Category Archives: Information

Google Maps and GAFE Apps

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I’d like to make an appeal to Google for Education to include Google Maps in the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite.  I’d like to encourage my fellow techie teachers (and not-so-techie teachers) to make the same appeal.

Bear with me on this… here’s my situation…

I’m a thinker.  I don’t say this to imply that I’m some kind of super intelligent, Plato-inspired philosophical guru.  Those who know me know that this isn’t the case.  What I mean is that I like to think about ways to make things better.  I get inspired by those who are smarter than me and I think about how I can use their inspiration to improve what I do.   Unfortunately for me, and my patrons, I am not necessarily a do-er.  I get paralyzed by imaginary road blocks before my plans are ever put into action.  In many cases these grandiose plans never make it past my head and we all lose.

“Earth-Erde”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth-Erde.jpg#/media/File:Earth-Erde.jpg

Such has been the case for a project that I have had in the works for several years.  Each year, as summer break approaches, I have this inspired idea to map, with pictures, where my students read over summer.  I make a poor attempt at collecting photos and usually I get a handful of students and teachers who hand me photos.  The photos pile up on my desk and I forget about them until the following spring when I’m preparing for summer break.  Seeing the pictures reminds me that I want to try the project the following summer.  Rinse and repeat.

This summer I decided I WAS going make it happen.  I was bound and determined to bring this project to fruition.  Our district uses GAFE, so naturally I thought, Google Custom Maps… electronic images.. perfect solution! Except… Google Maps is not part of the GAFE suite.  I’m finally putting a plan into action, and I have a real-life road block!  Ever the thinker and problem-solver, I came up with my work-around.  I’d use my personal gmail account to create the Google Custom Map… not an ideal solution (I prefer to keep my professional and personal accounts separate) but again, I was determined.

After a lot of hoop-jumping, I was able to get the summer reading map created, with pictures, and able to embed it on the school website.  It looks the way I want it to look, and the feedback from parents has been very positive.  All is good with one small exception:  When I’m logged into my school gmail account, I can’t view the embedded map.  My best guess is that for some reason Google Maps and GAFE don’t play well together.  It should be so much easier to put this plan into action.

Why would Google Apps for Education not include Google Maps in their suite? The GAFE suite is designed to promote collaboration, creativity and communication among global learners.  What better way for students to understand their connection to a global community than by helping them to visualize what that looks like?

Including Google Maps in the GAFE suite would invite a multitude of opportunities for other creative, collaborative, educational projects.  Imagine students working in groups to map events during the American Revolution, using primary source images form the Library of Congress.  Language Arts teachers could create class maps featuring the settings of fictional stories.  Science classes could map migratory patterns of various species.  High school students could map the global repercussions of current events.  Students could create their own custom maps to make connections with places of personal interest.  These maps could become part of their educational portfolios.

There may be some very valid reasons that Google Maps is not included in the GAFE suite.  I’m guessing that maybe there are privacy issues, or maybe it’s just a matter of money.  I’d love to understand the rationale, but I have a hard time believing that providing access to Google Maps would present obstacles that wouldn’t be faced in the other apps in the GAFE suite.

So again, I’d like to make an appeal to Google for Education to include Google Maps in the Google Apps for Education suite.  I’d like to encourage my fellow educators to make the same appeal.

What do you think?

ISTE 2015 Take-Away: OneTab

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For those of us who participated in #ISTELive one of the most valuable experiences that we had was the backchannel discussion. We began our discussion during the opening Keynote, but things really swung into action during the sessions on Monday through Wednesday.  Over the course of these three days we became colleagues and friends… a true cohort.  When I talk about my ISTE experience I mention these wonderful educators by name.  We shared a lot! We talked about teaching and technology, choices and challenges, family and friends, travels and home…  We talked about how we were on the ISTE diet (feeding on information forgetting to eat real food), how we hadn’t left our computers for days, how we needed treadmill desks…

…And we shared TONS of resources.  Early on, Adrienne (@adebouch) gave me the tip to use Symbaloo to curate some of the resources that I found and we both began collecting and curating.  Her ISTE Symbaloo was connected to my ISTE Symbaloo and mine to hers, and we both had a link to a shared google doc with Jen’s notes (@JKjennkaiser) from the sessions.  We had several people from our group editing that document as well.

As I said though… we shared  A LOT!  I got to the point that I couldn’t keep up, so I started just opening tabs.  I decided I would go back at the end of each session and add the links to my Symbaloo. I remember looking at my tabs at one point and I had so many open that I could only see one or two letters on each tab.  Thankfully Brandon (@Den_Petersen ), one of the moderators, recommended installing the OneTab add-on.

OneTab is a Chrome/Firefox add-on for website curation.  It is by far, the easiest webpage curation tool I have ever used.  Here’s how it works: Open as many tabs in your browser as you want.  When you get tired of looking at all of those open tabs, click on the OneTab button. Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 1.00.31 PM OneTab closes all of the open tab and creates a new webpage with links to all of the tabs that were just closed.  That list can then be named, rearranged, edited, shared, exported or deleted.  The next time you want a new list of tabs closed OneTab will add them on that same page.  You can move links from one list to another.  Check out more features here.

When you share a list you either can share it as a link or use the generated QR code.  Check out my links form the QR code/Augmented Reality Session. Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 2.07.16 PM

There are two features that are missing that would improve the functionality.  First, when I share a list, I’d like to be able to see the title of that list (the title that I gave it) on the shared page.  Right now I can’t find it anywhere.  Second, I’d like to be able to annotate the list in OneTab before sharing. My work around for this is to copy and paste the shared list into my blog post or a word document, but life would be just a bit easier it I could annotate the links before sharing.

Saving and sharing links just got amazingly easier for me and my students.  If you’ve ever been frustrated by keeping track of webpages, give OneTab a try.

Lessons From a Train Wreck

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Last week the fifth grade began research on the American Colonies.  The lesson was promising.  The social studies teachers collaborated with the language arts teachers, and me, to plan the unit.  It was up to me to kick it all off.  We had two sessions scheduled that day.  Things were going amazingly well.  The students and teachers had a conversation about research, choices, and reliable sources.  We moved on to using text features to find specific information with the text.  Every hand was in the air as the students begged to be able to contribute to our list of text features.  Three teachers beamed at each other proudly from different corners of the room.

Hands Up

Hooray for text features! Photo by Mr. T.

The classes were scheduled to come back in the afternoon to use the non-fiction books, and their text features, to find information that would help them better understand various aspects of life in their assigned colony (general information, government, education, industry, climate and geography, and religion.) The plan in the afternoon was to group the students at tables by colony.  Three or four students would then each select a different book and examine the various text features of their book  to determine how that particular book could be helpful for their research on one of the subtopics.  They would then find a paragraph to read about the subtopic and read for understanding.  In the last 15 minutes of class they would share what they learned about their books as well as what they learned about their subtopic.

Before the classes left in the morning, as an afterthought, I explained to the teachers that I felt the students would benefit from a scaffold to help them as they used the books.  In between my duties and my other classes I scrambled to have a scaffold ready for the afternoon session.

As I read this now, its so obvious to me that they were getting way too much at once.  Even writing about it is way too much at once… but hindsight is 20/20.

The students came back in the afternoon.  I’ve never seen so much, go so wrong, so quickly!  The students were completely confused and frustrated.  There was a steady chorus of teachers (myself included) saying, “We told you this already!”; “You’re not listening to directions!”; “No.. you can’t look at you text features until you’ve decided as a group which subtopic going to be your focus!”; “You should be reading with your pencil down…”  There were books and papers and pencils and more papers everywhere… and many teachers and students with their heads in their hands.  It was a train wreck.  Truly.

I did what I always do in these situations.  I reflected.  Tomorrow I would have another group coming in for the same lesson and I knew things couldn’t stay the same.  I decided that I had made two big mistakes with my presentation.  First, I didn’t model the strategies for evaluating text features.  I had given the students a list of questions on which to focus but hadn’t shown them how to do it.  Second, my scaffold wasn’t clear.  There were too many sections and too much text.  I decided that I would use a slide on the projector to keep the students on track and make the sequence of the tasks more clear.

The next morning when the groups arrived (different teachers than the day before) the morning went much then same as it had the day before.  I had already talked to these teachers about how I was going to revise the lesson and try to learn from the day before.  I spent part of the morning modeling some of the strategies that I wanted the students to use.  My instructions were more clear and concise.  As I anticipated the afternoon, I felt much better and knew that these students would be much more successful.  The students came back in the afternoon and I went over directions one last time.  I had my slide on the projector outlining the tasks for the afternoon.  I sent them to their table with their heads nodding… yes… they knew what had to be done… they got it!

…until they actually sat down and started to work.

I watched as the whole train wreck repeated itself.  These kids were just as confused as the others!  “What am I looking for?”… “Should I be taking notes?”…  “There’s nothing in this book [titled The Virginia Colony]  about the government of the Virginia colony.”  How could I have gotten it so wrong two days in a row?

After school I went to those teachers and we discussed the lessons.  The comment that struck me most was from one of the social studies teachers who said, “I’ve been teaching research for 13 years and today is the first time that I realized that when I tell them to use the table of contents to find something to read, they may not know how to do that.”

Here’s what we learned from two train wrecks:

  • The students might be able to identify text features, but using them in a variety of real-life situations is another matter.
  • We need to teach the students to use inference when working with text features, especially when the authors of non-fiction texts get creative with chapter titles
  • Our students need practice with creating synonyms and related words when using the index
  • Our students need to practice problem-solving strategies when they hit a road block and they need to develop research stamina
  • We need to chunk these research experiences into smaller tasks
  • We need to provide direct instruction on how to research, and we need to do it at an earlier age
  • We need to slow down and take our time when teaching research

I love teaching research.  I literally get butterflies in my stomach when I begin a research lesson with my classes.  I love the moment when they read something and make a connection.  I love seeing their eyes light up because they get it!  I’m so thankful for this train wreck because it will provide me with an example for other teachers, who don’t yet see teaching research the way that we do.  Teaching research is more than handing a student a book and saying “Go.”  What these teachers and I know is that teaching research is an active process.  It’s slow and deliberate and messy.  It’s a lot of work!

So… “Thank you!” to my colleagues for sticking with me and with the process.  Although we were all feeling some pain, we all came out understanding more about how our students learn.  I’m so grateful that you have the energy and determination to see this process through.  I’m so glad that you are not taking the easy way out.

What a great mess!

Faculty Field Trip: Clayton (The Frick Family Home)

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FrickMansionClayton

Leepaxton at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)

Yesterday Deb and I took another faculty field trip.  We chose to tour Clayton, the Pittsburgh home of the Henry Clay Frick family.  The Clayton tour is just one of many offerings from the Frick Art and Historical Center. The partnership between Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie resulted in their both amassing huge fortunes and power as they dominated the steel industry at the turn of the twentieth century.  Their legacy lives on and today you’d be hard pressed to find a  Pittsburgh-er who doesn’t know the names Frick and Carnegie.

This was my first visit to the Frick home and of course the tour was amazing!  I was mesmerized by both the extravagance and the craftsmanship of the home.  Everywhere you look, floor to ceiling, there is something beautiful or interesting to see.  Henry Frick was an art collector, so aesthetics and attention to detail in the construction and decorating of the house were paramount.  I marveled at the craftsmanship, finishing, and sheer amount of the woodwork.  You wouldn’t think one could appreciate the door in Henry’s bedroom as much as the Monet in their sitting room, but I did.  Yet, for all of their opulence, the Fricks were also devoted parents who doted on their children.  This magnificent building feels warm and welcoming and there are pictures of the children in nearly every room.

Our tour guide was Cassie and if you visit the Frick I hope you have the pleasure of having her guide you.  She was not only extremely knowledgeable, but very enthusiastic as well. The only part of her tour that I didn’t like was the part where she said we had to leave our cell phones.  Not that I’m on my phone all the time, but I rely on it to keep notes.  There were so many things that she talked about that I wanted to write down, but I didn’t have the app for that.  Lesson one learned… invest in a small notebook and have a writing implement on faculty field trips.

While we’re on lessons learned here’s another.  Homework should be done before the field trip.  I should have know better.  In graduate school I read Out Of This Furnace by Thomas Bell.  So, somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I know the story of Frick and Carnegie and the steel mills and the strikes… but that was many books ago.  I should have at least checked out the Frick website and read the history before I went.  If I had I might not be sitting here now wishing I had had a pencil (see lesson one.) Had I explored the website first I also would have also realized that the Frick offers many educational opportunities and resources for both students and teachers, including lessons, professional development, and this video tour of the home:

If you have the opportunity, take the time to visit Clayton and see how the other half lived.

Oh… and don’t forget to get dessert at the cafe!

Level It

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Here’s a handy app for those of you who are setting up your leveled classroom libraries.  Level It Books is an app, for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch (available for $2.99 through iTunes) that allows you to scan the ISBN of a book to find title information, as well as GR levels, grade level equivalents, lexile and DRA levels.  Keep in mind that the database will not contain every title, especially newer titles.  According to their website they have about 150,000 titles in their database.  Not that this information is hard to find through other sources, but the convenience of barcode scanning may make it worth the price.

There are several additional features which add value to this app:

  • Library: You can use the app to keep track of books in your classroom library.  Set up a new library in the app and then scan the ISBN to add the book to your library.
  • Wish List:  Keep track of suggestions from students and colleagues
  • Roster: Create a student roster and you can keep track of who has your books.

The creators of the app hope to have teachers make recommendations and submit levels.  “One of our goals with this app is to create a network of teachers that will provide input into our ever expanding database of book data.”

There may be other players out there offering similar functionality, but this is the first I’ve seen of an app like this.  Sorry, I don’t know if there is a comparable app for android devices.

Curricu-Links: 6 August 2013

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General/Multi-Topic

Genius Hour

Genius hour is a block of time set aside to allow students to autonomously work on projects for which they have  passion.  Wouldn’t it be nice if this could be worked into our schedule somewhere?

Sashimi Tabernacle Choir

WARNING: NO REAL EDUCATIONAL VALUE HERE! (unless you count making a creative idea into reality.)  I was looking for information on Makerspaces and I came across this (in the middle of a TEDtalk if you can image.) Honestly… it is creative and it makes me smile so I thought I’d share…

Language Arts

The Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf

Need to recommend a great read, but stuck for a title? Check out this post of the 100 must-reads for 9-14 year olds.  How many have you read?

Picture Books as an Art Form

From the Eric Carle Museum. Provides a framework for using picture books, not just for entertainment, but to promote discussion.

Social Studies

Back  in the Day: Lessons form Colonial Classrooms

An Education World article with many resources for teaching about colonial classrooms.  Inculdes suggestions for hands-on activities and resources.

iCivics.org

Great lessons and interactive games related to civics.  The lessons contain everything you need for lessons on citizenship, branches of government, the constitution, and others.  Check out the teacher page or just play a game!  If you register, the points you earn from playing games can go toward making an impact on the world.

TeachingHistory.org

This site, published by the National History Education Clearinghouse, was featured in a blog post on Free Technology for Teachers about “Why Hoistorical Thinking Matters” Features teaching materials, history content and best practices.

Science/Health

79 Animal Adventures in Honor of Shark Week

Blog post by Common Sense Media.  Includes apps, movies games, and more.

Information Literacy/Technology

SoundBible

Free sound effects with licensing information clearly marked for each file.

August AASL Hotlinks

I receive these monthly via email with my membership in AASL, but many of the articles are applicable to all educators. Includes a lot of information on curriculum, assessment, STEM etc.

Wikipedia as an authentic Learning Space

Professional development opportunity provided by EasyBib. Hurry!  The meeting is tomorrow August 7, at 3:00 EDT.

PicMonkey Collage

This blog post from Free Technology for Teachers discusses creative ways to use this new tool effectively.  PicMonkey is free and no login is required.

Sources of my sources: Susan L. Panter (@SLPanter), Joyce Valenza (@Joycevalenza), Robin Bryce (@busybryces), Emily Gover (@Emily_EasyBib)

Curricu-Links: 4 August 2013

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General/Multi-Topic

  • DENapalooza Stops in Pittsburgh
    • The Discovery Education Network is offering a free professional development on Saturday, September 21, 2013 from 9-4 at Montour High School.  Session include topics such as digital storytelling, project-based learning and personal learning networks.  The tour will visit other cities as well.

Language Arts

Science/Health

Social Studies

  • A Short Explanation of the European Union
    • I know that many of our 6th grade teachers do projects on the Countries of the World. This blog post contains two short videos, one explaining the European Union and one explaining the United Kingdom.  I’m always confused by these countries, and now I know that’s with good reason.
  • Daily Flag Status
    • I noticed that some of the American flags in the area were at half staff yesterday but had no idea why.  Then I found this website.
  • Half Staff American Flag Notifications
    • The site also shows the status of the flag.  You can subscribe to email updates and even embed a widget.

Art

Information Literacy/Technology

Sources of my sources: Mr Schu (@mrschureads), Tom Murray (@thomascmurray), Edutopia (@edutopia), Gwyneth Jones (@GwynethJones), Nancy Hniedziejko (@NancyTeaches)