Tuesday, January 9, 2018

4 Online Courses to help you become a better teacher

Sometimes it takes a coach to encourage you and push you to the next level. I would love to be your coach for 5 weeks this winter!

Starting at the end of January I am offering 4 unique online courses that will help you use technology more effectively and confidently in your classroom.

Each course is 5 weeks long and will be facilitated through Google Classroom.

These aren't automated courses. I will work directly with you providing suggestions, encouragement, ideas, and instruction. You will also interact with other educators in the course who will be sharing their classroom ideas.

Continuing education credit is available in most states.

Each course is $99, however I am offering a 25% discount if you register in the next few weeks!

Click the links below to view the course description, outline, FAQ, and more!

Winter Courses

Starting January 22, 2018

Teaching with Chromebooks
 Using Chromebooks with Elementary Students

Starting February 19, 2018


Not Sure? This is what other educators have said about my online courses:
"This course has shown me so many new ways that I can use our Chromebooks! It also showed me a lot about apps that I have used, but in new and different ways! I would definitely recommend this course to others who are new or not that familiar with Chromebooks. It has definitely changed my mind on what they are capable of providing for myself and my students." Rose Marie Warrell, Oakley, ID
"One of the most focused and practical courses I have ever done. Every aspect was expertly taught with amazing tips from someone who is clearly a very experienced educator." Michael Drucker, London England
"I have taken other courses that were just too technical and moved way to fast. Your class was perfect. I am not a "newbie" OR a "techy" but somewhere in the middle hoping to learn more every day. Your class was perfect as it was challenging enough but not overwhelming. Thank you." Mary Ann Keiser, East Hanover, NJ
Interested in future courses, but can't join this time? Add your name to the course wait list!


Monday, January 8, 2018

πŸ“ Do you teach with a paper-based mindset? πŸ“

Paper was invented around 100 BC in China.

Google Docs was developed in 2005 by Sam Schillace.

While Google Docs is designed to look like paper, It isn't an improved version of paper - it's something different entirely. The opportunity to collaborate in real-time through an interconnected, device flexible platform creates entirely new possibilities. For those of us in the classroom, these new tools offer new potential and un-explored opportunity.

So here is the big question: Are you approaching the tech in your classroom with a paper-based mindset?

Before we begin, I want to clearly say that I am NOT against the use of paper in school (being anti-paper is silly). There is nothing wrong with paper. It has a very important role in the classroom. If paper is the best tool for the job USE IT!

Technology like Google Drive, WeVideo, Pear Deck and Google Classroom are fundamentally different than "analog" tools. We must approach them with a new perspective.

Here are six questions to ask yourself as you consider how you use technology:

πŸ”³ Do you require students to work within "the box"? πŸ”³

There are many digital tools that “feel” like paper (i.e. Google Docs). There is no reason to limit yourself to an 8.5 x 11 inch rectangle. Would your next assignments work better as a Google Drawing, Presentation, website or video? A digital canvas is infinite and can grow and stretch as your ideas grow and take shape. You may feel more comfortable working with paper, but don't limit your students to the rectangle.

How to break out of "the box" in your classroom:

  • Use tools that don’t feel like paper (Video, Prezi, Google Drawing)
  • Transform your paper worksheets using tools like Blendspace, EdPuzzle, or Quizlet
  • If you use Google Docs, remember that you can change the size and color of your document to fit the project. There’s nothing special about 8.5 x 11.
  • Are you over-emphasizing length, words, or pages to your students rather than focusing on the quality of the content?
  • Stop using PDF files

🌐 Do you “flatten” student work? 🌐

When you add ideas to paper, it takes a uniform, flat appearance. Digital creation can have multiple layers of information. Google Docs is a great example. Not only do you have the text on the “page”, you can also have comments, hyperlinks, and a history of revisions. There is depth in digital communication. Digital communication is multidimensional.

How to encourage multi-dimensional work in your classroom:

  • Ask students to include links, video, and images in their assignments.
  • Allow students to use tools which support video, audio and images
  • Encourage students to share their work with classmates, the school, and the world
  • Encourage students to link to work from their classmates

πŸ’¬ Are you limiting collaboration? πŸ’¬

Have you ever watched two students write on the same piece of paper at the same time? It’s not easy! Working on paper assumes contribution by one person at a time. With digital tools, several individuals can contribute simultaneously. While collaboration is easier with digital tools, you must design for collaboration. Most paper worksheets were not designed for students to work collaboratively.

How to encourage collaboration in your classroom:

  • Build collaboration into your next assignment
  • Encouraging peer review
  • Ask questions for which there is more than one possible answer
  • Address the difference between cheating and collaboration with your students

✍️ Do you discourage mistakes? ✍️

Have you ever suffered from “blank page syndrome?” It’s the inability to get started because of the fear that it won’t be good enough. Making a mistake on paper is discouraging because it is so difficult to revise your work (remember white-out?). Digital mediums encourage constant adaptation, revision, and improvement. There are no penalties for errors and omissions. Simply revise and continue.

How to encourage revision and adaptation in your classroom:

  • Providing frequent, meaningful feedback
  • Give students an opportunity to reflect on the improvements they have made
  • Give students an opportunity to learn from one another.
  • Assess for growth, not completion.

🏫 Do you venture outside the 4 walls of your classroom? 🏫

A sheet of paper can only exist in one place at a time. Digital content is not limited by time or space - it can existing in many or “all” the places at the same time. This improves organization, sharing, and collaboration.

How to open up your classroom:

  • Allow students to collaborate across class period.
  • Look for cross-curricular opportunities
  • Seek out opportunities to collaborate with experts outside of your school

⚰️ Is your classroom full of “dead” paper? ⚰️

Once distributed, paper becomes a static source of information. Paper is dead. Digital content can be updated, added to and revised on-demand. It’s alive!

How to build living resources in your classroom:

  • Select a single place where students submit work and receive feedback.
  • Create a class website that you can easily update on a daily basis,
  • Design a system to save new ideas and resources when you find them
  • Link classroom resources so that they can be easily updated and adapted
  • Have a plan for updating parents and students about changes to due dates and scheduling

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using paper in your classroom. But don’t restrain your use of technology to the limits of paper and pencil.

If this is something you have embraced in your classroom, I would love to hear about it! Leave me a reply and tell me how you have discarded the "paper based mindset."

Interested in learning how to actually implement these ideas into your classroom? Sign up for one of my online courses! We'll be exploring these ideas in greater depth and I will be sharing some practical ideas to help you get started.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

5 Ways to improve your use of Google Classroom

5 Ways to improve Google Classroom

Google Classroom is an outstanding tool for managing your classroom. Without it, simple tasks like sharing documents, tracking late assignments, and organizing class discussions would be very difficult.

Here’s the deal, most teachers are only scratching the surface of what they can do with Google Classroom! Posting assignments and receiving student work is just the beginning.

Today I would like to share 5 advanced ideas for getting more out of Google Classroom!

1. Use your “About” page.

The “about” page in Classroom is prime real-estate. Unlike the stream, the about page is “static” which means you can organize resources by importance. Only you, the teacher, can post to the about page so it doesn’t get cluttered by class comments or student posts.

How can you actually use your about page?

I recommend including anything that students are regularly asking you about or resources they need to reference on a regular basis. This may include login instructions to access your online textbook, a link to your school’s online grade book, extra credit opportunities, equations, formulas and other “cheat sheet” type information or enrichment activities.

That’s not all...

Rather than posting each of these resources individually, create a Google Doc on which you list all of these resources. There are two benefits to packaging resources this way:
  1. Your about page won’t become cluttered
  2. If you manage multiple sections of the same class, you can update all of your classes by updating the Google Doc rather than updating each class.
Here are two “about page” templates ready for use:
Make copies, add your own resources and post them to your about page!

2. Organize your stream with topics

The topics feature in Google Classroom will organize posts in your stream.
Why does it matter?
Google Classroom - Stream Topics
Teachers and students have both complained that the stream in Google Classroom gets crowded and overwhelming. Google hasn’t included a search feature for Google Classroom (awkward!). At this time, your best strategy is to create topics.
Topics are especially important if you have a year-long or very active class as the stream quickly becomes flooded with assignments.

The easiest way to organize your classroom posts is by unit. Topics are listed alphabetically, so you may want to list them as “unit 01” if you have more than 9 units.

Keep your topics to a minimum. If you have too many, they become difficult to manage and navigate.

3. Embrace Emoji πŸ€”

Using emoji characters in email and other text communication is not just some frivolous “millennial” activity; emoji can actually be quite useful for classroom teachers.

A recent experience pointed this out to me.

I took an online course from Tony Vincent. Tony consistently used emoji in his assignments to call out important details and tips. I had never seen someone use emoji to effectively. It was great!

Consider using emoji in your directions, assignments or instructions to help break up long sections of text and emphasize important actions such as “πŸ‘️ watch this video...”, “⚠️ watch out for...” “🀞don’t forget to...”
Adding emoji to Google Classroom
Here’s what you need in order to get started:
Install this emoji extension for Google Chrome.
The next time you want to insert an emoji, just click the extension, select your emoji and copy / paste it into the text field
Bonus: Tony just announce a new course “Classy Videos” that will start in January. I enjoyed his Google Drawing Class and would recommend anything he offers! More info here.

3. Schedule Announcements

Google Classroom has three types of posts - assignments, questions, and announcements. One of these is not like the others!
Announcements have some unique characteristics:
  • Announcements don’t have due-dates so they don’t show up on the class calendar.
  • Announcements aren’t sent to guardians
  • There is no way to track if students have read announcements.
Here’s the thing - because I can’t track which students have read my announcements and they aren’t sent to guardians, I only use the announcement feature for non-critical information. Here are two ways that I use it:

First, I try to connect with my students on a personal level with fun messages.
Marc Seigel has a whiteboard in his classroom on which he writes #wordsofawesome. These messages could easily be added to Google Classroom as well.
Google Classroom takes the hassle out of daily classroom routines and procedures which leaves us more opportunities to connect with our students on a personal level. Scheduling encouraging announcements is one way you can do this.
Marc Seigel (@daretochem) shares #wordsofawesome to his class every morning.
Ashlie O’Connor (@oconnorashlie) schedules fun holiday messages with BitMoji.
The second way I use announcements is for assignment reminders.
Are your students working on a big project like a research paper or class presentation? Students can get overwhelmed by big projects with far-off due dates. Use the announcement feature to schedule checkpoints along the way.
Here’s how to get started:
  • First, I create an assignment with the final due-date of the project. This is an important step so that the assignment shows up on the class calendar.
  • Next, create several (weekly?) announcements with statements like “There are now 3 weeks until your final project is due. By this time you should have identified your primary sources and begun working on our outline. If you need help, please come and see me during lunch or after school...”
Scheduling announcements is the secret!
The key two both of these uses of the announcement feature is to create the posts when you have time, and schedule them for a future date. Schedule as many encouraging announcements as you can in 15 minutes.

When you are planning your next big projects, schedule your reminders at the same time using the announcement feature. Do it now so you don’t have to think about it later!

If you have never scheduled a post in Google classroom, watch this video!

5. Record directions with Screencastify

My final tip may be the most helpful because it solves a complaint that I have had for many years.

Have you ever written out step-by-step instructions for a technology-related tasks? It’s super difficult and highly annoying! That thing that takes you seconds to do is an 8-step process that fills up 1/2 of a Google Doc!

Instead of writing out these instructions, record them using Screencastify!

Screencastify is a free screen recording extension for Google Chrome. You can use it to record what you are doing on your screen while you talk students through your instructions.

Not convinced?
The next time you are schedule to be out of the classroom, use Screencastify to create your sub plans! Talk about a time saver!

When you record and post directions using Screencastify students can watch it on-demand. They can pause, rewind, and follow along as many times as needed!

I use Screencastify so much that I upgraded to their premium version. At only $24/year it’s a great deal! You don’t NEED the premium version of Screencastify, but if you use it regularly, it’s worth the $24 to upgrade. If you are interested in upgrading, use this link and Screencastify will buy me a cup of coffee!

Why do these ideas matter?

By using these 5 ideas you can spend more time connecting with your students. Technology will never replace teachers, but it can free us up to do what we do best - helping students see their potential.

Have some tips of your own? Please leave me a comment and share your ideas!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Should you teach technology in your classroom?

Do you have time to teach technology skills to your students? Unless you teach technology, probably not!

In a perfect world, students would learn how to use technology in tech class and would APPLY that knowledge in your class as you explore math, science, history, etc.

Sadly, fewer and fewer schools offer technology class on a regular basis. If your school does, you are one of the lucky ones.

That means that a lot of tech instruction falls to you, the content area teacher. The goal is to teach these basic skills so that you can use technology as a learning tool.

So, what are the ESSENTIAL skills that your students should know so that they can use Google Classroom, Drive, Chromebooks, etc in your classroom?

I put together a list of essential skills for elementary, middle school, and high school students, including some resources to help teach these skills. I would love to send it to you!

If you INVEST time early in the school year to teach these basic skills, you can build upon them throughout the school year, using them to do awesome things with technology.

Did I miss something? Was this a helpful resource? Leave a comment and let me know!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Don't let your students do this with their Chromebook!

Don't let you students do this with their Chromebook!

This week I was providing training for a school. We had a cart of Chromebooks to use for the day. I pulled out one of the devices to take a look before we got started. Watch this video to see what happened when I turned it on.

Signing into Chromebooks is easy; signing out seems to be very difficult. 

Students and teachers will forget to sign out. Don't gamble; just assume it will happen at some point.

School administrators can configure Chromebooks to auto lock when the lid is closed. This will prevent uses from remaining signed in even after they have returned their device to the cart.

Here's how to auto-lock your Chromebooks: 

  1. Log in to the Google Admin console
  2. Visit Device Management > Chrome management > user settings > security
  3. Adjust your settings to look like this: 

Chromebook auto lock settings Google admin console

These settings force "lock screen" when the device enters sleep mode. Sleep mode will occur after 12 minutes of inactivity OR lid close. 

Lock screen requires the user to enter their password to unlock the device. If you are not that user, you will need to restart the computer to get to the normal login screen. 

This simple configuration can save a lot of trouble!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Make Email Great Again! ✉

Google is trying to make email great again...

When I started using Gmail it was a revelation. It was fast, easy to organize, and had sooooo much storage! Well, now it's 2017 and things have changed again. We get MORE email than ever before and are primarily checking mail on mobile devices. It's time for an email refresh:

Meet Inbox, by Google!

Inbox is a new, modern take on your email. Optimized for your mobile phone (Android or iOS)
Swipe to "snooze" emails until a later time. Create reminders (no need to email yourself!)
Smart reply (artificial intelligence at work!)
"Bundle" related emails together (like trip reservations) Get information without the hassle

Gmail isn't going anywhere, and you can use Gmail and Inbox at the same time (I do). Each has different strengths and they seamlessly sync together.

I would like to highlight my two favorite features of Inbox.

Information without the Hassle

I travel a lot. Finding reservation information in my email is a hassle. Not with Inbox! It automatically finds all of my confirmation emails, figures out that they are related (destination) and bundles them together. It also generates a simplified view of the email with all of the important numbers and details about my reservation. Awesome! Inbox does this with Invoices, Shipment notifications, and more!

Travel information is neatly collected and present in an itinerary.
I didn't do anything to organize this information! 
Inbox even finds my online purchases and lets me track a shipment with a single click! No more hunting for the tacking ID!

Google Classroom Bonus!

Inbox recently started bundling and integrating with Google Classroom! Notification emails from Google Classroom include a link that takes you directly to the assignment or question from the email!

Auto Reply

I have an iPhone. Siri suggests responses to my emails and text messages all the time. Her suggestions are lame.

The auto-replies in Inbox are....creepily amazing. This is another example of Google's research into machine learning (here's an in-depth explanation for those who are super nerdy!). Open an email and Inbox will suggest three replies based on the content of the message AND your own personal writing style. The more you use Inbox, the more accurate the replies become. Whoa!

As educators, email is a necessary part of our job, but it is not our job. The goal is to spend as little time as possible looking at email. Inbox will help. Furthermore, I anticipate that Google will integrate Inbox with Google Classroom. Look for some very cool student-focused features in the near future!

If you haven't given Inbox a try, you should! Just visit inbox.google.com. Just to warn you, there is a bit of a learning curve as it is a LOT different than Gmail. If you start to freak out, send me a tweet (@jrsowash) and I will talk you off the ledge!

Do you have a favorite Inbox feature? Leave a comment and let me know!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How to Teach with Chromebooks

“How can I use Chromebooks in my classroom? There must be more than just Google Docs and math games!”

This is a question that I hear a LOT. The Chromebook is an amazing classroom tool, but most teachers are only using a fraction of their potential.

Starting July 15, 2017 I am leading three virtual courses on teaching with Chromebooks. Each course will take place in Google Classroom and features practical tips for using Chromebooks regardless of the grade or subject that you teach.

Each course has a specific audience in mind - from the teacher who has never used a Chromebook to the one who only uses Chromebooks.

The cost for the course is $2.00 + the cost of my book, The Chromebook Classroom (Print is $24.95, digital is $9.97 via Amazon). The $2 course fee ensures that you have some "skin in the game" and will be motivated to participate in the course!

I want to help you teach with Chromebooks this year! Which course is right for you? 

Course 1: Developing your Chromebook Classroom - REGISTER HERE

Ideal for anyone teaching grades 6-12 or supporting the use of Chromebooks at the middle or high school level. This is an beginner / intermediate level course for anyone with limited or no experience using Chromebooks. We will cover essential tips and shortcuts, learn about apps and extensions for the classroom, and uncover 4 specific ways to use Chromebook for learning. 

A complete outline of this course is available here.

Start Date: July 15, 2017
End Date: August 5, 2017
Skill Level: Beginner / Intermediate
Format: Online via Google Classroom
Cost: $2.00 + Book

Course 2: Developing your Elementary Chromebook Classroom - REGISTER HERE

This course is specifically developed for anyone teaching in grades PK - 3. Elementary students CAN use Chromebooks! We will discuss strategies for getting students logged in quickly, identify the key skills you will need to help your students develop and explore Chrome apps and extensions for younger grades. This course is ideal for anyone with little or no experience teaching with Chromebooks. 

A complete outline of this course is available here.

Start Date: July 15, 2017
End Date: August 5, 2017
Skill Level: Beginner / Intermediate
Format: Online via Google Classroom
Cost: $2.00 + Book

Course 3: Developing Multimedia Projects with Students - REGISTER HERE

We remember best when we create. The purpose of this workshop is to help you begin incorporating multimedia projects into your classroom. We will explore project design best practices, the top Chromebook compatible web-based tools, and strategies for evaluating student work. This is an intermediate / advanced level course. You should be familiar with Chrome Apps, Extensions, and the basic functions of your Chromebook before you enroll in this course. 

A complete outline of this course is available here.

Start Date: July 15, 2017
End Date: August 5, 2017
Skill Level: Intermediate / Advanced
Format: Online via Google Classroom
Cost: $2.00 + Book
Register here

I am passionate about helping teachers create awesome classroom experiences for students. Chromebooks are the best tool I have ever seen for doing this. I want to help you this school year! Sign up and join me starting July 15!

Question? Take a look at the course FAQ document. If you don't see an answer there, leave me a comment!