Sunday, September 27, 2015

Linking Our Book Reviews to QR Codes to Share with a Wider Audience

In the last three years, two factors led to a major decline in the number of books being checked out from our school's media center: Changing from a block schedule to a traditional, seven-period day schedule and putting a Chromebook in the hands of each student through our 1:1 technology initiative. Honestly, I fully support each of these changes. Teaching on the block schedule held some advantages, but I struggled with forging strong relationships with students when they knew they'd spend just a semester with me. I hated the feeling that they left me, never to return, when I had finally figured out how to best help each of them. I welcomed the traditional schedule for these reasons, and my relationships are stronger and my students are growing more. I also love technology; our Chromebooks have allowed experiences and creations we would never have been able to do without them, like Epic Rap Battles and Digital Text Annotation.

But the traditional, seven-period day made so many of my colleagues feel the need to rush. Even though they had the time, the shortened periods made them feel like they had less time. The first things they cut were projects that required even more time by leaving their classrooms and going to the media center. The media center also used to be a popular place for students during study hall before a Chromebook was available to them 24/7. I would write passes each day for students who wanted to access technology in the media center during their study hall time, for the media center housed the majority of tech in our building. Our Chromebooks enabled them to have even better access without making the extra trip.
Creative Commons photo via Flickr

As a language teacher and lover of books, hearing my colleagues in the media center lament the drastic decline in circulation made me sad. I have so many amazing memories of book talks with my school librarian, participating in summer reading programs and book clubs, and those few teachers who would set aside time in class for us to read books that we had chosen for ourselves. And so I decided to take action rather than remain sad.

If I want my students to read and visit the media center, then reading and going to the media center need to be priorities. I need to take time for class visits and time in class to read our choice books. Even more importantly, I need to talk to students about their books, help them find the right books for their interests and abilities, and help them share their opinions with each other, our school, and the world.

To share with each other and the school, I decided to have students record book reviews, link them to QR codes, and received permission from our media specialist to place the QR codes on the books in the library. This way anyone with a Chromebook (which is everyone in our school) or a smart phone could easily listen to the reviews and get advice about choosing that particular book! Here's the assignment I gave my students!
Creative Commons photo via Flickr

As for sharing with the world, I have asked all of my students to seek parent permission to set up "professional" Twitter accounts using their school email addresses. Through these accounts, I have encouraged them to share photos of their books using #shelfieWednesday and even promoted the Sunday night #Read4fun chat where people (mostly educators) share reviews and recommendations. While not all of my students are there yet, they're slowly getting on board with my love of reading and they love any excuse to use social media!

Our media specialist has already noticed a sharp increase in circulation, as well as a decrease in overdue books. Since I paln to do the same or a similar project each quarter of the school year, we should be able to provide many reviews as we reshape our media center's identity!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ten Reasons Google Drawings Should Be on Your Classroom Radar

Since learning more about Google Drawings at last year's EdTechTeam Indiana Summit featuring Google Apps for Education, I can't stop using them! Google Drawings are a fantastic, highly underutilized tool for classroom use. As I've experimented with them and found even more uses, here are my top ten reasons you should give Google Drawings a try!

1. Interactive Posters
With essentially a blank canvas, students and teachers can create posters with text, photos, and hyperlinks to any number of resources. Even better, since Drawings are collaborative like other Google Apps, groups of people can be working on the same drawing! Check out this characterization poster with text evidence a five student group was able to create in about twenty minutes!

2. Text Annotation/Close Reading
Using a photo of the text on the poster or as the background, students can add arrows, shapes, hyperlinks to videos, websites, or other Google Docs to explain the text. Check out my post on annotating text with Google Drawings for more details!

3. Graphic Organizers
Easily create colorful, custom graphic organizers for students. Since we can type right in the Google Drawing, even on top of the shapes, we can go paperless with these organizers without the hassle of trying to edit PDFs. Here's a plus delta chart I created for students to examine Odysseus's leadership in Part 1 of The Odyssey!

4. Manipulatives
With the ability to drag and re-arrange the pieces of the drawing, students could easily be using virtual manipulatives (and you or an aide wouldn't have all that time invested in cutting out and laminating all the pieces!). Matching terms or labeling a diagram becomes a quick, visual activity. I used this vocabulary matching as a formative assessment midway through our unit!

5. Create a Digital Signature
While this is much easier with a touch screen and a stylus, it can be done with a mouse or on a track pad with a little practice. Just choose the "scribble" option to start writing!

6. Mind Maps
Make organizing, connecting, and hypothesizing about ideas visible through Mind Maps. Quick drafts could be made with shapes, arrows, and connectors!

7. Sketchnoting
With a complete source of options for colors, shapes, fonts, lines, and even freehand with the scribble option, students and teachers could create beautiful sketchnotes to visualize information! With the addition of a hyperlink, the sketchnote could provide access to the inspiration for it with just one click!

8. Timelines
A Colleague teaching Junior English American Literature and I brainstormed an awesome project where students would add to a Google Drawings timeline after covering each literary movement, insert links to literature, videos, and images, and then blog about how the ideas and style of that movement are still impacting our culture today. Students can even link their blog posts to the timeline! The beginnings might look something like this.

9. Storyboard
The ability to link images, your own and others, to the Google Drawing and to use connectors, colors, links, and text make this a natural vehicle for Storyboards to recap media, or better yet to plan student media creations!

10. Create custom backgrounds for Google Slides
First download the Google Drawing as an image. Next, open a Google Slides presentation. Choose "background," then "image," and select your file.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sharing Files and Folders Across Google Accounts

My sister-in-law started a new job in a new school system just a few weeks before school started, and for the first time she has access to all that Google Apps For Education has to offer. As she discussed how much easier her job is now that she has the collaboration abilities of GAFE, she had some questions about how to make her unique situation easier to manage.

My sister-in-law actually has two Google Apps for Education accounts to use; she was hired as an employee of the public school system as the intervention specialist for the K-8 parochial school whose students eventually attend the public high school. The parochial school has a separate domain, and she has trouble keeping track of where she has saved the files she needs. I suggested sharing all of her files with both accounts so she has access no matter which account she is signed into at any given moment, and I created this short tutorial to help. This could also be helpful if you use a personal Google account and a GAFE account regularly and would like to share files with both. Happy sharing!