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.