Google Educast #157: It Ships Itself

Google-Educast-Logo-LargeThis Week on the Google Educast:

Where did Maps Engine Lite go? Oh, it’s now in My Maps! What password should you choose now? Who cares? Let Chrome make one for you! What’s the shortcut for bulleted lists or numbered lists? I don’t know, I just let it happen automatically. Why is managing iOS devices so hard? Because you’re not letting Google do it for you. Listen to the GoogleEducast this week to answer more of your most pressing questions with the help of Chris, Fred, Megan and Kevin.

Hosts: Fred Delventhal, Kevin Brookhouser, Megan Ellis, and Chris Betcher

Here’s our Show Notes! 

Ask a Google Certified Teacher!   Leave us an email at googleeducast@EdReach.us

Watch the show here on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcPXkfe2Lp0

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google Educast #155: Makes My Organizational Heart Sing

Google-Educast-Logo-LargeThis Week on the Google Educast:

On the show we chat about the new iPad Drive apps including Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Hangouts is now a core part of the Google Apps for EDU suite meaning Google is fully supporting this if admins have any problems. Juan gives the Pope a big +1 for his Scholas initiative.  Kevin shows how to quickly customize the calendar view by using the minical. Juan busts out a great workaround for group work in Classroom. Megan reveals the new themes in forms and there is much rejoicing. And Kevin wonders why you can’t see a calendar if it’s hidden.

Hosts: Kevin Brookhouser, Juan DeLuca, Sean Williams, and Megan Ellis!

Here’s our Show Notes! 

Ask a Google Certified Teacher!   Leave us an email at googleeducast@EdReach.us

Watch the show here on YouTube:  http://youtu.be/t_DbT8J69Mo

 

 

 

 

Google Educast #151: Drive Scripts Guru, Andrew Stillman

Google-Educast-Logo-LargeThis Week on the Google Educast:

Today on the Educast, we welcome two new faces to the show. First Megan Ellis a language arts teacher from Palo Alto will join the gang, and she kicks off her first show live, roughing it from Maui. We’re stoked to have Megan on the team. Our special guest for the show is none other than EdTech royalty, Andrew Stillman, creator of insanely useful scripts and Add-ons … most notably, Doctopus and Autocrat. Andrew talks about some of the tools you might not have heard of like siteMaestro and chromebookInventory. He also chimes in on his unique perspective on Google Classrooms. We take a look at the new Google Open Education Site, as well as remind you of Google Lesson Plans even if it does act a bit wonky.

Hosts: Kevin BrookhouserFred Delventhal, Andrew Stillman, and Megan Ellis. 


Here’s our Show Notes! 

Ask a Google Certified Teacher!   Leave us an email at googleeducast@EdReach.us

Watch the show here on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2soRPXySlLY

 

 

Google Educast #150: Code Gym Class With Google’s Coach D

Google-Educast-Logo-LargeThis Week on the Google Educast:

This week we’ve got a very special Educast with a special guest “Coach D”-  D. Feher  from Google, who works on special projects with Google.

Hosts: Kevin Brookhouser, Fred Delventhal, Chris Betcher, and special guest D. Feher! 


Here’s our Show Notes! 

Ask a Google Certified Teacher!   Leave us an email at googleeducast@EdReach.us

Watch the show here on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBRulK0CdTM

 

 

Google Educast #148: Making Sense Of Making Sense Of Data

Google-Educast-Logo-LargeThis Week on the Google Educast:

On this very special Google Educast, we welcome Amit Deutsch from Google, who works on their MOOCs! We also get into Google I/O with a Googler! Enjoy the show!

Hosts:  Kevin Brookhouser, Chris Betcher, and Amit Deutsch


Here’s our Show Notes! 

Ask a Google Certified Teacher!   Leave us an email at googleeducast@EdReach.us

Watch the show here on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afxnih1rUgY 

 

 

Google Educast #145: OK Google: What’s On The Educast?

Google-Educast-Logo-LargeThis Week on the Google Educast:

Google+ now makes it easier for you to share your memories. Fred talks about YouTube rejecting RSS feeds. Juan and Kevin talk waaaaay too long about Google vs. Apple in the branding wars, but they don’t apologize. The gang gets excited as the preview of Google Classroom nears. They also welcome 100 new invitees to the Google Certified Teacher Academy and offer tips to those who didn’t get that happy email. Hint: Go for Austin!

Fred shares a Rubik’s cube Chrome experiment and a Docs add-on Math teachers will love, while Juan shows you how to read iBooks on Android.

Hosts: Kevin Brookhouser, Juan De Luca, and Fred Delventhal 


Here’s our Show Notes! 

Ask a Google Certified Teacher!   Leave us an email at googleeducast@EdReach.us

Watch the show here on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP_WvmLVYuw

 

 

 

Google Educast #142: Google Subtracts Ads

Google-Educast-Logo-LargeThis Week on the Google Educast:

Big blog post from Google this week addressing student privacy and completely disabling ads from Google Apps for Education. The finalists for the Google Doodle are out, so vote early and vote often. The gang talks about the beauty of separate apps for Docs, Sheets, and coming soon Slides! We talk about new updates to android’s camera app, mirroring to Chromecast and a brief review of the 2013 model of Nexus 7. Finally, we take a look at British archive videos.

Hosts: Sean WilliamsKevin Brookhouser, Chris Betcher, and Sean Williams


Here’s our Show Notes! 

Ask a Google Certified Teacher!   Leave us an email at googleeducast@EdReach.us

Watch the show here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkJlUqdp1HQ

 

 

 

5 Reasons iWork for iCloud is no Google Drive iKiller, Yet

On Tuesday Apple had a little product announcement that made the bloggospheresplode with excitement. The most interesting part for me as fully committed Google Drive fan-middle-aged-man is the iWork for iCloud beta announcement. Like Google Drive, the iWork suite is now free, and like Google Drive, it offers real-time collaboration. Sorry Microsoft SkyDrive 365 Office Sharepoint. If you don’t give your software away now, you’re in even bigger trouble.

Last night on The Google Educast, Sean, Fred, and I put iWork collaboration to the test, and it actually kind of works. Here Sean is trying to get a rise out of me.

http---makeagif.com--media-10-25-2013-h6Jufk

 

Here are five reasons I think iWork for iCloud is not a Google Drive iKiller.

1. No collaborator cursor. I can’t tell who is typing what. Without the cursor, words appear out of nowhere and I can’t tell where my colleagues are working. Confusing.

2. No authentication. All of these docs are shared essential as “anyone with the link can edit.” For secure documents, this is a major problem. All my collaborators have to do is post the link on Facebook and ANYONE can edit the document. This means they could destroy it with no accountability.

3. No visible way to search for documents. I have a list of my documents, but no clear way to organize or sort them. I can’t even find a way to organize these documents with folders in the iCloud interface.

4. Crashy crashy. In the 20 minutes I had to spend with iWork for iCloud, I had my document crash twice. No changes were lost, but still.

5. No Android support. Are we surprised? No. But sad iCloud is sad on my otherwise happy Android.

Screenshot_2013-10-25-11-54-15                                      IMAG0556

iWork for iCloud is not going to wean me off Google Drive by a long shot. It’s still very much in beta mode. I am rooting for this service, though. The better Apple gets at cloud computing the better Google will get at it.

Have you tried iWork for iCloud? What do you think?

Help! Johnny Circled Me in Google Plus

Like many other schools, we have a firm social network policy that prohibits teachers from accepting Facebook friend requests from students. I get it. The notion of teachers and students being Facebook friends makes most people uncomfortable. If one of my students sends me a request, I reject it until he graduates. The notion of teachers and students being Facebook friends makes most people uncomfortable.

Naturally, when teachers get a similar notification in Google Plus, they also may feel that same uncomfortable impulse. However, there is no “reject” button when G+ notifies us that a student has added us to his circles. So what does it mean? It depends on how you use Google Plus.

 

I have a Google+ account but I never post anything

Poor Google+, most people don’t use it very much. If you’re not in the habit of posting articles, photos, or status updates to Google+, welcome to the very large I-don’t-use-Google-Plus club. If you’re a member, you have NOTHING to worry about. Your student who circled you sees nothing because you post nothing. End of story. Ignore the notification.

I post photos and other things to my Google+ circles

One of the features of Google+ is circles. You can have your “teacher” circle, your “spin class” circle, and your “wine book group” circle. Google+ allows you to focus your posts to match your diverse groups of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. As long as you don’t post publicly or put Johnny in one of your circles, he will not see the posts you submit. Likewise, you will not see his posts in your Google+ feed. Again, you can safely ignore the notification that he circled you.

I post to Google+ publicly

If you’re like me, you post things to Google+ publicly for the world to see. I do the same thing on Twitter and Facebook. No, I’m not an over-sharer (I don’t think). I have a personal policy not to post anything on social networking sites that I don’t want the world to see. Part of this policy is that I don’t trust Facebook. The other part is that I don’t trust my Facebook friends. Private posts on Facebook can easily become public thanks to a bonehead “friend” from high school. I post publicly on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus mostly because I’m always happy to expand my PLC, and public posts help me connect with more teachers, which means I learn more.
Back to the original issue. If you post publicly on Google+, then yes, anyone who puts you in a “circle” can see your public posts. But so can EVERYONE else. The only difference is that your posts will show up in their feed. I still don’t see this situation as anything different than having a public presence on the web (a good idea) and inviting the world to see it.

The Sticky Situation of Circling Students

This situation gets a little weird when you, as a teacher, start including students in your circles. I can imagine many great reasons to circle groups of students. Teachers can share documents, links, and other resources with classes using circles. However, the G+ Circle relationship between students and teachers starts to look very much like the Facebook Friend relationship. Like I said, this relationship is strange to many. I don’t go there.

Not logical, emotional

Most people have a narrow view of what Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ does. According to many, Twitter is for talking about your annoying breakfast (I had tasty fresh eggs thanks to my hens), Facebook is for seeing what happened to your high school friends (the dorks are winning), and Google Plus is for … umm.
The truth is, all of these social networks are communication tools. To me, they’re tools that fix the broken system of email, and the sooner we embrace them, the better. Google Plus’s killer app is HANGOUTS!

Until the world accepts these tools for what they are, teachers should use them carefully (and I believe publicly). But when Johnny “circles” you, you can safely ignore that notification.

20 Percent Time: A Small Audience is the New Big Audience

Inevitably, I have students who show up to my class on the first day of school telling me what they want to do for The Twenty Percent Project.

“I want to write a novel. I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I’ve tried several times to write a novel, but now I have the chance to do it for a class and I think I can do it. Can I write a novel?”

“Yes, a novel is a great Twenty Percent Project. Start thinking about who your audience is, so you can interview them before you begin writing.”

“I always wanted to build a website.”

“Good. What kind of website.”

“A website for teenagers.”

“Better. You know that audience better than I do, so you would be well suited for that. Is this a website for all teenagers?”

“A website for teenagers who want to raise chickens.”

smallaudience

“Yes. Run with it.” 

What’s so great about a website for teenagers who want to raise chickens is that it has a niche audience. Before the internet, media producers had to reach the broadest audience possible in order to make up production and distribution costs. 

I’ve seen reruns of Macgyver. Clearly those producers were reaching for the lowest common denominator.

Now with a $250 Chromebook and a connection to the internet, users can create books, websites, infographics, podcasts, and videocasts, and they can afford to appeal to a narrow audience with unusual interests.

Each Thursday evening, a group of friends and I get on our computers and meet for a Hangout On Air using Google+ (actually it’s Friday morning for Chris who lives in Australia). We broadcast a video conference where we talk about what’s new with Google in education. Google [Google Educast] to find it. Anyone in the world can watch us live or download the broadcast to their devices to listen on their commute.

Most people don’t.

Most people aren’t interested at all in what’s happening with Google in Education. Most teachers aren’t interested in Google in Education. Most Google fanboys aren’t interested in Google in Education. But there is a small sliver of people around the world who are interested in both- enough to want to watch or listen to us talk for an hour about their narrow interest. Few have served that small audience before.

book_the-long-tail12Are we making money? No. But remember, money is not the motivating factor in these kinds of projects. We’re motivated by our autonomy. Our producer, Dan, gives us feedback and some direction, but for the most part, we decide how to run the show. We’re motivated by mastery. Each show seems to get better and better. Please don’t listen to my shows from 2012. Not only am I probably recommending Google Reader, which is now gone, but I am also probably stumbling over my shownotes. I still stumble, but not quite as much. We’re motivated by purpose–our audience. Each week a few hundred people hear our show, and we get questions and comments from them, which keep us going every week.

For more on this topic, read Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail.

Your students’ audience is probably going to be very small for a very long time. You need to tell them that up front, and help them celebrate every audience member. The goal is not to reach a large audience. 

Go small, or go home.

Your Students Are Not Geniuses

2179047732_0d2843bebb_bI’ve noticed a dangerous trend develop recently where, in an attempt to empower students, teachers have started calling them geniuses. I disapprove of this trend–mostly because I am not a genius, and I am jealous of those who are, especially those of you in this EdReach Network community.

But I have some other good reasons too.

Many amazing teachers in my PLC run independent projects similar to The Twenty Percent Project where students are pursuing amazing projects and learning tons. Some of these incredible programs are called Genius Hour. These teachers meet once a month on twitter under the hashtag #geniushour. I have learned a ton from these brilliant (probably genius) teachers, and I admire them a great deal. I do, however, object to the title.

Let’s get past the obvious. If we’re to use the definition 99.9% of the English speaking population uses, very few students are geniuses. I get that people are trying to redefine the word, but intentional language manipulation is nearly impossible, and it confuses people. Some people score very well on IQ tests. For now, they’re the geniuses, and people like me and most of my students are not.

Other people suggest that by calling students geniuses, they become such, or at least their confidence is boosted to the point that they will perform better on tasks and projects. I firmly believe in the remarkable and mysterious power of positive thought, but, “I am going to do well on this exam because I am a genius,” is the wrong thought. It’s vague. It’s probably wrong. And it doesn’t work. I would reframe that thought to: “I am going to work hard today studying this material so when I take the test, I will feel prepared, challenged, and satisfied with a job well done.” Having students focus their meta-cognition on their behaviors rather than their talents or innate qualities is profoundly more productive.

Let’s pretend that telling a student he is a genius boosts his confidence enough for him to perform better in an activity, and he earns an A on an assessment. The message we’re sending him is that he did well because of his intellectual capacity. Now, what happens when this student later encounters an assessment he does poorly on? What happens when this student fails at a different activity? And I hope that he does fail frequently. If his success is the byproduct of his genius, then what does it mean when he fails? He will reasonably conclude, “I am clearly not a genius at this activity, this failure labels me as such, and I should stop pursuing this activity. ”

Lately a quotation has spread around the internet that is almost certainly falsely attributed to Albert Einstein. It reads:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

Einstein’s position on genius is not consistent with this notion, and he repeatedly discounted the role genius plays in intellectual success. No, he didn’t flunk out of elementary school either. To get the real story on Einstein, read Mark Isaacson’s book. Einstein was a genius, but he worked his ass off to discover relativity.

Educators must help students attack the erroneous belief that brainpower is a fixed asset. It’s true that some people are born with talents that make certain tasks easier (geniuses fit this category), but all people can get smarter if they have the right mindset. There are many types of intelligences and we can develop them all, especially if we know how we learn best. Brain Power grows through effort and curiosity. Failure and iteration. I encourage you all read Carol Dweck’s Mindset to learn what research-based science has to say about this topic.

We should not tell students they can achieve greatness because they are geniuses. We should show them that they can achieve greatness by giving them independent opportunities to work hard, produce meaningful products, and master skills through practice.

And for all you geniuses out there … shove it.

Image Credit: Horizontal.Integration on Flickr

Project Based Failing: The Goal is NOT Student-Centered

studentcentered

Over the past five years, I have spent a great deal of time shifting 20% of my class from being teacher-centered to student-centered. That was a fail.

I’ve written a fair amount about the 20% Project and why I believed that it was important to have class time when the teacher is off center stage while shifting emphasis on the students. This model energized and liberated many of my students, while it confused and terrified others. Either way, I was committed to establishing a project where students can take on challenges and solve problems any way they saw fit. As a result, my students are currently wrapping up some amazing projects.

The problem, though, is that a 20% Project should NOT be a student-centered project. It should be a human-centered project. OK, I don’t really like the term human-centered either. Last I checked, most students and teachers at least resemble humans. I mean, what else would it be, pistachio-centered? I’m reminded of when writers begin a sentence with In life, or Throughout history, or In society. These modifiers are meaningless.

However human-centered is a specific term that comes from the design-thinking framework that Molly Wilson introduced to our entire school last week. For a solution to be human-centered, it must come from deliberate research on the individuals who will experience the solution. It involves building empathy on the user. I much prefer the term user-centered or audience-centered, but whatever you call it, I prefer the idea better than student-centered when applied to independent product-based learning assignments like the 20% Project.

A student-centered project is one that focuses on the creator’s needs and desires, where an audience-centered or user-centered project focuses on the actual person who would use the project. Many of my students naturally intuited that their project should be audience-centered. Consider my students who decided to teach technology to senior citizens. Before they began solving all of the seniors’ problems, the students took the time to see where individuals were in their expertise and assessed their goals for using technology. These students adapted beautifully while creating their session.

bloomcenteredon

Next year during the 20% Project, I would like to see empathy be a more structured component of the project. After they identify what type of project they want to pursue, students will need to identify the audience or user base of the project. Then they must interview potential users and empathize with them to better understand how to solve the problem. According to Molly, this component of the design-thinking process is not only essential, it’s also a ton of fun.

There is still a place for student-centered learning, just as there is still a place for teacher-centered learning. Perhaps the closer the learning goals are toward the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the more the work should be teacher-centered. As activities work their way up, they should be student-centered, but the top should go beyond the student and center on a real authentic audience.

 

Many language prescriptivists object to the term centered around claiming that objects and ideas can be centered on something but not around something. I’ve made such obnoxious objections in the past, but perhaps classes should be centered around teachers, students, and humans.


Kevin Brookhouser is one of the hosts of the Google Educast, is an English teacher, and also the proprietor of GRMR.me, a fabulous resource for English. You can follow him on Twitter @brookhouser

5 Reasons Teachers Should Own a Domain Name

This Site is Mine

You found this blogpost, so you are probably (a) an educator and (b) relatively tech-savvy, so why don’t you own your own domain name yet? The world of domain name ownership has changed, so step up your teaching game and buy your own domain name.

1. Getting one is simple and cheap.

Purchasing a domain used to be difficult, but many new domain services make the process painless and inexpensive. The first place many people try is the sleazy godaddy.com. Gender politics aside, the process of purchasing through godaddy takes about as long as an AP Chemistry test. There are several much simpler and more palatable services that sell domain names including networksolutions.com. My favorite is hover.com, which sells domain names for $15 per year and offers amazing phone tech support. They’re not paying me, but if they did happen to want to sponsor the Google Educast, I’m sure Dan would take your call! Hover is great because of its simplicity. I can setup a domain, and in a few minutes, I’m live. They don’t try to sell you a ton of other products through the process.

2. Owning one is super useful.

If you do nothing else, you should get your own domain name so you can create your own custom URL shortener. Teachers who use technology are constantly asking students and others to go to different links on the web to articles, resources, and (of course) shared Google Documents. I use many tools to get people to various links including Twitter, my LMS (Haiku), and my blog, but often the fastest for me and for students is when I just write a URL on the whiteboard or display it on the projector.

Most domain name hosts will allow you to create forwards that make for simple and memorable URLs. For example, I own brookhouser.me (my distant relative refused to sell me brookhouser.com) When I wanted my students to go to Diana Hacker’s Writer’s Reference site, I just created a forward and sent my students to brookhouser.me/hacker rather than http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/writersref7e/default.asp#t_612701____.Easy for everyone.

3. Goo.gl isn’t enough.

I’ve delivered years of trainings using goo.gl for my agendas and resources, and I don’t think it’s very useful (by itself). The worst part of goo.gl is that it produces a completely random string of characters that are actually difficult to type in a URL window and nearly impossible to memorize. Users also have to contend with the difference between O and 0 and l and I. Yes there are ways around this, but why must we deal with them. I’ve heard a horror story about a teacher accidently sending a student to a foreign porn site because she entered in a wrong character in the URL. Yikes.

4. But you can still use goo.gl’s cool tracking features.

Forward your custom URL forward through a goo.gl URL to maintain those tracking features. Easy.

5. Plenty of great domains available.

In five minutes I found the following short, simple, memorable, and descriptive URLs available for $15 / year.

  • yourtechteacher.com
  • misterhistory.com
  • artclassrocks.com
  • mistermath.me

You don’t have to use a .com address, but those might be slightly more memorable. I think it’s best to join two or three simple words without hyphens. It’s so much easier to read out your URL and end it with “one word,” and everyone will know what you mean.

What’s the best reason to own your own domain name? It feels awesome. It’s like marking your own little patch of grass on the internet where you tell the world, “That’s mine.”

How I Ate My Dog Food at TEDx Monterey

dogfood

One of the several unpopular assignments I force upon my students is the Sophomore Speech. I am capitalizing Sophomore Speech because it has become a thing at our school … a proper thing. Every single one of my 10th grade students is required to write a personal essay and convert it into a speech to be delivered in front of the entire school during our assembly period we call Break.

The word speech has fallen out of fashion these days. It’s much cooler to give a talk than a speech, but talk doesn’t alliterate with sophomore. I guess I could have called them 10th Grade Talks, but as I said, the Sophomore Speech is a thing, so I’m going with it.

Of course, I don’t win many votes for Most Popular Teacher of the Year when I announce this assignment to my students. Most members of our species tend to avoid public speaking whenever possible, and you won’t be surprised to hear that some students consider this the waterboard of English assignments.

“Mr. Brookhouser, I really need to get out of this. I am about to throw up thinking about it.” I reassure students that we work up to the speech with baby steps, and I remind them that Mrs. Rees, the incredible 9th grade English teacher at York, has done an amazing job getting them ready. While I have seen tears shed as a result of this assignment, I’ve yet to see any vomit. I’m ready, though. Our bleach supply is ample.

I tell my students that I want them to be very powerful people. I don’t mean that they should all aspire to be CEOs or senators. I’m talking about influence, not status. I’m sure there are many people doing great things and making the world a better place without ever having to speak to groups of people. I’ve just never heard of them. Few people in power get out of public speaking. After my class is over, my students will have the choice to avoid ever having to speak in front of a large group again. I just don’t want them to reject that opportunity without knowing that they’re actually capable of doing it. When they embrace the opportunity, they embrace power.

It would also be great if they used that power for good and not evil.

Last time I was invited to the Googleplex, an engineer introduced me to the notion of “eating your own dog food.” Maybe the phrase came from Alpo advertisers who claimed that their product was so good that they enjoyed it themselves. Regardless, tech companies started using the phrase to suggest that either the software they were developing was good enough for them to use themselves or it was not, and if not, they shouldn’t make it at all.

When I give trainings, many people ask me about the security of data in Google Drive or Gmail. I tell them what Googlers tell me. Google employees are super concerned about their internal communications getting compromised. They use Google Drive. They use Gmail. They believe in their product. They eat their own dog food.

Teachers produce products too. We create lesson plans, assessments, and grades and comments at the end of the year, but the most important products we make are experiences that lead to growth.

Hearing about dog food at Google led me to ask how much of my dog food experiences I’m consuming. If speaking in front of large groups of people is such a worthwhile experience, why don’t I do it more frequently. It’s true that I do speak in front of my students daily, and I also give tech trainings to teachers throughout the year, but I wouldn’t call them speeches.

So last winter, I came across a post on the TEDx Monterey site accepting TED Talk proposals (note the alliteration in TED Talk). So I applied to talk about the 20% Project in my class.

A few weeks later I heard back from the organizers who wanted to learn more about the project, so we had a video conference over a Hangout. Bob and Eva, I learned quickly after meeting them, are ultra organized, super smart, and wildly creative. They asked me to explain what the 20% Project is and why I do it.

I was ready for this question. I went with great depth into the studies about creativity and motivation and Google and Daniel Pink and The Candle Problem and carrots and sticks and autonomy and mastery and purpose and science! After about 10 minutes of this, Eva cut me off. “Kevin, we all know about this stuff. We want to know why you decided to take on this project and how it looks in your classroom.”

“Oh. Right.” I was not ready for this question.

She wanted me to tell a story, not lecture on pedagogy. Eva asked me to do exactly what I ask my students when writing their personal speeches. Dog food.

I guess I explained my story well enough for Eva and Bob to give me a chance at writing a proper piece that people would actually want to hear because they let me move on to the next step.

So I wrote and rewrote. I devoured honest feedback from friends and colleagues. Through the process, I kept going into theory, and Eva kept reminding me to go back to story.

Then I practiced. In front of the mirror, in front of my dogs, in front of the homeless men on the streets of Santa Cruz.

With my microphone scotch taped to my ear and cheek, I was two eternal minutes away from taking the stage. My wife sat in the audience with students, parents of students, fellow teachers, and I was pretty sure I would stand up there and forget how to get my mouth and tongue to make so many different sounds. I wondered how much I would owe TEDx if vomit ruined the mic.

I paced the “green room” while Ailis Dooner, the 10th grader who has pretty much single-handedly discovered that algae can cure cancer, eyed me. She was scheduled to follow me and asked me how I was doing. “I’m a little nervous, but I think I’ll be ok,” I lied. She knew it. Then Ailis looked me in the eye, and with the fierce commitment of a prized gladiator owner, she said, “Adrenaline focuses the mind.”

I didn’t forget everything. My mouth worked. I showed my slides. People clapped.

I’m pretty sure I now have a little better understanding of what it’s like to be one of my students. I’m reminded about how scary this assignment can be, but I still don’t fully understand it. I’m a grown-up who has lots of experience talking in front of large groups of people, I don’t consider myself someone who is particularly afraid of the job, and I’ve never been told that some grade depended on my willingness to go through with it. But I feel more empathy for them, and I hope that will allow me to support them more next year.

It may not be the exact same vintage my students eat, but I ate my dog food this past weekend, and I’m proud to announce, it stayed down.

Flip Remedial Grammar Instruction with GRMR.ME

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After 15 years of correcting comma splices, subject-verb agreement, and egregious usage of their, there, and they’re, I decided to stop, which is why I created grmr.me, a resource for writing teachers and students that helps tackle English’s most common writing errors. The concept is simple. Instead of correcting grammar, mechanic, and usage errors, teachers simply give students a short url that leads to a video that helps students identify writing erros and fix them. Instead of writing “comma splice,” a teacher would write “grmr.me/csp” in the margin of a paper. Students can go to the site, watch the video, take a simple quiz on the topic, and earn a badge. See what others are saying about grmr.me.

Rejuvenate Aging Computers with Ubermix

I’m in my third year teaching English in a classroom with a cart of ten netbooks running Windows XP. I am so grateful to have them, and my students use them at least every other day. However, as an aging operating system, XP runs slowly and is much more complex than we need. The start time is long and we have varied success connecting to the wireless network. On the recommendation of Colin Matheson, an IT specialist at Carmel Unified School District, I installed Ubermix.

Ubermix is an all-free, specially built, Linux-based operating system designed from the ground up with the needs of education in mind. 

I downloaded the image file onto a separate machine and formated the image onto a USB stick following these instructions. The process wasn’t as easy as I expected. I noticed that the install would hang after it said it would take about five minutes to install. So, I did what any sane person would do in this situation. I asked a teenager. In this case, Nils, who is launching his own web design business as a part of my class’s 20% project. He recommended that I give it more time to install. My problem is that when installing something at a root level like an operating system, you’re given no feedback that anything is happening. After an hour of nothing, I noticed the red light on the usb stick flashing. Something was happening! Nils was right. After about eight hours, the OS started to boot. I felt like a 15-year-old in line for The Hunger Games.

Start time This thing goes from shut down to browsing the web in 65 seconds. That’s slower than a MacBook Air with a solid state drive, but it’s much faster than my windows machine. Once booted, it immediately connects to a wifi access point and is ready to surf.

User Interface I love the simplicity of the UI. With its large icons, it is designed to look more like a mobile operating system than a desktop operating system. There is no “start menu” like Windows, or “dock” like OSX. Rather the left column are app categories including internet, games, education, accessories, and system. Click on the category and your given the apps that could be Android or iOS app icons.

 

Software Ubermix comes bundled with a bunch of freely available software including the entire Open Office suite, Skype, Scratch, Gimp for photo editing, and other math and science apps I haven’t had time to explore. I’m most interested in this as a web machine, and for running apps like Moodle, quizlet, Poll Everywhere and Google Drive, this thing is perfect. Both Chrome and Firefox can handle any website you throw at it.

 

Quick Restore One of the must-have features of Ubermix is the easy system recovery feature. Students tend to mess with settings, change background images, and download garbage that slows everything down. By pressing esc on the boot, you are given the option to restore the operating system to its original state.

 

One Hitch So far I cannot get the thing to wake up once it is in sleep mode. I’ve tried a couple bug fixes recommended on the web, but still no luck. If anyone out there knows a fix, please send it along. As it is now, I just have to restart the system after the lid closes.

 

1:1 / BYOD Solution? Anyone looking to adopt a 1:1 program or Bring Your Own Device program at a school will want to consider this as an option. The world has tolled the death of the netbook to the tablet and ultrabook.

Not so fast. Compared to the iPad, a netbook running Ubermix could be half the price with a keyboard and a fully functional web browser that could easily handle editing complex web apps like Moodle or Google Docs. What do you think?


Google Drive to Microsoft Office Workflow

 

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Last week I gave a talk to a great group of department managers at the University of California Santa Cruz. They’re going Google with Apps for EDU, so they asked me to give them an overview. I fielded several questions about formatting, as is often the case.

“How can I format two words in one cell differently in Google Sheets?”

“You can’t.”

“How can I format my text document so it will fit on my letterhead?”

“You don’t even want to try.”

While Drive is adding more and more formatting options all the time, it simply doesn’t have all of the formatting capabilities of Office documents. And while Office is adding collaborative features, they’re definitely not there.

Fellow Google Educaster, Chris Betcher, created a comprehensive blog post comparing the two suites in their current forms. This blog is always worth reading and sharing.

Back to my formatting question. My initial response to these questions is, “who needs these features anymore?” I’ve pledged to go paperless this year in my classroom (I do use paper rescued from the recycling bins), so I’m out of touch with all the printers in the world, but printing and formatting IS very important to many users. So I created this simple workflow for those whom collaboration and formatting is important. Start with Google Drive, once you all agree the content is ready for publication, convert to a Microsoft Office document (File > Download as), print, and deliver.

What’s your start to finish document workflow?


10 Sentences Google Apps Teachers Never Hear

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I recently posted this on my Google+ profile, and it has generated a lot of activity. More than anything else I’ve done. Last week I had a student tell me that he forgot his assignment at home. I asked him, “did you create it using your Google Drive account?” He had, so we just grabbed one of the school’s computers, brought it up, and he shared it with me. At that moment I realized that I don’t ever need to hear a student say, “I left my work at home.” Google Drive completely eliminates that problem I used to deal with repeatedly ten years ago. So I began to think about other problem sentences I used to hear from my students. OK, the stapler sentence isn’t a problem sentence, but I did want to give a shout out to how well Google Drive helps me go paperless.

Google Drive tip: Have your students “turn in” their work before they even start it. The first steps in every assignment are as follows.

  1. Create a document.
  2. Rename the document ex: “Lastname_Antigone_Essay”
  3. Share the document with me, and let me edit it.

I then move all of the documents into a folder. Then on the day the assignment is due, my students ask, “how do I turn my essay in,” I respond, you turned it in two weeks ago.