Thursday, September 29, 2016


Good news! Google Docs finally introduces columns! No longer do you have to do the weird add hidden table workaround. I really like docs. This one was strangely a long time in coming.

Monday, September 26, 2016

More on Google Classroom "Glitches"

Once a teacher attaches  a document in Classroom, the teacher loses the ability to go back in and change the sharing settings to "make a copy" for each student. Several of the teachers at my school have told me that they are losing the option "make a copy". I likely gave them a puzzled look as I have not seen it myself. I'm pretty certain that this is what has happened to them. If folks forget to "make a copy" when first attaching the a document, they will have to start the whole assignment over again.

This is cumbersome when trying to share multiple documents. One has to attach everything before sharing anything with the students. The video above says that this is intentional on Google's part. I can't see the benefit.

I'm still really liking the tool. But I'm starting to find interesting glitches.

update: you don't have to start from scratch. Thanks +Kyle Beatty for showing me "reuse" post. This will still allow you to make a copy, even if you didn't have it as a copy in its previous iteration.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Maximizing Docs

I've spent a lot of time these past two weeks trouble-shooting Google Classroom. Many teachers in my school have recently started using it. Many of these folks really like it. They find it intuitive and easy to use.

Google Classroom falls down, or doesn't work as well, for teachers who wish to use the Google Classroom iPad app. It is a more than a tad slow. I have tried using it myself and they are right. When grading a stack of papers, one doesn't want lag time. Also, a couple of teachers have told me they've lost comments they've written while using the Google Classroom app on their iPads. Likely this happened because they forgot to save, but in a Google world where we rarely save anything any longer, this will be a common error. Still other teachers don't like that students immediately see their feedback. They like to hold work and return in all at once. So, they don't like that students can see edits and changes on the work itself. They thoughtfully point out that sometimes they go back and change comments and grades on a paper after reading a whole stack. What a teacher may think is a great paper may change if they later read several papers that are even better. I get that. 
(For a workaround to this problem, use the  "comments" feature and use suggestion mode. These keep a teacher's comments invisible until the students get their "ownership" back when their work is returned to them.)

Google Classroom is only going to get better. I can't help but thinking if teachers knew more about the Suggestion Mode (but not at my school- we have iPads- no suggestion mode) and how to use the comments feature, some current complaints would disappear. 

I propose a paradigm shift. I understand the reasons why we want to hold our feedback until we are ready to return work to everyone. But think about the benefits of students being able to see feedback in real time. I know that I have a hard time accessing my thinking after a while. I don't remember what I was thinking when I wrote it, thus the feedback is not as powerful as it could have been if it had been returned sooner.

I always let students re-write essays. I have students journal weekly and these they cannot change. But for an essay, I've found that students are far more likely to learn from the corrections I make on a paper if they can write it again. I let them write it for full credit and a new grade. If that's too big a leap for some teachers, maybe these teachers can average the new and old grade. 

 Of course, I also urge teachers to return work as soon as they finish it. That means students will receive returned assignments at different times. But if we vary the order in which we assesses the work, it would balance out. In short, why minimize learning for all students instead of just for some students?

Google Classroom and shared Google Drive folders can let us view student work while they are working on it! Why not "drop in" on a work in progress and help the student in real time when they actually need it? Tell students, "From 8-9 tonight, I'm going to be helping you write your essays. Please use the comment feature to ask me questions."

Okay, this takes time and effort. It will also save time and effort when grading the finished assignments. Mistakes in thinking and writing will already have been corrected.

In a similar vein, did you know that there is an app for docs called Draftback? (See video and picture.) Draftback creates a "movie" of the paper being written in real time.  Besides being a plagiarism detector, it is a powerful teaching tool. Imagine watching a paper being written by the student with the student. As a teacher, I could see exactly when and how a student struggled.  

Traditionally our model has been to teach before and after students do an assignment. Technology now allows us to give instruction while a student works on an assignment. 

More fully utilizing some of these features of Google Docs and taking advantage of tech tools that allow us to teach while students are in progress will minimize some of the Google Classroom frustrations while increasing student learning. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Padlet, Comic Life 3 and Lucidpress in the High School Classroom

Update: I wrote this last year. I'm back to the same project and finding similar experiences. I'm still looking for the Goldilocks spot, where it is "just right". Still, I am committed to this assignment. Because technology, as used in this assignment, still enhances the narrative

I have some terrific 12th graders. Great kids. They are complaining that I'm working them too hard. I am. Kind of. They give lie to the idea of "digital native". They struggle with tasks my 5th graders were quite facile with. But that's not a surprise, or at least it shouldn't have been. They've never done some of the tasks I'm asking them to do. And my 5th grade students had a year under their belt with me. Tech needs to be like water. Normal. For them, it isn't and I now know better.

For instance, yesterday I showed the students how to use the Research Tool on a Google Doc. They were blown away.  I write this not to disparage my students or colleagues. Growing up with technology doesn't mean that a person knows how to do anything other than consume it.

In my first assignment, I asked the students to read the brilliant, powerful and sad, Fractured Lands, which was published recently in the New York Times Magazine. The story follows six people from six different countries in the Arab world.

The assignment:
You will read that there are six people the author follows in Fractured Lands. You have one of two choices presented below.

Option 1) Follow one of the character's stories in its entirety. That is whenever the person's picture appears in the left-hand margin, read their story. Then you will write a story using the app ComicLife (iPad app the costs 5 bucks) or Lucidpress (browser-based and free) explaining their story. The comic should reflect details and quotations from the story. It could also include an additional panel that reflects an imagined future for the character. The cartoon should be 12-15 panels. Lucidpress should be about 5-6 panels (pages) long. TRY THESE. YOU"LL LIKE IT. Regarding Lucidpress- make sure you choose the digital option. I don't want you making something for you will print out. I have a short tutorial included in this lesson. 

Option 2) Follow two of the character's stories in their entirety. Then write a page long dialogue (single spaced) between the two characters. What might be a circumstance where they would meet? What would they talk about? What might they want, and how could they be working to get what they want in the scene? Be sure to include relevant details from the story in your scene.You may tech it up if you wish and make an iMovie or Lucidpress or yes, ComicLife.

Below, I've included a comic-life presentation made by one of my students last year. Though she should have cited her pictures, otherwise I think it is excellent and it is worthy of a model. I think it would be really powerful to read one of the characters' stories through this media.

Here are their results. For a first try, some are quite good. Be patient if some of the projects aren't loading quickly.  Here is the link if you are having trouble viewing. I like how ComicLife enhances the narrative. I want my students to see that these are real people. Paraphrasing Stalin who once said an accident that kills four is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic, I know that numbers numb us. The genius of the article is that it personalizes the story. I wanted my assignment to allow students to fully understand this. Here is a Padlet of some of their work.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Teaching with 20% Time

I'm an avid follower of +AJJuliani. I've followed him for about a year. Based largely on his writings, I'm going to try 20% Time in my elective International Relations course. This is my first time teaching this course. Readers of this blog may know a little of my story. After teaching Middle School for 22 years, I then left to teach upper elementary school- 5th grade to be exact. After doing that for two years, I shifted to teaching high school last year. Though an experienced pro, I have had my fair share of new these past four years.

This year, I will be teaching 12th graders for the first time. Nothing is more real in traditional schooling and grading than the upcoming marking period for my students and they know it. They know the game of school and they are close to the final inning. They are going to resent these changes if not handled carefully and they may resent them anyway. I dream that they'll feel relieved and unburdened as I present them the freedom to learn about whatever they want. In actuality, I know that for some this may feel like a chore and burden.

It's a hard thing at times this teaching business, especially hard if you want to do a bit differently. I've read widely about education and pedagogy. Though firmly in the constructivist camp, I've always taught in a traditional school that has a slightly progressive flavor around the edges. (forgive me as I know I'm mixing metaphors all over the place and then whatever that last sentence was) Basically, what I'm getting at is that I've taught enough in the traditional method to know it and at times I've been told I did it well. I once prided on being a very good lecturer. At least that's what my students told me. My point is that when teaching differently from the traditional sage on the stage method that we sometimes feel that we are not teaching.  At least I know I have and that's with a firm philosophy and years of teaching experience behind me.

Good teaching is Mr. Chips. It is Robin WIlliams in Dead Poet's Society. It is Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver and Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. These dynamic teachers are the show! The movie and the class narrative is always about them! I reject this while being seduced by it at the same time.

Today, a brand new teacher at my school with years of experience in the Maker Movement came to me worried about not being seen as a teacher if he didn't teach via direct instruction from the front of the class in a computer science class he will be teaching. I have no easy answers to combatting these feelings. I urged my colleague to continue to do what his Maker training has taught him. I hope he does.

Also, it is worth noting that progressive pedagogy is an easy target for parents. They were raised with grades and homework and standards and RIGOR and they equate all of that stuff with learning and they want it for their kids. Years ago, one boy's parents blamed my lack of giving grades for their son's refusal to do any schoolwork. Of course, this boy wasn't doing any schoolwork in any other teachers' classes either and these teachers all graded him. My teaching was singled out.

I'm not going to cave on 20% time. Juliani tells us to celebrate our failures. I perhaps will be doing just that 5 months from now. To anyone thinking about trying to do this teaching thing a little bit differently, hang in there. I know it isn't easy.

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