Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #6 - Schoology & PowerSchool Gradebooks

Now that the school year is off and running it is a great time to make sure your Schoology and PowerSchool gradebooks are all lined up. Please remember that while Schoology displays the grade parents and students see, what shows up in PowerSchool is the "official" record. Grades, progress reports, and transcripts are printed from PowerSchool, not Schoology. Therefore, it is very important to make sure your Schoology and PowerSchool grades match, especially at any reporting period.

Fortunately, setting things up is very easy but it does require some close attention to detail, especially if you use weighting.

Step 1 - Schoology Categories
You can establish your categories by going to Gradebook -> Grade SetUp in each Schoology course. If your sections are linked you will only need to do this once, but if your sections are not linked you need to do this for each class. Once you have created a category you can determine whether or not you want to weight the category. The biggest item when creating Categories is to make sure you have chosen Total Points rather than Percentage. This Schoology article explains the difference.

Step 2 - PowerSchool Categories
After you have set your Schoology categories launch the PowerTeacher Gradebook and login using your NCS PowerSchool account. For each course/section you will need to create categories and weights (if needed) to match what you have set up in Schoology using the following steps

  1. Click Grade Set Up
  2. Click on the Reporting Term (ex: S1, S2)
  3. Category Weights or Total Points
  4. Add your Categories/Weights
  5. Click File -> Refresh Class Info
The final step tells Schoology what categories you have for the next part of the process.

Step 3 - Mapping Schoology to PowerSchool Categories
Navigate back to Schoology and look for the PowerSchool tab on the left side of the page in your course. Click on it. A new screen will open. Look for the word Configuration and click on it. Here you need to tell Schoology how your categories match up to PowerSchool. If you did all of Step 2 you just have to match them up (ex Participation in Schoology matches Participation in PowerSchool). Please note that this must be completed for each section by using the little drop down menu that shows you the section number.

Step 4 - Syncing and Checking
Syncing between the systems is fully automatic. However, since you have just set up your categories click on the Sync All button. You find this under the same PowerSchool tab where you completed Step 3. Give the sync some time to process and then check any errors that pop up. If you don't have any in your PowerSchool Gradebook click on File -> Refresh Class Info.

How Often Should I Do This?
Great news! Steps 1-3 only need to be done once each semester. Step 4 is something you should be doing weekly. Please do not wait until the night before grades are do to check things. If you have an error that you cannot correct Christine, Matt, Amanda, and I need some time to help you. If you're checking on things regularly we can better help you out.

Panic Button 
Help! My grades are due to Christine in 30 minutes and things aren't quite lining up. What do I do? In PowerSchool you can double-click on the student's final grade and manually adjust it. This is your ultimate fail safe, but if you are regularly checking the sync throughout the grading period you won't have to do this.

If you have any questions please let me know. We are here for you!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #5 - Running Updates

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 do ask you to avoid are large operating system changes, such as an update from 10.11 (El Capitan) to 10.12 (Sierra).

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.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #4 - Taming Your Inbox

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:2016/09/01 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:2016/09/01), 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.

Bonus Tool - Gmail Mobile App

Do you regularly use an iPhone or iPad to access your email? Consider giving Gmail for iOS a whirl. This mobile app works a bit more efficiently than the native Mail client and allows you to use all of the same features described above.

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.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #3 - Options for Backing Up Data

Back Up! Back Up! Back Up! No, I'm not referring to putting your car into reverse, I'm talking about saving your data incase when your hard drive fails. 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 unlimited storage 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 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.

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.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #2 - Student & Staff Accounts

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. The structure of these logins is legal first name, first letter of legal last name, followed by the student's graduation year from high school. 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
PACT and Star Academy have special generic logins which are meant to only be used by younger students who do not have their own accounts.

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 are enrolled Google, computer, and Schoology accounts are automatically created for them. For 6th-12th grade students the default password is always "ncsyear" followed by the school year (ex: ncsyear1617). Students need to login for hte first time from any campus computer (LMC, computer lab, etc.). They cannot login for the first time on a Chromebook. The process of logging into the computer allows the student to set a password for both computer and Google/Schoology access. For 1st-5th graders we set the password and add it to a grade-level spreadsheet that has been shared with the teacher and coordinator for that program.

If you have any trouble helping a student access their account or if a student has forgotten their password please let any of us know in the IT department by submitting a Help Desk ticket.

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


Monday, August 29, 2016

Weekly Tech Tip #1 - NCS Wireless Networks

Today we're starting a new series of posts for the school year- Weekly 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. A few years 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. The password is ncsguest.

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

Star Guest or PACT Guest
Very similar to NCS-Guest at the Main Campus and meant for use by student, staff, or outside guest personal devices. This network has two account settings

  • For Students and Guests - Use the password ncsguest. This is filtered at the student level.
  • For Staff Members - We have a the ability to provide you individualized accounts on these networks filtered at the staff level. If you would like your own account or can't your remember the password please submit a help ticket.

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.