Friday, 23 October 2015

Friday October 23

Google Apps for Education

One of the things I consistently hear from the teachers I work with is: "there are so many apps and different components of Google. It's hard to keep up!" I absolutely agree! It seems every week, Google or their partners release something new that could be integrated into what we do with our students. Understanding their usage takes time. Working with me is one way to improve your overall understanding but there are other things you can do. Google actually has produced so very good professional development resources. One can be found here: This web page has some excellent resources for many of the apps you use daily. Whether you need assistance organizing your email or scheduling appointments or would like to know more about using Google Docs, this website has resources to help. The lessons organized on the site are very straightforward and I have found them to be very informative. So, if you are looking for a little bit of extra help, check out the resources.

Education for All Success For Each

Next week we will all gather together for a District wide Professional Development day. Early next week, I will be sharing some resources for the day through our Google Drive. I have already created a shared space for all teachers in the division called Grasslands Teaching Resources. You can find the folder here: As we approach PD day, there will be questions to guide the work we do next week and space to put the work you complete on Friday. The focus for the day will be centred around long range planning with your students. Elementary, Junior High and High School teachers will have an opportunity to work collaboratively throughout the day.

Please look for emails from you reminding you of the collaborative space and the documents available to you.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Friday October 16

Thanks For Sharing! Now What?

Over the past few weeks, I'm sure many of you who use Google Drive with your students have received emails saying someone has invited you to collaborate or edit or view some kind of file or folder. Keeping track of all those documents can be rather time consuming, particularly if you are working with many students. Add to that the documents and files shared by administrators and your drive can quickly become a pile of virtual paper. So, how do we manage the document flow coming in to us?

When working with students, one thing I suggest is they create one folder and share it with their teachers. If they label the folder with their first and last name and the course name (EG: Sean Beaton Language Arts) it makes it much easier to identify who's folder it is. By sharing one folder and putting all of the work for the class into that folder, you will not continue to receive emails about sharing. Anything that is placed or created in that shared folder automatically retains the same sharing permissions as the folder. The students can tell you face to face or through email they have completed the assignment and it is in the folder, or you can check the folder yourself. This entire process is made even more straightforward when you use Google Classroom as all assignments are turned in through the assignment stream. You don't need to go looking for them. You will receive a notification that the assignment is completed in your email but you won't need to search in your "shared with me" section of your drive.

The same principles apply to sharing with colleagues. If you are working collaboratively with a group of teachers, create one single folder for the group. Share the folder with all your colleagues who need access and place all relevant documents in this folder. That way, people are not inundated with email and they do not need to look in their shared with me section. The one thing you may want to do with a shared folder is add it to your drive so you know where it is. To do this, right click on the name of the folder shared with you in the Shared with Me section of your drive. Then select "Move to Drive." You can then choose where to put the folder. 

If you are using Google Drive with your students, let me know how things are going. I really enjoy hearing feedback and knowing how things are working in your classrooms.

The Power of Language

Over the past few weeks, one of my projects has been to go through various programs of study in preparation for PD on October 30. What I found as I combed through the various curricula was a vast difference in language use. In some curriculum documents, the words General Outcome and Specific Outcome are used. In others it is Related Issue and Concept. Still others use different language. It took me a little while to come to an understanding as to why this was the case - each of the documents was written at a different time. For example the Social Studies 30-1 curriculum was released less than ten years ago whereas the English Language Arts Curriculum is much older. As a result, the terminology does not match. But, the essence of what the documents are trying to achieve is the same. 

Teachers are tasked with helping students move through large "chunks" of information. They can be called General Outcomes or Related issues but they are the same idea. These large chunks of information form the bulk of our units and the bulk of our summative assessments. This is the information we need to report back to parents. The smaller pieces that make up the whole are the things we do day to day in our classrooms - they are the concepts that we help our students understand while working to a larger goal. These smaller pieces are where our formative assessment takes place. We work with students in helping them understand this information and ensure we give them feedback regarding this understanding, all the while moving toward the end goal of the General Outcome. 

This past week, four schools came together to begin the process of collaboratively "unpacking" the curriculum. Over the next few weeks, all of us will get together to begin this process in an effort to continue the amazing work being done all over the district to promote success for each of our students. 

Friday, 9 October 2015

Friday October 9

Google Apps, Extensions and Add-ons

It seems everyday there are more bits and pieces that work with Google Apps for Education. Two areas where there seems to be constant development are with Google Apps and Extensions and Google Add-ons.

Google apps are direct links to web based programs. Adding apps gives you a bit more functionality such as linking directly to your Google Drive. An example of an App is Google Classroom. This is an application that links directly to your Google account an enables you to create a digital learning space for your students. Extensions are small pieces of software that link with the Chrome Browser to enable you to do some really interesting things very quickly. There are literally hundreds of apps and extensions to choose from. They can be found through the Google Webstore. We are in the process of adding apps and extensions to the Grasslands section of the Webstore. If you find ones that you think people would use let me know and I will ensure they are added.

Here is a link to a Google Slides presentation about some very useful Apps and Extensions. It was put together by Michelle Armstrong, a Google Certified Teacher and Trainer from Calgary:

Add-ons are small pieces of software that connect directly to Google Docs and Google Sheets. They can be found by clicking on Add-ons in the toolbar in a Google Doc or in Google Sheets. You then select "Get Add-ons" to see what is available. One that is very popular among math teachers is gMath. This Add-on gives you the ability to include mathematical notation in a Google Doc. You can either type in your notation or you can use the microphone on your computer to speak the notation which you can then insert into your Google Doc. 

Take a look at Apps, Extensions, and Add-ons to see how you can increase the utility of Google Chrome and Google Apps for Education. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

A Gathering Place

Last week I created a space on my Google Drive for teachers to share lessons, units and examples of student work. One request I have heard from many teachers I've worked with are examples of strategies they can use in their classroom to promote student learning. I was very fortunate to attend a session in the summer with Barry Bennett a University of Toronto teacher educator and author of the Book Beyond Monet. This book provides teachers with hundreds of teaching strategies that are useful in all divisions. Barry gave us all a digital copy of this book and asked that we share it with whoever we felt could use it. As such, I've put it on the shared drive for all of you. I have also put on another of Barry's books called Classroom Management: A Thinking and Caring Approach. 

Both of these resources can be found here: Please feel free to download the two resources and add any that you think would be helpful to your colleagues!

Education for All Success for Each

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a High School Redesign symposium. I am always amazed to hear about the great things that are being done around the province. One item that came up during the day that applies to all grades is the idea of planning for learning.

In the session I attended, teachers from Lethbridge talked about the process they went through to ensure everything they did in the classroom was related back to concepts and outcomes in the program of studies. They told us about the collaborative work they did during PD sessions to mine through the curriculum. They also spoke about the need to link their planning with the needs of their students. They had very powerful stories of success from both teachers and students who spoke about flexibility, mastery learning and consistent feedback. One piece of advice they had for all of us in the room was to ensure not to "grade" everything the students did but to provide lots of descriptive feedback to the students. In addition, they spoke about ensuring their lessons, planning and assessment was continually linked to curricular outcomes.

Ultimately, their message was to be mindful of preparing and assessing students. By doing so, they said they were able to promote individualized success. Students who needed some extra supports in their learning received them. Students who were ready for a larger challenge were given that opportunity.

Having visited so many classrooms throughout the division it is so great to see so many teachers finding success with students in a similar way to what was described by these teachers from Lethbridge.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Friday, October 2

Google Tips - Optical Character Recognition, Read&Write

One of the really powerful tools in our Google Drive is something called Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This capability enables users to turn PDFs into editable Google Docs. In many cases, you wouldn't need to edit the PDF. However, if you had a student who needed some support with reading, this could be an interesting way to make information accessible to them. When you combine Google Drive OCR with Read&Write for Google, you have a powerful accessibility tool. For example, let's say you have a student in one of your classes who struggles with reading. You can scan a PDF copy of the text you want them to read, open it as a Google Doc, and then have them use Read&Write for Google (which all of our students now have access to) to ensure the student can access the information. Watch the clip below to see what I mean (Read&Write for Google sounds much better in person).

A Gathering Place Part 2

As I wrote last week, many of you requested that we develop a space for curating and housing examples of lesson plans, assignments, activities, and student work. I suggested we use this blog as a way to store these items. However, it was suggested to me that we utilize Google Drive to achieve this outcome. I agree and think that would be a much better way to store these pieces of information. As such, I have created a shared space for us all: This link will bring you to a folder titled "Grasslands Teaching and Learning." In this folder, there are subfolders for K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. In each of those folders, I have created "Lesson Plan, Activities" and "Examples of Student Work" folders. 

The material you share here does not need to include technology or Google Apps for Education; that is not the purpose. The purpose is to provide a space where you can share resources with your colleagues. The resources could be lessons that you like, assignments that you thought went well, or activities that you would like to share. You can share hard copies of lessons or videos of you working with your students on the lessons. For the student work section, you can share pieces of student work that you and your students are very proud of. One thing to note, however, if you do plan on sharing student work, be sure that you have their permission to do so prior to posting in in the folder. In addition, it is a good idea to remove the student's name from the work. I always appreciated seeing examples of my colleagues' lessons and the work our students were doing. 

I hope this space is helpful and that we begin to create a repository of all the amazing things that are going on in the district. I have the privilege of travelling to schools and working with so many teachers and students. I get to see the really great things you are all doing. It would be awesome if you would share that with all of your colleagues! 

Education for All Success for Each - Multiple Means of Representation

In looking at the idea of success for each of our students, I thought it would be beneficial to write a little bit about multiple means of representation. This is an idea that really keys in on finding ways for all of our students to demonstrate their understanding of topics we cover in class. As we move more and more toward outcomes based assessment, this is a powerful way to ensure we know where are students are in mastering outcomes. 

Multiple means of representation simply refers to the idea that we provide our students with different ways to demonstrate their understanding of the topics we cover in our classrooms. They could do so through posters, creation of websites, videos, verbally or through written text. When I taught full time, I always had specific tasks that were non-negotiable - students had to complete them the way they were outlined. This was specifically important for my Social Studies 30-1 students and their written work as it was required of them on their Diploma Exam. However, for many of my other assigned tasks, I gave students the choice of how they wanted to complete them. Of course, this did mean I needed to do a bit more work in creating rubrics. But, once I had the rubrics for a specific outcome, it didn't really matter how the students demonstrated their understanding because they were graded using a rubric for the outcome not for a specific task. 

Providing our students with multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding ensures we get a true sense of where our students are at and whether we need to provide them with support with the outcomes.