Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Putting Mail Merge to Work in Google Docs

Yesterday Jared and I spent some time figuring out how to use Mail Merge with Gmail and Google Spreadsheets to send out automated emails and we thought we would pass this information along.  These tools are a great way for teachers to easily collect and provide feedback to individual students via email.  The steps are fairly easy:

  1. Create a Google Form/Spreadsheet with your data.
  2. Draft an email with fields that match your spreadsheet.
  3. Install the Edited with Mail Merger script in your Spreadsheet
  4. Send the emails to all of your students in three clicks.
Above is a YouTube video walking you through these steps.  Finally, we have to give a shout-out to Alice Keeler, an edtech guru in the Central Valley, who inspired the idea and showed us how to do it through a post on her blog.

Joe & Jared

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lucidchart Brainstorming Tool

Over the past few weeks you might have noticed a new tool, Lucidchart, appeared under the More tab in Google Drive.  This program is similar to other concept-mapping or brainstorming tools like Inspiration or Popplet in that it allows you to easily create diagrams demonstrating a workflow or how concepts are related to each other.  Once your project is complete it can be downloaded as a PDF or image file to be used in other documents or simply submitted as a work assignment.

A handy feature of Lucidchart is that it integrates with Google Drive, so your diagrams will show up in your Drive folder with all of your other files.  Similar to Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations, Lucidchart also provides real-time collaboration between users in the same document.  *Note - I did discover that both users need to activate Lucidchart by going to Drive -> More -> Lucidchart before a document can be shared and edited by both people.

If you are interested in checking out Lucidchart simply look for the application near Sliderocket under the More tab in Google Drive.  The first time you launch the application you will be taken through series of set-up screens that will allow Lucidchart to access Google Drive.

Below is a tutorial video of the Lucidchart Editor which does a pretty good job explaining the application's key features.  If you would like more tutorials Lucidchart also has a series of instructional resources from creating a new document to using the real-time collaboration features on their website.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


2/5/13 Follow Up
After creating this initial post and working some of our teachers I discovered that Lucidchart has a ton of great education templates.  This video will show you how to access those.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Getting Googly

Getting Googly

Last month I had the great fortune to spend two days at the "mothership" called Google Headquarters in Mountain View as part of the Google Teacher Academy. This experience was amazing in more ways than I could describe especially since Google provides many amenities to its employees which we thoroughly enjoyed like kids loose in a candy store. The experience was a reminder of the many reasons we all love to be educators and strive to be better everyday. Honestly, the teachers at this academy are thoughtful, reflective and more innovative than any teachers I have ever encountered. But, they still were eager to learn more, even from me. Their approach is how to make instruction effective and engaging with all the amazing tools we have available now. We learned from each other, made connections, and bounced ideas off each other. We learned a great deal from the "Googlers" (our Lead Teachers from Google and CUE staff) which made me realize how quickly everything changes and evolves as far as apps go. I was feeling a bit like I didn't belong there for a few minutes until the Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Pichette, came to speak to us. He told us about the latest news with Google and the company's way of looking at things. Their motto, so to speak, is to "disrespect the impossible" and never give up. His parting words to us were: "welcome to the tribe, now go out and change the world."
After getting back to school and letting all these new things settle into my brain, I realized how much our students come to us with this Google attitude. As their teachers we need to show them this attitude by trying new things, being okay with being wrong or being calm when the technology is glitchy. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and realize that they have the capability of changing the world for the good. All of this can begin now if we try. "Technology" in whatever form you define it is here to stay and is changing as you read this. How are we as educators preparing our students to capably make the best use of all the tools available? It's really all in an attitude: try, try, try and never give up. Learn something everyday and share what you learn. Your teaching colleagues not only at NCS but other teachers on social media (Twitter, Google +) can be your Professional Learning Network. It's easier than you think--you just have to try.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Everyone Is Doing It, With Good Reason

Last night, after teaching, transporting my kid to a dentist appointment, and dropping him off at my sisters, I dragged myself over to the Sacramento County Office of Education to hear Catlin Tucker speak at the monthly ETLN (Education Technology Learning Network) meeting.  If you don’t know who she is, she is an amazing classroom teacher who utilizes technology to make her life easier and learning more meaningful. Joe actually wrote about her book, Blended Learning a few weeks ago. I left the meeting energized and even more committed to using technology in a meaningful way.

Tucker has a common sense approach to blended learning. One thing she discussed was her bring your own device policy (BYOD). Truth be told, I have been allowing students to use their own devices once or twice a semester. However, this week I jumped in with both feet. What I discovered wasn’t that exciting. I mean, I didn’t get to bust anyone looking at Facebook or looking at inappropriate websites. Instead, my students got a lot of work done. Students used their cell phones and tablets to work on shared documents for their presentation while discussing their work with group members. Why allow them to do this? Why not? Why make them write down their information on paper and then go home and type it out on a Google Doc? They were using the same collaboration and communication skills they would have used with a paper and pen. They were working smarter by cutting out the middle step. The group who did not have a personal device to use, was happy using the one computer I have in the classroom. I took pictures to prove they were actually working. The added bonus, since they did the word processing in class, I was able to view their work that evening and provide fast feedback.

The conversations I had with my colleagues about this experience proved to be more exciting. Performing and Fine Arts teachers are using personal devices to inform their instruction. Did you know that Gary Wong uses www.polleverywhere.com as a formative assessment in his English 10 classes? Gary Wong gets instant feedback from students by allowing them to take polls using the text feature on their cell phone. Within seconds he can assess the student’s understanding of a chapter and use that information to guide his lecture for the day. Personal devices also allow students to produce digital content. Jeanne Feeney’s 6th grade students filmed stop motion animation videos using a free Lego app on their mobile devices and then uploaded the file via their Google Drive app their device. They were able to edit their movie on the classroom computers using iMovie for free! The only thing keeping them from doing all of the movie work on their devices was that the iMovie app for phones costs $4.99! Jeanne’s students also use their phones in science to take pictures of complicated diagrams or hands on activities they want to capture for future reference (portfolio!).

Leading Edge students actively use their personal devices in Technology to save passwords, retrieve pictures or videos for class projects, take pictures of important information on the whiteboard, and send reminders to themselves. In Josh Senge’s class they use their devices to perform online research, video creation, and voice recordings in class. Our students have valuable pieces of technology in their pockets. How do you use them to inform your instruction, create efficient learners, and enrich the classroom experience?