Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Google's Personal Research Assistant

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This is the time of year when many of your students will be doing research papers of one kind or another.  I have a couple of invaluable resources to share with you and your students.  These resources will assist your students in finding relevant, reliable information while reducing wasted time scanning through massive google search results.

To start, Google has developed a new curriculum called Applied Digital Skills.  This curriculum has lessons targeted to several different age groups and contains a "Share with Classroom" link for easy distribution.  There are two lessons which specifically teach about Research.

Research and Writing  This lesson states that it is geared toward adult learners, however, it contains some great information for secondary students about organizing, planning and checking sites for credibility.  You can pick and choose the video lessons contained in the overall lesson to have your students review.

Research and Develop a Topic  This lesson is geared toward Late Elementary and above.  Part of the lesson instruction contains how to program a welcome screen.  This lesson can be skipped if you want to focus only on the research component.

Next, there is a an absolutely fabulous resource built right in to Google Docs for all students.  It's called Explore, however, I like to refer to it as my Research Assistant.  This amazing little feature will read your paper and offer suggestions for related articles, websites, images and more.  It will also allow you to automatically cite your sources in proper citation format with just the click of a button.  Check it out in the video below.

Remember, if you would like Andrew or myself to come and demonstrate this feature to your class, just hit us up and we will schedule a visit.  It's truly the best part of our jobs!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Lots of Good Googly Stuff!

Three Google Improvements You Want to Know About!

One of the features I love about Google is the "Send Feedback" link.  Look for the Question Mark or Exclamation Mark in Google Classroom and Google Forms.  Google is quite responsive to the feedback they receive.

One of these suggestions has resulted in a comment bank to the assignments in Classroom. They are also now testing a new design for the Gradebook which allows you to see all of your assignments and grades on the same screen.  

Google Forms Quizzes have a new beta feature called Locked Mode. This prevents students from navigating away from the Quiz in their Chrome browser until they submit their answers.  Learn more about both of these improvements here.

Currently, the Gradebook and Forms features are available only through signing up for the beta program right here.

New and Improved Google Sites

Think about using the New Google Sites for your next student project.  The New Google Sites has a very sleek and intuitive interface.  

We recently trained a sixth grade class on Google Sites.  The students really enjoyed using this as a learning and presentation platform.  In the past, we only opened Google Sites for Secondary students, however, after piloting this in a sixth grade classroom we decided to open it up for them as well. 

Click on the student sample below which was created by a group of sixth grade students at Cooper.  If you would like us to come and train your students in Google Sites, feel free to hit us up.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Clever 2.0

By now most of you are familiar with the Clever Portal for students and the convenience that it provides.  Did you know, however, that you have a teacher Clever Portal that also has many convenient features for you?

Can't find your Clever Portal?  Go to:

Here are just a few
  • Add links to the apps you want your students to access
  • Add your own Documents or Presentations
  • Launch an application automatically for all your students at once
  • Provide your own custom links that direct students to an exact web location
  • Find educational programs and apps in the Library, including many that will create accounts automatically for your students.
  • Remember that Clever is accessible at home as well.

If you are not seeing your Teacher Clever Portal upon launch, or the Clever Extension, your Chrome Browser is most likely not synced to your District Google Account.  This is a good idea regardless of Clever use.  Directions on how to sync your browser can be found below in Andrew's 89 second Tech Tip Video.

Below is my latest video on using the additional features found in Clever.  It will walk you through all the possibilities!

Links to other Clever How-To Videos

Clever Teacher Page

Clever for Elementary

Clever for Secondary

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Customize your Clever Teacher Page

Customize your Clever Teacher Page

Now that you have had a chance to get familiar with the basics of the new Clever Portal, let's learn how to get even more out of this new awesome resource! 

As you know, Clever is available for your students at home, which makes it a fantastic place to add apps, websites, google docs, and other resources your students may need to assist them with their schoolwork.

Your teacher page is a great place to keep a class syllabus, project requirement documents, announcements or specific video links.

Once you create your teacher page, (AND TOGGLE THE VISIBILITY SWITCH ON) your students will see the following icon or multiple icons for multiple teachers) on their Clever Portal.  Students simply click on the teacher page to view the available resources you have added for them.

Click on the video link below to see a step by step process of how to create your own teacher page.

Create your Clever Teacher Page - Video Tutorial

Monday, May 14, 2018

Google that Drawing!

Google Drawings

In this edition I would like to introduce you to a lesser used but powerful Google Application available on all Google Drive accounts.  It's Google Drawings!  

The methods we use to access and search information in recent years have changed dramatically.  How many of us turn to YouTube when we want to learn how to do something new? Google Earth and Google Maps take us places we might never be able to visit in person.  Virtual Tours take us on expeditions to the world's greatest wonders.  Simulations and interactive activities allow us to experiment and test hypotheses virtually. 

If the way we learn and retrieve new information has changed so dramatically, why are we still asking students to report their learning through outdated methods?  Why not ask our students to report information interactively?  

The example below includes links to videos, websites, an annotated image, a written report, an interactive quiz along with video summary notes.  These can be adapted to all grade levels and used with Google Classroom.

Label and annotate

Drag and Drop Activities


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Be a Screencastify Star!

Screencastify in the Classroom

Many of you have seen our Tutorial Videos on various subjects here in the district.  We use Screencastify to make most of these.  It's a very simple application to use.

Screencastify is a Chrome Extension that is pre-installed on all student Chromebooks.  There are many classroom activities that this cool little program can be used for as well.

I was recently in a 5th Grade Classroom where the teacher is using Screencastify to have her students narrate their Google Slides Book Trailer!  The kids loved learning to use this new tool!

Now is a great time to add this to your students' tool belts as they approach the homestretch of the school year.

Here are just a few ideas on how to incorporate this in your classroom.
  • Have Students Explain their Understanding using their own words
    • Work through a problem
    • Explain the main points of a story
  • Give a Speech or Presentation
    • Motivates the student to practice
    • Reduces anxiety of a live performance or presentation
  • Practice Fluency
    • Have students read a document, story or website
  • Practice speaking in a Foreign Language
    • Have students turn in a screencast of them reading a document, book or website in the foreign language
  • Give verbal feedback on a student work
    • Put the student document on screen and give feedback and suggestions while pointing out areas of concern or excellence.  
  • Have students create a Newscast, Book Review or Interview
  • Make Sub Plans for your substitute teacher on how to access your digital resources
More detailed descriptions and Activities can be found here and here.

Subscribe to the Screencastify Video Channel here.
Get the extension here.

Check out this quick introductory video on Screencastify.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Creating Content using the SAMR model of Tech Integration - Activities and Ideas attached!

TLDR?  Skip to bottom to find Higher Level Thinking Tech Activities

Vacaville Unified has gone Google for three years now!  It has been a transformative time throughout the district.  Teachers and students have worked on becoming proficient with the tools available to them through many of the G-Suite applications.

Many of you are already familiar with the SAMR model of tech integration in Education.  See chart below. 

At the highest SAMR level classroom tasks and technology exist not as ends but as supports for learning.  Collaboration becomes necessary and the tech simply facilitates the communication.  Questions and discussion are increasingly student generated. 

I really like Kathy Schrock's integration of the SAMR model and Bloom's taxonomy together. 

Now that our students are familiar with the Chromebooks and the basic G-Suite applications the next step is to help our students reach the higher levels of learning.  These higher levels involve Creating, Evaluating, and Analyzing Content.

We have several applications already loaded on the Chromebooks to help with these kinds of activities.  

  • Screencastify is an Chrome extension preloaded on the Chromebooks which allows students to create video tutorials or narration of a Google Slides presentation.  Use Screencastify to voice dub over a video.  See how HERE
  • Google Forms is a an awesome way for students to collect data for research projects.
  • WeVideo is in the apps section of our Chromebooks.  This is a simple drag and drop video creation program.  (30 day free teacher trial - then $199/year for teacher account.  Students can use 5 min/ month for free)
  • Google Sites can be used to provide students a platform to create and share multimedia content.  
  • Google Drawings are a great way for students to create annotated diagrams.
  • MindMup is a free mind mapping tool also available in the apps section. 

I've included some ideas and examples of Higher Level Learning below.  Of course, we always welcome your input and would love to share what you are doing in your classes.

Higher Level Tech Activities

Original Resources Found Here

Lesson: Writing a Short Paper

Original Assignment: A hand written paper.
  • Substitution: A Word Processor replaces a Pen/Pencil in a Writing Assignment.
  • Augmentation: A Word Processor and text-to-speech function are used to improve the writing process.
  • Modification: The document created using the Word Processor and text-to-speech function is shared on a blog or Google Classroom where feedback can be received and incorporated to help improve the quality of writing.
  • Redefinition: Instead of a written assignment, students convey analytic thought using multimedia tools such as Screencastify or WeVideo.

Lesson: Geography & Travel

A modification of an idea found at
Original Assignment: An overview of a location consisting of hand written content supplemented with compiled cut-and-pasted magazine clippings.
  • Substitution: Use presentation software (like Powerpoint or Prezi) to construct a presentation providing information about a selected locale.
  • Augmentation: Incorporate interactive multimedia – audio, video, hyperlinks – in the presentation to give more depth and provide more engaging presentation.
  • Modification: Create a digital travel brochure that incorporates multimedia and student created video.
  • Redefinition: Explore the locale with Google Earth; seek out and include interviews with people who have visited the local.

Lesson: Understanding Shakespeare

Original Assignment: Read a Shakespeare play in traditional printed format.
  • Substitution: Read Shakespeare texts online.
  • Augmentation: Use online dictionaries, study guides, history sites, to supplement reading.
  • Modification: Use multimedia resources like text, audio, and video tools to jointly construct knowledge, learning, and understanding of a portion of a play, or a character, as a group project.
  • Redefinition: Answer the Question, “What did the culture of the time have on the writing of Shakespeare’s plays” my using a Concept Mapping tool and constructing a mind map demonstrating key elements through words and images.

An Assessment Exercise

Idea taken from: and slightly modified. In this example, we take a simple form of assessment and evolve it into a collaborative group project.
Original AssignmentTake a quiz, answers handwritten in a printed form.
  • Substitution: Distribute the quiz in a Word Processor file format and have student fill in answers on a computer.
  • Augmentation: Use a Google Form to deliver and complete the quiz. “There is some functional benefit here in that paper is being saved, students and teacher can receive almost immediate feedback on student level of understanding of material.  This level starts to move along the teacher / student centric continuum. The impact of immediate feedback is that students may begin to become more engaged in learning.“
  • Modification: As an alternative form of assessment, students could be asked to write an essay around a relevant theme. The written essay could then be narrated and captured as vocal recording.
  • Redefinition: “A classroom is asked to create a documentary video answering an essential question related to important concepts. Teams of students take on different subtopics and collaborate to create one final product.  Teams are expected to contact outside sources for information.”

Lesson: Art/Painting

Original Assignment: Drawing a picture using traditional brush, paint, paper. Of course, there is a a big difference between doing this “by hand” in the traditional manner and doing it digitally – digitally is by no means “better”, it is just different and opens up some interesting possibilities.
  • Substitution: Use a digital drawing/painting program (like MS Paint) to draw/paint a picture.
  • Augmentation: Use a tool that allows the creation of your masterpiece to be “played back” (like Educreations, for example).
  • Modification: Pull a background image to use as a “canvas” – you could even scan something hand drawn and use that.
  • Redefinition: Create Artwork Collaboratively using a Collaborative Online Whiteboard.

Lesson: Learning Fractions

Original Assignment: Show understanding of fractions on a worksheet by coloring in blocks.
  • Substitution: Use an Excel Worksheet to let students “color in” the blocks.
  • Augmentation: Use Google Sheet to let students “color in” the blocks, where the teacher can offer feedback directly on Google Sheet.
  • Modification: Use Google Sheet and direct students to online examples and supplementary learning materials for areas that they might struggle with.
  • Redefinition: Use a Fractions App instead (There are several available in the Chrome Web Store).

Lesson: Phys Ed – Learning To Hit a Baseball Well

Original Assignment: Learning how to hit a baseball by watching and listening to a Coach or Phys Ed instructor show you and then trying it yourself.
  • Substitution: The coach/teacher videos the training exercise and uses this as the lesson.
  • Augmentation: The coach/teacher videos the training exercise and provides links to other training content (videos and articles from other coaches, etc).
  • Modification: The coach/teacher videos the training exercise and “flips” the lesson, having students watch it as homework, and using class time to practice and reinforce techniques.
  • Redefinition: Students watch video examples and practice the techniques, then the coach/teacher videos them hitting balls and provides feedback about their technique.

Google's Personal Research Assistant

This is the time of year when many of your students will be doing research papers of one kind or another.  I have a couple of invaluabl...