Friday, 19 December 2014

Twas The Day Before Break

Well everyone, we made it! It is the last day before a much deserved and welcomed break. Not being in the classroom this year has made the approach to the holiday much different than in years past. Even though I taught High School kids, the excitement and anticipation of the break was no less than with Elementary students. While our office is decorated and we are all sharing in Christmas cheer, it is very different than having students excited for their break. 

I want to take this final blog post to say thank you. Taking a new job is stressful. Moving away from family and friends to a new city is doubly stressful. However, you have made the transition very easy. You are welcoming and open and I appreciate working with you. I am looking forward to the New Year and all the possibilities it will bring. 

But, I couldn't not post about something that I saw the other day that I think is really amazing.

The Google Story Challenge

The link below will take you to a YouTube video about a National Story Challenge using Google Docs. It is a US challenge but holds a lot of value and interest for us here. Many school districts around Alberta, Canada, and North America are using Google Drive. I think it would be a very interesting activity to connect with these other schools to tell collaborative stories. In order to do so, we would need to partner with another district (or districts). If this is something that intrigues you, please let me know. We can begin working on the process in the New Year.

Google Story Challenge:

Friday, 12 December 2014

Using GAFE in Division I and II

Many times over the past few months, as I present around the district, I am asked how to use the tools in Google Apps for Education with students in upper and lower elementary grades. As such, I thought I would put together some thoughts about how you could use the tools to promote student engagement, collaboration and improve student outcomes.

Google Docs

Obviously, the level at which you use the tools within Google Docs is going to vary quite a bit depending on the knowledge and skill level of the students you are working with. One idea that came to me via a colleague in Pembina Hills School Division is to use Google Docs to write pen pal letters. Teachers could create Google Docs for each one of the students and share them. The students could then do a number of things. They could draw, insert pictures, or type information about themselves to be shared with other students. The Google Doc could then be shared with other students in our district or with students in another district in the province. This would be a very straightforward task as teachers could share the entire folder of Google Docs with another teacher. That teacher would then have their students respond on the Google Docs. This could go back and forth as long as the teachers wish. There is no reason this activity could not be expanded to include a variety of items. You could conduct science experiments and share your findings with other classes. You could include math problems and find out how many different ways students could represent the problem. 

Google Slides

The concept of sharing information is not just limited to Google Docs. There are a number of applications of this in Google Slides. Students from one class or school could find create a pictorial story board in Google Slides. They could then share the slides with other students who could write the text for the story and include more pictures. Again, this activity can go back and forth between students for quite some time. 

Google Forms

I really like the possibilities that Google Forms has for students in all grades. You can create very simple, straightforward surveys that can be easily shared throughout our district, the province and around the world. Last week I shared the example from a colleague in Illinois. The student created a two question survey about favourite foods. This concept could be developed so students were using Google Forms to give constructive feedback to each other about stories they wrote or presentations they completed. The beauty is, the feedback can be designed to be very straightforward so early elementary students could use the forms. 

Google Sites

Many times we have students create posters to represent their understanding of topics we cover in class. Using Google Sites with students provides a digital alternative to the poster. They can created media rich websites with links, images, videos and texts to help them represent their understanding of topics you cover in all subject areas. This is also a very straightforward way for them to begin the process of blogging and reflecting upon their learning, while you control who is able to view the sites.

Evolution Not Revolution

In all the presentations I give around the district, I really try to emphasize that technology is not going to revolutionize education. It will help it to evolve and it definitely has the capacity to redefine what we do in the classroom. However, in order for it to have any kind of positive impact and engage students in a meaningful way, we need to first focus on the learning outcomes. 

As always, if you want to book time with me so I can help you or your students, please send me an email or use the booking form on the Contact Me page.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, 28 November 2014

Success with Google Drive and Google Apps for Education

This week, I thought it would be important to address some questions I have had from many of you about using Google Apps for Education and Google Drive. When I present for groups of teachers, I usually have the same reaction: "This is a lot of information!!" Which is absolutely true. When I show up at a school, I try to present to everyone in the room, which means presenting to those people who have never used Google Drive or cloud computing to those who use it daily. As such, often people are left somewhat overwhelmed. In an effort to reduce some of the anxiety or confusion around Google Drive and Google Apps for Education, I wanted to pass along this advice: Keep It Simple.

Google Apps for Education is packed with a wide array of tools that are effective at promoting teaching and learning in a variety of ways. But, it takes time to get used to using them in the classroom. As such, I think if we can keep things simple for ourselves and become comfortable, we can then add other pieces to the puzzle. To be simple I have the following suggestions:

    1. Set up folders in your Google Drive to share with the students in your class. I would create a folder for each one of the classes you teach. 
    2. Share the folder with the students you teach and give them permission only to view the folder. That way, they cannot delete or modify any of the documents you put in there.
    3. Put documents you want your students to have in this folder. That could include presentations, copies of teacher notes, handouts, etc. This will benefit the students who have an identified need to have copies of these materials. It will benefit all of the students because they will always have access to this material, which fosters their learning. You can create a shareable URL for the folder by following the instructions below.
    4. The last thing to do is have each one of your students create a folder on their drive for your class and share it with you. They can put completed assignments in there so you have access to edit them and mark them online.

I really think if you do the above steps, it will streamline what you are doing in the classroom. It will make it easier for you to hand out materials to your students and it will be easy for them to keep track of it. As well, if they use their folder they shared with you to hand things in, it will help keep them organized.

Once you have done this for a while, we can talk about some other steps you can take to harness the power of Google Apps for Education. If you would like me to work with you on those steps now, let me know. Also, I would be happy to come help get your students all set up with their drive.

Thanks for taking a few minutes to read! Have a great weekend!


Friday, 21 November 2014

Conference Reflections

This past week, I spent a few days with technology leaders at the Alberta Technology Leaders in Education conference. This conference brings together people who represent technology vendors, IT departments and Ed Tech departments. It was very eye opening and I want to share some of the things I learned.

To the Cloud or not To the Cloud?

I participated in a panel discussion while at the ATLE conference. On the panel were representatives from Edmonton Public Schools, Edmonton Catholic Schools, Wolf Creek Schools, Microsoft and the Alberta Education Technology Branch. The purpose of the discussion was to discuss privacy and security concerns relative to cloud computing. It needs to be pointed out that districts are not questioning whether they should utilize cloud computing such as Google Drive or other options. The answer to that question is yes. Districts across Alberta and around North America are making the switch to cloud computing. With that comes some concerns about privacy and security. 

At this point, Alberta Education does not have a policy related to cloud storage of information. They are in the process of working on one. Therefore, it is up to individual districts to establish policies that make sense for them. In the absence of those policies, it is up to us as professionals to be mindful of what we store in the cloud. It is important that we are always careful, no matter what platform we use, that we protect student data. That is the message coming from all of the experts. We need to use good professional judgement when we share information either in the cloud or through email so as to maintain the safety of our students and their information.

I am certain more will come out regarding this issue. As the Alberta government and the ATA work on these issues, we will receive more information. In addition, Grasslands administration is discussing these issues. At this point, our good professional judgement needs to be used as we work with our students on appropriate digital citizenship.

Accelerating Learning for Struggling Readers

The link below is for a fantastic presentation given by Nicole Lakusta, who is a fantastic educator from Parkland School District. In her presentation she discusses some issues faced by students who are struggling to read. While the main orientation of the presentation is around Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environments, she does present some very interesting apps that can be used in the classroom to help students who are struggling. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Presentation Link:


At first, I saw Aurasma as something interesting but without a lot of application. Until I started to play with it a little more. Aurasma is an augmented reality app that is supported by both iOS and Android. When you download the app to a smart phone or a tablet, and point it at an image that has an "aura" attached to it, you will experience augmented reality through the app. 

While this is very "neat" there is an educational application. Students can make Auras. They could use images of famous people or places and create a short video about the person or place. If other student have the app and point it at the picture, the video will play. I see this is a very unique way for students to share their learning with others as well as to creatively approach how they represent their learning.

Final Thoughts for the Week

One of my favourite things to do in the division is work with students and teachers. I had the opportunity this week again to get out into schools and work with PLC groups and classes. I am very happy to do this. If you would like me to come visit your classroom and help get your students set up using Google Drive, please let me know. In addition, if you would like me to come help you or your PLC group, I would be happy to come by, sometimes I even bring treats!

Have a great weekend everyone! Thanks for taking the time to read,

Friday, 14 November 2014

Reflections from PD

Collaboration through Google Docs

Last Friday, I presented to Senior High and Junior High teachers on using Google Drive and other Google Apps for Education (GAFE) resources in classrooms. We discussed the collaborative capacity of these apps within our classrooms and discussed various ways they could be used. We created a collaborative Google Doc where participants were asked to respond to the following question: What are some ways GAFE could be used to promote innovative teaching and learning in Grasslands Schools? I thought I would share some of the responses from your colleagues to this question.
"Google Apps for Education allow teachers to easily provide students with feedback on written assignments to promote formative writing assessment."
Using a collaborative process through GAFE tools can definitely promote increased formative assessment with students. I also think we could expand the meaning of written assignments here outside of the Language Arts and Social Studies classrooms. Science, math, and art teachers could all utilize the collaborative capacity of GAFE to create feedback loops with their students. To me, this is one of the most powerful aspects of the tools we have available to us.
"Google Apps for Education makes learning activities available to students at all times, almost anywhere. Students who are absent from school will have the opportunity to keep up to date with classroom activities."
This is another powerful aspect GAFE offers to teachers and students. The creation of websites, shared Google folders or the use of Google Classroom all enable teachers and students to stay in communication with each other. These tools definitely can help students stay on top of their work whether they are in the classroom or not. As long as students have an internet connected device, they can obtain the materials they need.
"The possibilities of what we have access to now are amazing and at times overwhelming, but one question remains: How can we embrace the use of technology within the class when the tendency of students is to allow the technology to think for them? We need to encourage students to think, but some tend to allow their technology to do it for them, with limited results."
This comment resonated very strongly with me. While GAFE do enable teachers to provide students with all the materials they require, they do not replace good teaching practice. The commenter above highlights this fact - we must help our students understand how technology can play a role in their learning. Technology tools such as GAFE will not be effective in the absence of good teaching practice. There is definitely no single answer or magic bullet in education. However, if we base our use of technology on good pedagogy, we can definitely help our students progress and achieve.

Cross Curricular Competencies + Three Es + Program of Studies =

Over the past few weeks, I've been able to have many conversations with teachers and administrators about the Cross Curricular Competencies, the Three Es of Inspiring Education and different Programs of Study. During PD, I made the comment that some of the most innovative and high performing schools have taken these three components and intentionally planned to teach and assess them. This takes time to achieve, but the benefit for students can be seen in their academic growth. Students who know how to think, solve complex problems, communicate effectively and work well both alone and in group settings will do well in many pursuits. The more we can look at our Program of Studies as the vehicle by which we can develop the cross curricular competencies and the elements of Inspiring Education, the more successful our students will be both inside and outside our classrooms.

Problem/Project Based Learning

Many teachers attended a session put on by Vicki Glass about Problem/Project Based Learning during our PD day last Friday. PBL can be a powerful tool in our teaching toolbox. I was very fortunate to visit Michael Strembitsky School in Edmonton a few weeks ago where PBL is a cornerstone of their teaching practice. They work collaboratively across curricula to provide opportunities for students to solve complex problems. Two things resonated for me after attending the sessions at MSS. First,  PBL was not the only way material was taught. Teachers recognized that some material needed to be taught through direct instruction. In addition, students needed to be taught how to solve problems and put together their project presentations. Students were not left to discover these components on their own. Second, the projects students completed on were not "dessert." They were not done after all of the content of the unit were taught. Projects are the way the objectives of the programs of study are taught. Teachers work together to plan projects which incorporate elements of the Cross Curricular Competencies, Inspiring Education and their program of studies. When students complete their projects, they invite parents, community members and school division leaders in to see what they have done. This helps develop a wide audience for the students. 

This process is not a quick one. It takes time and planning. However, the testimonials from the students and teachers at MSS speak for themselves: this is a powerful way to promote student engagement and academic achievement. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Last week of October

Happy Halloween everyone! There are so many amazing things going on in the division. I am very pleased to be able to share some of them with you again this week. As always, if any of this is of interest to you or if you have any questions, please contact me. You can find all of my contact information on the Contact Me page of this blog. If you would like to schedule me to come to your school and work with you, please either complete the scheduling form on the Contact Me page or email me.


Radio Plays

This week, I had the good fortune of visiting Bassano school to help out with some Halloween Radio Plays. It was great to hear the scary stories that students put together for their plays. I found it very interesting that we used a high tech format to put together a very old form of entertainment. 

The students spent time before I arrived writing and rehearsing their radio plays. We then recorded the plays. For our purposes, we used Garage Band on a MacBook as that is what was available. However, the recording of the plays could be done using Audacity. The next step was to save the projects as MP3 files so they can be shared. 

I will visit Bassano again as the students finish recording their plays. The final step will be to post the recordings online for parents to be able to access. This is a great way to share both student writing and student creativity. In addition, it is a great way to let parents hear what you are doing in your classroom. 

Sharing the Stories

Earlier this week, I was able to visit a part of Alberta I had never seen before. I made a trip out to Gem to help the teachers there share the stories of the community. As I drove out to Gem from Brooks, I thought about how the landscape had changed over time and how it remained the same. I wondered if the landscape looks very similar to what it looked like 80 years ago. This is the story the teachers in Gem would like to tell. They want to use photography with their students to enable the telling of local stories. They are going to use Google Drive and Google Docs to have students take pictures of their area and begin writing and sharing their story. Using the technology available will enable the teachers and the students to collaborate and begin to create both a written and pictorial narrative of the area. 

We all have a story to tell, whether it is one of rural farming or city life. Using the tools we have available to us, we can help our students and families within Grasslands schools share their stories. 

MHC Collaboration

On Tuesday I attended a meeting with Terry Chapman, Dean of Arts and Education at Medicine Hat College. At this meeting we discussed the concept of accessing expert knowledge at Medicine Hat College for classrooms at Grasslands Schools. In an earlier post, I wrote about VROC (Virtual Researchers on Call). This organization connects K-12 teachers with experts in science, technology, engineering, and math. To my knowledge, nothing like this exists for humanities teachers. Therefore, collaborating with Medicine Hat College to establish a database of experts in the social sciences and business fields may be very helpful to Grasslands teachers. In the meeting, Dr. Chapman asked me what topics I thought might be important to our teachers. So, I pose this out to all of you. If you had the ability to ask experts in history, business, literature, political science, or geography questions, what would they be? Are there topics that you would like experts to speak with your students about? 

Our discussions with Medicine Hat College are in the preliminary stages but it would be very helpful to have the thoughts of Grasslands teachers. If you have a minute, I would really appreciate hearing from you.

Chrome Classroom

This is a project that is about to begin with 10 teachers in the division. They are going to pilot 1:1 teaching and learning using Chromebooks in their classrooms. The cohort of teachers will participate in professional development related to 1:1 pedagogy. The aim of the project is twofold. First, teachers who participate in the project will improve their own understanding of emerging technologies and innovative teaching. learning and assessment practices. Second, the teachers participating in the project will act as innovation leaders within their own schools, providing learning opportunities and sharing with their colleagues. This is an ambitious project for the division. We are looking forward to working with the cohort of teachers in moving this project forward.

Friday, 24 October 2014

What's Up This Week

Google Docs with Students

This past week, I spent time with two different groups of students in Alcoma and Brooks Composite High School working with Google Docs. We began by logging in and setting up their drive. We talked about the utility of the drive and how it could help keep them organized and remove the need for an external drive. That was the straightforward part of the presentation. The piece that really got them excited was the collaborative nature of Google Docs. I created a Google Doc and shared it with two students in the room and my wife, who was working from her office in Brooks. The students were all amazed at how quickly ideas could be share. They got a kick out of seeing their comments appear on the document. As well, they were equally as impressed seeing the comments my wife made.

While it was a lot of fun, we also discussed how the share feature could be used to foster greater collaboration between members of the same class, different schools and students in different countries. In addition, we spoke about the ways teachers could use Google DOcs to provide students with feedback to promote their understanding. It was great to work with the students and see how excited they were about collaborating with each other. 

Sites and Stuff

I am often asked for websites or apps that teachers can use in their classrooms. As such, I thought I would draw your attention to a few that I think are both interesting and have great utility for your classrooms:
  1. Read and Write for Google: This web based App provides premium features free for teachers. It is one of the better text to speech apps that I have come across. In addition, the premium features give you speech input for Google Docs. If you have students in your class who experience difficulty and may benefit from a text to speech app this is definitely a good one to try.
  2. Virtual Researchers on Call: I have written about this site previously but am so impressed by it I thought it could use another mention here. VROC is a site which is free for teachers in Grasslands Public Schools. It is a database collection of experts in science, technology, engineering and math. Once you sign up and receive a log in from VROC, you will have access to their experts. You can take a look at recorded presentations, invite an expert into your class, or sign your class up for a STEM mentor. In addition, the Partners in Research component hosts live events with STEM professionals. Teachers and students can join the live stream presentation and Tweet their questions. This offers teachers a very quick way to bring experts into their classes.
  3. Instagrok: This is one that came across my desk earlier this week. It is a very powerful tool to create dynamic graphic organizers with your students. You can input any search term into the search bar and Instagrok will create a web for you. All of the information on the web can then be expanded. You can increase the difficulty level of the web to provide you with more detailed search results. In addition, students can create their own webs and share them with other students. This is a site that offers a lot of possibilities for content in classrooms.

Connected Teaching and Learning

Early in my teaching career, an administrator asked all of his staff: "are you a school teacher or a classroom teacher?" His goal was for all of us to see ourselves as connected to all students and to one another, not just as isolated practitioners only worried about ourselves and the students in our room. 

The concept of connection has changed dramatically in the past few years. There is a wide variety of platforms which enable teachers to connect and collaborate. I already wrote about the collaborative power of Google Apps for Education. Today, I would like to share my thoughts about Twitter.

Twitter is an amazing resource for teachers. With Twitter, you have the capacity to develop an immense digital professional learning community. This means you can share and collaborate with and ask questions of thousands of teachers. For me, this resource has proven to be truly invaluable. There are so many ways to use Twitter for yourself and with students. I would be happy to meet with you and help set up a Twitter account. Below is a list to some Grasslands teachers who are already connected and on Twitter. I'm sure I've missed a few and, if I have, I apologize. If you are on Twitter and would like to add your name, either write a comment on this post or send me an email and I will update the list. Also, if you are on Twitter and would like to connect with other Grasslands teachers, please use the hashtag: #GPSD6. 


Grasslands Teachers on Twitter:
Sean Beaton: @backcountrynut
Vince Hill: @vhill01 
Nathan Hodgson: @BassanoBroncos
Alicia Olson: @ali_ciaolson
Jeneen Armstrong: @bassanojeneen
Tim Rodgers: @tpsrodgers
Amanda McCrimmon: @missMcCrimm
Linda Andres: @LindaAndres1
Bassano School: @BassanoSchool
Marg Grosfield: @MargGrosfield
Shawn Lachapelle: @lachapelles
Gord Bramfield: @nodgroadog

Friday, 17 October 2014

The First Few Weeks

What's Going On?

Over the past few weeks, I have thought about how best to share all the amazing things that are going on in Grasslands with all of you. At first, I thought a showcase website would be the best. You could all go to the website and see the things that your colleagues have done. However, because so many of the projects are on going, it will be a while before they are ready to be showcased. As a result, I thought it would be better to update you with a weekly blog. This way, I can let you all know about the things I am working on with teachers in the district and you can read about all the things going on. So, what follows is a description of some of the things I have had the good fortune of being involved with. If you would like more information about anything, please let me know! Rather than put this at the end of every piece, I will say it now: if you would like to work on any of these tasks in your classroom or your school, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Google Drive and Google Apps for Education

The most common task I am asked to help out with is setting up Google Drive with teachers and students. At the most basic level, Google Drive is a hard drive in the "cloud." It allows users to save any document they wish. You can create folders and store items just as you would in any hard drive. The advantage with Google Drive is that you and your students have access to all items on Google Drive on any device that has an Internet connection. The other advantage is you and your students have unlimited storage on Drive. 

That is the most basic level. But there is so much more that you can do with the tool. You have access to all of the Google Apps for education. This includes the capacity to create, edit, and share documents, spreadsheets, presentation, and websites. The opportunity for student collaboration and formative assessment are endless. For example, I worked with a group of teachers at BJHS who are going to use Google Drive and Google Docs to promote peer editing of written work. 

Google Sites

Effective communication is a key success factor for teachers. We need to effectively communicate with our students, their parents, and each other. One way to stay in touch with parents and keep them up to date is through a class web page. I have worked on setting up pages with teachers at Uplands School, Griffin Park School, and, in the near future, BCHS. Again, Google Apps for Education offers a straightforward tool to create these pages. 

Google Sites is a quick way to create professional web pages that can be shared with your parents and students. You can link them to folders in your drive to provide parents and students access to assigned tasks, daily lessons, or materials for extra practice. You can include external links to web pages you would like your students to use. Again, the options are broad. I like the fact that using Google Sites is very straightforward. Much of the construction is through drag and drop. There is no need to know code to create the page. 

Student Movie Making

Providing students with multiple means to represent their understanding of topics you cover in class is a core aspect of differentiation. Making short movies with them is an excellent way for students to demonstrate what they know. I was invited to Alcoma School to work with a group of Junior High Students and their teacher on making short films. We are using Google Drive as a method of collecting images and video clips. We are discussing ideas about how camera angles, lighting, and music can help create theme and tell a story. This is a multi-step project that engages the students in a very different way. However, they seem to be really enjoying the process. Once we have completed some movies, I will be sure to share them with everyone. 

Digital Art Portfolios

One of the advantages of using Google Drive and Google Apps for Education is the capacity and ease with which you can create digital portfolios with your students. There is a great deal of research to suggest that creating digital portfolios which incorporate student reflection and promote visible learning, are of great value to student academic performance. 

I am working with a teacher in Bassano to create digital portfolios in a high school art class. The first step in this project involved creating a folder for every student in the teacher's Google Drive, sharing the folders with the students, and having them upload digital copies of their work. The students were encouraged to take pictures of their work so they can be submitted to the drive. At this point, they are submitting everything.

The next step is to create blogs for all of the students so they can comment on their work and provide personal feedback about their art. This will be done in written format or in video format. The blogs will host pictures of the work and students will include their feedback. In addition, their classmates with offer some constructive feedback about the work that is created.

This project has huge potential for any class in any grade in any discipline across the division. Creating digital portfolios provides a visible artifact regarding growth over time. Students, parents, and teachers can all see how the student has grown in their learning journey. In addition, the portfolio can "travel" with the student from grade to grade. As well, many post-secondary schools ask to see portfolios of student work. There are many ways to utilize this tool within classrooms to promote improved student outcomes.

Google Classroom

A new tool within the Google Apps for Education suite is Google Classroom. This is Google's version of a Learning Management System. While it does not have the same functionality as other systems like Blackboard or D2L, it does provide teachers with a free tool with which they can create a course shell. I am working with teachers in Rolling Hills and at BJHS on using Google Classroom. Teachers can link Google Classroom to their Drive so that they can "handout," collect, and "hand back" assigned tasks digitally. Students do not need to print any of the materials off if they do not want to. There are a number of advantages to this. First, a student cannot say they lost a handout. It is always available to them on any device connected to the Internet through Google Classroom. Second, you can provide the student with feedback on their work and encourage resubmission if necessary. Again, all digitally through Google Drive. 

This is a very effective, straightforward tool you can use to help your students stay organized and up to date with what you are doing.