Thursday, September 17, 2015

Updates for YouTube Safe Search

As I shared in a post late last year about Navigating YouTube Safe Search sometimes completely perfect educational videos can be blocked by the restricted browsing options we have enabled for student accounts. Often this occurs with teacher-created video content, such as screencasts. When a video is blocked students will see a screen like the one below when they are logged in with their NCS account at school or at home.
Google recently released a few new features to help combat this problem including the ability to provide teachers a content approval role. We turned this feature on earlier this week and are now piloting the ability for all NCS teachers and staff to approve videos that are accidentally blocked. When you are viewing YouTube videos you will see a new blue bar across the bottom of the viewing window (if you don't see the blue bar, check Chrome to make sure you have all of your YouTube-related extensions turned off). Towards the right side of the blue bar is an approve button.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility...
Should you choose to approve a video, please realize that it can be seen by all NCS students. If you accidentally approve something that should not be approved please let one of the IT staff know. We can find your record in the logs and remove the video from the whitelist.

Since we are still piloting this feature please let the IT staff know how it is performing for you and your students. Hopefully, it will make your ability to create and share high-quality instructional content that much easier.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Understanding CAASPP Results

This spring all of our 3rd-8th, 10th and 11th graders participated in annual statewide testing. The results of our new testing program, CAASPP are starting to arrive and this post is an attempt to start demystifying some of the new terminology and data you will be hearing about.

Establishing a New Baseline
First off you might be wondering, "How did we do?" Overall, our preliminary results look great and share common patterns with school wide data across the region. However, it is important to remember that this year is really about establishing a new baseline. The Common Core standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments are very different than anything we have done previously. Tomorrow (September 9th) is the public release of all state, district, and school wide data. You can see the results on this website starting at 11am. We also have some preliminary extracts of student-level data we will be analyzing via future staff and cadre meetings. Later this month we will start receiving individual student reports to be mailed home.

New Test...New Results...New Terminology
With a new set of scores we have a new set of terminology to start learning as educators. To me one of the best places to start understanding this terminology is the Student Score Report.  This is the document families will receive next month.

  • Overall Achievement Levels (Front Side)
    • On the front side of the score report you will see an overall achievement level for both Math and English Language Arts. The overall achievement level really consists of three pieces of data 
      • Overall Score - A numerical value between 2000-3000
      • Achievement Level - The numerical score falls into one of four achievement levels - Standard Not Met, Standard Nearly Met, Standard Met, Standard Exceeded
      • Range of Possible Scores - A small black bar around the overall score which shows approximately where the student might score if they took the exam again.
  • Claim Achievement Levels (Back Side)
    • The overall achievement level for each content area is broken into area or claims on the back of the score report. For each claim area students can store Below Standard, At Standard, or Above Standard.
    • For students who were in grades 5, 8, and 10 you will also see a CST science score at the bottom of the back side of the score report.
CDE has also put together this short video for students and families explaining the score report and you might find it useful as well.

Data to Inform Instruction
As you start delving into your own student data in the next few weeks you might begin to search for resources to assist in your own instructional practices. I predict that this will be an on-going conversation for all of us throughout this school year. :-) However, some places I would suggest you start are listed below

Friday, September 4, 2015

Tech Tip #1 - Updates are Your Friends

At NCS we use an "empowered user" model for all teacher and staff Macbooks. This means you have admin rights and one of the easiest ways to keep your computer running like a champ is to make sure you are always running your updates. Periodically you may see an email from the IT department that asks you to avoid a particular update, but for the most part regularly running updates is an excellent practice. The ones that we might ask you to avoid are large operating system changes, such as an update from 10.10 (Yosemite) to 10.11 (El Capitan) which will occur later this fall.

Updates fall into three main categories

Mac Updates
All updates for the Apple operating system or any Apple programs can be found in the Mac App Store. When you launch this application you should be asked whether or not you want to run the updates right now. Occasionally you might be asked for the password. If this happens you can find that password on this Google Doc (NCS Staff only).

Microsoft Office Updates
Word or Excel acting wonky? Try running Microsoft Office updates. When you launch Word or Excel the autoupdate feature should launch for you. If it does not you can always trigger it by clicking Help in any MS Office application.

Google Chrome Update
Have you ever noticed that your Google Chrome has three red or orange lines at the right side of the toolbar? That means it needs an update. You can complete this task by going to the Chrome Help Menu (chrome://help/). Sometimes, if you have waited too long Chrome may not update for you. If this happens, navigate to the Chrome website, download an updated version, and install the program.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Helping Students Research More Efficiently

Whaddya Mean All My Facts Are Wrong?!? Digital image. Techie Teacher 5280. N.p., n.d. Web. <>

Students know that Googling is a very imperfect way to do research, and yet they keep doing. It is understandable: Google is a part of our daily lives, and students are growing up in a world where we expect to get the one, right answer to any question within seconds.

But we all know that this premise is not true, especially in an educational setting where getting the right answer (if there is even one!) is important, but most important is to help students develop their critical thinking skills. Evaluating websites for credibility is crucial, and we do need to teach our students that skill; but we also need to teach them how to use research databases, as they, along with print resources, will be the only resources accepted in college.

The Sacramento County Office of Education was not able to bring CaliforniaLearns, a portal through which we had access to EBSCO, back this school year. Joe Wood and I are looking to potentially get our own access to a database, and I have set up several free trials to see which one you and your students prefer. Your feedback will be primordial in deciding what we get.

You will see here the list of 4 databases and the links to the free trials. I cannot post this information online as it would be broadcasting free access to those databases to people outside of NCS; but please take a look at them and let me know what you think. The trials end mid-September.

We also would like our students’ feedback! If you are giving students a research project in the next 3-4 weeks, I would suggest that you give different databases to different students to use, or use different databases for smaller projects, and ask students for their feedback as part of the assignment. Just forward me or Joe their comments.

Finally, to make this a little more fun: the first person (faculty or staff) to email me an article they found on ANY database on the topic of their choice, will get to pick one book from my pile of awesome books (some of which are not yet even published!), yours to keep!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fancy Reading Logs & Formulas

At Star Academy 2nd grade students have an annual book reading challenge. This year it is 70 books by the end of the year with at least 10 being chapter books. Historically, Julie and Maria have asked their students to keep track of their books by completing a Google Form-based reading log. Periodically, they would sort the data by student name and create reports for each student. It was a Sunday night data-sorting and printing nightmare. This year we simplified the process using a few spreadsheet formulas and now each student has their very own live tab were they (or their parents) can easily track reading progress. Interested in doing something similar? Heres how...with screencasts!

Part 1 - Setting Up Separate Tabs
Basically you create a Google Form and create one entry for each student. From there you create a template on the Response spreadsheet using Data Validation and two basic formulas - Query and Count If. Once your template is set you clone a sheet for each student. Scared of the Query formula? No sweat! You can copy/paste the one from the screencast's description area.

Part 2 - Sharing Tabs with Individual Students
Unfortunately, Google does not (yet) have the ability to easily share individual tabs. However you can you can create a new sheet and use the ImportRange formula to provide a live view for each student. Its even easier than Part 1.

The process might sound complicated, but it is actually pretty simple. You might just need a quiet space and about 30-45 minutes to set it up for your entire class, but then you should be set for the year. Shout out to Ted Juch and Google Gooru for inspiring the idea for these reading logs.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Schoology Tips & Tricks - Update #3 - Educator Communities

Communities are at the heart of Schoology, whether the community is your school, classroom, or after school group.  Users who have teacher or admin roles also have the opportunity to join larger Schoology communities tailored to a topic, content area, or instructional practice. Many educators using Schoology are classroom teachers using it by themselves, in non-enterprise environments, so groups are one way these teachers connect and collaborate.

Joining a group is as simple as clicking on Groups, followed by Find Public Groups. Once you are there you will find a listing of suggested and publicly available groups. You can click on the group title to peek into the group and determine whether or not you would like to join.

After joining a group their updates will appear in your Home feed, but you can also post questions or ideas to these groups and likely find very helpful responses from teachers all over the world in teaching positions like yours. A few groups I would highly recommend joining are Schoology EducatorsBlended Learning, and Flipped Classroom.

Thank you to Nicole for turning me on to these!


Monday, August 17, 2015

Schoology Tips & Tricks - Update #2 - Notifications

Are you finding inbox overwhelmed by Schoology notifications? No sweat! You can easily adjust your notification settings using two different tools. This applies to both students and staff, so feel free to pass this information along to your students. It is also a great opportunity to talk to students about tools for keeping track of their assignments and staying on top of their workload including Notifications and the Calendar.

Overall Schoology Notifications
The main notification settings window can be found by clicking on the small triangle icon next to your name in Schoology. Here you can select which conditions will trigger a notification and whether you want these to appear via email or as a notification pop up on your phone or tablet device using the Schoology mobile app.

Course-Specific Notifications
Sometimes you need to modify notifications for just one course. This can be accomplished by clicking on the Notifications button within the course. There you will find a series of checkboxes that determine which course actions will send information via your overall Schoology notification settings (email or mobile app).

If you have any trouble with these or need additional information just let me know.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Schoology Tips & Tricks - Update #1 - Gradebook, Student View, and More

Happy Friday!

I hope all of you enjoyed you first week of school. This year as we roll out Schoology I plan on sending out weekly Top 5 lists based on emails, feedback, and help tickets. Below are the 5 Schoology Items You Need to Know for the of August 17, 2015.

1. Configuring Schoology Gradebook
One of the very first things you need to do is configure your Schoology gradebook with categories and weights (if you use them). All gradebook configuration is done by clicking on Gradebook followed by Grade Set Up. Amanda also created this handy screencast that will walk you through the steps.

2. Adding Items to the Gradebook
Once you have your gradebook all set up you can start inputting grades for assignments. Any Assignments, Quizzes, and Discussions will automatically appear in your gradebook from when you created them in your course materials page. If you have items you would like to add that don't necessarily have a digital component just choose "Add Grade Column" from the dropdown menu in the gradebook. Additionally, check out the Gradebook portion of the Schoology Instructor Guide. You will find it quite helpful.

3. Setting Up Online Discussions
A few of you have asked me how to set up online discussions. These are great tools for facilitating online conversations, have students preview and discuss a video or article, and even as a forum for submitting work and getting feedback from peers. The Discussion section of the Instructor Guide has lots of step-by-steps for setting up discussions including how to enable them so that a student must post before viewing any one else's content.

4. Tools for Viewing as a Student
Often it is handy to see what things look like from a student view. You have two options for making this happen depending on your instructional goal.

  1. View Course As - Just below the course icon photo there is a Course Options dropdown menu. Here you will see "View Course As" and you will be automatically taken to a menu where you can select one of your students and view the class as if you were that person.
  2. Demo Accounts - Each academy has their very own demo account. You can use these for creating screencasts, tutorials, or other helpful resources where you really need to "embody" a student account. The login information for these was sent in an email on August 13th. It should still be in your inbox.

5. Customizing Your Schoology Profile
Schoology profiles are a wonderful tool for modeling positive digital footprints for all of our students. I know that many of you have started exploring the NCS Schoology Profile Guidelines and Launch Guide, but take a few minutes to build out your own profile. Include a professional photo, biography, and description of why you are passionate about teaching. Amanda even created a handy screencast for doing this!

Bonus Item! Advisees
Did you know that you can easily see how an individual student is doing in all of their classes? Click on Advisees on the left side of the screen (just above App Center), type in a student's name and click through the tabs across the menu (Current, Calendar, Grades). This is available to all teachers and administrators.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Top 6 Tech Things to Know for 2015-2016

Welcome back to the start of another amazing school year! With school beginning on Monday here is a list of the Top 6 Things to Know for 2015-2016 from the Technology Department.

1. New NCS PowerSchool Information
This year we have our own, fully independent version of PowerSchool. As a result, all related web addresses and login information have changed. Please make sure you check your email for a message from me regarding your username and password. Additionally, please update any bookmarks or website links you may have used in the past. I have also added the new student and parent URL, but those accounts will not be in use until mid-September.
2. Schoology
This year teachers in Leading Edge, PFAA, VLA, and Project X at PACT will be using Schoology as learning management system for all of their courses. Schoology is a tool similar to Blackboard, Moodle, or WebCT that allows teachers to seamlessly connect in-school and at-home academic activities using a blended learning model. Students will be able to submit assignments digitally, engage in online discussion forums, and complete web-based assessments. All students and teachers login to Schoology ( using their NCS Google Accounts. 

3. Student Account Information
In the IT department we make every attempt to ensure all incoming students have their accounts set ahead of time and provide small sheets of paper with login directions to either homeroom, technology, or ELA teachers depending on the academy and grade level. All student account usernames have the same format - first name, last initial, graduation year (ex: JohnS2022). Email addresses are identical to usernames with the addition of Students set their own passwords beginning in 6th grade, but new students will have the temporary password ncsyear1516. Below is an example of the full set of information for a student.
  • Username: JohnS2022
  • Email:
  • Temporary Password: ncsyear1516
4. Help Desk
If you need any technology support this year please always submit a Help Desk ticket. The system allows us to prioritize and track support as a team. Please save emails and phone calls for an immediate technology emergency. 
  • Help Desk Website -
  • Email Address - Your email address (staff only)
  • Password - A password you set
5. NCS Professional Development Portal and Year-Long Support
The NCS Professional Development Portal contains a plethora of information for instructional technology support. On this site you will find resource pages for a variety of topics from Schoology to Minecraft and Google Drive. If you are new to our school this year you will also find the resource page for our New Staff Tech Orientation. During the school year weekly technology professional development time will continue at the following dates and times. For the first few weeks of school I will also host open labs at these times. Keep an eye out for my weekly emails.
  • PFAA & LE - Tech Tuesdays 3:30-4:30pm in G-4
  • VLA - Wednesdays 9:30-10:45am in D-1
  • PACT - Bring a Challenge/Solve a Challenge Thursdays 8:00-8:45am
  • Star - STEAM Thursdays 3:15-4:15pm
6. Laptop Insurance
Have you signed up for laptop insurance this year? If not check out the Worth Avenue Group NCS page. We had an employee who ended up needing it this summer after she spilled water on her laptop. The process for repairing her laptop was quick, easy, and painless and only cost her the price of the deductible. You can also use the Worth Avenue site to insure personal devices, such as iPads, smartphones, and laptops.

Have a great year and a great first day of school on Monday!


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tuesday Tech Tip #17 - SnagIt for Chrome

When it comes to "showing what you know", one of the most powerful tools available for both teachers and students are screencasts. All of Apple computers come equipped with QuickTime Player with a built-in screencasting tool. However, a great resource that works on any computer using Chrome (Macs, Windows, or Chromebooks) is Snagit for Chrome.

Snagit for Google Chrome is a free screen capture and recording app that works on Chromebooks or in the Chrome browser. Using Snagit for Google Chrome can help you provide better feedback, encourage teamwork, and create images, videos, and animated GIFs that explain exactly what you mean.

Now you might be thinking, animated GIF? What the heck is that?!? An animated GIF is basically a very short, looping video (20 seconds or less) that you can pop into a Google Doc, blog post, or other digital resource that will walk students or staff through a series of steps. Below is an example of one demonstrating how to change your font in a Google Doc. They are perfect for showing users how to complete a simple, technical task. I know of educators who use these to remind students the steps for using a tool or submitting an assignment. 

Snagit for Chrome will allow you and your students to not only create animated GIFs, but also annotated screenshots and videos. If you would like to get started with Snagit for Chrome check out this instructional video