lexile (reading) levels you can choose from, so that the article can be used with a variety of readers. The articles also have activities associated with them. Some of these activities are only available in the paid version, but others can be used in the free version, too. Like CommonLit, the teacher dashboard in Newsela allows you to create assignments and view student progress.

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Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

While younger students can use CommonLit and Newsela, the sites are really geared to intermediate and high school level students. Epic Books, on the other hand, is geared to younger students. Epic is free to educators and it includes over 25,000 fiction and non-fiction titles for students from 5 to 12. This site also includes audio books and a selection of videos. There is an iOS app but it also works on laptops.

Teachers have a teacher dashboard where they can assign books to students, create a library of books they like and create comprehension quizzes for their students. You can assign a book to your entire class or to a small group or just to a single student.

Setting up your class is easy. You add students in (again, no full names) and Epic creates a little “person” for each student. You can also assign a 4 digit password to each student, although you don’t need to. To log-in, students put in a class code and then choose their little person to begin. If you are teaching Grade 4 and older, please do not choose the “Import Google Classroom” option – again, Epic Books is not part of the G Suite for Education environment. You can also add parent emails in so parents can track their child’s progress. It should be noted that the education version of Epic can only be used at school – kids cannot log-in to their account at home. Parents can subscribe to Epic at home if they want.

So, between the awesome books in the library and the great reading opportunities available on sites like Newsela, CommonLit and Epic, I have no doubt that my students and I will be able to work on our reading skills this year! Hopefully you find something here that you can use, too! By the way, if you are looking for a way to track independent student reading, check out this post from last year!

Read on!

 

Happy New Year!

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For the majority of the world, New Year’s Eve is December 31st. But for educators…it’s the last night before school starts up in the fall. The end of the Labour Day weekend. The start of a “new year.”

I can always tell when New Year is approaching. My sleep gets interrupted by “back to school” dreams, or sometimes, nightmares! This year I’ve had a recurring nightmare about being forced to teach Kindergarten – I wake up in a panic every time!

But it’s not all bad. I get excited about new school supplies, a new planner, freshly polished linoleum and plans for “the best year yet!” I look forward to reconnecting with colleagues and meeting new students, so despite the scary dreams, it’s a good time!

I thought I would focus the first blog of this year on a few reminders and tips for the beginning of the year, so here we go!

Patience Is A Virtue!

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The more that technology becomes part of the landscape in our district, the more we feel we should be able to hit the ground running, digitally speaking, right away. Google, Fresh Grade, Math IXL, My Blueprint…as teachers we want to be able to dive right in and get started. But.

But we need to remember that Acceptable Use policies have to be signed, Google and Fresh Grade have to be opted into by families and, most importantly, the tech support staff need time to put all the “behind the scenes” pieces together. For instance, Fresh Grade gets our student data from MyED BC, but we can’t send that to them until all the classes in all the schools are settled and the last student and teacher changes have happened! That takes time and the collected efforts of a large number of people, so….be patient!

Google Is Always Changing!

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It’s true – Google changes their stuff constantly. This summer Google Classroom has had a number of changes. Some of them are great, some are good and some are so-so. Although I could list them all out for you, Eric Curts from Control Alt Achieve does such an awesome job, I’ll just link out to him. Here is his blog post on the changes Google made to Classroom and here is his blog post on how to get around the biggest disappointing change, the missing About page (he has some awesome work-arounds!)

Privacy

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Digital privacy and the safety of our students is something we all need to take seriously. Our district, led by Sean Nosek, has worked hard to ensure that our use of tools like G Suite for Education, meets the expectations set out by the Privacy Commissioner. Teachers and students can safely use all of the tools located within G Suite. Where we need to be cautious is with apps and sites that encourage you to “Sign in with Google”  – they seem, on the surface to be safe. And they might be. But what they are NOT is part of the G Suite for Education. What that means is that they have not signed the same agreement not to data mine and there is no guarantee their servers are safe or even within Canada.

The exceptions to this rule (yes, there are always exceptions – life would be boring without them!) are tools like Discovery ED. With Discovery ED, you go to discoveryeducation.ca and then you DO sign in with Google. This is something the district has organized with Discovery ED, to make sign in easier but still safe.

If you are ever not sure about an app or site, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Quick Tips

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Need to know how to get a student’s device onto the district network? Go here. (You will have to sign in to Inside45 to access this)

Students forgotten their passwords? You can reset them but remember that they need to be an 8 character password. Go here for instructions on resetting passwords. Again, you will need to log-in. If you have a new student or if you are teaching Grade 4 students, the district will supply passwords sometime in September.

So…enjoy your new students, get set to have a great year and stay tuned for lots of great ideas to use in your classroom!

 

Summer Learning

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It’s that time of year…summer weather has arrived, report cards have been written and both students and teachers are counting down the days to freedom. We’re all tired and ready for a break – the lazy days of summer stretch out in front of us and September seems a long ways away.

So, what I am going to say next might not be all that popular, but I am going to say it anyways. After you’ve had a bit of time to decompress but before September looms large, take some time to learn something new. Let the teacher become the student. We’re always telling kids they should be lifelong learners. Well…so should we!

What you choose to learn doesn’t really matter. I mean, sure it would be great if you chose to learn to code with Scratch or took the Google or Apple Educator tests. It would be awesome if you picked to learn an app you wanted to use next year or decided to dive deeper into something like DiscoveryEd. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t encourage digital exploration and learning, right?!

However, you could just as easily learn to windsurf, knit, bake bread or speak Spanish! What you learn isn’t important – it’s the process of learning that’s important. That feeling of nervous anticipation when you start something new, the frustration and challenge of failure and the eventual elation of success – those feelings are universal to all learners. Adults and children. Remembering what that feels like makes you a better teacher.

My own summer learning starts at the end of this week, when I head off to Chicago to attend ISTE, the biggest ed tech conference in North America, if not the world. I am uber-excited and somewhat nervous and I can’t wait to learn all kinds of new things I can share with you next year. And in case you are worried that all I do is work…I’m also going to learn how to sail my boat single-handedly and I’m going to try learning Russian.

Whatever you do this summer, have fun, relax, recharge, reconnect and learn.

Year End Clean Up

 

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It’s that time of year when the days get long, “popsicles for dinner” seems like a reasonable option and both kids and teachers reach the countdown to summer stage. Most schools give teachers a “year end” list – you know, clean bulletin boards, return textbooks, sort through the lost and found. Digitally, there are a few things you and your students should do or know about at the end of the year, too! Hopefully the following tips help you and the kids finish the year off properly!

Math IXL

For those teachers who are using Math IXL, students will be able to continue to use their accounts during the summer. They’ll get rolled into their new classes sometime in September.

Discovery ED

For teachers who want to do some planning or exploring over the summer in Discovery ED, have at it! Your account will remain active throughout July and August!

Fresh Grade

For teachers who have been using this, you will have access to add or change things in your current students’ portfolios until around the second week of July. After that, your class will get archived. You can still access it but will be unable to change anything. For teachers, archived classes show up on the right, under your name. For parents and students, archived classes show up on the left under My Account. Note that archived work is read-only – there is no way to comment on it or change it.

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Google Classroom

At the end of the year, it’s a good idea to clean and archive this year’s Google Classroom. Start by checking assignments you’ve given and make sure you’ve returned work to students.

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After that, archive your classroom. I say archive rather than delete because there may be something on that classroom that you will want to re-access in a future year. Note: if you archive a class you can still copy and reuse old posts and assignments from it in a new class! Here’s a great video that explains it.

Once you’ve archived your classroom, go into your Google Drive and archive your Google Classroom file by creating another file called Archived Classrooms and adding it.

Your students can either unenroll from your class or archive it.

Google Drive

You might be one of those people who meticulously files things right after creating or receiving them. In which case, your files, docs, etc are likely already where they need to be! If, however, your Google drive looks as crazily populated as the streets of Hong Kong, take some time to organize and delete. Your September self will thank you!

For your students, encourage them to put all of their work from this year into a file called “Grade _, 2017/18”. That way, they can start September off with an organized Drive, ready for the new year’s work!

What About Grade 12s and Other Movers?

If you teach or “own” a Grade 12 student, if you have a student who is moving to a new district or if you yourself are taking a new position elsewhere, it’s important to know that your West Van GSuite account will be deactivated once you exit the West Vancouver Schools system.  Please make a point to transfer any files you want to take with you. 

The easiest way to do this is to use something called Google Takeout or Google Transfer, which we have now enabled for people within the SD45 G Suite for Education domain.

Google Takeout will create a zipped file with all of your Drive in it. You can then load this zipped file into an external hard drive, store it in a cloud service like Dropbox or move it to the hard drive of your computer.

Google Transfer should be used if you want to move your school district Google “stuff” over to a personal Google account. Three things to keep in mind when you do this:

  • Storage in your school GSuite account is unlimited. That is not the case with a personal Google account, so make sure you are only transferring things you really want to keep!
  • The privacy settings on a personal Google account are quite different from a GSuite for Education account. Make sure you are aware of that.
  • Also, all sharing permissions are “broken” when you transfer so anything you had shared with other people they will no longer have access to (unless they made a copy for themselves). Here is a video that shows the process.

Hopefully this post will help you and your students clean up your digital closets and get  ready to enjoy summer!

What I Learned From Star Wars

It’s report card time and, as usual, I’m finding ways to procrastinate. Luckily, Showcase channel has been running a Star Wars marathon for the last few days, so as I sat and collated report information over the weekend, I got my fill of favourite characters, places and stories. And that got me to thinking. Star Wars had been a large part of my life – how has it influenced me? Since this is an ed-tech blog, here are 7 things Star Wars has taught me about life and educational technology!

Have A Mentor, Be A Mentor

This, of course, is important in all walks of life. Like Luke when he goes to Dagobah to find Yoda, we can all use someone to challenge us, support us and guide us to our true potential. My ed-tech mentors have ranged from my UBC profs to people in my PLN to students of mine. People who push my thinking and question my ideas help me grow and become the Jedi I want to be. I’m still looking to connect with Yoda, so if you have an inside track, let me know!

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Just as important as having a mentor is being a mentor. No matter how little you think you know, there is always someone who knows less and would benefit from your guidance! As Yoda so wisely says, “Pass on what you have learned.”

You Can Be A Princess and A Warrior

Princess Leia showed a young me that girls could be girly and tough, too. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. As a female ed-tech teacher I am aware that it is now my turn to be a role model and to show young girls that women CAN code, build and run robots and know just as much about computers as boys can (maybe more!) Don’t let your gender dictate what you can or can’t do!

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You Don’t Have To Be Fluent

At one point, C-3PO informs us that he is “fluent in 6 million forms of communication.” Teachers often fear that they need to be fluent in a given technology in order to use it. But guess what? 6 million forms of communication didn’t always help C-3PO and you don’t have to be fluent. You just have to be willing to give it a try! Start somewhere! I teach coding to kids and I can assure you, I am not yet fluent in any coding languages! But I do know how to learn and where to look when I get stuck. Which brings me to the next one….

Have A Flexible Point of View

Obi-Wan cautions Luke that “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Change your perspective or point of view and the “truth” can change. As educators, we call this “having a growth mind-set.” Don’t think “I’m too old to learn new technology” – instead, think “this looks interesting, I’m going to give it a try!” Which leads to…

You’re Capable of Amazing Things!

This idea weaves itself through all the Star Wars movies and many of the characters. Who thought a crop-dusting farm boy could destroy the Death Star or a that a scavenger from dusty Jakku could use mind tricks on a Stormtrooper? When Luke doubts himself and fails to pull his X-wing out of the swamp in Dagobah, Yoda does the job easily and Luke is incredulous. Yoda then tells Luke, “That’s why you couldn’t do it. You didn’t even believe it was possible.”

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Over and over, Star Wars tells us that we can do amazing things if we just believe in ourselves and try. Not sure if you can use green-screen technology with kindies or teach middle schoolers to create a proper digital bibliography? Of course you can – believe me…I’ve done it!

Failure Leads to Strength

Obi-Wan tells Darth Vader, “Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Through Star Wars we learn that falling down and getting back up again is okay – it leads to strength. And it leads to knowledge. I am constantly stumbling when it comes to using technology in the classroom! And each time I stumble I learn a little more and I get a little better at what I am trying to do.

And Finally…Know When to Let The Wookie Win!

I will never forget trying for hours to get something to look right on Google Docs. I felt so frustrated but I was determined to make it work. Finally, in a moment of desperation, I tried the same thing on Google Slides and it worked perfectly. As R2-D2 learns in “A New Hope”, sometimes it’s just better to “let the Wookie win.” Know when to give in.

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Well, I hope you enjoyed my light-hearted, somewhat tongue-in-cheek mash-up of Star Wars and educational technology! Next week’s blog will be all about wrapping the year up digitally!

A Coding Story

This week’s blog isn’t so much a tip as it is the story of what happened when someone passed a tip on to me. It’s also an argument for inclusion and a story of successes.

A few months ago, one of our elementary administrators, Cathie Ratz, forwarded an email to me about something called Hackergal. I’m automatically intrigued by anything with the word “hack” in it, so I opened the email. It was all about an organization called Hackergal, whose goal is “to empower young girls to explore the possibilities in code.” I dug deeper. I found out that all I had to do was register and my female students and I could start learning Python (a coding language) and participate in a Canada-wide hackathon! So cool! Never one to shy away from a challenge, I called one of the organizers, found out a bit more and signed up!

Rather than running our Hackergal’s group as a single class or in a single school, I put the challenge out to Grade 6 and 7 girls across the district. Who was interested in knowing more about coding? To my delight, I ended up with a group of 36 girls from 4 different schools – all willing to try something new! We were the only “district” participants in all of Canada!

One of the great things about Hackergal is that they have teamed with Codesters to provide every Hackergal participant with a Codesters account where they can learn another programming language; in this case, Python.

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The girls and I got together one morning in late April, to meet each other, set up our Codesters accounts and start learning. It was apparent quite quickly that some of us knew a bit more than others but the energy in the room was great and we all helped each other over the little bumps we encountered as we began to explore a new platform and a new language.

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The next time we met was on May 2nd – Hackathon day across Canada! It was pretty exciting knowing that we were joining thousands of other girls and women across the country!

For those who don’t know, at the beginning of a hackathon, you are given a problem to solve. You solve the problem by combining the design cycle and coding. The problem we were given was to use the Codesters platform to create an interactive story about an endangered species. I put the girls in groups of 3 and I purposefully organized the groups so that they were multi-school. The first 20 to 30 minutes was spent choosing an animal, getting to know each other and beginning to think about design. Then it was off to the races!

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Throughout the day the groups encountered many challenges. Some were of the coding variety, some were design challenges and some (the trickiest ones) were collaborative/social challenges. Codesters and Hackergal had staff online to help us with coding challenges but the other challenges were up to us to overcome.

The day wrapped up with judging and awards. There was no first place winner – three teams were given “Honourable Mention” stickers based on their Coding, Design or Game Play prowess. In addition, each girl chose a sticker for herself based on what she felt her strength was – Coding, Leadership, Creativity or Teamwork. And for taking part in the hackathon, all of the girls now have a year long subscription to Codesters!

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For me, the day and experience held many successes. Even though some of the teams struggled to complete their project on time, everyone progressed and developed their hard skills (coding in Python) as well as their soft skills (negotiation, teamwork). We got to participate in a Canada-wide all-girls STEM event…and we had lots of fun doing it! The girls got to meet other girls with similar interests and make connections. And they got to see that girls who like coding can be quiet girls, athletic girls, bookish girls, funny girls, girls who like fashion, girls who like animals – there is no stereotypical coder!

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One of the biggest successes of the day involved a girl who loves coding but struggles in social situations. She has a full-time aide. Her teacher, her principal, her aide and I all agreed that it would be a great thing if she could participate but we all worried that the challenges of the day might be too much for her. We prepared for the fact that she might need to go home at recess or maybe lunch – we agreed that she would stay as long as things were working for her in her group. We were hopeful but nervous.

The challenges started right away! She had to meet two new girls. They had to agree on an animal – her favourite animal is not endangered – would she accept a different animal? She did and the group moved on. Several times during the day she had small meltdowns but the prospect of getting to code helped her calm down and return to the group. At the end of the day, her group did not get one of the honourable mentions but she was singled out as being a great coder. She left with a smile on her face and the confidence that she could do a hackathon. Just like all the other girls! Now, that’s success!

Hackergal runs events twice a year – I am already starting to plan for the next event. Thanks for the tech “tip”, Cathie!

Infographics Are Awesome!

According to Wikipedia, an infographic is a “graphic visual representation(s) of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly.” According to one of my Grade 7 ELA students, an infographic is “a cool and colourful way to show what I know.” Here is an example of one of the infographics my students created recently:

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Based on the image, I think you’ll agree that both of the definitions above are correct. I’ve wanted to create infographics with my students for a few years now but the timing hadn’t seemed right until this spring. We’ve been learning about plastics in the environment and our ELA focus has been “communicating our knowledge and opinions in different ways.” Perfect timing for introducing the idea of infographics.

We started by finding 12 data-driven facts about plastics, pollution and the environment. I allowed the students to search online and find the facts anywhere (I know what you’re thinking but I had a reason to let them indiscriminately search! Stay with me!) They collected their facts in a table, along with the url of where they found the information.

Following this, we had a discussion about the reliability of online information and I showed them this video about the TRAAP test (like the CRAAP test but less giggle-inducing in a room occupied by 12 year-olds).

Now they went back and reviewed their data through the lens of the TRAAP test. Each team chose 6 to 8 pieces of data that they found both reliable and interesting.

Next, I showed them some infographics about kids and social media. We talked about how the data was shown and what made it different from an article on the same subject. Was it as reliable? Was it as in-depth? Was it more interesting to “read”? (Yes, no and way more were the answers, by the way!)

Now it was time to create our own infographics! There are a number of great infographics sites online – some free, some paid and some freemium. However, you can do all of the same stuff using Google Slides and a little know-how!

The first thing to do is to change the size and set-up of your slide. You can find out how to do that here. Basically, you want a portrait orientation that is 8.5 by 11 inches. Then choose a background colour that works with your theme (I tasked my students with sticking to a 5 colour scheme, with two of the colours being white and black/grey – for example: blue, green, orange, white, grey).

From there, you are basically adding words, images/icons and charts or graphs while thinking about the design and overall look and appeal.

Google has lots of great fonts you can access. For adding images and icons, I talked with my students about not using real pictures, choosing images that have a transparent background (.png files) and staying away from copyright and watermarked images. You can find more here about using images. One of the best places to find these sorts of icons or images is pixabay.com.

Finally, to add in charts, tables, graphs and “data images”, you can use Google Sheets or an online tool like ChartGo, where you can quickly and easily create several different types of charts/graphs and save them as jpegs, without having to create an account. NOTE: This will generally leave the chart or graph with a white background. There are ways around this (like using a tool like Lunapic to create a transparent background) but for your average student that might be more fussing around than they want – white backgrounds on those elements are ok!

Once you have all of your elements, you can add them to your slide and play around with adding things like shapes, callouts and arrows.

When you’re satisfied with how things look, save the slide as a pdf or jpeg file. From there the kids can upload it to their blogs or FreshGrade accounts or you can print them out on 11 x 17 paper and display them!

I am thrilled that I finally got to experiment with infographics in my classroom. I am really happy with the results and pleased that I’ve found yet another way to help my students learn to communicate in an increasingly complex and digital world.

Read & Write for Google Chrome

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This year we added another awesome tool to our Google tool kit – Read & Write for Google Chrome. This tool is available to all district staff and Grade 4 to 12 students on laptops as long as they are using the Chrome browser.

So….why is Read & Write such an awesome tool? It provides users with a number of functions, such as the ability to have websites read out to them and the ability to talk and have the computer type what you say. Although the most logical uses will be for ELL and Special Ed students, there are tools in Read & Write that could benefit all students (and teachers). Intrigued? Read on!

If you are using the Chrome browser and logged in to it with your school Google id (your sd34 email for teachers and their edu.sd45.bc.ca email for students) you should automatically have Read & Write installed to the right of your omnibox. If you have to go through the process of installing Read & Write, you likely are not logged into Chrome with your school account – check it out!

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Once you have the extension installed, you can use it in Google docs, Google slides, and most websites and PDFs. Here is a video that shows all of the features and a basic “how to” for using them.

For those of us that would prefer to read our instructions, here is a “cheat sheet” for the functions. If the functions aren’t all showing up on your puzzle toolbar, click the down arrow to the right of the toolbar. From there, choose “Options”. In the Options screen you will see that you can  do many things. If you click Speech, you can change the reading voice as well as the reading speed (very helpful). If you click “Features” you can toggle on and off the features you wish to use on a regular basis (this might come in handy if you are working with a student who get overwhelmed easily – just choose the features you know that student will need). If you choose “Screen Masking” you can change the size and colour of the screen mask tool and in “Prediction” you can change the number of words that the student can choose from.

Finally (drum roll, please!!!), you can actually get Read and Write to work in French and Spanish. To get this to work, start by choosing Options and then Speech. From there, choose either a French or Spanish Vocalizer and change the translation to French or Spanish. Then go to Languages. Change the Language and Features drop down to French or Spanish, click OK and you should be good to go!

I’m sure everyone will have their favourite features. For me, I love the Simplify button, that allows wordy, ad-riddled websites to be distilled to just the text. I also love the Mask tool, especially when I have to read a lot of text on my device (like reading over report cards!). What is your favourite Read & Write tool?

Life Hack or Google Extension?

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By now, we’ve had G Suite for Education (formerly GAFE) in our district long enough that most staff are at least somewhat familiar with the basic functions of Docs, Drive, Classroom and Slides…right?! Well, that’s all well and good but it’s only just the tip of the Google universe! So, this week we’re going to look at one of the lesser known elements of Google – extensions!

Extensions EXTEND the capability of Google Chrome and they exist attached to the browser. But before I get started…a few cautions. Extensions are (mostly) made by third party companies. Because of this, they do not fall within G Suite for Education’s “safety net”. In other words, you need to be careful of privacy. If the extension is asking permission to see into your Google Classroom, for instance, maybe it’s not the extension for you! In addition, having too many extensions installed can slow down your browser, so, choose carefully and if you find you aren’t using an extension, uninstall it!  

You get Chrome extensions from the Chrome Web Store and you need to be sign in to Google Chrome as your web browser for them to work. Once you’ve installed extensions, they live to the left of your omnibox. If you sign in to Chrome (not Google Drive….Google Chrome) on another device, the extensions will port over for you.

There are literally hundreds of extensions, so how do you choose which ones work for you? It can be a very personal thing – what interests you might not interest someone else. While you like an extension that tells you what time it is in 5 different countries, the teacher in the next room might prefer an extension that shows the stars available in the night sky! Having said that, the extensions below are pretty generic and generally useful.

Save to Google Drive

This extension allows you to save stuff you find on the web directly to Google Drive. Kind of like bookmarking it but better! This is a great way to save stuff that you want to use with your students.

Pocket

If Save to Google is a great way to save information you might want to use at school, Pocket is a great way to save personal stuff. And the great thing about Pocket is that the stuff you save can be accessed on your mobile device, too. Even offline!

Pinterest Button

Let’s you quickly save things you like to your Pinterest account….’nuff said!

Read and Write for Google Chrome

Fantastic extension that helps support people who struggle with reading and writing or who are learning English or who just need a bit of help! Our district has enabled Read and Write for everyone who has a G Suite for Education account – look for more information about this extension on next week’s blog!

One Tab

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If your Chrome browser looks like the one above, One Tab is the extension for you! With one click of the One Tab icon, all of your tabs are converted into a list. You can then restore the whole list or just parts of it. One tab saves memory and might even make your browser faster!

LastPass

Are you one of those people who has a hard time remembering your passwords? Then LastPass is a great extension for you – as long as you can remember the password you used when you started up LastPass!! Not only does LastPass remember your many passwords, but it also helps generate good password for those of you that find this an issue (yes, I am talking to you 1234 and you pswrd – I know who you are!)

Screencastify

If you want to be able to record what’s happening on your screen, if you’re thinking of flipping your classroom, or if you want to easily explain how to do something online to someone else….use Screencastify! While it’s not as powerful as a capture tool like Camtasia, it does a pretty great job, and it’s free! Awesome sauce!

Wayback Machine

Recently I was looking for a particular page on a website I used to use with my students. But….it’s no longer there! ACK! Luckily, thanks to the Wayback Machine I can still access archived versions of the website. The Wayback Machine lets you go back and view previous versions of websites that have been archived.

Extensity

If you wind up with lots of extensions on your Chrome browser, Extensity is a great way to manage them, as well as turn them on and off!

Grammarly

If spelling and grammar are not your strong suits and sending emails to parents leaves you worried about mistakes you might make, then Grammarly might be the extension for you!

Bitmoji

Lets you add fun little avatars of yourself to emails, etc.

 

As I said before, this is just a small selection of extensions you can add on to your Chrome browser. Some are helpful, others are just fun. Anyone who uses Chrome as their main web browser likely has their own favourites – try a few out and see what you like!