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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Value of PD is in What You Create

I was lucky enough to attend this week's Google Geo Teachers Institute in Mountain View. My intention was to listen and learn. However, I ended up being reminded that it is what you create that makes pd powerful.

I car pooled with my colleague, Kristina Greene and a third colleague also attended, Peggy Chapman. During the drive to San Jose, the first day of break outs, exploring the incredible Google campus, and enjoying the heated toilet seats, we eventually moved far beyond the obligatory, "What did you do this summer?" and "How are the kids?" conversations.

Our conversation turned to our school's mission and culture. We talked about the incorrect perceptions others have about our practices and student body, specifically that we are a homogeneous population that excludes others. Later, we discussed how to create meaningful pd for staff that would support staff in serving students. We decided that an off campus, relaxed experience focused on answering the question, "What would happen if.......?"  would result in the most creative and collaborative lessons and solutions to problems. Sharing a hotel room that night resulted in  more personal revelations, that my husband was born in the UK and her husband's mother in Ireland.

The next morning, as we sat in a session on Google Maps Engine Light, Kristina and I realized the power of collecting data from our students on a Google Form and importing the data into a custom Google map when one of us asked the question, "What would happen if we had all of our students at NCS tell us where they were born? Or where their parent's were born? Or their grandparents?"

A light bulb went off in both of our heads.  Instantly, we created the Google form and custom map called "Natomas Charter School: Where are We From?" map. We filled it out for my son, a student in our home school program and her children, students at our Performing and Fine Arts Academy.

Then, we asked..." What would happen if teachers took it further?" English or History teachers could have their students interview and write about their families’ experiences. They can share pictures or videos from these locations. All of these could be put on the NCS "Where are We From Map"! I thought about the pictures of my husband as a child in England and the conversations that they would start between my son, his dad and his grandparents.The idea of a collection stories and images collected on a map instead of in a book or Google doc. will be a powerful way of showing our learning community's geographical and cultural diversity.

When Peggy returned from her session and asked what we learned, I realized it wasn't about what we "learned", but what we created that was of value.

We created the beginning of a shared learning and teaching experience for students and teachers across five distinct programs that has the potential to widen our view of the world and the view of our school community.