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. :-)