Thursday, December 11, 2014

Navigating YouTube Safe Search

Over the past week a few of you have contacted the IT department about YouTube's Safety Mode. This tool is automatically enabled for all of our Google accounts and helps ensure that students are accessing appropriate content on YouTube. It works by analyzing the metadata that is part of an uploaded video and compares it with a banned list of words. Metadata can include the video's title and description, category, tags, and even an automatic transcription of any narration or spoken word. The service is completely automatic and relies on sophisticated computer algorithms that analyze content as it is uploaded at posted to YouTube. Kind of amazing, huh?

Like all filtering technology, Safety Mode should never be thought of as a replacement for a teacher (or parent at home) monitoring the classroom by walking around the room and utilizing engaging lesson plans. Additionally, sometimes perfectly good content gets blocked by the Safety Mode settings. If you are using a Mac or Windows device, you can work around this problem by temporarily disabling Safety Mode. However, this cannot be done on a Chromebook since YouTube Safety Mode is part of a Safe Search protocol we enforce through our Google Apps domain.

All of the messages and tickets we have received regarding Safety Mode have been related to teacher-created content being deemed "unsafe." YouTube's exact Safety Mode algorithms are a bit unintuitive and seem to be undergoing constant tweaking, but this discussion forum which includes YouTube staff members and power-user experts was quite handy for understanding how the process works. If you are having challenges with your content being blocked by Safety Mode here are some things to consider.
  1. Titles, Descriptions, and Tags - Make sure your video's title, descriptions, or tags are not using any word that might seem inappropriate when taken out of context. For instance, Nic Russo has a video with the title "Scavenger Hunt Instructions" that is blocked by Safety Mode. The video is perfectly fine, but the word "hunt" may be tripping up the filters. Realize, that the title, description, and tags are also how advertising and related videos are posted around your content, so taking the time to enter accurate information is very valuable.
  2. Education Category - When posting a video always make sure your chosen category is "Education." Some programs, like QuickTime will put your video in the "How To" category and you will quickly find your video surrounded by lessons for styling hair.
  3. Songs & Narration - YouTube automatically transcribes your video for closed-captioning purposes. Make sure that any narrations are as clearly enunciated as possible. If there is music playing in the background turn it off, especially if it has any vocals. Hope Kloczko has a perfectly appropriate video on her website that is blocked by Safety Mode and I am pretty sure it has something to do with the Taylor Swift song, Shake It Off, that you can hear in the background.
  4. Upload to Drive - When all else fails and YouTube just keeps blocking your video, try uploading content to Google Drive and adjust the Share settings to Anyone with Link so that students and parents can view the content. It might not be be as pretty as YouTube, but it works and you now have unlimited storage in Google Drive.
As I mentioned earlier in the post, Safety Mode seems to be work in progress. Many of us have complained to YouTube about the lack of precision utilized by the algorithms. If you use Twitter or Google+ feel free to let them know as well by tagging YouTube (@youtube or +youtube) in your post. Hopefully, the service will become so precise that all of these problems will disappear. In the meantime give these strategies a whirl and let us know if you discover any of your own tricks with posting content to YouTube.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #16 - Gmail App for iPhone

I know that many of you have personal iPhones or iPads you use to check your work email. How do I know this? Well, there is always a dead give away - the name on your email when you send it from your iOS device.

Often iPhone users name their email accounts phrases that make sense to them including "NCS Email," "Star Academy," and "Work." I used to do this too. Unfortunately, when you send email using the mail app built into the iPhone the phrase you used when configuring your mailbox also becomes your sender name. In other words your email will display something like NCS Email <> when you send it from your iPhone and it can be confusing when your recipient first opens the email.

You could easily fix this by adjusting your mailbox could install the free Gmail app. But do I really need a different tool to manage my email? Yes, you do. Here are five reasons to give the app a whirl.

1. Search Your WHOLE Inbox
Let's start with the #1 reason I use the Gmail app. You can search your WHOLE inbox, not just the 50 most recent messages. This has saved me numerous times and is why I will always use the Gmail app over the native built in iOS Mailbox program. If you need an email on your phone from three months ago you can find it immediately!

2. Archive Button & More
Similar to the desktop inbox you have an Archive button on the mobile app, but you can also move messages to a folder, mark as unread, star, and report as spam. All of the buttons you are used to seeing on the desktop client are there and your workflow does not have to change simply because you are on another device.

3. Search Terms
If you are familiar with Gmail search terms they work perfectly in the Gmail app. Not sure what I am talking about? Take a moment to read this blog post and print out the cheat-sheet. It will save you tons of time.

4. Mobile Signature
All of us use standard signatures on our work emails including name, title, and contact information. When you send email from the Gmail app those signatures are automatically applied. However, you can also set up a mobile signature so that your recipients recognize that your short email or inevitable typos are simply due to emailing from a small screen.

5. Vacation Responder
Let's say you're headed to the airport and think, "Man! I forgot to set my out of office reply." No sweat, the Gmail app lets you set the away message from your phone. No need to find a computer to login to the Google Apps website.

What about Multiple Email Accounts?
This might be the only downside to the Gmail app. It only works with other Gmail accounts, so if you have Hotmail, iCloud, or something else you may also need to use the Mailbox app too. However, if like most people you have multiple Gmail accounts you can set them all up within this one application and easily switch back and forth.

Take a few minutes, download and install the Gmail app. You will be glad that you did.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Would We Purchase? Considering a Device for Your Child

Similar to pumpkin spiced lattes, the red cups at Starbucks, and Black Friday ads on TV, part of the holiday season in the IT office is fielding questions from staff members and families about recommended technology purchases for students. These conversations are one of the reasons I love this time of the year. It is a perfect opportunity to connect with families about how their children are using technology at home. As I drafted an email response to a parent this morning, I thought, "Hey! This would make a great blog post."

All of our students have access to technology at school through Chromebooks, iPads, and multiple computer labs and home access is not required. However, if you are looking supplement these tools with the purchase a digital device for your child at home below are some recommendations from all of us in the IT Department. We tend to be a very pragmatic group, so our thoughts on the perfect device are largely based on these five criteria.
  • Ease of use
  • Instructional connections
  • Maintenance and durability
  • Lifespan
  • Overall cost 
I'd also encourage you to check out the Digital Citizenship page on the NCS website. Any of these devices are great opportunities to start (or continue) the conversation about online behavior and responsibility. The Digital Citizenship page has useful resources for parents and families from Common Sense Media. Finally, regardless of what items you are purchasing this holiday season, consider using Amazon Smile by clicking on this link. Amazon will donate 0.5% of qualifying purchases to Natomas Charter School.

Early Elementary (TK-2)
Honestly, our first question for students in this range is "Do they really need their own device?" I've observed in my own home the gravity-level pull an app can have on a young child. A family computer that the child can access with a parent's assistance might be the best option for many households. However, if you have a child who is motivated by technology and has some ability to self-regulate (maybe with an adult's assistance) I find that tablet devices, especially the iPad or iPod Touch seem to work really well. They can be handy devices for developing some basic technology skills, such as trouble-shooting and navigating the web with a very simple user interface. Through the use of the built-in camera they can also be useful for exploring the world, taking pictures, and creating short videos. We do have a tendency to recommend Apple over Android devices mainly due to the simple process for setting up restrictions that act like parental controls and a pretty clean, intuitive App Store with quite a few educational apps.

Intermediate Elementary (3-5)
By fourth grade every child needs to be able to type "a single page in a single setting" according to the Common Core State Standards. This equates to approximately 20 words per minute. Additionally, at Natomas Charter School we provide Google Apps for Education accounts starting in 1st grade. Since children need practice typing on a physical keyboard and already have school provided Google accounts, an inexpensive Chromebook might make sense for this age range. The devices tend to run somewhere in the neighborhood of $250-400 and do not require any additional software or maintenance. If you have an internet connection you are good to go. The low price point also means that should it be dropped, splashed with milk, or stepped on by a heavy dog (all true personal stories) the device could be more easily replaced. Plan on a Chromebook lasting 2-3 years.

Middle School (6-8)
The perfect device for middle and high school really depends on multiple factors including family budget, student interest in creating multimedia (video, audio), and additional computer interests (gaming, programming, etc). A Chromebook is a perfect device for most middle school students. Students can easily access Schoology, Google Apps for Education, and other online tools. However, if you have a child who is into video production, Minecraft, or creating audio files then you are probably going to need more of a full-featured laptop (see below). This can be off set by having a shared family computer for special projects.

High School (9-12)
Similar to middle school, choosing the best device for your high schooler can involve multiple considerations. A laptop is probably the best choice as it will allow the student to access any online content, as well as create media files. However, if your family budget is limited, the Chromebook is a great place to start. Mac vs. Windows is largely a personal preference, although all of us in the IT department would probably chose an Apple product for two reasons - easy-to-use parental controls and minimal maintenance. Families (or ideally kids) with little IT experience can easily update the operating system, add hardware if needed, and keep the device running it's best. These computers tend to be a bit more expensive, but from our experience last longer and have fewer headaches. If I had a middle or high school student in my home I'd be looking at the 11" or 13" Macbook Air. They are portable, fairly robust, and have a long battery life. Sometimes you can save a bit more money by checking out education or refurbished pricing. Refurbished Apple products have the same warranty and honestly what I have been purchasing in my home for the past 6 or 7 years without any problems. If you are replacing a device with a new Apple purchase you might also be able to trade it in for some money.

If you have any questions after reading this post please let us know. We're always happy to help staff members and families find the perfect device for home use.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do you Gooru the SBAC with Graphite? CCSS Resources

It's November, one of the busiest times of the school year. Between holidays, field trips, and parent-teacher conferences I always found this was the time of the year I was most likely to fall behind on lesson planning when I was a classroom teacher. Where can I find a video that will really engage my kids? I wonder if any one has a lesson already created for this topic? And...I have about 10 spare minutes to find it. Sound familiar? If you are in a similar boat check out these three websites for finding high-quality, Common Core (and content area standard) aligned resources. I promise you'll find them handy and useful.


Gooru Learning

I first heard about this site over the summer, but Rob reminded me about it from the iNACOL conference this week. Gooru is an awesome community of educators who are sharing resources and collections online. Resources are individual tools or websites searchable by topic that can then be narrowed down by grade level, content standard, or media type. Collections are multiple resources aligned to a topic that have been curated and shared by a teacher. Through Gooru you can find resources and collections, as well as create your own collections. Some districts and educational institutions are evening using the site to share curated and vetted material in the Libraries section. To get started all you need to do is create a free account.


Graphite is a tool that was released by Common Sense Media in summer 2013 and is being used by teachers all over our school. The site has a Ratings & Review section where you can search for resources by grade level, content standard, or type of tool. You can also use the Common Core Explorer to drill down by a particular standard. However, my favorite area is the App Flows section which contains frameworks created by teachers linking together multiple digital tools through a strong pedagogical framework. Some of our colleagues including Alicia Carter, Cary Zierenberg, and Petra Luhrsen have been part of the team creating these through the National Writing Project. Simply navigate to Graphite, create a free account and you will be ready to go.

Smarter Balanced Digital Library

As part of our transition to Common Core, the California Department of Education is providing access to the Smarter Balanced Digital Library for all credentialed teachers and administrators in California. This site contains a plethora of instructional and professional development resources for teaching these new standards. Resources might include complete lessons to specific tools and websites to use with your students. All of them are searchable by standard, grade level, and many other attributes including media type and intended student population. Waaaayyyy back in July or August you received an email from the email address with information regarding how to login to the SBAC Digital Library. Your login credentials should be your school email address and natomas1 if you have not already changed your password. If you have trouble logging in please let me know and I can work with NUSD to get your account fixed.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #15 - Getting to Inbox Zero

In last week's Gmail post I mentioned the phrase "inbox zero" and a few of you have asked me about it. The idea behind inbox zero is that you can have an empty (or nearly empty) inbox by customizing your layout, employing some strategy, and adding a few tools. I find that it also makes responding to email much more efficient and timely.


To make the task of managing email a little easier, start by making these settings adjustments to your inbox.
  • Unread First - Set up your inbox so that unread messages show up first. I make use of Priority Inbox so that I can have the starred just below unread.
  • Conversation View - In Gmail settings under the General tab toggle on Conversation View. This will automatically group emails into a threaded conversation based upon the subject line. This helps tremendously with viewing a conversation that has occurred over multiple emails.
  • Send & Archive - Add the Send & Archive button to your replies in Gmail Settings just below the Conversation View option. This is a quick way to reply to conversations and have them fall away from your inbox.


Once you have your inbox customized, it is time to start thinking about strategy. However, it is also important to ensure you don't get sucked into an email black hole. Very few of us have "responding to email" as a job duty or annual goal, so set a time limit for yourself and remember that while email is an important communication tool, it does not drive our daily agendas. A friend in the Central Valley, Jon Corippo, shared this strategy and I find it works quite well.
  • Archive - You don't need to keep all of your email in your inbox or shift it over to a folder. Simply click the Archive button. The message will be moved out of your inbox, but still available to easily fine with Gmail search.
  • Delegate - Maybe you are the wrong person to answer the email? Pass it along to the correct person with a request that they cc you with the response. Once sent Archive the conversation.
  • Respond - Take a minute or two and respond to the message, but make it short and sweet. No one wants to read a really long email. Once sent Archive the conversation. If the person responds the message thread will reappear in your inbox.
  • Defer - Perhaps you need to do some research and come back to the message later. Star the message and come back to it later.
  • Do - Complete the activity and hit reply to let the sender know it is finished. Once done click the archive button incase you need the message for later. If it is related to a project you need to complete click More and add it to your Tasks.

Additional Tools

After configuring your inbox and applying some strategy consider using a few of these additional tools to make your email time more efficient.
  • Canned Response - Find yourself writing the same (or nearly identical) email over and over again? Set up a canned response that can be fully customized. You can find this feature in Settings -> Labs 
  • Filters - Some emails don't need to be read right away. Set up a filter to have them skip your inbox all together and end up in a folder. I do this for daily news emails from vendors or blogs I subscribe to via email. The land in a folder called "Daily News" I skim and scan a few times each week.
  • Gmail Search - As I wrote last week, I love Gmail Search. It provides me the confidence to know I will find an email should I chose to Archive it.
Give these tools and strategies a whirl and let me know how inbox zero is working for you. Jennifer tried it out last week and was amazed at how quickly she was able to dig out.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Common Sense Media - Digital Citizenship Resources for Families

Have you ever received a frantic phone call from a family asking for digital citizenship resources? Perhaps you have wondered if there might be a tool that could help you pick out a movie, book, or video game for your own children? Or maybe you just weren't quite sure how to start that conversation about sexting with your teenager? Common Sense Media is the site for you.

Now you might be thinking, "Wait...Common Sense Media? Isn't that our digital citizenship curriculum?" YES! It is, but Common Sense Media is also an amazing resource for parents. Earlier this week I shared the resources below with PFAA families at the P4A meeting to help them start conversations with their children about appropriate online behavior. Take a look at them for yourself. I am sure you will find each one handy.
  • Reviews - Not sure if your child should read a particular book or curious what conversations to expect after watching the latest video? Check out the Common Sense Media Review section. You will find reviews for books, movies, TV shows, music, and video games. There are also useful Top Lists (Best Movies, Best Books, Best Apps, etc.) just to the right of the Reviews tab.
  • Parent Concerns -  A section of the site containing a variety of resources (videos, articles, blog posts) for topics parents often ask about regarding technology (ex: screentime, cyberbullying, social media, etc.).
  • Parent Blog - Regularly updated blog posts for parents and educators on helping students use technology effectively. Topics can range from whether or not you should let your kid see a particular movie to great books for Christmas or apps that help with mathematical reasoning. You can subscribe to the blog via email or get regular posts by liking Common Sense Media's Facebook page.
  • Connecting Families - These pages are technically buried in the Educator section, but have phenomenal resources for families. Two powerful sections to check out are Discuss and Share. The Discuss section contains short articles and vignettes parents can use with their children to discuss how to handle situations like cyberbullying or multitasking and time management. The Share area has an amazing Family Tool kit with resources like customizable technology contracts and family media agreements.

But Wait...There is More!

All of these resources, plus a few more (I'll let them be a surprise) can be found on our new NCS Digital Citizenship page. Take a minute or two to give it a read and let me know if you think there is any content I should add and feel free to pass this link along to all of your families and friends.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #14 - Gmail Search Tips

Contrary to most users I do not save or organize emails. Just let that sink in for a second. Yes, emails come into my inbox, I open them and either star, archive, or delete them. Additionally, I am almost often at inbox zero or at least under 100. How do I make this magic happen? Two tools - Filters and Gmail Search.

1. Filters 

I make judicious use of filters. I don't know how I would function without them. Like most of you I receive a certain number (read - dozens) of emails each day that are important, but not something I need right in my face. These usually include the latest post from a blog, listserv, or online journal. Using filters these emails never touch my inbox and instead travel to a folder called "Daily News" and once each afternoon I give the messages a skim and scan. If you need help setting up filters check out this Google Support Page.

2. Gmail Search

I used to spend hours organizing my email so that I could find it later. I had everything neatly color-coded and filed. Sound familiar? Then someone introduced me to Gmail Search and I regained literally years worth of productivity. 

Right at the top of your inbox is a search field that looks just like Google and it uses a set of terms that allow you to search your entire mailbox (inbox, archive, trash, drafts, etc.). 

Let's say for example I'm looking for that email Jennifer Kloczko sent me about Minecraft over the summer and it had a flyer attached to it. I might type in the following information into the search box Minecraft before:2014/09/01 has:attachment 
This search phrase will automatically pull up any email from Jennifer with the word Minecraft anywhere in the message sent before September 1st that also has an attachment. It could be an email she sent directly to me or one in which I was just cc'ed. You can use search terms OR you can use the menu in the dropdown attached to the small triangle next to the search button

Google has a complete list of search terms on this support page.  However, I have the following poster from Alice Keeler hanging above my desk and it has been a lifesaver. I suggest printing out your own copy.

Search is my also my secret for getting to Inbox Zero. On the last day of each month I head up to the search field and type before: and the first day of the month (before:2014/10/01), select everything, and hit Archive. It is a liberating feeling to no longer see those messages hanging out in my Inbox. If I find that I need one I know that I can quickly find it again using Gmail search terms.

If you have any questions about Gmail filters or search please let me know. I'd be happy to help you get your own system in place for managing email efficiently.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Schoology - Your Classroom's Digital Hub

Earlier this year we launched Schoology, a learning management system that is sort of a marriage between your traditional teacher website and Facebook. Schoology it is extremely flexible, making it a powerful digital learning hub regardless of which academy you call home. It is also a great tool for connecting in-class and at-home learning using blended learning principles.

While we officially launched Schoology this year it is a resource many teachers have been using for the past three years. The company provides a free version for teachers that is very similar in terms of features to the enterprise version.  Currently, Schoology is being used by Leading Edge, VLA, and PACT's Project X program along with teachers in PFAA. In working with these staff members and students here are five reasons I've noticed that might entice you to make the switch to Schoology as well.

1. One Stop Shopping for Students

Schoology makes an excellent learning hub for your classes. Have a Google presentation or screencast you want to share with kids? Post it in your Schoology course. Need a digital dropbox for students to submit work electronically or a place for them to discuss a topic? Schoology provides those features as well. Through a Schoology course you are able to provide a single point of entry for all student learning materials.

2. Parent & Advisor Access

In Schoology every student account is linked to a parent code families can use to keep track of student progress. These parent accounts basically shadow a student, allowing a parent or guardian to view past and upcoming assignments, grades that were posted in Schoology, and any messages that were sent by the teacher to the class. Schoology also provides an Advisor feature that is available to teachers and administrators. Using the Advisees tab teachers can look up students and see their progress across multiple classes.

3. Workload Planner

One of the reasons we switched to the enterprise version of Schoology is the Workload Planner. This tool allows teachers to see how many assignments students in their class have already been assigned in other classes. This feature allows teachers to plan out assignments that correspond with student calendars and it is built right into the system.

4. Sharing Curriculum Resources

Let's say you and another teacher both teach a class - 8th grade Physical Science. In Schoology you can create curriculum resources together through a shared Resource collection. This tool will actually let you build out an entire class together and then with a few clicks copy all of the content to your own individual classes.

5. Preparing Students for Educational Life Beyond NCS

As we have all heard from many of our graduates, online learning is a foundational component of education after high school. Some students enroll in completely online programs while others take classes that make some use blended learning through a learning management system. Using Schoology allows students to build effective online learning skills while they are still in middle and high school. These are skills that they can turn around and immediately use in college or career training programs.

If you are interested in getting started with Schoology I am currently leading workshops every Tuesday from 3:15-5:15pm on the Main Campus or would be happy to schedule a 1:1 appointment with you. Additionally, I have posted a host of resources on the NCS PD Portal Schoology page including this Getting Started Guide and Tips & Tricks for Launching Schoology with Students.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #13 - The Omnibar, Way More Than URLs

Right up there at the top of Google Chrome is a small white box that we used to simply call "the address bar" in the early days of the web. However, it's 2014 and the Internet has been around for more than two decades. The address bar can do so much more. In Google Chrome terminology the address bar is called the "omnibar" because similar to the definition of the prefix omni it allows you to combine many tasks into one. Below are just two ways you can use Chrome's Omnibar to make you more efficient.

Use the Omnibar to Search the Web

While you certainly can use the omnibar to type in a web address you can also use it to search the web. Many of us have found this accidentally by leaving off a ".com" as part of typing in an address. By default Chrome uses Google to search from the omnibar, but you can change search engines in the Chrome Settings (Chrome -> Preferences -> Settings).

Use the Omnibar to Tailor Your Search 

While many people might know that you can use the omnibar for a general web search you can also set it up to conduct custom searches. Let's say for example that I want to search just Google Drive for a document, I have my Chrome set up so that I can type "gdrive" followed by the tab button and the keyword for which I am searching. You can set this up for any website you regularly search. I have my Chrome set up to search Amazon, Flickr (for blogging photos), Sacbee, and Twitter. Take a look at the video below. It will show you how to add these search engines to Chrome. It'll also make you feel like a Chrome expert once you have it all dialed in. :-)


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Building Digital Citizenship Through Minecraft

Thunder Mountain Railroad earlier this week.

Why Minecraft? It is a question I often get. I have to admit that if I were creating a list of digital learning tools six months ago Minecraft likely would not have made that list. However, since the start of the school year I have witnessed an explosion of interest in using this program from both teachers and kids. Students are using Minecaft at home to develop book trailers, while second grade students at Star are using Minecraft to collaboratively develop urban, suburban, and rural communities. Both Star Academy and the main campus have two active Minecraft clubs where students are creating online communities while also building foundational programming and sequencing skills. However, one of the most interesting uses of Minecraft is occurring at PACT.

This fall Tracy Chatters has been teaching a seven week American Icons Minecraft enrichment workshop for 2nd-8th grade students. Each week students are given an American icon they have to research and use the information they learn construct a replica. The first week started off relatively easy with students independently building their own versions of the Washington Monument. However, as the weeks have progressed the challenges have increased. Last week for example, students studied the Gold Rush and used the information they learned to collaboratively build a Gold Rush era community complete with mines, stores, and log cabins. This week the group is using a mix of history, mathematics, computer logic, and conceptual physics to collaboratively re-create Disneyland.

While the passionate student use of Minecraft has been interesting, what has been more fascinating to observe is the simultaneous development of digital citizenship and distance learning skills occurring within the course. The students have never met face-to-face. Instead they are using the chat feature within Minecraft, along with occasional emails and Skype sessions to teach each other building skills. Tracy did not teach them how to do this. The students connected on their own and in many cases took on responsibilities. For example, during the first assignment two middle school students jumped in and showed other students how to collect resources and purchase items in a virtual store.

One of the most important lessons in this course has been the lessons for parents and students in online behavior and personalities. When student's work is "griefed" (Minecraft lingo for broken or destroyed), they are understandably frustrated and angry. However, working in an entirely virtual world has allowed us to teach important lessons in digital citizenship and responsibility. While many of our students would never walk up and rip a classmate’s drawing in a classroom, they have struggled with the idea that a virtual building requires the same level of ethics, respect and trust as tangible artwork. This has led to many conversations and lessons that integrity and ethics are what you do when nobody is watching. The person you are in a virtual world should be a better version of the you in person, so that others may grow to trust you and want to work with you.

This is an important lesson, as the 21st century is full of opportunities for online collaboration and work assignments in which you may never meet your colleagues and coworkers in person. Using Minecraft as both the academic and social learning platform, Tracy and her PACT students have created a high interest, low risk opportunity for students to develop their online ethics and begin to understand the consequences, risks and rewards of the choices they make in a virtual setting.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #12 - Computer Logins

In the IT department we're often asked about computer logins. Part of the confusion is that in the past we have maintained a series of generic logins (charterle, charterpfaa, etc), but now everyone has their very own unique username and password for logging into the computers on campus. We made the switch to individual accounts because it reinforces positive digital citizenship skills by teaching students how to manage their own accounts and provides some ability for students and staff to customize their desktops on computers they regularly use.

Staff Logins
Every single staff member has their own login. These work on any computer on campus and Chromebooks. Users with laptops have logins that are configured to even work from home. Your login is meant to be used by you only, so please don't share it with others. There is a slight difference between computer and Chromebook logins for the Name field which is demonstrated below.
Computers: jsmith
Student Logins
In Leading Edge, PFAA, and VLA every student has their own unique login, along with Star Academy and PACT students starting in 1st grade. PACT and Star Academy have special generic logins which are meant to be used by younger students who do not have their own accounts. Similar to staff logins, these should only be used by the student to whom the account is assigned and there is a slight difference between computer and Chromebook logins.
Computers: JohnS2020
Special Events
We do have a few generic logins which are used for special events. For example, the Area 3 Writing Project workshops have a login for outside guests to use our computers. We turn these logins on for the event and turn them off afterwards. If you have a special event where you will need to use the computers simply let us know through the Activities Request Form or Help Desk and we will make sure a login is set up.

New Students & Forgotten Passwords
When students enroll both Google and computer accounts are automatically created for them. Sometimes, however, account creation can be missed as part of the enrollment process. If you find that this has happened just let one of us know on the IT team via a Help Ticket and we can quickly create an account for the student. Similarly, if you find that a student has forgotten his or her password anyone on the IT team can quickly reset it.

However, please understand that our computer and Google accounts are linked, so when the student resets their password they must do it from a computer on campus. It can be any computer, but it cannot be a Chrombook at this point.

Hopefully, this post clears up some of the confusion around computer logins. If you have any questions please let me know.


Friday, September 19, 2014

When Students are in Charge, Go Along for the Ride!

This post first appeared in as part of  Marnie Hill's ongoing posts about teaching Lego Robotics at PACT. This "real" look at Lego Robotics in the classroom is exciting and exhausting!

Today was our 4th class in Lego Robotics.  The kids are now familiar with the Lego pieces, and the WeDo programming icons.  They are able to work at their own pace, following directions in the WeDo program.  They start off following the instructions step by step, but along the way they invariably find their own way to do things.  They modify the build, or they add components to the program.  They try, fail, and try again.  My students are learning how things work - gears, pulleys, levers, motors and sensors.  They are also developing their eye for details. Gears that don't touch just right, won't work they way they should, and pieces that are put together backwards won't fit where they belong.  
All of this is important stuff.  But the most important thing they are learning is to trust themselves - take risks, use trial and error to test ideas, and look beyond the instructions to what could be.

Class is noisy, Legos are everywhere, and my attention is pulled in many directions - but I love every minute, and so do the kids.  They are in charge of their learning, and I am along for the ride.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Star Academy Wireless Document Cameras

Student using the iPad
document camera
At the end of last year Star Academy teachers came up with a novel request - What if instead of new document cameras we purchased teacher iPads that could wirelessly display student work and do so much more? Instead of standard ELMO or AverMedia document cameras, for roughly the same price Star Academy purchased iPads, adjustable stands, and the Reflector application for all of the teachers. As I shared in my post on display options for iPhones and iPads last week, Reflector is a program that allows users to wirelessly display devices to their computers.

Our one concern was wireless - would the new network support all 13 iPads all broadcasting at the same time along with the school's other wireless devices (iPads, Chromebooks, teacher computers)? We're about six weeks into our little experiment and things seem to be working well. The wireless is holding up and both teachers and students have found the iPads simple to use.

Student work displayed
during Author's Chair
Through Reflector and an iPad teachers can quickly move about the room displaying different pieces of student work. They can also connect the iPad to the stand and provide a more traditional lesson under the iPad's camera. What iPad apps are they using? The teachers are keeping it simple, primarily using the iPad's native Camera app, as well as a free app called Stage that allows users to add annotations. The document camera function is just one piece to the iPad's use in the classroom. The teachers are also using these devices to model for students use of apps that are on the student iPads including iMovie, Keynote, and Pages. What's kind of handy is that switching between document camera and one of these apps is as simple as pressing the home button on the iPads.

If you have an iPad or are considering ordering one through a grant or donations try using it as a document camera. I think you will be impressed with how easy it is and you will be able to easily move about the classroom.


Photos: Courtesy of Hope Kloczko's 1st Grade Class

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip # 11 - Wireless Networks

Today we're starting a new series of posts - Tuesday Tech Tips. These will be quick and easy reminders for using technology resources at Natomas Charter School.

This week our focus is wireless networks. At Natomas Charter School we maintain multiple wireless networks. We maintain separate networks because our devices need to be filtered at different levels and we need to ensure that our internal network resources are safe from malware and viruses. While useful, the separate networks can be a bit confusing, so here is a listing of each network and its intended use by campus.

Main Campus

Here we maintain four networks - two for devices owned by the school and two for devices owned by students and staff

This network is used by wireless devices owned by Natomas Charter School, primarily teacher and staff laptops. All of these devices have antivirus and malware protection software and since the devices are used by staff the filtering is fairly open. Only the IT department has access to this password and we add it to all devices when they are set up.

This network is almost identical to NCS-Staff with more restrictive filtering. It is used to support our school-owned Chromebooks and iPads. Similar to NCS-Staff this password is maintained by the IT department. 

Bringing your own iPad, iPhone, or laptop to school? No problem. You can use NCS-StaffGuest to connect to the network. It is filtered at the same level as NCS-Guest, but does not allow users to access internal network resources (servers, networked printers, etc.) and instead routes users directly to the Internet. We do this because personal devices may not have adequate antivirus/malware protection software. All NCS staff members have access to this password. I am not posting it here since this is a public site, but feel free to contact the IT department or check your email if you do not know the password. Please do not provide it to students. Last year this happened and everyone ended up having to reset their devices.

This network is available for all students (at teacher-direction) and guests who are not NCS employees. It is filtered like NCS-Student, but similar to NCS-Staff Guest does not allow access to internal network resources. When using NCS-Guest it is important to launch a web-browser after connecting, accept the security certificate, and enter your email address.

PACT & Star

These two campuses have different wireless hardware than the main campus, so their system is slightly different as well.

Identical to NCS-Staff at the Main Campus

Identical to NCS-Student at the Main Campus

Very similar to NCS-Guest at the Main Campus and meant for use by student, staff, or outside guest personal devices.

Hopefully, this post clears up some confusion about our wireless networks. We are constantly working on improving the system, so you may hear of updates as well in the future. Please let us know if you have any questions. Should you ever come across a site you or your students need simply put in a Help Ticket (or email if it is an emergency) and we will take care of it.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #10 - Displaying iPads & iPhones

A question that I am often asked when I am in classrooms is, "How can I display my iPhone or iPad?" Increasingly, teachers are finding these to be valuable instructional tools whether showing students how to create a movie using an iPad or simply modeling how students might set up email or Schoology on their iPhones. There are a few different ways you can display your mobile device through a projector ranging from low-tech to fancy-schmancy. Some methods have an associated cost, while one is free and ready to go at any moment.

Document Camera - Free & Simple
Have something you need to display right now? Try putting your iPhone or iPad right under your document camera. As long as your camera is hooked up to your projector or computer you should be able to show anything being displayed on your mobile device. This strategy does have one downside though. Depending on the lighting situation in your room you might have problems with screen glare.

VGA Adapter - Dependable, but Pricey
Most mobile devices now have an available VGA adapter. For example, Apple makes VGA adapters for the iPhone and iPad that are robust and work like a charm. You simply plug one end into the device and the other into aVGA cable. If your projector has two sources you can then use the source button to toggle between your computer and mobile device. The only downside is that these little adapters alone can run anywhere from $15-$50 and they do keep you tethered to your projector.

AirPlay Mirroring - Magical, but Can Relies on Wireless
My preferred method of displaying iPhones and iPads is Airplay mirroring using the Reflector App. This program is installed on your computer (Mac or Windows) and once running will allow you to wirelessly display your device on your computer screen. Assuming your computer is also plugged into a projector, your mobile device screen can also be displayed in front of the class. This is actually how Star Academy teachers are using teacher iPads as wireless document cameras this year. If you are familiar with Apple TV, Reflector basically turns your computer into an Apple TV in terms of being able to AirPlay mobile devices.

There are, however, a few limitations with this approach. It does required paid software ($12.99) and both devices (computer and iPhone/iPad) must be on the same wireless network with robust wireless density. One of our projects this year is to investigate the possibility of displaying across networks (NCS-Staff Guest to NCS Staff and NCS-Student to NCS-Staff), but for the time being devices really have to be on the same network.

If you are interested in displaying your teacher or student iPads let me know and we can look into each of these options and find one that will work for you.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

LucidChart & LuicidPress - Publishing Options Beyond Docs

Google Docs - they are tried and true, but sometimes you need something a little bit more. Even Slides, Sheets, and Drawing might not be quite what you need. When you find yourself in that situation take a look at two other tools you should see listed in Drive - Lucidchart and Lucidpress.

Lucidchart is similar to other concept-mapping or brainstorming tools like Inspiration or Popplet that allow users 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.

Lucidpress is Google Docs on steroids. I like to think of it as either Pages, Publisher, or InDesign just in the cloud. Using Lucidpress you can create professional looking publications, such as posters, brochures, or magazines. All of the documents are formatted for print or digital layout.

A handy feature of Lucidchart and Lucidpress is that both programs integrate with Google Drive, so your diagrams and publications show up in your Drive folder with all of your other files.  Similar to Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations, both products allow for real-time collaboration between users in the same document.

To get started with either product check out these online tutorials. Both products also have excellent support pages and a fantastic collection of templates.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #9 - Keeping Your Mac Speedy

At the beginning of the school year all of our Apple users started off with a newly reimaged computer fully optimized for speed and efficiency. However, as the year progresses you might notice some sluggishness. This week's Tech Tip consists of four ways you can keep your work Mac speedy and one additional idea for speeding up your computer at home.

1. Clear Off the Desktop
I know that many of you enjoy storing files on your desktop because it makes things easy to find, but it also slows down your computer significantly. The Desktop is basically the first screen the computer has to load and if it is loaded with tons of files it takes more time to render everything. Your Mac views all of the items on your Desktop as separate windows and is constantly generating thumbnail previews for them. A great idea is to try keeping items in folders, preferably not on your Desktop. Make use of Documents or even better - the Google Drive folder for automatic backups.

2. Restart Your Mac
When was the last time you restarted your computer? Can't remember? Restart it...right now! This process will likely solve any problems you are having and speed things up. As you launch programs and forget to quit them they continue to run in the background eating up overall computer performance. A quick restart is the fastest way to make sure quit all of these programs and as a tech once told me is the equivalent of "flushing the toilet" on errant programs.

3. Run Updates
Inevitably the Apple update message appears at the most inopportune time - right in the middle of a lesson or just as you are trying to respond to a time-sensitive email. However, remembering to go back and actually run the update when you have a moment is key to keeping you Mac performing its best. This process not only ensures your computer is protected from possible security vulnerabilities, but many updates are also fixes geared towards efficiency and performance. The same thing is true for other applications that have separate update tools including Microsoft Office and Chrome. Update...update...update.

4. Clear Out Some Space
When you save files your computer actually does not save the file in one continuous chunk. Instead, it breaks up the file into fragments that can fit in differently sized spaces. This helps your computer maximize its hard drive capacity. However, if you are getting close to having a completely full hard drive your computer will actually slow down because it is continuously attempting to break files into smaller and smaller chunks. Clearing out space so that you only store what you absolutely need is a quick way to speed up your computer.

5. Add RAM or Install an SSD - Personal Computers
When we purchase school computers we often maximize the amount of RAM and the speed of the hard drive as part of the order. However, when you purchased a personal device you might not have selected the same options. For example, when I bought my latest personal laptop I opted for the least expensive model. Within a year I was ready to throw it out the window. Fortunately, someone talked me into spending $250 on RAM and a new, much faster solid-state drive (SSD). After watching a YouTube video and spending about 15 minutes performing surgery on my Macbook Pro I suddenly had an amazing little machine. It was definitely the best $250 I have ever spent on a personal device. If your computer at home is slowing down before you purchase a new one do a little research and see if you can add any RAM or swap out your hard drive.

So take a few moments, and try out a few of these tricks. You should find that they speed things up nicely. I you have any questions simply let one of us in the IT Department know.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #8 - Screenshots

Last week I wrote a post about screencasts, great tools for sharing information through video. What if you just need a picture and not a full video? In that case screenshots are the solution. Screenshots are simply photographs of either a portion or all of your computer screen. Once snapped they can be easily shared via email, inserted in presentations, or posted on website. Depending on your computer platform or tool you have a few different ways to take a screenshot

Apple OSX
The ability to take a screenshot it built right into the Apple operating system. You have three choices for creating your image - snap an image of the entire screen, just one window, or a customized area.

  • Entire Screen - Simply hold press Command+Shift+3 (all three buttons at the same time) and an image of your screen will be deposited on your desktop. If you have your speakers turned on you will even hear a camera-shutter sound.
  • Just One Window - Press Command+Shift+4, move your mouse over the window you would like to capture, press the Spacebar, and click the mouse. On your desktop you will now have an image of that window. If your speakers are turned on you will hear the same camera shutter sound.
  • Custom Section of the Screen - Press Command+Shift+4. Move your mouse to the upper left section you would like to capture, hold down the mouse, and drag to the lower right section would like to capture. When you let go of the mouse your screenshot will be deposited on the desktop.
For more detailed instructions check out this Apple Support webpage.

Windows 7
Devices running Windows 7 also have the ability to snap screenshots. This is done using the Print Screen button (PrtScn). Simply press PrtScn, launch Paint and paste the image into the program. Once pasted you can save the file and a picture to be used in another program. If you would like to only capture one program window click the window you would like to capture and press Alt+PrtScn and follow the same steps using Paint. More detailed directions can be found in this Windows tutorial.

Using Snagit for Chrome
If you're using a Chromebook OR you want the ability to easily annotate at screenshot of a website with text, arrows, or shapes then check out Snagit for Chrome. This free Chrome extension and app will allow you to quickly capture online resources, annotate key details, and share images via weblinks. The tool is free to download and will work with any NCS Google account. This video demonstrates how to install and use Snagit for Chrome.
The Snagit Extension activated in Chrome
Adding annotations in Snagit

iOS - iPad/iPod/iPhone
Last, but certainly not least is an iPad/iPhone. You can snap a screenshot by holding down the power and home button together for a brief moment. The screen will flash and an image will automatically be added to the Camera Roll. If you would like to annotate the photo from that point, check out Skitch for iPad/iPhone.

Screenshots are quick and easy ways to share information whether the content is a teaching tool or a student sharing their project. If you have any questions please let me know.


Photo: Kodak Brownie Starlet by Silvio Tanaka on Flickr

Monday, August 25, 2014

Telling Your Story with Tour Builder

Perhaps you have tried writing stories in Google Earth and found the program to be a bit too complicated between coding in HTML and trying to figure out how to save the folder of placemarks? Or maybe you have tried using Google Maps as your authoring tool, but it just didn't quite do enough for you? Google Tour Builder is the perfect happy medium between Maps and Earth and it can be used to share a variety of stories. Here are some examples from the public Gallery.
Tour Builder is a web-based program using the Google Earth plugin (free) that allows users to easily combine text, images, and video with a simple, intuitive interface. Since it is web-based students can start a project in one location and finish it in a different place. The one downside is that it is not Chromebook or tablet (iPad/Android) friendly, so if you would like to use it at school you will need to check out the Media Center or one of the computer labs.

Today I spent a few periods working in Jennifer Music's Leading Edge classroom. Her 7th grade students are in the midst of creating biographies for people who have been influential in their lives. As a class, we each created a biography for Rosa Parks as an example and found that Tour Builder was the ideal tool for bringing her story to life. I am excited to see what the students develop for their own tours later this week.

If you are interested in getting started with Google Tour Builder check out this short tutorial or the Tour Builder Outreach site. We'll also have a workshop on the tool tomorrow afternoon (8/26) at 3:15pm and 4:15pm in room J3 on the Main Campus. Jump in and give the tool a try. I think you will find it very intuitive and a great digital storytelling tool to add to your collection.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #7 - Troubleshooting Your Technology

When I return to school each summer I often find that I suffer from "summer amnesia." Where did I put my keys? What was my login password? How did I schedule workshops last year? I always have to chuckle to myself because it is amazing how quickly I forget the simplest of quickly!

Technology seems to be no different. Each year when we return to school our devices seem to suffer summer amnesia as well. After sitting idle for a few months, collecting dust, and possibly missing an update or two they might need a little assistance getting back to normal.

Below are six troubleshooting tips you should try out.

1. Clear Your Browser History

Is a webpage taking forever to load? Are you getting odd messages, such as "Sharing Unavailable at this Time?" Try clearing Chrome's browser history. This can be done by going to Chrome's History menu (History -> Show Full History) and clicking the Clear Browsing Data button. And if you're using Internet Explorer please switch to Chrome. That will probably solve the problem all by itself.

2. Restart the Program or App

If clearing Chrome's history did not work or you are using another application simply try restarting the program. That might solve the problem all by itself. Please remember that on a Mac you will need to click on the name of the application and select Quit. Closing the window does not quit the program.

3. Force Quit

Will the program not quit? Remind it who is really boss with a Force Quit. This can be done a few different ways depending on your device.

  • Apple OSX - Click on the Desktop, followed by the small black apple icon in the left corner of the screen. From the menu choose Force Quit and menu of all applications currently running will appear. Select the one you would like to quit.
  • Windows Operating System - Hold down Ctrl+Alt+Delete and choose the program you would like to stop running from the Task Manager that appears.
  • iOS - iPad/iPhone - Double-click on the Home button and swipe up on the application you would like to quit.

4. Check for Updates

Did you try clearing your browser history or restarting the program and things are still being odd? Try checking to see if your computer or program is up to date. Depending on the application you can find updates in a few different places.

  • Chrome - Navigate to the Chrome Help page (Chrome -> Preferences -> Help) and check to see if your browser is up to date. This can also be done on a Chromebook and will update the Chromebook as well.
  • Apple OSX - If you are using a Mac click on the black apple icon in the left corner and look for Software Update. This will also update other Apple programs including iMovie, Garageband, etc.
  • Windows Operating System - Navigate to the Control Panel and look for the Windows Update icon.
  • Microsoft Office Applications - In any Office program you can check for updates by clicking on Help, followed by Check for Updates. This process will check for updates across all Office applications at the same time.

5. Restart the Device

Did the first four steps not help? Try restarting the device. That is the official magical IT solution to everything and often it works!

  • Chromebook - You can restart just by holding down the power button.
  • iOS - iPad/iPhone - Restart the device by holding down the power and the home button until the silver apple logo appears.
  • Windows - Click on the Start menu and look for Shut Down or Restart.
  • Apple OSX - Click on the black apple icon and look for Shut Down or Restart.

6. Unplug & Power Down

When all else fails simply unplug the device or remove its battery (if accessible). For items like LCD projectors this may be your only option and unplugging the device will keep it from overheating and creating a fire hazard. Once safely powered down, try plugging the device back in or resetting its battery and clicking on the power button.

If these don't work for you please submit a ticket to the NCS Help Desk and we will work on getting you back up and running as soon as possible.


Photo: Wrenching by Jeremy Brooks on Flickr

Monday, August 18, 2014

Clone Yourself Through Screencasts!

Have you ever had a situation where you wanted more than one of you? Perhaps you're in a classroom and while all the students need assistance, they are all in a different place. Or you're getting ready to send home procedures for using an online tool and you know that a few parents or students might get lost along the way.

Screencasting is simply the process of creating a digital recording of something that is occurring on the computer screen and they often contain audio narrations.  As we weave increasing amounts of technology into all of the roles we play as classroom teachers, screencasts can quickly become handy tools.  In my own classroom I used screencasts to show parents how to log into our classroom blog and post comments and to remind students how to accomplish various tasks using Google Docs, Sliderocket, or Schoology.  There are three reasons why I love screencasts:
  • Just in Time Teaching - It's 3:30pm and you get an email from a student - "How do I embed my presentation on the class Google Site?  I can't remember."  You certainly could respond by typing out all of the steps and hope that the student doesn't miss could create a short video modeling it for them all over again.  Recognizing that if one student asked the question chances are a few others are confused as well, you could then send out the video to the entire class via email and even post it on your webpage.  
  • Repetition without Repeating - One of the handy things about screencasts is that the videos can be watched over and over again.  Learners can review your instructions until they have mastered the concept and you only had to teach the lesson once!  When I taught technology elective screencasts honestly kept me sane.  During class I would model for the students how to use a particular application, but the night before I also created a few short screencasts of the key steps and posted them on my website.  When the students transitioned to independent practice they would use these videos if they had a question and I could move around the room assisting students with deeper concepts.
  • Show What You Know - Screencasting isn't just for teachers, kids can use it too. Some projects aren't easily turned in. For example, a California Mission created in Minecraft can't exactly be emailed or uploaded to Google Drive. However, a video tour of the mission with commentary on why the student chose specific materials or designs could easily be shared with a teacher and frankly a much better demonstration of the student's understanding than the project alone. Snagit now makes a Chrome app that works with Google Drive which is perfect for doing this! Check out the tutorial.
You're probably thinking, "these sound great, but I certainly don't have time to make them."  You do.  I promise.  It is easier than typing out the directions and can be done in three quick steps.  Here's a screencast showing you how.
  • Record - On your Mac use QuickTime player to create your videos (Windows or Chromebook users - check out Snagit for Chrome).
  • Upload - Once the video is done look for Share and upload it to YouTube. 
  • Post - While the video is uploading create your email or weblink where you plan on posting your video.  Once the uploading process is done just copy and paste the link to your video.  Hit send or save and resume your life.
Having created screencasts for the past few years I have three main points of advice for making your own.
  • Keep it Short! - No one watches a video longer than 5 minutes.  Shoot for 1-5 minutes and if you find yourself running long consider chunking the video into two sections.
  • Make it Interactive - If you need to go longer than 5 minutes and can't chunk the video then build in pause points where you encourage the viewer to stop the video and complete the steps you just mentioned. 
  • Mistakes are Awesome! - Your video does not need to be perfect.  You are human and when you teach in real life chances are you make mistakes.  The same thing happens with video.  Simply correct yourself and move on.  It shows your human side and makes the video more interesting.  
If you have any questions about screencasting feel free to let me know. I would love to help you and your students create a few of your own.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tuesday Tech Tip #6 - Backing Up with Google

With the start of a new school year now is a perfect time to setup new workflows to make sure you are regularly backing up and saving your bookmarks. All hard drives fail, eventually. Unfortunately, sometimes they fail when you least expected it, your data isn't backed up, and you find yourself recreating files or hoping you have a paper version some place you can scan.

Here are some tips for making sure this does not happen to you.

Teachers & Macbook Users

Google Drive Sync Folder

Google provides every single one of our users 30GB of storage (it was only 5GB last year!) and anything you make in the web-based version of Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, etc.) does not count towards that quota. Believe it or not, this is actually more storage than we were able to provide users on our own server for many years. The best part is that if you install and run the Google Drive application on your computer saving to Google Drive is as simple as saving to the Google Drive folder on your computer. The application automatically syncs anything you store there to the Google servers. Should your computer suddenly die all you will need to do is run the Google Drive program on your new computer and within a few minutes all of your files will be restored. If you are a desktop user the Google Drive folder will also allow you to easily access your files from home through the Google Drive website ( or by installing the application on your home computer. This video from last school year will show you how to use the Google Drive folder on your computer.

Photos, Videos, Music - External Hard Drive

But what about my iTunes and iPhoto libraries? Many of us sync our phones with our computers or download content from iTunes to use in class. More than likely these file are way too large to save to Google Drive. If you have a ton of photos, videos, or music then you really need to periodically back these up to an external hard drive. This video will show you how. It is really easy to do.


Make sure you are using Chrome and your are signed in using your Natomas Charter account. Whenever you save bookmarks to Chrome they are also saved online. This means that you will never have to worry about losing your bookmarks and when you bookmark one computer (or Chromebook) it will automatically be reflected on any other Chrome device.

Business Office, Front Office, and Clerical Staff

Network Storage

If you are part of our Business Office, Front Office, or Clerical Staff teams then more than likely you are working with data which would not be appropriate for saving to individual Google Drive folders. Please make sure that you are always saving to the correct folder in the NCS server. This data is regularly backed up and should a computer or hard drive failure occur the IT Team can easily recover your files for later use.


Just like our teachers and students please make sure you are using Chrome. All of your bookmarks will be saved and available from any computer using Chrome.

If you have any questions or concerns about backing up your data or just need a helping hand please let the IT Department know.


Photo: Hard Drive by Walknboston on Flickr

Thursday, July 31, 2014

3 Tools to Kick Off the School Year

Earlier today a few teachers stopped by my office and posed this question to me.
"Joe, we noticed on Facebook you did quite a bit of professional development this summer. Name the three most awesome tools we need to check out...and Minecraft can't be your answer."  
Naturally, my response was, "Only three...and what's wrong with Minecraft? It is amazing, you'll see."
There are a ton of great tools out there for you to use with your students and I am a firm believer that one size does not fit all classrooms. That being said, here are three resources I encourage you to check out as the school year begins in a little over a week. While they are all easy to use, I have listed them in order from the quickest to most time intensive to set up. These are also some of the tools we'll be talking about in upcoming technology workshops.

1. Snagit App & Extension for Chrome

Many of us at Natomas Charter are big proponents for screencasting. It is a quick and easy way to create videos and basically clone yourself for your students. Every teacher and our computer labs are equipped with Apple computers and the built-in QuickTime Player application is a handy way to create a screencast (this tutorial will show you how).

However, what if you're not using Mac? Maybe only the Chromebooks were available for checkout or you want your kids to create screencasts and you have no idea what technology they have at home? Check out the SnagIt App & Extension for Chrome. This free tool allows anyone with the Chrome browser (Mac, Windows, or Chromebook) to take screenshots (photos) and create screencasts (videos). These files are automatically saved to a folder within the user's Google Drive account called TechSmith and from there they can be easily uploaded to YouTube or shared with another user. As you're planning out your year consider having students create screencasts to narrate a slideshow, explain how they pieced together an essay, or take you on a tour of their Minecraft virtual world. This tutorial will show you how to set up Snagit for Chrome.

2. Google Classroom

Is your Google Drive folder a complete mess after having students share their project with you? Would you like a tool where you can ensure every student names their document correctly and when the project is due you can actually embargo the file, no longer allowing the student to edit it? Then Google Classroom is for you!

Released just a few weeks ago, Google Classroom is an amazing resource for managing documents and student workflow. It is very similar to the Doctopus app/script some of you have used in the past, but the process for sharing resources with your students is much similar. Take a couple of minutes to watch this overview and tutorial video. You will be glad you did!

3. Schoology

Are you looking for a tool that will help you make outside-of-class work (aka homework) more meaningful through online discussions? Have you found that your teacher website is a great place for static information, but you would like a tool where students can submit work digitally or use online assessments? Then Schoology is the tool for you.

This coming year teachers in all five academies will be using Schoology in a variety of formats. For example, VLA will be using it as the heart and soul of their academy, PACT will be using it with their ProjectX, student-paced middle school program, and Leading Edge will be using it as a resource for extending learning beyond the traditional school day through online forums and discussions. It has applications for any subject and grade level and could completely replace your teacher website. If Schoology sounds interesting to you check out the Schoology page on the NCS PD Portal.