Tagged: google apps

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Another reason I like Google+ Communities

favicon I’ve written before about Google+ and its new communities feature, which I think is a great way for teachers to build online academic spaces with their students.

The past few weeks, I’ve been sharing with my colleagues my enthusiasm for Google+. In addition, I’ve signed up to a few Google+ communities and done some light posting. I’ve been very impressed with the level of conversation in many of these communities, and I’ve appreciated receiving feedback from other Google+ members about my thoughts.

For example, I wrote this quick post in the Google Apps for Education community. Within a day, the post received 19 helpful comments to push my thinking.

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What Makes Google+ Perfect for High School Teachers

I’m using G+ with my students in our English classes. So far, it’s working great. I’ve set up a community, and students are feeling comfortable asking questions, adding to discussions, and sharing their thoughts.

But here is what I’m finding makes G+ perfect:
1. If students are already on Apps, they’re already on Google. They don’t need to register somewhere else or learn another system.

2. Hangouts are great. They’re simple and they work.

3. But my favorite feature is the ability to take photos and video and upload them instantly and automatically to G+. At the end of each day, I go to Instant Upload, click on the day’s media, and share everything to the class community. This means any (or all) of the following: my mini-lessons, student presentations, photos of student work, pictures of students working together, photos of handouts, photos of the whiteboard, videos to introduce the homework or to offer tips to study — you name it.

Most impressive is that even a fairly large video is able to be uploaded and doesn’t take up any space on Google Drive (unless I’m missing something). Today, for example, I took a 10-minute video (1280 x 720) that had no trouble uploading on its own. (I’ve heard various accounts that the limit is either 15 minutes or 1 GB, though I haven’t been able to confirm.)

Anyway, I just wanted to share my enthusiasm for G+ in Google Apps, and I’m wondering how other teachers are using it, plus I’m surprised that many high schools using Apps haven’t yet switched it on. Is it because it’s new, or is there fear that it’s a social network and would lead to bad things?

* * *

I know that Google+ is new, and it might not be as trendy (yet) as Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or the other social networks. But if you’re a teacher and you work at a school with Google Apps, it’s a perfect tool. Let me know what you think — and if you have questions. favicon

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Google Plus now open to high school students

favicon This is big news.

Beginning today, Google Plus is now available to middle schools and high schools using Google Apps for Education.

This means teachers can easily create a virtual learning environment and social network for their students — in other words, an academic Facebook. More important, access to Google Plus means access to Google Hangouts, possibly the best group video chatting service out there.

Here are some other reasons that I think this is a big deal:

1. Teachers can hold virtual office hours.
We all know that students don’t like to do homework. But what if teachers were sometimes available to help? Google Hangouts lets up to 15 people to video chat at the same time. I’m not suggesting that teachers should give up their evening time, but if we’re grading papers or planning lessons, we can also be free for students’ questions. Also, video chatting might be a better way to communicate than texting.

2. Students can work in study groups.
In Google Plus, you can create circles however you like. Students working on a group project can send updates, messages, photos, and videos just to their peers. Or they can open up a Hangout and talk to each other live.

3. Google Plus can become an interactive class blog.
Teachers can add assignments. Students can respond. Students can share their thoughts — to a peer only, to the teacher only, to part of the class, or to the entire class. It’s an easy way to share photos and videos. You can add events, too.

No, it won’t look as good as a WordPress blog, and it won’t be as organized, but it’s much easier for students to use. It’s a very informal space for student expression. (Although it’s not a direct competitor to Edmodo, which focuses on education, I worry that Google Plus on Google Apps for Education may take away some of its business.)

Google Plus will likely be an incredible tool for teachers. But there are some very serious concerns. Schools typically block Facebook and other social networking sites because they don’t want students sharing inappropriate content or socializing with or bullying their peers. By allowing Google Plus and making the service available to all students, schools are opening themselves to an array of problems.

It’ll be interesting how schools using Google Apps will react to the availability of Google Plus. Will they say there’s no way, or will this be an opportunity for teachers and students to use technology responsibly and to become more technologically literate?

Please let me know your thoughts! favicon

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How to teach Google Apps to ninth graders

favicon My colleague, Nancy Jo Turner — a phenomenal teacher — knows how to make sure ninth graders learn new tech skills.

She understands that it’s the little things that count.

Today, she wanted her students to learn how to create a new Google presentation, how to title it correctly, how to share it with others, and how to start adding slides to their presentation.

Most teachers would choose one of the following (flawed) strategies:

1. Do a teacher-led demonstration,

2. Give students an instructions sheet and skip the demonstration.

Number 1  bores ninth graders and does not encourage them to learn the process. Number 2 creates chaos and does not ensure that all students understand the correct procedure.

Here’s what Nancy Jo did:

1. Explained the steps first and made students write them down,

2. Did an interactive demonstration with me,

3. Brought students immediately to the computer lab to apply their knowledge.

By taking time with Step 1, my colleague emphasized to students the importance of understanding the process and getting things right. I liked that she did not provide students with a cheat sheet. Although some educators may argue that this kind of notetaking isn’t an example of  “21st century skills,” it definitely helped the ninth graders focus on the procedure.

My colleague’s interactive demonstration showed students the power of Google Apps in real time. I turned my computer screen around at my desk so that students could see our simultaneous collaboration. Immediately, there were several loud “oohs” and “ahs.” Instead of listening to a boring, one-way demonstration, the students got hooked.

Finally, Step 3 was crucial, too. Ninth graders learn best when they don’t have to wait until that night or the next day to assimilate their knowledge. Despite some tech problems in the computer lab (Google Chrome is better for Google Apps than Internet Explorer), students were mostly successful beginning their group presentations.

Teaching is very complex. When should we teach step by step, and when should learning be more independent, more constructivist?

Today, my colleague demonstrated that the best way to teach specific, precise tech procedures to ninth graders is to teach directly and to break things up. Although we should allow our students to go off and explore, we first need to teach them the basic tools so they feel confident to be on their own. favicon

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Improving my class website with Google Apps

faviconA couple years ago, I started a simple WordPress blog to keep students and parents updated about stuff going on in my classroom.

It’s called iseroma.com. I like it.

My vision, among other things, was to post class agendas and assignments that students could use as a reference. But like many other teachers, I found out quickly how difficult it was to keep up. Invariably, no matter how much I tried, I got behind.

There were just too many steps: Do my lesson plan, retype the agenda as a post, put the assignment into the calendar, repeat the next day.

I needed something more efficient. So this year, I decided to streamline the process by linking and embedding several items from Google Apps into my blog. Here are two examples:

  • My class agendas and assignments are now a linked Google Doc. When I update my lessons, the changes happen automatically on my WordPress blog. It’s so much faster now.
  • My calendar is now an embedded Google Calendar. Different classes are in different colors, and it lets me show only the events I want. At the beginning of the year, I even sat down to type in all the whole-school events, which parents have appreciated.

Sure, those examples don’t sound like much, but I’m just starting. Plus, teachers know that it’s the little things that count. Anything that saves just a bit of time is something worth investigating.

The next step: Get more students and parents to go to my class website. That’s a biggie that I need to tackle this year. favicon

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Teachers flocking to Google Apps

faviconLife is weird. You can work really hard on something, and no matter what you do, progress seems slow. And then all of a sudden, without doing anything extra, your project takes off.

That’s how it’s feeling this year with Google Apps.

It’s the new school year, and everywhere I look, teachers are using Google Apps. The ninth grade Humanities teachers are using it to create their lessons. Advisory teams are sharing activities and keeping logs of everything they do. There is a universal list of teachers’ office hours. And perhaps most impressive, the school’s student roster is now a read-only Doc.

The excitement is rampant. In fact, in our weekly professional development meetings, there is a new hand gesture whenever someone mentions Google Apps. It resembles American Sign Language’s applause.

Yeah, it’s getting to be more than a bit cultish.

So I should be happy, right? This is what I wanted when I first envisioned bringing Google Apps to my campus, right?

Not exactly. I mean, it’s nice to see the enthusiasm. And some of the documents, particularly the student roster, are very helpful. If I want to know all the Latino boys in the ninth grade, for example, all I have to do is go to list view and sort. It’s nice when everyone has access.

The key to Google Apps is with students, not teachers
But then again, my hope was that the students would love Google Apps first. Besides the juniors, whom I indoctrinated last year in English class, the rest of the students seem ho-hum. That’s because teachers haven’t incorporated Apps into their curriculum. They haven’t made it a requirement.

Perhaps some of the blame lies in our school’s woeful technology situation. Already the third week of school, we’re still trying to get all the teachers’ computers up and running, and because of budget cuts, some staff members will likely not get a computer this year.

Tech is seen as an optional add-on
But that’s not it. The truth of the matter is, despite having a young staff, and despite being in the San Francisco Bay area, our teachers have not prioritized technology skills. We’re still too busy creating classroom culture and encouraging students to do their homework. Technology always seems like an optional add-on, something to do after some flow gets established.

But maybe the current fascination among teachers with Google Apps will soon translate to interest in the classroom. I can hope. favicon

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Staying up to date on Google Apps accounts

faviconIt’s the second week of the school year, which creates a problem: Teachers are trying to create stability and structure in their classrooms at the same time the student body is changing the most.

The first day, I had one Kevin in my class; the next, there were three. Today, there were two. How many Kevins will show up tomorrow?

Student movement is not just a problem in teachers’ classrooms but also presents a challenge in setting up Google Apps accounts school-wide.

What’s the best way to stay up to date?
If you’re the administrator of your school’s Google Apps account, the best answer is to wait three or four weeks into the school year and then add all of your ninth graders and transfer students all at once. Google Apps lets you create multiple users by uploading a list of accounts. Just ask your Registrar for an Excel document of all your students, upload it as a CSV, and that’s it.

Deleting accounts is another story. You have to select accounts to delete one by one after cross referencing your Google Apps list with your student body list. Particularly annoying is that Google Apps alphabetizes only by first name, which adds an additional sorting step in Excel.

What if teachers want to start using Google Apps right away?
This question is the one I’m dealing with right now. On the third day of school, ninth grade teachers gave out their first written assignment on Google Docs, and ever since then, I’ve been adding and deleting users, trying to help students not fall behind.

Everything became chaotic because I never felt on top of all the changes. Then came the natural difficulties of getting students to register their accounts. Despite clear directions and direct instruction, many ninth graders said they couldn’t access their accounts.

Luckily, I figured out a system. The Registrar sends me a daily email about transfers in and out, and teachers send me a list of students who have trouble registering their accounts. Although there’s still a lot of work to do, at least things seem more streamlined now.

What about group distribution lists?
Making sure that all students have an account isn’t enough. Putting them into the right email distribution lists takes another step.

For example, we have a students@, classof2013@, and so on. That way, we can send information to students efficiently.

Although I love Google Apps, they sure don’t make this step easy. You would think that you could add create a new user and add them to a group at the same time. Except you can’t. Instead, you have to go to a separate group page and add users one by one.

It’s not the end of the world, but the work gets tedious when it’s the beginning of the year, students are bouncing back and forth, and you’re trying to create stability and structure in your own classroom. favicon

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More teachers using Google Docs

favicon I’m happy to report that there was a lot of progress last week as teachers returned to school for professional development.

After a yearlong campaign, Google Docs has gained some momentum.

If there’s one good thing about teacher turnover (seven teachers this year), it’s that new teachers are more open to trying Google Docs.

It’s not just because they’re usually younger; it’s also that they want to fit in.

I’m happy to see my colleagues moving away from Microsoft Office to Google Docs. Teachers are now initiating Google Docs without my prompting. Here are some examples:

  • Shared office hours chart so everyone knows when teachers are available to help students after school;
  • Shared common curriculum for Advisory Retreat;
  • Shared substitute call list that will always stay current.

These sound simple, but it’s the little things that make schools run more efficiently. Undue, unnecessary stress emerges when information is outdated, inaccurate, or duplicated. At my school, there are versions upon versions of Word documents, saved in different locations on the server, with no one knowing exactly which is which, and with everyone nervous about deleting another person’s work.

Now it’s time to take this energy and build off it. What’s important this year will be training staff to use Google Docs so they feel confident in using the applications and incorporating them into their teaching. favicon

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Encouraging students to use email

faviconIn my experience, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest indicators of the digital divide is how often and how (un)comfortably students use email.

Show me a urban ninth grader of color who has an email account and checks email more than once a week, and I’ll show you a college-bound student.

(One condition: The student’s inbox must include messages other than hundreds of MySpace notifications.)

At my school, the opposite is true. The majority of my students, particularly those who struggle academically, look at me weird when I tell them to check their email.

I worry about the email gap because it correlates with academic achievement, job opportunities, and college acceptance rates.

Part of the problem, of course, is access. Students without computers at home have less chance of having an email account.

But at my school, despite racial and socioeconomic demographics, most students have Internet at home. So what’s the real problem?

Email is passe
In my opinion, for my students, email is passe. When you have a cell phone, Facebook, texting and instant messaging, the medium has become too slow for my never-at-home students.

Although shocking to 30-somethings like me, it’s entirely possible that my students have never heard of email because it’s too old.

In addition, email is just too formal for my students. There’s a big blank page where you can write real sentences and paragraphs. It’s like a block paragraph formal business letter. Might as well write an essay.

That’s the point, though. Email has become the standard communication method of dominant culture, business culture, college-educated culture, and that’s precisely why I need to teach email to my students.

In previous years, I made sure all my students had an email account on Yahoo. Then last year, when we moved to Google Apps, all students got a professional, slick-sounding account at our domain. I could rest assured that students would represent themselves well on a resume.

But despite those advances, students still are not using their email accounts very much except to notify their friends that they’ve shared a Google Doc.

Therefore, I must do a better job this year at incorporating email into my curriculum. And it can’t be how I’ve done it before. I have to figure out ways to engage my students and encourage them to use email. I need to figure out why email would be useful to my students, why they would care. I’ll keep you posted about my attempts, and please let me know if you have ideas. favicon

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Google Apps, one colleague at a time

faviconWhen I started teaching, one of my colleagues told me, “If you want to start a revolution, make sure you’ve got the office staff on your side.”

That wisdom has come in handy as I try to make Google Apps the standard office suite on the campus.

After all, one of the most frustrating things is knowing you have a good idea and wishing others would quickly realize it for themselves. I mean, come on, already!

It’s not that progress has been bad. After our first year, about 75 percent of students prefer Google Apps to create documents, although most still haven’t migrated over to their new Gmail account. Students love that they don’t have to worry about losing their work and that they can collaborate with others much more easily than with Microsoft Office.

Predictably, however, the adults have been less open to switching. Despite workshops, encouragement, and fanfare for those who try Google Docs, the majority of staff have remained Office users.

It takes time to break bad habits, right?

So my latest effort has been with the office staff. After all, the people in the school who control all the information control how people access that information.

I’m happy to report that today, there were two epiphanies:

  • The Registrar uploaded the student directory, up until now on Excel, to Google Docs. Now teachers can view the spreadsheet but only she can make changes. No more mailing and remailing attachments to teachers over email!
  • The School Secretary converted the principal’s parent letter to Google Docs. She was giddy with excitement. “There’s only one copy! There’s only one copy!” Indeed.

These stories may sound small to a serious Google Apps user, but it’s this kind of progress — bit by bit — that makes something spread across a campus. Besides, if I have the office staff on board, anything’s possible.

Although Google Docs by no means has gone “viral” — whatever that means — I’m happy to say that we’re getting there, and I’m hoping big things will happen this school year. favicon

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My Google Apps Journey: Creating users

Here’s Part 3 of My Google Apps Journey.

It’s just three weeks before the start of school last August, and I had just signed up with Google Apps Education Edition. Now I needed to create user accounts, give each student an email address, and make some email distribution lists.

Good thing Google lets you create multiple users. I was not about to type in each student one by one! Instead, I asked the school’s registrar for an Excel spreadsheet of our students. I was happy to hear that this wasn’t an arduous task; she got the file to me the same day.

Then, I followed the directions to create a CSV file to import.

Create user accounts

The only question was what to use as the standard username format. Should it be first initial, last name? First name, last name? I decided to go with a student’s full name because (1) it was simple and professional, (2) I didn’t want to have a lot of identical user accounts.

Another question to consider was what to do with initial passwords. I decided to assign the same generic password to all accounts. Luckily, Google has an option where users must create a new password the first time they log in, which made things much easier when getting students registered.

I was pleased with how simple this process was. About 10 minutes of work yielded user accounts and email addresses for every student at the school. Gone were the days of sporadic email usage. No longer would teachers have to ask for their students’ email addresses or help them one on one to get accounts. Now all students could easily communicate with their teachers and collaborate with their peers, not to mention place their professional emails on their resumes and job applications. This new system would even help us track our graduates better to see how they’re doing in college.

When I told my colleagues, they were happy, but unfortunately, many did not grasp the thousands of hours of work this change saved. Besides time, this change made a huge dent in our school’s digital divide because now all students had access no matter their computer skills or technology situation at home.

(Update, one year later: Teachers have definitely realized the power of moving to Google Apps. Even something small like inputting email addresses into www.mygradebook.com gets done in a snap.)

Although creating new users was easy, putting them into email distribution lists was not as simple. I wanted to create an easy way for the school to communicate with groups of students. For example, I wanted email accounts like students@, classof2012@, and so on. Maybe I haven’t figured an easy way to do this yet (can anyone help me?), but I found the process quite cumbersome. In fact, one year later, it’s not clear whether all the distribution lists are updated and accurate. It’ll probably take a couple hours of clean-up, which doesn’t sound bad, but I wish there were an easier way.

All in all, my Google Apps journey was going really well. The next step would be to pitch the change to staff and find out the easiest way to introduce students to the new system. Stay tuned!