Thursday, December 3, 2015

Why Teach Kids to Code?

While attending the DFW Google Leadership Symposium earlier this week, a presenter from Google shared some eye-opening statistics {pardon the poor quality in the image below}, "Computer programming jobs are growing at two times the national average." Though I already knew the benefits to teaching students coding skills, this little nugget of information really hit it home.
{Pardon the poor quality}
There will be 1,000.000 more computer science jobs than students in 2020! 

So, as we approach the worldwide #HourofCode week (Dec. 7-13), here is a little Innovative Inspiration on how and why we should incorporate coding in our schools at ALL age levels.

One of our amazing elementary (K-4th) librarians,  frequently integrates coding into her library lessons as well as facilitates a coding club.

Ready to start coding with your students? Check out these impressive resources!

Check out 5 Reasons to Teach Kids to Code from

5 Reasons to Teach Kids to Code

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Learners Should Be INVOLVED in the Learning!

Have you ever walked away from a training feeling overwhelmed, confused, or frustrated?  Yes? Me too! However, that was NOT the case for me today!
Today I attended a full-day training by Learning Forward for strategies and tips to use when facilitating professional learning. After the six hours of training, I am confident and excited to implement what I learned! The session was jam-packed with new-to-me strategies, as well as several that have been in my repertoire for quite some time. But, as I reflect on my learning, I can't help but think about the students that sit in our classrooms each day. Are students feeling bored, overwhelmed, confused or frustrated, or are they feeling confident and excited about their learning?

Regardless of your students age (children, adults, or anyone in between), ALL learners deserve to leave "class" feeling engaged, empowered, and excited about their learning. Below are a few of my favorite teaching strategies that I use, or plan to use, whether I'm teaching other teachers or students.

Strategies for Success
  1. Learners need to be involved in the learning as much as possible! 
  2. Know your audience/learners in order to connect and/or relate to them. 
  3. Use music to set the mood, to keep the momentum flowing and the energy going. 
  4. Allow time for learners to explore the content but vary the context in which they explore the content. (i.e. alone, with a partner, in a small group, or as a whole class)
  5. Break the information/content into small chunks to allow your learners time to "chew" on, or process, the information. (Did you know that, on average, people tend to zone out after about 15-20 minutes of listening?)

Tools of the Trade to Make Learning Active
  1. Give and Get - Give learners a BINGO like card to write down several takeaways from the lesson. Have learners move around the room to "give" (share) one of their takeaways with a partner and then "get" a new takeaway from that partner. Then, rotate and repeat with a new partner. 
  2. Ports of Exploration - Have learning ports (stations) spread about the room or building. Learners move about the room to complete as many activities as time allows or specify the minimum number of ports to visit/complete. 
  3. Flamingo Share - Learners pair up and each partner shares/discusses/responds to specified topic but can only speak for the amount of time he/she can stand on one leg. 
  4. Simile Summaries - Learners write a simile to compare the learned concept to something that is relevant to them to summarize their learning. (i.e. ______ is like ______ because _____) 
  5. Movie Memos - Pair students and give them (randomly or assigned) one or two concepts, vocabulary words, problems, etc. to illustrate on large manila paper. Tape their illustration to the wall and explain it to the class. When new concepts are learned have a new set of students repeat the process and add their illustration to the "movie" wall. Then, before tests or at various points in the year, have students face the "movie" wall and allow them to review the memos (or illustrations about what they've learned thus far). With the illustrations and the students explaining their learning, it will be a movie of their learning!
As you go forward and provide learning opportunities, I hope you will try one of the above strategies, but more importantly, I hope your learners have the opportunity to be active in their learning process. 

Do you have a favorite strategy to get learners involved? I'd love to hear about it! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Survival Tips for Google Drive Rookies

Do you have a Google account? Have you ever had a moment of panic because you thought you lost a file? Or felt like your heart stopped beating because someone who you shared your file with made changes to your document that you didn't want? My glimpse into Doomsville came while I was facilitating a district training amongst 40 or so colleagues. One mischievous participant decided to delete all but the title slide of our collaborative Google Slides activity. Yes, you read that right, someone deleted the majority of the presentation! When I looked up on the screen and watched as practically everything disappeared, my blood pressure skyrocketed. Thankfully, after the brief moment of panic, I was able to not only recover the collaborative work of the large group but was also able to tell who deleted the slides. You can imagine the big smile I had on my face as I was able to approach the guilty prankster! Below are a few tips and tricks that I've learned along the way that have helped me and/or my colleagues avoid a meltdown.

Survival Tips for Google Drive Rookies: 

Use the Revision History Feature
Google's "Revision History" can be used in Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Drawing to view and/or recover previous versions of the file. Classroom teachers can also use it as a tool to determine who and how much group members participated in a group presentation. Keep students honest in their group work contributions!

To view Revision History:

  • Click on File > See revision history
  • Revision history appears along right-hand side.
  • Click on timestamp to view changes (notice each person is color coded).
  • Changes will appear in color according to who made the change.
  • Click on "Restore this revision" when you find the version you want. 
  • Learn more about the Revision History feature here.

Track Everything with the Google Drive Activity Tracker
Take advantage of the activity tracker in Google Drive to see when you created a file or folder, where a file is located, who you shared a file with via Google, and so much more. 

To access the Activity Tracker: 
  • Open your Google Drive in Chrome. 
  • Click on the lowercase "i" over on the right-hand side of the screen. 
  • View the "Activity" list of recent changes to your Google Drive.
    • You can even open a file from the activity list. 
  • Learn more about using the Activity Tracker here

Get to Know the Google Drive Menu
Three important features to help you quickly access your files can be found along the left-hand side of your online Google Drive account. No more digging through folders to find what you need!
  • Recent - View a list of recently opened/created files in your Google Drive. I use the "Recent" menu option to easily find/open a file that I recently used. 
  • Starred - Think of the "Star" in Google Drive like Twitter's Favorite star. I use this feature when working on a project, document, presentation, etc. that I know I will be coming back to often. Simply mark a file or folder with the star in Google Drive and it will appear under your "Starred" list. 
  • Trash - There have been times that I have accidentally deleted a file only to realize later that I needed it. Have no fear! I can recover the file from my "Trash" folder.

Keep Organized and Find It Later
Have you ever thought, where is that file I created yesterday?! Aside from looking in your "Recent" files or at your "Google Drive Activity" list, how can you find exactly where you stored a particular file? 
  • Open a "lost" file from your recent activity list, trash folder, etc. 
  • Click on the folder icon. 
  • Pop-up screen shows where the file is located within your Google Drive. 
This comes in handy if you accidentally create or move a file into the wrong folder.

These are just a few features that have helped me survive as I transition from Microsoft Office to Google Drive. Hopefully, at least one of these little features will save you from a moment of panic! And if you have a survival tip to share, please leave it in the comments section. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Customer Service in Education

About six months ago my husband and I decided it was time to start doing some major renovations around our nearly twelve-year-old home. So began the process of looking at flooring products, meeting with contractors, looking at more flooring products, a few glimpses at new furniture, more flooring options and more contractors, several trips to Home Depot, Lowe's ... you get the idea. As we trekked across Parker County, Tarrant County, and even parts of Dallas County, we "met" a variety of people. During this process, we quickly eliminated options based on the type of service we received as we walked in the doors or as conversations were had regarding our renovation needs. When we FINALLY made our choice on flooring and chose a contractor, our decision was not solely based on price. Instead, it was more about the relationship that began to develop as we had countless conversations with the contractor. Because believe me, as we narrowed down our choices, we went back multiple times before that final decision was ever made. Thankfully, there was a foundation of trust and respect that developed as we got to know the flooring contractor because a job that should have taken less than a week ended up taking more than a month. Yes, hiccups were expected to happen during renovations but they had to come out and re-do a couple of things until we were satisfied with the final results. Then, we repeated this same process to purchase new furniture. After all, what good is it to have new floors and not have new furniture to go on top of it?!

If CUSTOMER SERVICE impacted the decisions we made throughout our renovation process and will continue to influence where we shop for future furniture purchases and securing contractors, it IS a BIG deal. Customer service is defined as "the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services." So, what does this have to do with education? It was this process of relationship building and the follow-up customer service that we experienced that led me to reflect upon my role as an instructional technology specialist.  In education, who are the customers? Students! And parents are too, of course. In fact, in all facets of education, there is a customer and a customer service provider. In my role, my direct customers are the teachers and staff across the district for whom I provide technology integration training. If I provide sound customer service to my teachers, then they'll continue to invite me back into their classrooms to help them which will in turn impact our primary customers: students. However, unlike my renovation experience, our customers often do not get to choose us as their provider. Therefore, I feel it is imperative that we provide quality customer service to students, parents, teachers, and community members. In fact, I believe so strongly in the importance of providing customer service in education that I have deemed Customer Service as my #onelittleword this year.

I encourage you to reflect on the type of customer service you are providing in your classroom, campus, department, etc. Are you providing the kind of customer service that makes your students and teachers want to come back? Here's a great list of customer service skills to implement in your role as an educator. (Adapted from Help Scout, a company that focuses on customer service.)

  1. Patience
  2. Attentiveness
  3. Clear Communication Skills
  4. Knowledge of the Content, Campus, Department... 
  5. Use Positive Language
  6. Acting Skills or as I often refer to "Fake it until you make it!"
  7. Time Management Skills
  8. Ability to "Read" Customers or Make Time to Build a Relationships
  9. A Calming Presence
  10. Goal-Oriented Focus
  11. Ability to Handle Surprises = Flexibility and Adaptability in Education
  12. Persuasion Skills
  13. Tenacity
  14. Closing Ability = Customer Satisfaction 
  15. Willingness to Learn = Lifelong Learner
Which of these is your strongest skill? Weakest? 

PS - The renovation project is not complete. We are now building a massive deck and patio area in our backyard ourselves (As in my husband and I are working in the evenings and available weekends to complete this project!). If only we would have found a contractor who provided great customer service and was qualified to do this outdoor work, I could have saved a few fingernails and my husband a few gray hairs! I have also learned that I am way better at using technology in education than I am at using the technology involved with power tools.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Week 3 Checklist for Blogosphere Course

You are just about finished earning your six hours Professional Learning credit! Below is a checklist of the items that need to be completed in the third and final week of our class. Remember, all tasks from all three weeks need to be finished in order for you to receive credit. Also, stay tuned for a simple blogging challenge to keep your blog updated over the remainder of summer. The last thing I want to happen is for you to return to work in August and not be in the blogging habit or forget how to post on your blog. Thus, I'll soon be posting a very simple summer blog challenge in hopes to keep you motivated and on track with your blog. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 Blast Off into the Blogosphere Week 3

Can you believe it?! You've made it to the third and final week of the Blasting into the Blogosphere online course. Hopefully, your blog is up and going and you've made a minimum of five blog posts prior to this week's task, and if you're participating in the course you've also left feedback and comments on other blogs from this course. Comments are always appreciated by the blog owner, as it signals that someone is actually reading your blog. It's also just as important as the blogger to respond to those comments left by your readers! This keeps people coming back to your blog.

As you approach the final week for this course, I hope you will truly discover and fine-tune your niche for your blog. (This was discussed more in week one.) Determining the purpose for your blog and then setting a goal for a minimum number of posts per month, week, etc. will help keep you focused. I encourage you to open your calendar and set "appointments" to make a new blog post each week, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. If you would like for me to send you a Reminder, please join my "Blogging in the Blogosphere" Remind class and I will send out reminders via text message. Hopefully, this will help hold those who truly intend to blog regularly accountable beyond this course!

As far as your blog posts for the final week of this course, here are the topics for each of the required posts this week: 
  • What is your favorite professional book that you have read? Blog about how it has impacted you. Be sure to include a picture of the book cover and a link to the author's website or the book on Amazon for your readers to quickly explore more about the book. 
  • Share one organizational tip or strategy that you use to help you manage the daily tasks in your role as a classroom teacher or administrator. Describe your strategy and include a picture if applicable or to provide your readers with a visual. 
  • What is your plan for your blog beyond this course? Will you maintain your blog as a tool to communicate to students, parents, and/or other educators? How often do you plan to post on your blog? If you don't plan to continue with your blog beyond this course, explain why (include what you learned and didn't learn that has impacted your decision to stop blogging). If you do plan to continue, make a plan and set some goals. Research shows that by writing your goals down and sharing those goals with others,  you are more likely to succeed at achieving and following through with your goals. Don't forget to join my "Blogging in the Blogosphere" Remind class and I will send out reminders via text message. 
  • Bonus blog post: write a post about a topic of your choice. Whatever you decide to write about should inspire, humor, or provide a glimpse of empathy for your readers to connect with your through your blog. 
Your final tasks for this course are to leave a comment on two different blogs from the list of Course Participants and to leave a comment below here on my blog post to reflect on the following question: On a scale of one to five, 1 being I only gained flex PD credit hours and 5 being I gained lots of inspiration and ideas to continue blogging beyond this course, how would you rate your "Blasting into the Blogosphere" course experience? Provide a brief reason to support your rating and any other feedback or thoughts you'd like to share about your experience. 

NOTE: Throughout this course, I wanted the focus to be more on your blog's content and your interaction with other bloggers and less about the "how-to." However, I do plan to post some blogging how-to video tutorials in the future here on my blog. As I post these, I will share them via my "Blogging in the Blogosphere" Remind class if you choose to subscribe. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Blasting into Week 2

There are so many variations and purposes for blogging in education. A classroom teacher can use a blog in place of a traditional newsletter or website to communicate with parents and students, or even as an online portal to share content and encourage discourse about class content. Administrators can create a blog as a platform for communicating to parents and staff about upcoming events, as well as to spotlight outstanding students and staff. All educators, in general, can implement blogging as a means to reflect on daily happenings in their educational role, share pedagogy strategies that work, or provide tutorials and tips in a variety of areas in education. As a participant in the "Blasting into the Blogosphere" summer PD course, you were asked to blog about what you want to learn and how you intend to use your blog in your educational role. Many of you expressed interest in learning about how others use blogging with students and/or as a communication tool with parents.

In Week 2 of our "Blasting into the Blogosphere" course, we will explore some blogs created and maintained by educators of all types. Thus, your first order of business this week is to check out the following blogs.

After perusing the blogs, choose ONE blog that inspires you the most and answer these 5 questions in a blog post this week. Please be sure to include a link to the blog you are referencing. 

For your second blog post this week, I would like you to share your favorite educational website. As you write your post, please provide a link to the website, give a brief synopsis about the site, and then share why it is your favorite educational website. Then, read other Blogosphere course participants blog posts, choose one blog post, and leave a comment/feedback for your fellow colleague.

Need more reasons to support your blogging habit, and yes, I hope it does become a habit, read these two articles: Why Teachers and Students Should Blog and How Blogging Transformed My Classes. How can I support you in your quest to blog this school year? Answer this question in the comment section at the bottom of this blog post. 

We have blasted into the blogosphere!

Congrats new bloggers on taking the first few steps to get your blog up and going! I have had so much fun reading your new posts and making note of your creativity in naming your blogs.(See a list of the course participants' blogs here.) Oh, and your most recent post about your favorite office supply or classroom tool definitely gave me, as well as your other readers, a glimpse into your personalities!
You are all off to a great start. As a recap of what you were supposed to work on the first week of this online blogging course, I have created a checklist for you. Please let me know if you have any questions over any of these items. Week Two's assignments will be up later today.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Let's Blast into the Blogosphere!

Today marks day one for our online learning course, Blasting into the Blogosphere. During this three-week course, we will learn all about blogs and blogging, specifically for educational purposes. Every Monday (June 8, June 15, and June 22) I will post the tasks that need to be completed for the week. Then, throughout the week, I'll post tutorials and tips that will help you complete the tasks. While many of the tasks can be completed all in one day, it is not advised that you do so. I would like this course to be interactive through blog comments and other collaborative tools shared throughout, so please participate accordingly. At any point throughout the course if you run into issues or have questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. If you are receiving summer professional learning credit for this course, you need to make sure that you are signed up and complete all assigned tasks by 11:59pm (CST) on Friday, June 26. (If you are outside of Aledo ISD, email me and I will help you get registered.)


  • Watch EduBlogs "What is a Blog?" video. 
    • Learn how to set up your blog through Blogger with this great tutorial created by Shannon Petty in Godley ISD. (NOTE: All educators who are part of a Google Apps for Education, or GAFE, district automatically have a Blogger account with your GAFE login. If you do not have a GAFE account, watch this "How to Set Up a Blog from Scratch." This video is a bit longer, but it has some great tips and how-to's.) 
  • Create your blog, if you don't already have one, and then share your blog link here
    • You may want to do the next task prior to creating your blog in order to have a better idea of how you want to use your blog in your role as an educator. 
  • Read EdTech Sandy K's post, "Blog Topic Ideas for Educators" as well as one or two of the articles she mentions in the "Want some more advice?" section of her post. 
    • Think about the suggestions and information shared on these blogs. What stands out to you the most? Please answer this question in the comments section here on my blog
  • Write your first blog post, or first post for this course, by answering the following questions. 
    • Why are you taking the "Blasting into the Blogosphere" course? 
    • What do you hope to learn from the course? 
  • Reflect on the following questions and post your answers on your blog as your second blog post
    • What is your role in education? (i.e. classroom teacher, specialist, administrator, etc.) 
    • How do you plan to use your blog in your role as an educator? 
      • Examples: Class newsletter to communicate with parents and students; school-wide newsletter to communicate to staff, parents, and/or students; lesson ideas and tutorials to share with other educators; personal reflections about your role as an educator; etc. 
  • Find or take a picture of your favorite office supply or classroom tool. Post this picture and write about why you can't live without it as your third blog post this week. 
  • Visit other course participants' blogs (see the list here) and leave a comment on at least two other blogs. 
Other Helpful Resources:
Remember, all of the above tasks should NOT be completed in one sitting or even on the same day. Spread it out over the course of the week, as I will post additional tutorials and helpful information along the way. 
Happy blogging! ~ April 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Online Learning Opportunities

Let's face it, teachers aren't truly off during the summer. While most may not report to a school building and a classroom full of kids, teachers still look for opportunities to improve their craft. The summer of 2015 is no different! What IS different for many teachers in my school district this year is where and how they learn and grow. As a means to foster a growth mindset and provide anytime-anywhere learning opportunities, I will be facilitating a couple of online learning "courses" in which educators throughout my district will receive professional learning credit hours. No, online learning is not a new concept, but for teachers to pursue this avenue AND receive credit for flex days and/or Gifted and Talented hours IS new for us. I would LOVE for you to join us! Send me an email if you have quesetions.

Online Learning Opportunity #1: Blasting into the Blogosphere!

Online Learning Opportunity #2: Let's Chat! #aLEADo

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nepris + Project Based Learning = Unforgettable Experience

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit our middle school to witness firsthand the value of Project Based Learning. One of our 8th-grade math teachers assigned a Waterpark Design Project and then reached out to Nepris to find an industry expert for the project. (For complete details about the project, you can view the assignment here.) If you are not familiar with Nepris, I highly recommend you check it out! They find real-world industry experts to connect with your class via Zoom, a web conferencing program. While a free basic account has some limitations, such as only one LIVE web conference, you still have access to their growing database of recorded conferences to share with students. In this case, the 8th-grade math teacher has a FREE Nepris account. She completed the request form that correlated with the waterpark design project and then Nepris went to work to find an expert. The teacher was hopeful for an expert from the waterpark industry; however, Nepris was unable to find one. Instead, Nepris located a rollercoaster designer and connected him with the teacher. This expert exceeded everyone's expectations! Prior to the video chat, he completed the waterpark project so he could have a better understanding of what was asked of the students. Then, on the day of the video conference (all set up by Nepris), he talked with the students about his professional experiences, how math is used daily in his career, and related the engineering behind rollercoasters to waterslides. Students were engaged during the entire hour as they interacted with the speaker answering and asking questions. Near the end of the video call, students showed off their waterparks and were put on the hotspot as the expert asked them questions. *Once we receive the filtered video from Nepris, I'll be sure to add the link to this post.*

As I witnessed the live video web chat and talked to the teacher and students afterward about their project and their Nepris experience, I had a few thoughts. Hopefully, something in this post will inspire you to create an unforgettable learning experience in your classroom or campus.

  • I wish more teachers and more students had the opportunity to experience this project-based learning environment. As students applied their math skills to design their waterpark, they learned so much more than how to solve linear equations and plot coordinate pairs. 
    • When I asked the students if they would rather complete this project or practice solving problems on a worksheet, they, of course, chose the project. After all, they got valuable feedback from a degreed engineer which was way more meaningful to them than a grade in the gradebook. 
    • When I asked the teacher if she would rather prepare and implement the project or run-off worksheets and quizzes, she too chose the project. In fact, she stated, "I wish I could do this type of teaching and learning most of the time!" Instead, she feels pressured to follow the standard teach, practice, test format. But now that she's witnessed the learning that took place with this project, I have a feeling she'll be leading the project-based instruction philosophy on her campus next year. 
    • The learning experience was so much more relevant and rigorous and will be remembered by these students for many years to come. 
  • When talking with the teacher about her Nepris experience, she explained how simple and quick the request process was but definitely recommended to submit requests well in advance (2 to 3 weeks prior to the target date for video conference). She also raved about the ease of setup for the actual conference call. I hope other teachers will give it a try!
  • My favorite quote from the video conference was the rollercoaster designer's response to "what is your degree in?" His answer, "I have a degree in engineering but what your degree is in is not what's important. What's important is your desire to learn!
View a few of the finished waterparks in the slideshow below. (I wish I would have taken more pictures. The students did an AWESOME job designing their waterparks!)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Oh Chrome-eo, Chrome-eo! Wherefore art thou Chrome-eo?

Are you as smitten for Google Chrome as I am? Do you cringe when you see that blue e? If you aren't using Chrome for all of your internet needs, then you are missing out! Once you've signed in to Google Chrome and established your preferences, your internet experience will be like no other.

5 Reasons Why I Love Google Chrome:
  1. ALL of my frequently most used website favorites are just a click away! I can edit my favorites on my toolbar down to the website icons, a.k.a. Favicons, so that I have room for more favorites. 
  2. Each morning when I open Chrome, I can pick up right where I left off the day before because I've customized my Chrome startup. 
  3. When I accidentally close a tab, I can press Control, Shift, and the letter T and the webpage will reopen. 
  4. I can add a variety of Chrome extensions to make my life more exciting (like the Move It extension) or to make me look smarter (like the Grammarly extension). 
  5. My Chrome customizations will carry over to any computer! So as I travel from campus to campus or in and out of different training rooms, I simply login to my Chrome account on any computer and voila! all of my favorites and extensions will appear. 
Below is my brief Chrome presentation that I use during Chrome trainings with staff in my district. 

Are you sold on Google Chrome yet? Do you need to get some Chromercise?!

Have you moved from smitten to Chrome Addict like Kasey Bell from Shake Up Learning? View her presentation to learn even MORE great tips to make you fall in love with Chrome. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Time, Time, Time...

Time, time, time
See what's become of me...

It's getting to be "that time of year" as the end of the school year approaches and students and teachers are antsy for summer vacation. All too often, I hear students say "Why do we need to come to school anymore this year? We've already taken THE test!" Educators, I urge you to be innovative and creative in your classrooms and in your buildings so that students still feel there is a purpose to coming to school. Todd Whitaker tweeted it best:

So how do we keep students engaged? Here are a couple of tricks or tips to help you make the most of your time with students.

  • Keep time moving! Use the countdown feature in Google to manage time in your classroom. 

  • Turn a regular No. 2 pencil into a dice! You could use this little life hack for a variety of purposes. (Thanks, Julie Lyle for the find!)
    • Each number on a pencil (number several pencils for as many questions you may have) could correspond to a review question. Have students choose and roll a pencil to answer a review question. 
    • Use the numbered pencils in place of popsicle sticks to draw a student's number. Have the "selected" student choose the type of product students will use to demonstrate their knowledge over a recent concept. (Ex: Students could create a talking avatar using Voki or ChatterPix, write a tweet from a character or historical figure's point of view, or illustrate the concept using pencil/paper, Google Drawings, or fingerpainting app.) 

PS - Can you name the song and artist that is referenced in this blog post title? If so, leave a comment below or send me a tweet, and I just may send you a surprise!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

If You Have Google Drive Installed on Your Computer, This Is a MUST Do!

At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, we did a big push to move staff from saving directly to their computer to saving directly to Google Drive as part of our Google Apps for Education initiative. With this, we first had to install Google Drive on all staff computers. Then, throughout the first semester I provided ample training opportunities to help the staff make the switch. View my "How To" presentation, as well as the final reminder video that were used as part of the transition.

Throughout this transition process, we have definitely learned a few things. One I just recently learned is how to enable the "Search" feature in Google Drive. (This applies to the software installed on your computer, NOT Drive via Google Chrome.) This is a MUST do for those who have Drive installed on their computers. I use my search feature daily to quickly pull up a file; by adjusting the settings as outlined below I can search all of my files on my computer's Google Drive just like I did in Windows My Documents.

Open Google Drive.

Click on "Organize" and then "Folder and Search Options." (NOTE: In Windows 8, open the Google Drive folder and select "View" and "Options" and then "change folder and search options." The remainder of the steps are the same.)

Click on the "Search" tab and then check the box "Don't use the index when searching in file folders for system files." Make sure you click "Apply" before clicking "OK."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

More Than a Number

Earlier this week I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a Future Ready Symposium at the Educational Service Center in my area. First, let me say what an inspiring and motivating day it was! With George Couros from The Principal of Change, Racheal Rife a principal in a nearby district, Todd Nesloney who is widely known as Tech Ninja Todd, Zach Snow and the Royse City High School Student Advisory Committee, and GCE Lab School all under one roof to speak about innovation and education transformation, how can this day not be amazing?! 
As I listened to each of these astounding leaders speak, I noticed a theme: students are more than a number! As educators we need to stop defining our success and the success of our students by numbers. All too often we get wrapped up in our students scores on standardized tests, when really our goals and success rates should be measured by the globally contributing, well-rounded citizens we produce. Join the #FutureReady movement and get to know your students beyond their numbers.
Even in our personal lives we get so caught up with numbers, like how many pounds we've lost (or gained). If this is you, try focusing on how healthy you feel or start with small changes that lead to a healthier you. Don't let that scale determine your happiness and success! No one else really cares what your scale says, we care more about your healthiness and happiness. YOU are more than just a number! 
Okay, I'm stepping down from my soap-box now! :-)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Try out ZipGrade to Zip around Your Classroom!

This post was submitted to me by a middle school teacher in my district. I love her excitement for this app! Read her post and then try out the recommended ZipGrade app in iTunes or Google Play.

"I downloaded ZipGrade on my iphone and I LOVE IT!!! Check it out!  It has changed my life!!! (Especially as we are reviewing and practicing reading skills for STAAR.) Seriously. I can give students INSTANT feedback and I have instant item analysis for each class. I don’t have to take papers home to grade, and THEN pass them out the next day to go over them with the students.
If you’re not familiar with it, there’s a short 8 minute video on YouTube about how it works. I watched it at 6AM and I’ve been using it all day. It’s THAT easy and THAT useful.

#teacherlivesmatter       #greateducationalawakening     #simplifyingmylife

Sorry. I’m just a little excited about this one. J  Kathy"

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Get Connected... for FREE!

No, this isn't an advertisement for Education Connection's website or program, but I can't write this post without singing their original jingle. So ... you too must hear and sing along with me! "Get CONNECTED! For FREE! Education connection! Get CONNECTED! For FREE! Education connection!" (You can thank me hours from now when this jingle is still stuck in your brain!) 

Now, on to the REAL reason I'm writing this post: to share one simple tool to help educators get connected to other like-minded educators. 
Today's tool: Voxer. It is a walkie-talkie like FREE app for your smartphone (get it on iTunesGoogle Play or Windows Phone), allowing you to send live voice messages, text messages and even pictures. When "voxing" with others, you can talk in real-time like the walkie talkies we used as kids (in other words you can listen instantly as the person is voxing) or you can send/listen to a vox at your convenience. There is also a Pro Voxer web-version that costs money but offers additional features. (See the comparisons.) 

Educational uses for Voxer:
  • Leaders: create a Leadership Team Voxer Group with other leaders in your school, district, region, state, etc. Use the private Voxer group to share struggles, celebrations, reflections, etc. as well as collaborate on solutions to challenges or completely new programs to improve your own skill set or the learning environment on your campus. 
  • Principals: start a Voxer group with your staff to share out a thought or question of the week. Encourage teachers to share their thoughts or responses with the Voxer group before the end of the week and listen as the conversation evolves. You could randomly draw a name throughout the year from those who participate and give out a free jeans day or even some simple recognition at a staff meeting to someone who shares a great response. Principals could also use a campus Voxer group to plan upcoming school-wide events. 
  • Teachers: use Voxer to brainstorm, collaborate and plan lessons, assessments, fieldtrips, etc. with your teammates. Participate in Voxer groups with other grade level or subject area teachers from all over to discuss, share and collaborate on lessons, activities or ideas that you can apply in your classroom. 
  • Educators: participate in Voxer groups to learn and grow at your convenience and in areas that you feel are most applicable to you. This is lifelong learning at its best and gives you a "choice and voice" in what you learn!
  • Other Voxer ideas: participate in book studies via Voxer. (I'm currently participating in a Voxer group with nearly 100 educators across the country to read and discuss Eric Sheninger's Digital Leadership book and I am learning a TON!) You could also use Voxer in your personal life to plan baby showers, birthday parties, or just simply use it as a walkie talkie to chat with friends and family near and far. 
Connect with me on Voxer at aprilrileytx!

Read more about Voxer at any of these exceptional resources:

Happy Voxing! 

"Voxer makes it simple for friends, family and colleagues to talk from anywhere in the world, whenever it’s convenient."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I'm so excited! And I just can't hide it!

Ser-i-ous-ly, I AM SO EXCITED and I just can't hide it! If this tool is new to you, I think you'll be singing along with me and will be just as excited. Do you use Google Slides or even PowerPoint to create your presentations? Do you get tired of the same ol' same design themes? Or perhaps you're like me and spend hours upon hours trying to design your own theme. Well, this nifty little site/tool that I just can't wait to share with you is going to give you time back AND make your presentations look like a professional created it!
As an instructional technologist, I am constantly creating presentations to share with staff, parents, and students. Since my district is a newly established Google Apps for Education district, I have really tried to model the use of Google Slides. I love the ease of use to create a presentation and the fact that I can jump on any device to pull up my presentation to share with others. What I am not in love with are the presentation design templates; however, I've recently discovered Slides Carnival thanks to Matt over at Ditch That Textbook.

The best part about Slides Carnival is that the tool was developed specifically for Google Slides making it extremely easy to use with your Google account. Truly! I know there are LOTS of other presentation tools out there to create some amazing presentations, but this is the first that I have come across that seamlessly integrates with my GAFE account.
In a matter of minutes I can
1) click on a template,
2) click the "use this presentation" button which opens the template in your Google Drive,

3) go to "File" and "Make a copy" of the presentation (this is a vital step in order to edit)

4) begin editing the information on the template to make it your own.

Ta-da! You'll have a professionally designed and well-organized presentation that will make you look official.

BONUS: Just think, if your students use Slides Carnival, they'll have a guide to help them stay organized when creating presentations to share with the class, making it much easier for you to create a rubric to evaluate their work!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Teachable Moments

It's that time of year when schools make decisions to dismiss early, delay, or close due to winter weather. For me, that often means being available to publish announcements regarding those decisions on our district website. Yesterday was definitely one of those days! First, on my way in to work I received the call to announce that we would be releasing schools one hour early due to expected winter storms. I immediately pulled my car over, turned on my phone's hotspot and jumped on my laptop to post the early dismissal in order to get the news out to parents as quickly as possible. Then, last night I received the call to announce a late start for today, followed by another call about thirty minutes later to post the school closing announcement. So where is the "teachable moment" in all of this?

When I received the first call of the evening regarding a delayed start, I was in the middle of watching our favorite show on DVR with my family. When my cell rang, my husband paused the show and I grabbed my laptop and started typing the delayed start announcement on our district website. A few seconds after clicking the publish button, the calls, texts, and direct messages started coming in! It appears that I completely botched the date in my delayed start announcement. (Not only was the day/date wrong, but the combination doesn't even exist on the calendar!) As I fired my laptop back up and my husband paused the DVR, I was beyond frustrated with myself that I would make such a horrific error on our district website that hundreds of people look to for accurate information. Granted, the error only appeared on the website for approximately five minutes, I was still beating myself up over making such a public blunder.

Thankfully, though, this little mix up provided me with the following "teachable moments!"
1. Don't pause the DVR of last week's episode if it has the scrolling banner about school closings across the bottom! <<< Apparently the closing from last week was subliminally stuck in my mind causing me to type the wrong weekday! 
2. Everyone makes mistakes, even educators! (Cue the Hannah Montana song!) 
3. Everything you post online is permanent, even if you delete it! <<< This is the biggest teachable moment of them all and I will share it with students and teachers when teaching about digital citizenship. 
While my blunder was only posted for five minutes, one of our students captured it and tweeted about it on Twitter. You just never know who or when someone is taking a screenshot of something you post, and even more so you never know who or how they will share it! ... Now that's a real-life teachable moment! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snow Day, Slow Day! My Reflection on Innovation

Due to icy weather in our area, school was closed today and will be closed again tomorrow. For me, this time off meant a "slow day" instead of a "snow day." It allowed me time to reflect, read, reflect some more, watch a webinar, and reflect even more. As I scoured through Twitter, participated in a Voxerchat, caught up on some professional reading and viewed a Future Ready webinar, a recurring theme began to take shape: INNOVATION. The result, my soap box as written below: 

Innovation ensures teaching and learning is never stagnant nor dull. In many cases, technology is the driving force behind the innovation, propelling the learning. We, as educators, need to lead the charge, modeling how technology and innovation can magnify our learning and challenge our thinking. It’s not about the technology tool, but what you do with it that makes it innovative: how it allows you to connect, create, and grow as a learner to be contributing citizen online and face-to-face.

Students need to learn in an environment where innovation is encouraged, where they are comfortable taking risks and learning from their failures. Through this process they problem-solve and take ownership of their learning. Likewise, educators need these same experiences to foster innovation amongst themselves and implement it with their students. We can no longer ask our students questions that have one right answer, after-all, they can find those on Google. We must ask them to create, collaborate, and interact with the content to be contributing citizens. Teacher and Pure Genius authorDonWettricksaid it best, “A commitment to innovation helps keep students engaged because they see how the material and methods can improve or affect their lives.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Take Control of Your Learning

~ Gandhi

Today, in my district and many across the country, students enjoyed a day of no school in honor of President's Day while staff attended Professional Development. For many educators the day consisted of "sitting and getting" information and training over state mandated assessments and/or district initiatives, and possibly time for collaboration and planning. While these are often necessary and even more often they are required, I still hear the low roar of the teachers who want more meaningful and relevant training. Is that true for you? Do you want professional development in which you learn from other educators in areas that matter to you? Would you like to learn something new and be able to apply it immediately in your classroom, on your campus, or in your district? Do you want to hear from like-minded educators who have struggles similar to your situation? If you answered "Yes!" to any, or maybe even all of the above questions, then I have a three-step solution for you.

Take control of your learning! While attending mandated PD sessions is out of your control, you can be in control of what you learn, when you learn, and how you learn it.
  1. Start by creating an account on Twitter. 
  2. Begin building your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) on this social platform.  
    • What is a PLN? Essentially, it's connecting with others to share, collaborate, and learn together about topics of interest to you. 
    • Search Twitter for published educational resources, such as Edutopia.
    • Here's a great list of suggested educators to follow on Twitter. 
  3. Take action! Don't just follow other educational gurus; share your passion, frustrations, experiences, give feedback and ask questions. In other words be a participant in your PLN!
    • One easy way to grow your PLN is to participate in Twitter Chats. Check out the Twitter Chat schedule to find one that interests you. 
    • My 3 favorites: TLAP, TX Ed, and Gueria11Ed!
    • With the right PLN, a little time and minimal effort, you can learn anytime, anywhere!
Earlier tonight I participated in a #TLAP Twitter chat with an international group who read the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. Tonight's topic focused on PD, obviously a topic dear to my heart. Through this chat I "met" other educators who have similar philosophies, gained a TON of ideas to ramp up my own PD sessions, and even incurred many resources to plan future PD opportunities. Why was this chat so beneficial? I CHOSE to participate; it was a topic of INTEREST to me; and I gained ideas and resources that I CAN USE in the very near future! Not to mention, I was at home on my couch in my comfy clothes! 

"Be the CHANGE you wish to see in the world!" Create or add to your PLN and find a Twitter chat to get connected. You'll be so glad you did!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Website of the Week: Google Classroom

Is your school a participant of Google Apps for Education (#GAFE)? Do you use Google Classroom? If you are a member of GAFE, I highly recommend Google Classroom! In my district we are gradually implementing it, but it has been a lot of fun and opened up some great opportunities for the teachers and students who are taking advantage of this great resource!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have helped some teachers get this started with their students. We co-taught the introduction to Google Classroom and allowed the students time to explore the Classroom features. It was a lot of fun hearing the students get excited about this digital classroom portal! One student exclaimed, "This [Classroom Stream] is like Twitter for class! Our teacher is so cool!"

As I worked with these teachers to get Classroom up and going, I made some observations:

  • Classroom Stream: 
    • Be cautious of leaving the Classroom Stream wide-open without any sort of guidance or expectations. (This setting is on the teacher's side under the "students" tab.) In other words, if you allow students to post to the stream, be sure to set expectations and go over them during the initial Google Classroom overview. 
    • Choosing the "Students can only comment" option allows the teacher to post daily/weekly discussion questions to encourage students to delve into the content and participate in online classroom discussions.  
    • Leaving the "Students can post and comment" option open would allow students to post questions for discussion as well as post questions if they are having difficulty understanding a concept. Just be sure to set expectations with your students about posting to the student ahead of time! 
    • Take note, though, that you can "mute" a student if he/she continues to make irrelevant posts on the stream. 
  • Students Joining Your Class: 
    • If you have large classes, it is much easier to use the "Class Code" feature. Students simply type in the code for their class and voila! they are a part of your Classroom roster. This is much faster than having to send an invite to all of your students. 
  • Classroom Set-Up: 
    • If you teach multiple classes/periods in the same subject area, be sure to choose different themes to make it easier for you to identify which class period you are working on. 
    • Also, be sure to include the class period in the class naming convention when you first set up your class. This will also make it easier to identify which class you are posting to, as well as easier to select multiple classes to post the same assignment. It also helps keep your Google Drive organized! Each of your Google Classrooms will have a folder in your Google Drive under the parent "Classroom" folder. 
  • Creating Assignments: 
    • When creating new assignments that you want all of your classes to complete, be sure to include everything in the original posting of the assignment and then choose all of your classes that you want to complete the assignments. Any edits made after the original posting of the assignment will only make changes to the classroom that you are in when changes are made, which means you will then have to go to each classroom to make those additional changes. 
    • Choose the "Make a copy for each student" option if you are using a Google doc, presentation, or sheet that you want to have separate work products for each student. Otherwise, all students will be typing on the same doc, presentation, or sheet that you've included in the assignment. (This is okay when you are wanting students to collaborate and see each other's responses/work.) 
  • Google Classroom app
To get started, watch this excellent tutorial on Google Classroom created by +Amy Mayer

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thinking Cap Thursday!

Grab your thinking cap and start brainstorming, and then participate in this week's Thinking Cap Thursday! How can you and your students use this week's Website of the Week (W.o.W.)? Please share your ideas in the comments section at the end of this blog post. 

W.o.W. (Website of the Week)ClassTools.Net is one of my favorite websites to incorporate into trainings with teachers and lessons with students! There are so many opportunities for you to engage your students and for students to create products.

Digital Citizenship Idea: Create a fake social media account using Class Tool's Fakebook. Intentionally include all of the "personal" information about the fake individual. Then, during class with the Fakebook profile displayed, ask students what they know about the individual or how else could they learn/figure out additional information about the individual. Discuss what information is safe to publish on their own personal social media accounts. Finally, allow students to create a Fakebook profile about themselves that demonstrates their understanding of good digital citizenship.

Now, it's your turn! Take a look at all of the fun tools on ClassTools.Net. Which tool(s) on the site can you use with your students (or staff)? Share your ideas in the comments section below this blog post. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

One Little Word

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, and will continue to say it millions more:
Twitter is a powerful tool for educators! 
Over the Christmas holidays, I hosted an ongoing "12 Days of #Twittermas" Challenge for the staff in my district. There were twenty-four participants who accepted the challenge, several of which were brand-new to Twitter. Whether these participants completed one or all twelve Twittermas tasks, reading and sharing their tweets was really exciting! I learned something new about each of the participants and it will serve me well as I strive to foster deeper relationships with these staff members, something made possible due to Twitter!
Another of my favorite things about Twitter (and I have LOTS of favs!) is the Twitter Chats that take place weekly. I currently participate weekly in #TXed chat on Wednesday nights and #Gueri11aEd chat on Thursday nights. Through my active participation in these weekly chats, I have gained a plethora of knowledge, discovered tons of new educational resources, connected to like-minded educators to grow my Personal Learning Network, and shared my passions and thoughts about education to inspire others who are also participating in the chats. Can you achieve all of this in 30 minutes?! You can with the help of Twitter!
Now, here's my latest and greatest admiration for Twitter: #EduLS, or in non Twitter lingo: Educator Learning Series organized by the great +Todd Nesloney, also known as @TechNinjaTodd in the Twittersphere. To kick off the Educator Learning Series challenge, participants are encouraged to select one little word that will guide and represent them in 2015. To read more about the #onelittleword movement, visit the website of Ali Edwards. I encourage you to join the Educator Learning Series challenge to make 2015 a year of learning, growth, and accomplishments. Be sure to share your learning on Twitter and/or other social platforms where you can learn alongside other educators. What is your word for 2015?
When I came across the one little word challenge on Twitter (where else?!), I immediately reflected upon my first 2015 post and my five lifelong "I will" statements. Now, by participating in the #onelittleword movement and the #EduLS challenge, I can sum up my "I will" statements to just one little word: INSPIRE! This year, I hope to INSPIRE others regardless of whether they are in my professional or personal circle. In fact, I want to INSPIRE people beyond my regular circles! I aspire to inspire others through this blog and of course Twitter, the trainings that I lead, and most importantly by my daily actions and words. The time to INSPIRE is now!

Monday, January 5, 2015

This Year I Will...

Happy 2015! It's the start of a new year and for many it means setting New Year's resolutions. But, if we're being honest, these resolutions sound great and feel possible ... in January, but what about in March or how about November? I'm certainly guilty of setting a typical resolution only to lose sight of it or even give up on my goal altogether. Hence the PDA *not that P.D.A., that's so high school!😝* I'm talking about the Personsal Digital Assistant I just had to have back in 2002 to achieve my New Year's Resolution of getting "organized." (This was back in the day before smart phones!) At first, I was faithfully using that baby to keep up with my calendar, my contacts, my budget, etc. However, it was big and bulky and I didn't always carry it with me, which in turn led me to being less organized because some of my "stuff" was kept up in my PDA while other things were written on a paper calendar or worse, the loose leaf sticky notes that so easily get misplaced! But if we flash forward to 2015, I have my handy-dandy smart phone which is my 5th limb! This little gem holds everything that my PDA did and So. Much. More! It's my life line and if I think back to my 2002 New Year's resolution, I've fulfilled my goal of being more organized... for the most part! It may have taken me a few years to find an organization system that works for me, but now it's a lifelong habit! 
So, I encourage you to reflect on resolutions or goals that you've set in the past and honestly assess yourself. Are those goals long lost, or are they lifelong improvements? For 2015, I've decided not to write New Year's resolutions, instead I've written "I Will" statements. They aren't monthly or yearly goals. These are habits that I am committing to that will make positive, lifelong changes. I challenge you to write five "I Will" statements that you are willing to commit to for a lifetime. Then, share them with your Personal Learning Network (PLN) via your favorite social media tool. You'll be amazed how much encouragement you get from your peeps to keep you on track! 

So, without further ado, here are my 5 "I Will" statements!