Sunday, June 23, 2019

Maximize Your #ISTE19 Experience: Opportunity to Grow Your PLN

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PLN is not just another edu buzz acronym. It stands for Personal Learning Network. It's an essential component of being a connected educator. One of the first pieces of advice I received when I became a tech coach was to get on Twitter. I was told that expert educators are on Twitter giving their knowledge away for free. This person (Jon Corippo - @jcorippo) wasn't kidding. Once my PLN started growing, my learning shot sky high. Honestly, I wouldn't be writing this blog had I not taken that sage advice.

If you are reading this, you're on the right track. You're attempting to build a PLN. Conferences are great ways to connect with many educators and grow your PLN. Here are two of my favorite tips for maximizing conference time to grow a PLN.

Stalk the Hashtag
It sounds creepy, but go to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and search the conference hashtag. See what attendees are posting. "Like" the posts. Click on the attendees' profiles and follow those you think might be good to connect with. If someone follows you, check out their profile and follow back.

Gaze at Name Badges 
Conferences usually provide attendees with name badges. Conferences like ISTE and CUE put the attendees' Twitter handles on the name badges. As the numbers of your followers and those you follow grow, you will begin to recognize names and Twitter handles on name badges. Some of the best connections, and edu friends, I've ever made came from conference hallway meetings when I recognized someone's name and or Twitter handle on the name badge. I love those moments when I meet someone in the hallway and say "I know you from Twitter!". It's such a rush. The spontaneity sparks incredible conversations and lasting friendships. These moments are great selfie opportunities.  One of my best edu friends Jeremiah Ruesch (@mathkaveli) met this way years ago at CUE. We connect and collaborate to this day.

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These two tips sound a bit odd and creepy when I say stalk and gaze, but the connections I've made in this fashion have made me a better educator. I've formed life long friendships. Having a growing PLN gives me the freedom of not having to be an expert on everything. I have my wheelhouse, but when someone asks about something I'm not particularly familiar with, I definitely can point them in the direction of someone who is.

How will you grow your PLN?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Google Sites: A Tech Coach's Cure for a Congested Google Drive and Inbox

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When I became a tech integration coach four years ago, my initial mandate was to lead our staff in the switch to Google. My first step was Gmail. That was relatively easy. Google Drive was a different story. This required teachers and administrators to take stock of the files accumulated on their hard drives. For many, it was a pain and they resisted, but once they got through the conversion to Google Drive they were hooked.

They were astounded at the speed and ease in which files could be shared and collaborated on. Google Drive had taken the staff by storm. I received many "thank you's" for helping them with this enterprise. Sharing and collaboration was at an all-time high. It was here I began to realize I was becoming a victim of my own success.

A common quote I heard around on campus was "share it on the the Drive". The more I heard this, the more I heard people saying they couldn't find it on the Drive. My initial reaction was to tell them to check your "Shared with me" folder or email for messages notifying them of shared files. The frequent responses to those suggestions were usually "there are tons of files shared with me and I can't find it" or "I get so many emails, I didn't see the message". The struggle was real. Even I had trouble finding files people shared with me.

I needed a solution. I didn't want to lose the momentum I had gained getting them excited about using Gmail and Drive. It was here I realized Google Sites was the answer to congested Google Drives and Gmail inboxes. Educators don't want to have to go looking for files. They want quick, easy access. Any way we can eliminate steps towards finding the files they need, the more efficient and happier they will be.

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Google Sites is a very underutilized tool for organization. It allows you to curate any file you have saved in Drive. If you're in a department, the lead can create a page for each unit on a Site with the relevant files on the page. Those files are simply a few clicks away. For the person(s) curating the site, it requires a little bit of work on the back end organizing the Site and making sure the necessary people have the permission to view files, but once created, it will be much easier to access the files. The Site becomes a "one stop shop". They only have to click one link or remember one address.

My first attempt in this was with my own website where I curate the slide decks I use in my various presentations. At work, with our district's New Teacher Institute, our coaching team created a Site to curate the different resources on which we trained new teachers. In both instances, teachers did not have to fish through their inboxes or Drives. They were provided with a simple link, sometimes a, and they were a few clicks away from what they needed.

Using Google Sites to better deal with educator angst due to congested Google Drives and Gmail Inboxes is a small, but important part of being a tech coach. As tech coaches, we are often met with resistance. In my experience, one of the best ways dealing with this resistance is to find little things to make educators' lives more efficient. If you can show how tech can relieve common pain points of education, you are on the right track.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Jumpstart Writing with Google Keep

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Google Keep is one of the most slept on, underutilized apps in all of GSuite. The beauty is in its simplicity. It is an easy to use, quick note taking app. There are few days when I don't use Google Keep. I use it to take notes in meetings, while I read professional learning books, to make grocery lists, to make to do lists, to save links to articles I read online and more. The location-based reminders are my favorite feature. When I'm getting ready for work and I think of things I need to do at work, I put a list in a Keep note and set the location-based reminder for school. I enter the school's name or address, and when I arrive, I get a notification on my phone.

When I design learning experiences with Google Docs and Slides, I use the Google Keep sidebar to pull notes into my lessons. It is this integration with Docs and Slides that allows Keep to act as "jumper cables" for writing. Keep jumpstarts writing by helping organize research while giving quicker, easier access to notes while writing.

Research Paper
If students are writing a research paper, Google Keep can be their best friend. As they scour the web for credible sources, the "Save to Keep" Chrome Extension allows them to save the site they're on to their Keep notes. This saves a link to the site for future reference and citation in their writing. In addition, they can add notes to the saved link. When they start writing, they can open Keep in the sidebar menu of Google Docs giving them access to all of the notes/links saved in Keep. From the sidebar menu, they can add notes to their document and expand the writing. The color coding feature of Keep notes can help students organize their research by concept, topic, etc.

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Collaborative Writing
In a similar fashion to features mentioned above with writing a Research Paper, Keep is valuable when doing collaborative writing. If research is divided up, collaborators can share Keep notes with each other. When the writing begins, collaborators can see all the research notes saved in Keep by team members.

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Reflective Writing
When students rotate through a stations activity or go on a field trip, it is a common practice to have them take notes at each step. To make the experience more meaningful, having students write a reflection is a good activity. If students took notes on Keep at each station or during the field trip, their reflective writing can be jumpstarted with the quick access to notes in the Keep sidebar in Google Docs.

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The suggestions above merely scratch the surface of the ways in which Keep can be applied. Its integration with apps such as Docs and Slides as well is with Sheets, Calendar and Gmail provide many possibilities. How do or will you apply Keep?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Google Classroom Beyond The Classroom: The Staff Meeting

Google Classroom, for me, has been a total game changer. I have a hard time imagining teaching without it. As much as it has improved my teaching practice within the classroom, it holds great potential outside of it. The possibilities are endless for the application of Google Classroom for teachers to collaborate and communicate. It can transform staff meetings, PLC's and other forms of professional development.

For administrators, using Google Classroom to facilitate staff meetings will greatly reduce the amount of paper consumed. The time it takes within the meeting to distribute the papers takes up valuable teacher time. If Google Classroom is used, those who cannot attend, can participate remotely and or access materials from wherever they are.

In addition to saving time, using Google Classroom in a staff meeting or PLC is a great way to help administrators model edtech integration. As a coach, when an administrator is practicing what I preach, teachers are more likely to jump on board.

There have been times when I was told to turn off my device to make sure I am "completely present" in a meeting. I argue that using a device, and Google Classroom, allows attendees to be more present. Google Classroom can make these meetings more interactive. I have sat through staff meetings where facilitators used popsicle sticks or name cards to randomly call upon teachers to respond. Like students, the teachers not called upon tuned out and didn't interact. The features of Google Classroom allow all teachers to respond and participate. Having teachers reply to a post in the Stream is one suggestion. Providing links in Classroom to Google Forms, Pear Deck, Kahoot or Quizizz are other ways to get all attendees to participate.

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Optics are another issue with "traditional" staff meetings. Normally, the facilitator uses a projector to show slides and deliver whole-group, sit & get instruction. A common complaint I hear most is about trouble seeing the projector screen. This is especially problematic when facilitators attempt to show graphs and other forms of data. This leads to attending teachers tuning out of the meeting. If the slides were given ahead of time via Google Classroom, attending teachers could see the slides better and follow along from the comfort of their own device.

Google Classroom is also a useful tool for providing a back channel. Staff meeting etiquette, for the most part, requires attending teachers to refrain from or limit side bar conversations. Often times, side bar conversations are merely teachers asking someone near them for clarification to avoid interrupting the meeting. Not all questions need to be asked and addressed whole group. These types of questions are usually better addressed one on one with the facilitator afterwards. This is where a back channel comes in handy. Instead of disrupting the flow of the meeting and dwelling upon the question, the person may ask it in the back channel for another member to answer immediately or the facilitator to address afterwards. Some teachers may feel uncomfortable asking questions whole group and a back channel via Google Classroom is way to ensure they have a voice.

Quick Tips
- Post a reflection prompt in the Stream and have all attendees respond
- Post a link in the Stream to a Google Form for feedback
- Create a Reference Topic in Classwork to house quick links to Kahoot, Quizizz, Pear Deck, Quizlet and more
- Attach templates to Assignments in Classwork that are assigned to specific departments for collaborative work
- In Classwork, ask a Question and have teachers respond to multiple colleagues

Google Classroom in a staff meeting is, by no means, a silver bullet. A poor presentation is going the poor regardless of the medium. But using tools like Google Classroom to improve the flow, accessibility and interactivity can definitely power up a staff meeting.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Google Hangouts: Practical Uses for Educators

Google Hangouts is a video conferencing and instant messaging app developed by Google. Over the years, it has gone through several iterations. Google is getting ready to phase out the classic Hangouts we've used for years in favor of separating the chat and video call functions into separate apps (Hangouts Chat & Hangouts Meet).

In my experience, Hangouts is an app that has been far underutilized. With the 150 teachers and administrators I serve, it was slow to catch on. But now, the Hangouts buzz in my district is growing. If you're looking to expand use of Hangouts with the educators and students, here are some ideas I have used to get people on board.

Remote Tech Coaching
As a tech coach who serves three school sites, I cannot be everywhere. Often, I am called for quasi IT help as educators need assistance knowing where to click or how to find a file. Driving across town to support them is not always feasible. Google Hangouts can be leveraged to solve this through its video call and screenshare functions (something you be aware of on the Google Certified Educator Level 1 Exam). On many occasions, my supervisor, the assistant superintendent, needs help as she seeks to integrate more tech into her PD's and meetings. Recently, she needed assistance with setting up grids and topics in Flipgrid for our monthly Curriculum and Instruction meeting. My schedule did not allow me to meet with her in person, but I was available assist her via Google Hangouts. She was able to share her screen with me and I was able to guide her through the process of setting up what she wanted in Flipgrid. As a result of that meeting, Flipgrid Fever is spreading in our district.

In the past, I have used Hangouts integration with Google Calendar to create a standing, weekly event where teachers can ask questions and tips remotely. I invited all staff to the event and all they need to do is open the event in Calendar and click the link to video call me from the comfort of their classrooms.

Staff Meeting Back Channel
We have all experienced staff meetings that drag on due to endless questions and confusion. Working with large groups doesn't allow those leading the meeting to give full attention to those questions due to the nature of the questions or time constraints. Often times, these questions can be answered discreetly by others in the room. This is where a back channel is valuable. In the wake of the death of Today's Meet, Google Hangouts is an easy way to build a back channel.

If all staff members are invited to a Hangout, those certain questions that elongate meetings can be dealt with in the Hangouts back channel. After the meeting, whomever lead the meeting can scroll back through the Hangouts to see the questions and comments and better follow up with people one on one instead of addressing it whole staff.

Quick Communication among Admin, Coaches and Departments
As educators, we are part of several teams. If you create Hangouts for each team in which you are a part, communication can be streamlined. Too often, communication gets fumbled within email threads or text messages. We get so many emails, important ones can get lost in the shuffle. Hangouts is a way to unclog your inbox from informal communications. Not all communication requires an email.

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Often, we share our cellphone numbers with colleagues. Like emails, text messages may get lost in the shuffle or, if we're on our computer, way not see the text come on our phone. Hangouts, one to one or in groups, allows to receive quick, informal communication away from our inbox, but on a variety of platforms such as your computer, phone or tablet. If you're at your desk responding to emails, a Hangouts message will simply pop up and not be another thing in your inbox. For each team in which you are a part, create a Hangout to communicate informal messages.

Lock Down Quiet Communication
Lock downs are important for ensuring the safety of students and staff. A common procedure in a lock down is to stay quiet. In an active shooter situation, staying quiet is important to not letting the shooter know of your presence. If a staff Hangout is created, strategy, logistics and vital information can be communicated quietly across campus. You could, perhaps, include your law enforcement liaison in this Hangout.

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Teacher to Student Feedback
In a flipped or blended learning model, Hangouts is another tool to offer feedback to students. In addition to leaving comments via Google Docs, Slides and Classroom, Hangouts provides another avenue. A student working in the library after school may need to ask a quick question about an assignment, but email or GSuite commenting may take took long. Asking the question via Hangouts can speed up the feedback loop.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Black Panther Style Tech Coaching Vol. 2

Marvel's Black Panther movie got me "EDUthinking" so much I had to write a second Black Panther Style Tech Coaching blog post.

In the previous Black Panther Style Tech Coaching post, I talked about how the fictional nation of Wakanda was blessed with a mineral called vibranium. Vibranium, in the world of Marvel, is the strongest metal on earth and extremely versatile. Vibranium was naturally infused into the plant life of Wakanda and it allowed the Wakandan people to develop an extremely technologically advanced society. Their technology is far more advanced than any current nation.

Infusion of vibranium into Wakandan landscape

Previously, I focused on how tech coaching should be infused into lesson design the way vibranium was infused into Wakandan technology, plant life and culture. This post has a different focus. This time, the focus is on sharing of ideas, strategies and student work.

In Black Panther, the main villain, Eric Killmonger, was a lost son of Wakanda. Eric grew up in America knowing of Wakanda's technological prowess. Throughout his life, this bugged Eric. He was angered about Wakanda keeping all their advances to themselves. He wondered why they wouldn't share their knowledge with the entire planet. He sought to use Wakandan technology to bring justice to the oppressed.

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Eric Killmonger's character arc is a great metaphor for tech coaching and education. Nowadays, we hear people talking about the dangers of "teaching in silos". No longer can we teach our content and hide it within the four walls of the classroom. You cannot attend an edtech conference or event without hearing of the virtues of sharing your expertise and growing a personal learning network (PLN). It is imperative for tech coaches to help facilitate the breaking down of classroom walls. We the tech coaches must help teachers integrate technology with the 4 C's so students create content that screams to be shared across the curriculum, the school, the district and world.

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Killmonger has a great point. Wakanda's technology is far more advanced than any nation on earth. In the movie, they displayed the ability to repair spinal injuries very quickly. They developed transportation systems that travel at immense speed without all the pollution. Those are things that should be shared worldwide to benefit of mankind. Granted, Killmonger did want to use Wakandan weapons to exact a revengeful idea of justice for the oppressed, but he was correct about Wakanda being wrong to horde their knowledge.

If you are doing amazing things with students, and the students are producing great content, don't be like Wakanda (I can't believe I just said that because I catch myself saying "Wakanda Forever" all the time). Share those things beyond your classroom. Start with your department and expand to your site. Continue sharing to your entire district. Join education Twitter Chats and Facebook Groups and continue sharing.

My philosophy on this is rooted in a lesson I learned, in college, about adolescent development. For some reason, I never forgot learning about how adolescents go through a stage where they think they are always on stage. In their minds, someone is always watching. According to Harriet Osborne, adolescent egocentrism sheds light on why they think they are the focus on everyone's attention. This reminds me of why people dress up for special occasions and parties. It's because people are watching. We want to show our best. That being said, it's my belief that students will try harder if they know people are watching. It's human nature.

Let's flip the Wakandan script. Like Wakanda, let's innovate and create. But unlike Wakanda, share it with a wider world. Give your students and ideas an authentic audience. This audience will not only be impressed, but it will provide valuable feedback. In this, you will grow as an educator and your students will become powerful communicators and better creators of content. For the Marvel fans out there, MCU in particular, imagine the innovation Tony Stark would have come up with had he had access to Wakandan technology.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Black Panther Style Tech Coaching

In 2018, Marvel's Black Panther took the world by storm. It easily went down as one of the most successful box office draws of all time. One part of the movie got me really "EDUthinking". In the movie, the fictional nation of Wakanda was blessed with a mineral called vibranium. Vibranium, in the world of Marvel, is the strongest metal on earth and extremely versatile. Vibranium was naturally infused into the plant life of Wakanda and it allowed the Wakandan people to develop an extremely technologically advanced society. Their technology is far more advanced than any current nation.

Infusion of vibranium into Wakandan landscape

What really struck me was the how vibranium was infused and integrated within all of Wakanda's technology, clothing and lifestyle. It was not an extra thing. It was part of their lives and culture. This is a great metaphor for proper edtech integration. Too often, tech coaches are met with resistance from teachers and admin because edtech is seen as an extra thing on their plates. It is seen as something separate from pedagogy and lesson design. Edtech is often something on an administrator's checklist when they evaluate educators. They look for surface level usage of a device and check the box.

This view of edtech is not edtech integration. Edtech, to maximize effectiveness, must be infused and integrated the way vibranium was infused into the lives, culture, clothing and technology of Wakanda. When planning learning experiences (I'm not a fan of the term lesson planning), edtech can be infused, like vibranium, by designing with the 4 C's in mind. My colleague, and wife, Katherine Goyette always says "If you plan with the 4 C's in mind, the tech will take care of itself. Lead with learning, never with tech".

Plan your learning target and see how the 4 C's will help meet that target. It is here where the tech will take care of itself. It is here where you have the true value of having a tech coach. Tech coaches will provide the guidance and resources to help you address the 4 C's. Seeing the learning target through the lens of the 4 C's allows for organic, meaningful tech integration. It is this process that will allow you to integrate and infuse edtech the way vibranium was in Wakanda.

This approach helped me tremendously as a tech coach. A middle school ELA/History teacher I coached came to me struggling to get students to write an essay about how the Constitution helped defend against tyranny. This essay was based on analysis of primary sources from the DBQ Project. The teacher said students in years past struggled with analysis because they could not fully comprehend the meaning of tyranny.

As I coached her, we focused on the critical thinking portion of the 4 C's. We discussed ways to get students to use critical thinking to develop their own examples of tyranny. We looked for ways to get students to make a real life to content connection to create deeper understanding of tyranny. We knew this was essential in order to get students to analyze the primary sources and write the essay.

In this local ABC affiliate feature, you will see part
of the coaching session mentioned below

It was in this conversation where we decided to use YouTube to show kids cartoon examples of tyranny. From there, they collaborated, communicated and created by researching their own YouTube examples of tyranny, discussed it and wrote rationales about why their chosen videos were examples of tyranny. A few weeks later, I followed up with this teacher and she was beaming with excitement on how much improved their essays were coming along compared to years past. Their essays and analysis showed much more clear understanding of tyranny. This improvement came from the 4 C's coaching approach and allowed the edtech integration to be organically infused like Wakandan vibranium.