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Google tricks to make life easier

24 Jun

Google really does it right. Last weekend’s Google Apps For Education (GAFE) Summit in Grand Forks was energizing, engaging, and full of learning experiences. After a session was finished, I found myself staying in my seat in an attempt to absorb as much what we had just done and learned. Is that normal? The good news is that we had 30 minutes between sessions that provided time for collaboration, questions, and recovery. Brain sweat is fun!

Some of the most exciting things to me were the little things. The things that I might use every day or every week in the classroom to make life a little easier. I’ll let you in on a few of those things today!

I use my computer all the time to show students all sorts of things. When our presenters asked us to follow along, they made it easy by zooming in as well as highlighting the mouse. Both tricks were highly effective. The first one is to highlight the mouse. I spent the $4.99 on the Mouseposé app in the Apple App Store without regret!

MouseSo now when I want my students to see where I am navigating, I press F1 and highlight my cursor. Brilliant!

Another often-used trick was zooming on a Mac. Whenever a presenter wanted to help us focus in on something, give us a web address, or anything else that did not require the full screen, he quickly scrolled up and zoomed in on that area. I know it’s a small thing, but I was impressed! I can imagine using this daily.

Here is how you set it up for your Mac. Go under Universal Access in the System Preferences. Turn the zoom on, go to Options, and check “Use scroll wheel with modifier keys to zoom.” I think it is set to be the control key, so now when I hold down control and scroll up with two fingers, my screen zooms in. These little things will help keep the focus on where it needs to be during any sort of presentation.

My students constantly point out the extreme amount of tabs that I have open in Google Chrome. Here are a few tricks that deal with tabs:

One Tab is an extension found in the Chrome Web Store that takes each of your tabs and condenses them down into one tab. That tab can then be shared as a link with students or saved for later. It saves on memory and reduces clutter!

Tab Scissors is another extension that divides up your tabs into a split-screen look allowing you to type on one side while viewing another page at the same time.

Tab Glue, you guessed it, puts the tabs back together!

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And a few other tricks that everyone already has if you right click on a tab – ctrl+click or two-finger click with a Mac:

You can pin the tab to your task bar, and that will remove the X that would close it.

You can also close all other tabs.

Or close all tabs to the right of the one that you clicked on.

And lastly, you can reopen your last closed tab with this click or ctrl+shift+t.

I know this is going to make my life easier. I hope it does the same for you!



iPads are the answer, even if they are missing a keyboard

6 Mar

Students writing as they read, jotting down notes on the text, highlighting, and bookmarking. Most teachers would respond with, “Don’t write in the book!” But if we are going to do what we need to do to meet the Common Core, we MUST be writing in the book. Or the iPad more specifically.

Personally, I believe iPads are the way of the future in English education. More and more I see the importance of reading relevant and current nonfiction and being able to annotate and interact with the text, and it seems like the iPad is going to be the best way to do this.

Apple has sold 170 million iPads and counting. The most innovative computer company in the world doesn’t stop there. Apple’s stranglehold on teens’ music/internet/social networking devices is an important focus. If schools want to connect to our students through technology, we need to meet them where they are. Knowledge and information is at the fingertips of our students at all times. iPads are simply the best option to read, annotate, search the web, and view content easily.

Netbooks. The current answer to our technology issue. Students need a way to surf the web, research, and word process in a convenient way. Convenient being a debatable term. Right now it is another thing to lug around school on top of textbooks, notebooks, and the ever-important planner. These limited computers are not the answer to what we need in an English classroom.

Now the iPad isn’t perfect, the biggest complaint about iPads being that they don’t have traditional keyboards. The keyboard is an issue for the teachers, not the students. Most of my kids will choose to type a blog post on their iPod instead of using their netbook.  And if you need more proof, here are some real-world examples where students said, “No thanks,” to keyboards.

“Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?” Principals Association, 1815

Although this quote might be slightly embellished, it is partly based on reality. Physical keyboards, like chalkboards, are moving towards the past. As much as teachers feel the need to keep them alive, they are becoming impractical. Our students just don’t like them. Teachers should help students get the chalk dust off their hands if they choose. Keyboards? Make them available, but not required.

No really, when?

28 Jan

A few years back I remember reading an article about how we, as teachers, would soon look back and shake our heads out our former selves for banning cell phones from schools.

Why isn’t that time now?

Do teachers and administrators expect students to walk inside the hallowed walls of our fine institutions and cast away all thoughts of the outside world? When are we going to realize that students are people just like us?

In today’s world it is hard to imagine being cut off from the outside world for an hour, let alone an entire school day. But that is what we expect our students to do each time they walk through our doors. Under our current cell phone ban, students have to sneak their phone out of their pocket or ask to use the restroom in order to steal some time for a text message. If students were allowed to use their phones between classes, we would greatly decrease the need for secrecy and sneaking around.

Our students, much to the dismay of teachers, have lives outside of school that are very important. Lives that they care about, and lives that they can even learn from!

Instead of focusing on the social aspect of cell phones, think of the possibilities for learning and student engagement that they present. Facts and information are more powerful when found by a student instead of told to a class.

How are we going to find a balance with cell phones in schools? We have students with phones that can film HD quality footage, be used to blog on the go, or even to read a book. We also find information at the blink of an eye as well. But somehow schools continue to ban these powerful tools because of fear. Cell phones are resources that students are already familiar with. We want students to feel ownership and care for the devices they use? Use devices that they own!

Right now my middle school supplies each student with a netbook. Want an easy way to cut costs and make students happier, more engaged, and perform better? Let’s start bringing our own devices! And if a student is unable to afford a device, they can check one out for the year from the school. Even if only half of the students choose to bring their own device, think of the costs that will be cut! This article from Forbes is a good resource that addresses some concerns.

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These Tweets over the weekend were fitting. Let’s take the devices out! Allowing teachers to use these student-owned devices at their discretion could be a huge asset to classrooms, especially those that are concerned about budget issues.

Like it or not, we rely on our cell phones and so do our students.

Well isn’t this a conundrum ?

18 Dec

Give me technology! We absolutely need it in our schools. Netbooks, Chromebooks, iPads, or student-owned devices. I am a firm believer that we need devices in our students’ hands in order to prepare them for success, engage them with relevant and current information, and explore creativity and make a difference.

But really though, let’s get rid of this whole one-to-one mass deployment of technology.

Now let’s talk about how to do this. My district has been moving towards a one-to-one, and all of my 7th and 8th graders have their own Asus netbook. I’ve mentioned some of my students’ grumblings about these devices in my previous post, but hey, at least we have something! But I’m not sure I am always in the majority on that feeling.

Here’s my recommendation: let’s find out which teachers would like the technology in their room, and which devices would best suit their purpose. Those teachers could then apply to have the devices and would therefore be more likely to use them and build lessons to suit.

Until our schools are properly suited to store personal technology owned by the school, it is difficult to ask the students to take care of a device. If our lockers were charging stations, sure! If students brought their own device, absolutely! 

I picture my students reading and annotating articles in order to build background knowledge for meaningful discussions on iPads that are housed in my classroom. As the teacher who is issued the devices, they become like a textbook in terms of how they are tracked and issued.

We can also open the door for students to bring their own device to school in order to use something that they are used to. This Edutopia post is a good one for thinking about BYOD and its potential. One of the most important things that I have learned from our current one-to-one deployment is that students need to feel ownership of a device to take care of it and always have it. They need to feel like it is important to them and to their learning. It’s hard to create a sense of ownership, but it is much easier if actual ownership exists!

Part of the reason that people advocate for the widespread use of personal learning devices is that students will be using devices similar to these to create and collaborate in their future occupations. But not all jobs use Asus netbooks or iPads or Macbooks. By helping students become familiar with multiple devices, we are helping them to better prepare for the world that lies ahead of them.

Now with every teacher having their chosen device housed in their classroom, what do we do about flipped classrooms where students need devices to view lectures at home? Ok, maybe I don’t have all the answers…

The cool factor

7 Feb

I am lucky enough to work in a district in which a high value is placed on technology. We are moving toward/experimenting with a one-to-one program with netbooks. We have Asus netbooks and have given our students carrying bags for them. As a 7th and 8th grade teacher, I have seen all kinds of different reactions to this netbook being placed in their hand.

But how do we get our students to buy into these netbooks? How do we get teachers to buy into them?

Here are some comments from my students when I asked them what they think of their netbook:

I don’t like it that much. I don’t use it. We don’t have many opportunities to use them in class. It was more fun in 5th grade.

Meh. (Shrugs shoulders) Eh. It’s really small.

I don’t like it. It’s too small and it breaks easily.

It’s another thing to get in trouble for if we don’t charge it.

It says it stays charged for 10 hours, but it doesn’t.

I wish I could bring my own computer. I always have my own laptop charged.

My first reaction to these negative comments when I had heard them during the year has been to think that my students are acting ungrateful. Children in many schools would be thrilled to have this type of access to technology. This is true, but how do we get our students to think that?

But those comments definitely do not reflect student ownership, and that is the real problem. I am amazed at how many of our netbooks have been dropped and broken without students being upset.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Should our students bring their own devices if they choose? Does that open the door to unfiltered Internet access that would have more distractions? How would teachers deal with the mix of technological capabilities?

I had a Samsung Chromebook in class one day, and I was told:

It’s thin, bigger screen, the keys are easier to use. This is cool!

If students are expected to be grateful, excited, and truly own their personal learning device, we can start asking what we need to do in order to make that happen. How do we make learning with technology cool?