Thursday, December 13, 2012

Survey Says Freshmen Find Blackboard Resources Helpful

Growing use of Blackboard, the district's Learning Management System (LMS) has sparked conversations about the actual value Blackboard can add to the teaching and learning experience.  Nicole Land, an English Teacher at West High School, has provided some insight on the topic, asking her students how they feel about using Blackboard.

At West High School,  each teacher is maintaining a Blackboard course for each face-to-face course taught.  Within the course the instructors provide students (and their parent(s)/guardian(s)) access to a  course-focused Google Calendar, access to resources and assignments for the course, and possibly even some multimedia content related to the course.    While the implementation is in its earliest stages at West, students are already adapting and responding to the availability of the resources digitally.

Land recently asked 40 of her Grade 9 students enrolled in the West House (a pilot of a traditional "house" structure where teachers co-plan, co-teach, and converse about student progress with a cross-curricular emphasis) how they are using and feeling about the Blackboard course she maintains. There responses add some clarity to the question of how a resource like Blackboard can impact the learning experience for students.

Reviewing the Responses

Question:  What do like about the Blackboard 9 English site?

Points to consider:

  • 40 % said they like the calendar, indicating that these students appreciate clarity about what is planned for and expected of them
  • 38% of the student indicated that they like that they like how the site is organized (25%) or say that it helps them with homework (13% -- orange)
  • Only 5% of the students said "Nothing", although it was an available survey option
Question:  How often do you use the calendar?
Points to consider:

  • 61% of students said that they use the course calendar "Sometimes" (23%) or "Frequently" (38%) -- an indicator that students are engaging with the course calendar even though it is not required
  • 10% of students report using the calendar if absent, a sign that students take responsibility for missed coursework if required to

Question:  What would you like to see improve (or more of) on the Blackboard 9 English course?

Points to consider:

  • 22% of students asked for more videos to be available -- a possible sign that some students prefer instruction delivered in a "flipped," on-demand model
  • Only 3% of students asked for "Clearer Directions" on the course, suggesting that students have sense of what they are asked to do when engaging with Blackboard content
  • 42% of the students surveyed were seemingly content with the organization of Blackboard, as they suggested nothing needed to be improved at this time
Question:  How often do you use the Blackboard 9 course for English?

Points to consider:

  • The results suggest that students are not presently accessing Blackboard consistently as a critical source for interacting with instructional content
  • The data may speak to the lack of consistently accessible technology for students to access a Blackboard course in as needed in the classroom
While the data collected may not be earth-shaking or surprising, it lends some evidence that students find value in resources that are made available to them in an on-demand, digital outlet such as Blackboard.  With the ever-present societal suggestion looming that young adults today are disengaged and lack educational commitment, embedded within Land's students' responses is an dissenting opinion -- one that suggests making learning resources available to students in alternate ways is accepted and valued by students.

As momentum for Waukesha One, a personalized learning platform being investigated in the School District of Waukesha, grows, teachers, like Land, who are investing significant time and energy into developing their coursework in Blackboard 9 will be rewarded as more students come "online" with more access to resources daily.  Fortunately for Land, by listening to what her students have to say about the experience they are having in the online course today, she'll be in a stronger position to develop an even better online experience for her students in the future.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The World Shrinks for Waukesha Students-- Skyping an Author

With a great idea, a lot of passion, and the daring willingness to try something new, the seemingly "impossible" has become a reality, and has made a very clear impression on some of Central Middle School's students.

Through the use of Skype, a popular video conferencing solution, Ann Zindler's Readers' and Writers' Workshop students were able to make a deeper connection to an author they were studying in class -- an author who just happens to live in the United Kingdom. 

At 3,900 miles distance, Zindler's students made an inter-continental
 connection with Payback author, Ms. Rosemary Hayes, via Skype.  The students
had to consider the 6 hour time difference when setting up a meeting time.
"[On December 4th], seventh grade students at Central enjoyed Skyping with the author of one of our literature circle books, Payback.  Rosemary Hayes, at the request of four of my students, spent about 40 minutes chatting from Cambridge, United Kingdom with our kids who read her book.  [The students] prepared several questions and took turns speaking with her about her writing process and passion for writing, her research, and specifics about the characters upon whom she based her novel," Zindler said.

The technology used to accomplish the task was fairly standard and simple to set up.  Zindler installed Skype on her school desktop computer.  Using the document camera that Zindler uses for other classroom instruction as her web cam, and using a fairly inexpensive set of computer speakers and microphone that was available from the Central library, the stage was set for the event.

The real work, though, was done by the students.  They were responsible for reading Hayes' book, discussing the work through the structure of a literature circle, and then preparing questions and comments for the author in advance of the actual Skype call.  All were critical elements in preparing for the actual meeting with the author.

And how did the kids feel about the opportunity to interact with an author?  Here is the collective reflection from Zindler's students: Wendy F., Jesica C., Kelsey N. and Brianna O.

"Meeting an author can be a once in a lifetime chance.  When Ms. Rosemary Hayes, of Cambridge, England, author of Payback, asked us if we wanted to meet through Skype, first we were surprised she even answered our email.  When we opened the email that she sent us, we literally started jumping up and down.

"Meeting her was amazing.  Some of us have met other authors, but hadn't even read that particular author's books before meeting him or her, so we didn't get as much out of it.  Since we had read Ms. Hayes book we had many questions and so did other kids who had read the book and joined our Skype.  After we were done and all of our questions were answered, I understood the book a whole lot more and understood why she wrote it the way that she did.  It's an amazing way to meet an author."

Like any technological tool that can be used in the classroom, the effectiveness of Skype to connect with the author is directly related to the quality of instructional planning and delivery by the instructor, and the commitment and engagement of the students to embrace the opportunity.  As Zindler and her students have demonstrated, the proper infusion of technology into the classroom can make for some unforgettable experiences for our students.

If you are interested in learning more about how to Skype an author in your classroom, view the Skype an Author network website:

For a planning consultation to incorporate Skype into your classroom, please contact a member of the Waukesha Instructional Technologies Coordinator Team, please contact Wendy Liska, Jim Gonyo, or Brian Yearling.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Label, Archive, or Trash? Proper Treatment of Your Email

Following the transition to Gmail, some people have asked this question related to read email:

"Should I label my email?  Archive it?  Or trash it?"

The answer is pretty straight forward, but it requires an understanding of what each of those options means.  Click here to see a graphic representation of these options:

Inbox: Your Inbox is the place where new mail comes.  In the world of Google, an Inbox is really only intended for unread mail, or mail that is seeking a short-term response. The goal for maintaining an efficient inbox is to get mail out of your Inbox as soon as possible.

Labels:  In short, labels are LIKE folders.  They offer a way to quickly organize and categorize messages.  The beauty of labels, UNLIKE folders, is that you can place several labels on an email message.  You can label a message, and allow that message to stay in your Inbox, put it in a unique "folder," or archive it.  They are a pretty flexible tool.

Archive:  Archiving represents all of the mail that has come into your mail account which you have not trashed.  Gmail gives users lots of storage space, so fear over using up storage space is generally unfounded.  Instead, focus on the value of having almost all mail only a quality search away!  Think of the archive feature like a pile of physical mail that you just do not want to throw away, but have no use for today.  Archiving gets the mail out of your Inbox (where you work and communicate daily), but maintains in the case that you'll need those messages in the future.

Trash:  In Gmail, Trash is truly trash.  When you trash an item, it will be deleted within 30 days.  Once it is trashed, it is gone "forever."  Understand that the district does need to archive mail for an extended period of time by law, but this archive is not generally searchable by the average user.  Only trash mail you do not want or need again!  If there is a chance you'll need it again, Archive it.

Some simple answers to the question:
  • If you need to do something with the email:  Keep it in your Inbox and/or Label it.
  • If the mail is a part of a larger topic you need to keep track of:  Label it and Archive it.
  • If you do not need to do anything with the email but may need to reference it later:  Archive it.
  • If it is spam, junk, or something you'll never EVER need again:  Trash it.

Finding Emails within Gmail

For some, the concern of moving emails outside of the Inbox is the inability to track down those communications again.  Remember, Google is a search company, and the solution they provide is powerful search functionality.

You can search anything you haven't trashed!  That's why it is so valuable to Archive it instead of Trashing it.

Take a look at this video to see how to search right within Gmail.  This can save lots of time and headaches!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Google Forms in the Classroom

For many students and staff, they've longed for a tool that can easily collect data, put that data in a useful, sortable format, and yet, is incredibly easy to use!  Enter Google Forms, a tool within the Google Apps for Education.

If you need a quick overview on what Google Forms is, take a look at our Google Forms At-a-Glance guide.

For a more detailed set of video tutorials on using Google Forms, check out our Google Apps in Education: Forms website.

Perhaps you just need to see Google Forms in action to grasp how you could put the tool to use.  Take a look at the Google Forms in Action Showcase, created by Jeffrey Allen and Brian Yearling.

Are you using Google Forms in your classroom or building already?  Take the survey to tell us how!  We'd love to learn from you for the benefit of all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Building a Solid Foundation - District Infrastructure

Sometimes it is the things that we don't notice, the things that are taken care of by people that we don't even realize are on the job, that really make the biggest differences in our days.

The School District of Waukesha Technology Department has been undertaking a monumental list of critical tasks in the past few months that will allow our professional and instructional lives to flow more smoothly.  

With almost 2,100 devices on the private SDW network, and another 1,900 devices on the guest wireless network, it is fair to say that many of our staff, students, and parents/guests/community members are taking full advantage of the recently installed, robust wireless networks available in nearly all buildings across the district.  

Perhaps some of you recall the lagging Internet speeds that were experienced across the district near the mid to end of last school year.  Those have all but vanished in schools across the district, and the final phases of that work are taking place in the early weeks of December.  Below you see a visible sign of the progress that is being made, as new networking equipment is installed in networking closets and tidy, manageable wiring is being re-installed by our technicians.

Before Inline image 1Inline image 2  After

Response time to submitted technology issues has noticeably improved, as the new SDW Help Desk software has been put into place, and a tech staffer manning the help desk post at Lindholm has helped to expedite the process of dispatching assistance.  Additionally, the ability to remotely assist with some technical issues has further improved the ability of Technology Staff to assist with and resolve many issues more quickly.  For those of you who have not yet utilized the system, visit this link to place a Help Desk Request Ticket (  *Log in with your full district email address, and your domain password (same as Google/Blackboard password).

The men and women doing this important work, work that tends to be overlooked on a daily basis, deserve our thanks and appreciation.  It is easy to forget that many of the school districts around the state and country are still battling issues that we are settling into and taking for granted in Waukesha, such as inadequate bandwidth, heavily filtered Internet, and little/no technical support or assistance when needed.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Today's Technology Tip (11/29/12)

Using "canned responses" in Gmail

If you ever find yourself writing the same response in an email over and over (like the directions to a student activity), with canned responses enabled in Gmail you can save a response and add it to an email with just one click.  Watch the video.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Student Gmail Login Page on District Website

Sometimes it is the little things that can make the biggest difference.

Thanks to a request from a thoughtful Waukesha teacher, a link to the SDW student Gmail login page is now posted on the district home page.  Take a look in the Students section of the site: .

This will save students a few keystrokes, but more importantly, will make logging in to student Gmail accounts just a little easier.

*It is important to note that students (and staff) can still just go to and using their whole email address as the username.  For students it will be .  For staff it will be .

Thanks Anne B. (and your students) for the suggestion!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Emphasis on creating, not just curating

I just read an article that talks about the next generation of smart phone technology (I know, some of you still haven't found a need to even consider purchasing this or the last generation of smart me,I get it!).

The author presented the concept that our future iPhones and Android phones will serve more as a digital assistant than just a phone. A relationship develops between the user and the device as the device begins to understand uses, locations, communication patterns, listens in to assist with note taking, etc. The device begins to take on these tasks for us, curating information from our daily lives without much input or energy expended by us.

Perhaps that is all well and good, but the concept gets under my skin a bit. I believe there is still something to be said for having to dig in and do! Here is my concern.

The information revolution we live in already makes access to knowledge and data instant and painless. However, it is still our work to both make sense of that information and to assist in the work of creating some of that information (uploads to YouTube, Flickr, and edits to Wikipedia exemplify this information contribution we partake in). I already see a concerning pattern of disconnection by people who gather digital information and resources very efficiently, but who fail to dig into those resources to consume, process, and learn from them. It is akin to hoarding of digital resources - they collect the resources but with little purpose or outcome in mind for them.

Consider, then, if the technology could learn what you wanted it to collect for you, at least in the way of digital resources. This simple shift in "process" truly ratchets up the likelihood that most of us may elect to simply overlook these digital resources, knowing we have access to them if/when we need them. Therein lies the problem! It is in the review of these resources that questioning, inquiry, puzzling, brainstorming, and innovative thinking happens. I worry about this shift, as it creates greater opportunity for disengagement from the resources that help us generate our own thoughts and feelings on issues and topics.

We cannot stop the march of technological innovation, though, so what are we to do?

I wonder if the answer is in encouraging and teaching people to be content creators. It is because I write two blogs that I value and genuinely read blogs written by others. It is because I create tutorial videos and place them on YouTube, that I watch and evaluate the quality of other tutorial videos on YouTube. It is because I work diligently to mantain a high quality of posts and resources in my social networls that I critically evaluate and utilize rhe resources placed in those networks by others.

There is a natural element of appreciation for the work of others when we have engaged meaningfully in at least dabbling in that work ourselves. I appreciate the talents and efforts of others because I, too, have attempted it. Perhaps the same is true for our students. If we could meaningfully engage them in the work of creating content and contributing it to the global community, perhaps we could naturally encourage our students to thoughtfully engage with the resources they encounter, instead of having them simply collect and overlook these resources.

This means, though, that we have to, above all else, encourage our kids to be makers as well as consumers of digital resources. That means that our jobs change significantly, as we focus on creating the questions, structure, and conditions for learning, instead oF simply focusing on distributing learning to all. This is the transition we can make in our classrooms today to thwart the kinds of issues we know exist presently, which will only grow as technology advances in the future.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Today's Technology Tip

How to log out of Gmail remotely.

     If you ever log in to Gmail from a library computer or any computer that is used by others, you need to log out when you are done.  Otherwise the next person on that computer could have access to your Gmail.  I know!  But don't worry because you can check to see if you are logged in to other computers and you can remotely log off.  Just watch the video and give it a try ... unless you're sure you are not logged in anywhere else.

For more technology help visit our Instructional Technology pages at

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Google Drive Research Tool

You've been there.   The open books, magazines, and resources spread out on the table, head snapping between the key words and quotes from the text and the notepad (or better yet, index card) on which your notes (and citations) will be stored for the research paper you will need to write eventually.

With a little help from technology, at least one part of that equation can be eliminated -- the painstaking (and often inaccurate) handwritten copying of research resources, quotations, and key elements.

With the update to Google Drive (formerly called Google Docs), a few other key updates were made.  The Google Research Tool is one of those updates.  The Research Tool (available when you are in a Google Document by clicking on Tools --> Research Tool) keeps your Google Document open on the left side of the screen, and then place a fully functional research window on the right side of the screen. Search Google from right within your Google Doc, find resources, images, quotes, or even use Google Scholar.

The beauty is that resources, citations, images, and quotes can all be dragged into your document with LIVE LINKS to the resources for later exploration.  It's kind of like turning the world of resources available on the web into a stack of selected resources from the stacks of a library, all sitting right there on your research resources piles.

Pretty impressive, but more importantly, very efficient.  Have your students regain their focus on the reading and selection of the resources instead of on the handwritten copying of that research (and citations, if they remember to do so) on to note cards or pads, to later re-write or type those citations into the actual paper.  Imagine the efficiency!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Are you a Chrome Ninja?

Old habits die hard.  That means that you have to have a pretty darn good reason for changing those old habits.  Based on what we are learning about Google Chrome, switching your preferred web browser is one of those habits you may soon want to consider taking on.

Some teaser "killer apps" for Google Chrome that may get you considering a change:

  • Easily switch between multiple Google accounts without logging out and back in
  • Never type in to your address bar again -- search Google right from the OmniBox (address bar) in Chrome
  • That same Omnibox (address bar) in your browser can also serve as a calculator -- just type an equation in and see
  • Easily bookmark your favorite sites, and have those bookmarks appear on any device with a Chrome browser that you log in to with a Google account 
  • Add incredible apps and extensions to the browser and make your working (and personal) life more fun and efficient (a timer extension that allows you to have a stop watch for group discussion sessions with students -- an image editing extension that allows you to screen shot and draw on/annotate photos from the web -- many more)

My personal Google Chrome Sensei, Molly Schroeder, has put together another masterful presentation/resource featuring some of the incredible tips and tricks that make Google Chrome a dynamite web browser.

If you want to take a look at some of Sensei Schroeder's favorite Google Extensions and Apps, look here -

*Warning - The possibilities may blow your mind!
**If you need additional Chrome assistance or questions, feel free to contact any member of the Instructional Technology Coordinator team for help.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Social Research Project - STEM Saratoga Students

One of our favorite things to do is to demonstrate the real work of our staff and students to provide an outlet for student publishing, but also to serve as a model for reflection related to the skills demonstrated and the learning opportunities presented.

In this post, we have some special guest posters for this blog.  Special thanks to Mikayla P. and Jayden R., 7th grade students at STEM -Saratoga for their work and reflection, and to their teacher, Tina K. for providing the opportunity for students.

Project background from the teacher:

This project is called the Facebook Page Design Brief.  Students, paired in groups of two or three, are to choose one of the candidates (president or vice-president) to create a Facebook page for.  The page must encompass who they are. This is a project with specific criteria to follow, and a template formula is provided to jump start research and the project framing properly.

See the Students' Submitted Project:

Student Reflection on the Work (in the students' words):

What did you learn? (Social studies, writing, & 21st century skills)

"We learned about the candidates and their lifestyle around politics. The facts we
found about the different candidates were very intriguing. It was interesting to learn that
they do things just like “normal citizens” do in their life. As writers, we learned how to
combine several facts into organized paragraphs and sections of the project. We looked
at several websites, and learned that one resource is not always the best way to go.
Jayden and I made sure to find the most reliable sources and base our information off of
those. As twenty first century students, we learned to problem solve along the way, and
the first idea doesn’t always work out."

What process did you go through as a learner? (21st century skills)

"We went through many steps through our few days of working on this project. The
first step we went through was collaborating among ourselves to come up with initial
ideas on how to put our page together. The next step in our process was to split the
work load up between the two of us. For example, one person found facts for one
section, and the other found pictures for that part of the project. Next, was to actually
find the information. For some facts and information, we found that as researchers,
we had to dig deeper to find information. Most of it wasn’t just on the first link when
we searched on Google. After we found the facts, we jotted main ideas down in our
notes, instead of long sentences. Next, we had to piece all of the information together
to form paragraphs. Instead of just plopping random facts on the project, we wanted to
make sure the sentences flowed easily and the information was organized. Finally, after
organizing the paragraphs on the page, we revised each part of the project. We wanted
to make sure the project looked neat, and not just random pictures and paragraphs
randomly put on the project."

Should school challenge you in this way?

"Both of us think that school should challenge you to dig deeper when displaying
your information. Instead of just writing down notes and answering questions, we think
school should encourage you to display your knowledge in an interesting, fun way. We
know that when we finish a project, we feel proud about our project, and what we did. It
is a fun way to share what you know. Projects also are more intriguing to the audience
instead of just facts."

Some Final Thoughts to Consider:

At first blush, this project may not present itself as academically equivalent to longer, more complex research and writing tasks students traditionally assigned to students.  However, evaluating the demonstrated skills more carefully, there are some very advanced skill sets, some application of knowledge, and some design principles in place within this sample of work.  Solely in the ability of the students to pare down big ideas into quick, easy-to-understand postings in common language demonstrate that the culminating work reflects deeper research and authentic engagement with the work.  Further, to quote the girls, "School should encourage you to display your knowledge in an interesting, fun way."  The assumption that school work can be fun and that students do take pride when partaking in meaningful (yet challenging) work, is important to acknowledge as we plan our way forward in re-thinking teaching and learning.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Today's Technology Tip

Google Calendar Invitations

If you want to invite 1 or more people to a meeting, use your Google Calendar to invite them.



 If you would like certain people to be able to "book" a meeting with you online, from specific dates and times that you specify ... use Youcanbookme. It works with your Google Calendar.

With Youcanbookme you could:

  • set up 'office hours' that you are available to your students. It could be 1 hour a day with 15 minute time slots, or every Tuesday from 9:00-10:30 or whatever works for you.
  • make yourself available to teachers that you coach or mentor ... just set up your available meeting times for them to choose from. 
  • set up Parent-Teacher Conferences with 15 minute time slots on conference days. As soon as a parent books you, that time slot is no longer available for someone else. Some of our elementary schools have plans to try this. Check out the video below to see if this could work for you!

                                                            select the highest quality playback from the 'gear' tool at the bottom of the player

For more technology help visit our Instructional Technology pages at

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Today's Technology Tip

Creating a Self-Grading Quiz in Google Forms
Not only can you create a quiz and send a link to your students to take that quiz online, you can also set up your Google Form to automatically grade your quiz and create a report.  This video will take you through the process step by step.


Scroll down for previous tech tips.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Google Chrome Tip: Multiple User Accounts

I hate the hassle (and yes I realize that hassle is a relative term) of logging out of and back into Gmail/Google to switch between my work and personal Google accounts.  Google Chrome has a valuable feature that has alleviated my frustration and given me added moments in my day.

It's called the Multiple User feature in Chrome.  Basically, it allows the user to quickly switch between Google accounts in different browser windows without necessarily having to log into or out of any of the accounts.  Pretty slick, huh?  And a nifty little icon helps you easily switch between the two without confusion.  A word of advice about those icons -- think through your icon selection.  Your students will see this.  Are you going to be a stealthy ninja icon, a faceless blue icon of mystery, or a warm, snuggly animal.  This is an important decision... choose wisely (although they can always be changed).

I'm going to post a video tutorial walking you through the process of doing this, but for those of you who prefer written directions, here's a link to Google's tutorial on doing this:

Here is my YouTube tutorial for those of you who are auditory/visual learners:

Some other really nice features.  Each user account maintains your bookmarks for that user, maintains any Google Chrome apps for that user, and keeps a unique history for that user.  Oh, and when you log on to another computer with Chrome and sign in with that account, it carries that data with you.  Of course, that's the beauty of Chrome anyhow, so you probably have already experienced that.

Awesome little tool that just might improve your workflow, save you some frustration, and regain precious time.  Hey, over the course of a lifetime, saved moments add up!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Google Cultural Institute - Dive Into the Sources of History

Being a humanities teacher at the core, I understand that there is little as fulfilling as watching kids genuinely dig into original manuscripts and source documents.  There is something so rich about allowing them to authentically connect with the past.  Not the Reader's Digest version of the past we endearingly call text books.  No, the imperfectly perfect documentation and images of the past that can best be highlighted in the authentic, original documents and photographs.

However, from experience we know that many of our students tend to struggle with nonfiction reading, tend to shy away from the challenge of working through the language barriers created by the passing of time and the change of society, and far prefer the nicely summated Wikipedia version of history and culture (at least when we ask them to regurgitate that history and culture back to us for the purpose of a project or report).

All the while we are fully aware that these rich source documents and images are sitting in collections we know we could never afford to take our students to see (and wonder if the risk would be worth the reward if we could).

Leave it to Google to merge the world of modern day technology with the wealth of resources that demonstrate and define our rich cultural history. 

Google's Cultural Institute is a media rich experience where viewers (turned historians) get to dig deeply into these source documents on focused topics.  From high resolution images that can be zoomed and panned, to first-hand accounts and interviews, to original source documents, the Google Cultural Institute is a must-see resource for educators encouraging their students to explore and connect with culture and history.

While the Google Cultural Institute teams are still building this resource and are creating new exhibits, the diversity of exhibits that presently span the previous century are enough to keep a wide variety of interests engaged.

Check it out and let us know if you decide to put the Google Cultural Institute to the test with your students.!home

Hey Waukesha....How do you Google?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Today's Technology Tip:   
How to make an online quiz or survey for your students. 

The three very short videos below will show you how to make an online quiz or survey that can be used to gather information from your students, sign up for events or projects, formatively assess students before planning a lesson, and much more.  Our next tip will show you how to 'program' the quiz so that your Google form will grade itself and send you a report.  Click on 'next' below to get a preview.

Next: set up your quiz so that it will grade itself and send you a report!

part 1

part 2

part 3

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A little more room to work in Google Docs

As screen gets smaller and our tool set of add-ons and apps grows (especially in our browser window), the battle for screen "real estate" is on.  Teachers need room to design digital content.  Nowhere is this more true than in Google Docs/Apps, where the tool bar takes up 1/8th of the screen, the title of a doc another 1/8th, the margins eat up more room on each side, and suddenly we have no place left to design and craft a message.

This tip, which I stumbled upon on Richard Byrne's blog  Free Tech for Teachers (definitely worth your time to peruse), shows a new feature from Google that will win a small battle in reclaiming some of that screen space.  Richard's blog article below:

MONDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2012One Click Yields More Room to Work in Google DocsIf you're like me and you frequently work on a laptop or netbook there are probably some moments when you wish for more screen space. Beginning today if you're using Google Documents and want a little more room to view your pages, you can make that space appear with just one click. In the upper, right corner of your screen you will now see an option for "compact mode" in each of your Google Documents. Click the compact mode arrows to collapse the formatting menu and receive about an inch of more space to work in your documents. Below you will see some screenshots showing you where to find the compact mode arrows.

Click to view full size.

Click to view full size.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Give Google Docs a Whirl...You'll Be Impressed!

When Google Apps for Education was launched in the School District of Waukesha, the tagline was a critical question -- "How do you Google?

Every day our Instructional Tech Coordinator team is having conversations with teachers who are providing answers to that question.  The Google Apps suite of tools is probably one of most diversely used set of tools launched in our district.  It is a tribute to both the adaptability and simplicity of using these powerful tools.

So, what are people actually doing with them?  

Today I had the great fortune of co-teaching with a high school Business Department teacher who is utilizing Google Drive for assignment collection.  It doesn't stop there, though.  Today she launched her students into the world of collaborative writing/commenting/editing that Google Docs makes available. If you've never seen this feature, it's worth your investigation.  Students write and then share that document with peers (as well as others, including teachers).  Those peers can contribute to the document, can edit the document, or can create comments on the document.  It has all the benefits of peer editing, with a traceable trail of comments, a revision history, and a timestamp.  What a powerful way to teach the value of revision within the writing process.  This made possible by employing some of the basic features of Google Apps.

Yesterday I sat with a teacher who said plainly, "Google Apps and Docs is just awesome!"  His team of teachers is utilizing Google Sites to have students create and maintain a digital portfolio.  This portfolio is the summative assessment of the key learning targets in this class.  The "artifacts" that students are placing in these portfolios are documents and presentations that students create using Google Docs, post online via that Google Docs platform, and link to their Google Site portfolio.  Not only are these portfolios useful ways to assess student learning, but the versatility of a Google Site allows for student reflection of their growth over time (not just weeks, months, but possibly even years).    These teachers envision a day when a single portfolio for each student travels with them throughout their academic career, serves them in all of their coursework, and can even transfer to meaningful uses beyond high school (including applying for colleges and scholarships, gaining access to career training programs, and possibly even sharing the portfolio with a potential employer).  This made possible by a team of teachers employing the flexibility of Google Sites with their own creativity and ingenuity in designing a meaningful summative assessment for students.

This morning I sat with an elementary teacher working to find an easily utilized and updated communication platform for a team of professionals that wrap support around a student, but who do not have the opportunity to converse regularly.  It's important for each person to know what is going on with the other members of the team to provide the best support for the student, and it's critical that the information about this student remains confidential.  Enter the blog platform offered by Blogger.  The platform is designed for ease of use, even by people who don't have access to "professional development" resources to teach them to use Blogger.  It is also flexible and secure to suit a wide variety of needs.  Once again, an extension of the Google Apps suite of tools, Blogger, makes communication and connection related to student support a possibility.

If you haven't dabbled in the Google apps platform since it's launch it Waukesha, we strongly encourage you to take a first step.  Start small.  Create a collaborative Google Doc with your closest colleague and sit together to see how sharing and collaborative commenting/editing works.  Set up a YouTube account (with your district-provided Google account) and subscribe to some "channels" that you can share with your students or colleagues.  Start following a blog or two using Google Reader.  Set up your own private blog using Blogger (again, use your district-provided Google account to log in) and experiment with the possibilities.

Join the fun of putting these tools to the test for professional uses and for use with students.  Colleagues all around are answering the question, and now the question is being posed to you -- "How do you Google?"

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Google Forms for Student Engagement - By Dale Van Keuren

Dale Van Keuren, the Technology Integrator at Waukesha North, maintains a new blog that really focuses on practical experiences and uses of technology in the School District of Waukesha.

Check out this informative post on practical uses of Google Forms in the classroom.    Not only is it a good introduction to Google Forms uses, but learn from the experiences of Taylor Bramschreiber, a Psychology instructor at Waukesha North.  As his students explored survey research methods, Taylor's students utilized Google Forms to create real surveys to collect data from students.  Talk about a powerful teaching and learning tool!

Learn more by visiting the blog post:  Google Forms for Student Engagement on the Waukesha North Technology Corner blog.

Thanks Dale and Taylor for your valuable insight and experience!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Transformation takes endurance

I have always wanted to be a dynamite rock star with the ability to play killer guitar solos. It is a dream I have yet to realize. I likely won't be playing any of the big stages to sold out crowds in my lifetime.  Despite that, I still find myself settling into a solid jam session in my basement occasionally just to continue growing toward that dream.

One of the things that has caught me off guard in my position in Waukesha has been the belief many people have regarding their ability to grow in their comfort with, understanding of, and use of technology for both professional and personal uses.  I consistently hear professionals across the district assume that some people just "get" technology -- that a harmonious existence with technology is more of a natural talent than an acquired skill.

What we all need to accept is that the reality is quite the opposite -- technology knowledge, awareness or skill is learned, not inherited. Growing in this area and gaining the necessary knowledge is more a test of will, desire, and endurance than a measure of genetic fortune or natural disposition.  It is often a begrudgingly painful learn, try, fail, and try again experiment.  This is a common reality for nearly everybody I talk with who embraces technology in the classroom environment.

However, like all things worthy of taking on and investing in, the use of technology for both personal and professional use will pay enormous dividends with students.  Not only can these tools transform teaching and learning practice, breaking down the walls and the restrictions of time, space and place, but the tools can also allow us to work more efficiently and collaboratively.

Learning to integrate technology is much more of a journey than a destination.  And much like that ability to play jaw-dropping guitar solos, the only way to really improve is to spend time and energy practicing, growing, networking and learning from others, and absorbing.  It is an experiment in endurance, and one that we all can commit to growing in.