Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Google Classroom: Scheduling Posts

Has anyone else been waiting since Google Classroom's inception for this update?! Users asked and the Google team listened. Google Classroom users no longer have to save assignments, announcements, and questions as drafts - It is now possible to schedule a specific date and time to release them into your Stream!


This new Google Classroom feature makes it incredibly easy to stay organized and plan ahead in your lessons. Previously, teachers were required to manually go into Classroom and ‘release’ work to each class at the exact time that they wanted students to access them. The new scheduled post feature eliminates the need for that! Teachers can choose a date from a drop down menu and then type in a specific time for release on any assignment, announcement, or question.

What are the drawbacks?
  • The new schedule posts feature does not yet have the ability to post to/release to multiple classes at the same time, rather users will need to reuse post to do this.
  • There is not currently a drop down feature for scheduling specific times for release.
  • Scheduling posts is currently only available on the web platform and is not yet available in the Google Classroom phone app.

For me, the benefits of this new feature definitely outweigh the drawbacks for teachers like myself that are sometimes forgetful but like to plan ahead. It also provides that peace of mind in knowing that assignments have been queued up and are ready to go exactly when I'll be needing them. Any additional functionality or tool that allows me to save valuable time and clicks is definitely a real win in my book! What do you think of the new feature? What is still missing or needs to be changed?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Google Expeditions - Behind the Scenes: Part 2

IMG_2193.JPGIn Behind The Scenes: Google Expeditions: Part 1, I explained my school’s relationship with Google and how I created an Expedition at the Google headquarters in NYC back in 2015. After the Google engineers worked their magic and created the expeditions, it was time to pilot in the classroom with students while engineers and employees from Google observed. In hyping up an already awesome day and creating a true experience for my students, I challenged them to dress up as tourists. I even made them fake passports with their names and pictures on it, which they loved! It made the entire experience that much more authentic, enjoyable, and memorable.

Many of the students in my Special Ed classes struggle with engagement, motivation, and communication, in addition to behavioral, emotional and learning disabilities. However, on Pilot Day when students looked into the Cardboard and a chorus of ‘OH MY GOSH’ filled the room, 100% of them were engaged and immediately drawn into the lesson for the entire class period! To facilitate a valuable learning experience, the day before Expeditions was spent reviewing major architectural themes and accomplishments from the Classical Greek and Roman civilizations, comparing and contrasting it to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. Taking the time to build and focus on that knowledge was crucial in seamlessly implementing Expeditions and facilitating rich and meaningful connections with content material.
Screenshot 2016-04-19 at 9.44.14 AM.png
Fake passport with student picture, name and a message from Captain Raskin! (My maiden name)

As the lesson continued we alternated between using the viewfinder to look at images and asking/answering discussion questions that I had pre-made based on each specific site on the Expedition. The ‘Pause’ feature on the tablet proved to be invaluable, as it allowed me to refocus my students and draw them back to the topic despite the high levels of excitement and energy in the room. With that said, it was incredibly powerful to watch students connecting with the imagery on the screen and to observe their excitement as they saw tangible evidence from the topics we had discussed.

Some of their responses included:

”Look! There are arches and columns, just like what we learned about in Ancient Greece!” 
“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done! I want to learn like this every day!” 
“I love this, but I really wish there could be video and sound.”

Then Google asked my students for feedback. Knowing that their opinions were being listened to and valued had each and every student participating on a level that was unprecedented. It served as a reminder of how essential it is to elevate student voice and empowerment within my classroom on a regular basis. I was blown away with the feedback they provided especially students who were typically reserved and quiet. They suggested adding video, a head strap to the Cardboard viewfinder, a voiceover or guide for each slide, music, and they requested the ability to create their own Expeditions. This last suggestion was what students were most passionate about, which comes up in just about every session I run on Expeditions.

ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia.
Since the pilot, I have been fortunate enough to continue my work with Expeditions. Last June, I attended ISTE with Google and presented numerous sessions on Expeditions. It was absolutely amazing to see educators and adults from all over the world step into virtual reality for the first time. Then, in the fall, I attended the ECET2 conference in which the incredible Jonathan Rochelle was leading a session on Expeditions. I chimed in and asked, "Do you have an Expedition on the Middle Ages? I made that!" A few months later JR and I presented together at a conference in New Jersey, which was truly an awesome experience! More recently my school has continued working with Google to facilitate the Expeditions Pioneer Program within my district in which students in grades K-12 (and staff!) got to try out Expeditions and, of course, loved it.
Jonathan Rochelle and I presenting together on Google Expeditions.

In a completely ironic timing of events, as I write this I just had one of last year’s students stop by my class to say hi. He told me, ‘Exactly one year ago today was the best day of school ever! It was Google Expeditions day and I will never forget how much fun that was!’ Knowing that I (well, really Google) provided my students with a memorable learning experience that stayed with them is what school is all about! Virtual reality experiences such as Google Expeditions and other #edtech resources can be powerful supplemental tools that afford our students with interactive, hands-on experiences that redefine what school is and should be. 

Reader challenge: A question to ponder, blog, talk, or tweet about...
How do you think #GoogleExpeditions & #edtech have redefined what school is and should be?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Google Expeditions - Behind The Scenes: Part 1

I first tried out Google Cardboard last Fall when I was hanging with the very awesome Amber Klebanoff at a conference. The moment I held it up to my eyes I had the same reaction that all first timers do - An awed, enthusiastic howl of “WOAH! THIS IS INCREDIBLE!” Accompanied by spinning in slow circles to take in the full 360 view. I explored the pyramids at Giza, a Billy Joel concert, and then nearly threw up on a roller coaster! I was completely enamored with the tool and bought my very own Google Cardboard less than an hour later. I wasn’t exactly sure how or when I’d use it, but I knew that I wanted my students to have that same experience as I did. I knew it would be a powerful tool for making learning about history a truly tangible and interactive experience. And then Google called…

I am incredibly fortunate to work in a district that has a strong working relationship with Google Apps for Education, which has afforded me the opportunity to take part in pilots for various Google products over the past year. The coolest pilot I have been a part of, by far, was Google Expeditions. If you haven’t heard all the recent buzz on Expeditions, it is a virtual reality field trip that ‘takes you places a school bus can’t.’ The best comparison I have found is to compare Google Cardboard and Expeditions to everyone’s favorite 80s toy, the ViewMaster.
In February of 2015 a handful of colleagues and I got to go to the NYC Google Headquarters where we were introduced to the concept of Google Expeditions. We had the privilege of working with the fabulous Jen Holland throughout this project, in addition to lots of absolutely brilliant and talented Google Engineers. They listened to our feedback and communicated with us throughout the experience. Before signing onto any pilot, we are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement, as were my students, but now that the product is out here’s a behind the scenes look at what went into creating Expeditions from the teacher perspective:

  • “Choose a topic you will be teaching about in the next few months. You will be designing a virtual reality field trip around it.” I chose to make an Expedition about the Middle Ages/Renaissance architecture in Europe.
  • Using Google Slides we compiled panoramic photospheric images for the various points of interest we wanted to include on the virtual field trips. In all honesty, it was very difficult to find good imagery for the things we wanted to show, which was really the only tough part about this entire experience.

    • A note about this: As teachers, many of us are used to working within specific parameters and following certain established rules. The culture of Google is very different than the culture of your traditional classroom - Something I have grown to highly respect and admire. Google’s ‘fail often and fail fast’ motto lent itself to directions being intentionally vague in hopes that we would create products that were truly authentic and genuine.

  • Next, we finalized our presentations and provided summaries of each destination on our Expeditions. This is what you’ll see when you are on the teacher/guide side of Expeditions. When holding the tablet to lead an Expedition, if you tap on the tab on the right side of the screen you have access in depth information and scaffolded questions to pose to your audience. This feature makes the tool content area agnostic so that a world language teacher can potentially lead an Expedition on Biology, for example. After this step, it was time for the engineers to work their magic!
  • I’m not sure how long it actually took the Google engineers to ‘make’ the Expeditions so that they were pilot-ready, but it felt Easy Bake Oven-esque in that we shared our slide decks and the engineers turned them into this magical product that had the power of capturing 100% of the attention of every single person that put it up to their eyes for the very first time.

Stay tuned for the second part of the Google Expeditions journey in which Google came into my classroom and tested Expeditions with my awesome Special Education students!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

5 Reasons to Attend the Next Education Conference

EduConference.pngThe thought of missing a school day or dedicating free time on the weekend to attend a conference is daunting to some educators. Many of us are used to professional development that comes in the homogeneous style of ‘sit and get’, rather than personalized PD that allows us to actively choose when, how, where and what we learn. Attending conferences has been the single most rewarding form of professional development thus far for me. Here are the most important reasons why I recommend checking out an upcoming conference.

  1. Create and grow your PLN → Teaching tends to be a career that lends itself to isolation. We are in our classrooms all day and often don’t have the luxury of time or opportunities to collaborate or reflect with colleagues. Conferences allow you to network, make connections with educators and vendors, provide feedback or ask for help, meet your Twitter pals face to face, and best of all - find your tribe.

... those weirdos are your tribe.:

For me, that tribe is the #EdJusticeLeague. Chris Nesi, Adam Schoenbart, Stacey Lindes, AJ Bianco, Chrissy Romano. Our group of six met at the Ednado conference last spring and have since kept in touch via Voxer every single day. We discuss ideas, frustrations, #eduwins, and personal aspirations or goals. Despite working in different states and different schools, our shared goal of creating positive and productive change in education binds us all together and inspires us daily to continue striving to be the best version of ourselves possible. We inspire, create, collaborate and communicate each day, which allows me to reflect on the aspects of my practice that I want to improve and grow. I am passionate about encouraging all educators to find their tribe and connect with a core group of people that share a common vision and mindset as you.  

  1. Find your passion/niche. At the beginning of my teaching career, I was passionate about make an immediate and tangible impact in my school community, but I wasn’t sure of the ‘how’ or ‘what’. The first time I attended an education conference (an EdCamp, to be exact) I immediately felt a sense of belonging; an overwhelming feeling of ‘Yes! This is what I am meant to do.’ If it isn’t innovation and educational technology that you are passionate about, try participating in Twitter chats or reading books to discover what most resonates with you. And once you find that wave of inspiration and excitement, ride it and create those bigger waves!  
  2. Learn about new tools. Keeping abreast of new trends and tools enables educators to create engaging and interactive lessons that focus on authentic assessments and promoting student choice and student voice. I first learned about some of my favorite tools, such as Kahoot!, TodaysMeet, the power of Google Forms, and BreakoutEDU, at education conferences. After introducing these tools to the staff and students in my school, teachers were in awe of the transformations they saw in their classes in terms of  increased student engagement and motivation.
  3. Rediscover your ‘why’. Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is easily one of my favorite TEDTalks of all time. He reminds us of the importance of focusing not on what we do, but why we do it. It is easy to become frustrated and angered by school politics, student misbehavior, and never-ending grading. Education conferences remind us why we choose to come to school everyday and deal with some of the unpleasantries of our job. I have never left a conference without feeling a deep sense of empowerment and a better understanding of my role as an educator and leader. As we interact with educators with whom we share common goals and visions, we are reminded that even though we might not work in the same building, we are working towards the same purpose.  

(Simon Sinek book ‘Start With Why’)

  1. Free goodies: Depending on which conferences you go to, you are in for a real treat in terms of freebies! First let’s talk about everyone’s favorite freebie - The food! From crispy bacon, to multiberry waffles and savory Panera sandwiches, educators and conference planners absolutely understand that food is love, and that great good is brain fuel for a day of extended learning. In addition to food, many vendors attend conferences which is a great opportunity to connect with #edtech companies. They often give away stickers, products, pens, T-shirts, stress balls, and other goodies.

Let’s keep growing and learning together! I hope to connect with my PLN at future education conferences, and I hope that you find and grow with your tribe! To find the latest education conferences check out www.theeducationcalendar.com

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Professor For A Day: My Experience at Rutgers University


Last Monday I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker/professor at Rutgers University with the amazing Chris Nesi of the House of EdTech Podcast. Chris and I met on Twitter last year and in person at one of his awesome ‘Stop Curating, Start Creating’ sessions at an EdCamp. Since then, Chris and I talk daily about our shared passion for inspiring positivity and collaboration in education. When he invited me to come into his Leadership in Digital Contexts class, I was absolutely thrilled about the opportunity!

Recently, I have been thinking about what is next for me - I have entertained the idea of teaching at the college level, which got me thinking about the differences and similarities between the college and high school settings. I am drawn to the potential for elevated conversation and meaningful application to a career field that comes with teaching at the college level. My experience at Rutgers certainly did not disappoint! The class was comprised of college sophomores, juniors, and seniors working towards a minor in Digital Leadership. Our conversations touched on many different topics and then steered back to the main topic of establishing a positive digital presence and connecting with others in a professional capacity. We debated the pros and cons of Blab.im, LinkedIn.com, and even their course curriculum. One of the coolest parts was using Periscope to broadcast part of the conversation! It was great to show students the power of social media, as we had up to 60 viewers and lots of audience participation.  
In reflecting on my experience, I found that there will always be students in class - regardless of atmosphere - who simply just get it. Students (like me) that are eager to participate, criticize, and reflect. Then there are those students who will be on the opposite spectrum - Disengaged and disinterested, to be put it bluntly. It is those students that motivate me to continue teaching. I strive to connect with those students who struggle to understand or relate to content and skills by bridging gaps and finding meaningful ways to make those students a part of the classroom conversation and culture. At the college level, I was able to do this in a light hearted and fun that my 9th grade Special Education Social Studies classes do not generally allow.
Overall, I was so impressed with the ability of the students to rationalize and justify their opinions and relate the information back to their specific fields of career interest. The most rewarding part of the class was the genuine connections I made with the students. There were two students in particular who stayed after class to chat and ask questions. Knowing that these students were inspired and excited to take action and implement ideas we had discussed in class truly inspired me.