Monday, May 20, 2019

Reflection ... and a Look Ahead ... You Can Do

I had an unexpected conversation last week that led to some great thinking and sharing. In order to explain, I'll need my "soapbox" ... in honor of Jake Miller of the Educational Duct Tape podcast.

I was returning a repaired Chromebook to a 4th grade classroom at the end of the day and I ended up chatting with the teacher for a bit. I had just spent time with two of her classes. We had been cleaning up their Google Drives in preparation for them to move to our middle school this fall. (This is a great opportunity to teach them some digital organization: the 2 views of Drive, how to keep/remove "Quick Access", make folders, delete/move items, etc ... but that's a topic for another blog.)

I asked the teacher if there was anything else she would like to cover or anything she wished we could do. She mentioned her wish that students couldn't change their backgrounds. I paused for a minute before responding. [This isn't the first time I've encountered this wish.] And I simply asked, "Why?"

She proceeded to tell me how students spend a lot of time changing the backgrounds and some aren't super appropriate. She also feels it's just a time sucker. I agreed - because it can be a time sucker - and having knowledge of the Google Admin Console, I know full well we can restrict this. I met her eye and told her this was in fact possible. She looked slightly surprised, so I quickly continued. 

Ahem .... enter ..... my soapbox ......

We live in a digital world and in our district, we are 1:1 with Chromebooks from 1st through 12th grade. (We even have a mix of iPads and Chromebooks in our kindergarten classrooms.) We provide them with digital accounts and access to various programs to enhance their learning. We want, no - we expect our students to use them. We want them to create using them. We also expect the students take care of the devices. And we know full well, that long after they stop coming in our doors, they will be employed in a job that can almost be guaranteed to use a device of some kind. 

So this leads me to the following ...

Should we restrict everything? 

If not, how much do we restrict?

Is this in their best interest? Or ours?

Is this a good philosophy to utilize? 

Do we do this to maximize learning time and minimize distractions?

OR . . . do we use this as another teaching and learning opportunity? 

We would never expect a 1st grader to read and understand a book written by Shakespeare or solve complex physics problems. In that same thinking, we can't expect them to understand how to do (or not do) things on a device until we scaffold and teach them and provide time and opportunity to practice.

I proposed to her the following idea ... We want them to want to take care of their Chromebook. So, what if, next year, they allowed students to change their backgrounds? [Imagine her surprise! ... but let me continue ...] I reminded her students spend a LOT of time on their Chromebooks and we want them to feel some type of ownership over them. I suggested she decide a time frame she (ideally, along with her team) is good with, and set aside time to allow students to change their background during that time. It doesn't have to be long, 5 min per month is plenty! I offered to be available to help with this. 

And when the time comes, remind them THIS is the time to change backgrounds. Therefore, if they change backgrounds at other times, it's not ok and they can handle that the same as when students don't follow other rules.

I also told her she has every right to deem backgrounds appropriate and inappropriate. In fact, this is a conversation I hope they have them their students. Often! I went on to challenge her to stop and think about it. I said I was willing to bet the vast majority of  the backgrounds ARE school appropriate. (She agreed.) And just like anything else, if a student has an inappropriate background, she can instruct them to change it and if they change it to an inappropriate one again, treat it like any other discipline infraction. (I even suggested that if a student violates this too much, change their background to a very generic one and then if they are caught with anything else, additional discipline will be incurred.)

The final thought I shared was this. If she has these conversations now this hopefully can translate into a long-lasting positive impact on them as they grow up. I said the likelihood of her 4th graders choosing something SUPER inappropriate was small, and she can use this as a teachable moment. We can't talk to our students enough about what is and is not appropriate in this digital age.

Now, as I step down off my soap box, I hope I have shared a little nugget for you to ponder. Will YOU be the teacher who dares to talk with your students about appropriate and inappropriate digital actions? Will YOU be the teacher who allows students to make small mistakes and learn from them before they are huge mistakes with REAL and strong consequences? Will YOU be the teacher who decides one conversation isn't enough?

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @kiefersj, or email me at

Monday, May 13, 2019

A School App You Can Do

A few months ago, I wrote about creating an "app" using Google Slides, "Your Very Own App You Can Do". I focused on using it for our traveling purposes and even shared a template for one. There are many good ideas packed into that article.

I'm back with one geared specifically for a teacher to use as communication in and for the classroom. Newsletters are good, emails are better, digital platforms allowing direct communication even better, but to have something that will allow a constant stream of communication is ideal. As much as I love using Google Slides to create this method of communication, I firmly believe only YOU will know if it is best for your students, their parents, and your situation.

There are so many pieces to communicate as a teacher. But, as a teacher - one who uses these pieces every day multiple times a day - it doesn't feel like a big deal to navigate between all of them. As a parent, it's overwhelming and even aggravating! (Especially if you have children at different schools who use different platforms.)

Imagine this ... different pieces of your classroom brought into ONE location?!?!

It can be done!!! Using a Google Slide, you can organize, provide information, even link outside programs in a manageable way that makes it really easy for parents to navigate and use. And because it's a Google Slide, you can view it from the web, mobile, or tablets. You can also edit it from the web, mobile, or tablets.

I've created a template that you are welcome to make a copy of and hit the ground running! I've included instructions and tips for each slide, as well as the beginnings of ideas and placements. The beautiful thing about a Google Slide as an app, everything ... literally, everything, is customizable! The proportions, for example - I believe a useful app would be used mostly on a mobile device. You can change the setup of a Slide by going into "File", scroll down to "Page Setup" and then select "Custom". I maximized to proportions of the templates I created by customizing to 8.5 x 11 inches. However, if you believe most of your viewers will use your app on a computer, you may want to size it to maximize your dimensions to best fit a computer screen.

Check out "Your Very Own School App You Can Do" template. You can view it on your computer as a Google Slide. You can also click the blue "Use Template" in the top right corner and have a copy that is yours to adjust and manipulate to suit you.

If you click on this "Your Very Own School App You Can Do" link, you can view it on your phone like an app. When you open the link, it will open in your web browser, and then find the share button and then select the 'Add to Home Screen'. It will add it as an "app" icon to your mobile screen. This is a perfect option for parents, or students who use tablets. If

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Authentic Writing You Can Do ... with your Students!

I've shared several times that as a Technology Integration Specialist, I do not have my own classroom of students. Nor do I have any kind of regular teaching schedule. This allows me to work any teacher and any group of students! My goal is that I anything/everything I do supports classroom instruction and I love when teachers come to me and ask me to work with students. Sometimes, what we set out to do morphs into something else ... and it's always a good thing!

At the beginning of March, Mrs. Laura Counts approached me to help a group of her students. These 5 students had read several books by Sandra Markle (@Sandra_Markle) and had decided they wanted to write their own book, in her style. Laura asked if I would help. Wow! They wanted to do the research, the writing, AND the designing of the book! 

The overall task was this: the students were inspired after reading a non-fiction book to write their own book. As a group, they decided to research bird feet and each selected a bird. They would use their research to write in the style of Sandra Markle. Meanwhile, I would work with them to take their writings and make it into a book.

We set to work. I met with the students a couple times a week to work on the actual book design and on the other days, they would do their research. I had such fun talking through the design process ... we had a LOT of decisions to make! Which tool do we use? Book Creator? Google Slides? Something else? We settled on Slides. Then we poured over every detail ... the dimensions of the book (we literally pulled out a ruler to measure!); making the wooden sign; which font(s) to use - this was a BIG conversation ... do we all use the same? does each author use a different one?; whose page goes first? last? order?; gathering the credits for the images we used; and many more! I have to hand it to these 5 kiddos. They did an AMAZING job! They put forth their very best. It really shows!

A very interesting conversation we had very early on was whether or not Ms. Markle would

Sunday, April 21, 2019

#PodPeeks: Educational Duct Tape

I've not featured a podcast in awhile and do I have a good one for you today!!! I love listening to podcasts especially learning while I'm driving. Now that spring soccer season has begun, I have hour and half long practices twice a week. Perfect opportunity to listen to even more!

A new-er addition to my podcast rotation is Educational Duct Tape by Jake Miller (@JakeMillerTech). You may know him for his #EduGIF's (I'm in the hard-G club). I've been following him for quite awhile. I also find it super cool that he is also from Ohio! He's relatively new to podcasting, with just 16 podcasts published to date, but once he joins your rotation, you won't want to miss future ones. The combination of his soapbox moments, his humor, his all-start line up of guests, and just his way of sharing is incredibly relatable and fun. 

Obviously, I'd recommend all of the episodes, but I know how precious time is, so, if you are only going to go check out ONE, I recommend Episode 10 with Matt Miller. I'll be honest - I was super impressed to hear who his guest was, but what really took me by storm was Jake's "soapbox" moment on this episode. Jake takes a few minutes at the beginning of each episode to highlight/share something that has been impactful to him in some way. This episode, he shared about "adjacent possible theory" by Stuart Kauffman, and I was BLOWN away! Yes, yes, yes a million times! I immediately shared it with my curriculum director and she was just as taken with it. I love when I share something that speaks to me and know it makes a difference to others.

Ross meeting
The adjacent possible theory Jake shared completely altered our small group meeting later in the week ... to the point, I found out later, that the meeting was completely altered and  the adjacent possible theory became the focus. Becky - our curriculum director - "blamed" me. (I'll own that!) She played Jake's soapbox moment during our meeting and I kid you not, it seemed to impact everyone. I snapped this picture of our meeting and Tweeted it out so Jake would also know how much of an impact he made on us.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

During Testing Time, Two Activities You Can Do

Here in Ohio, we have entered "testing season" ... ahhhhh, the smell of spring in education.

Leading up to this, I've been going into classrooms and going over the test tools - which, while helpful, isn't the most fulfilling experiences for myself or the students. I know it's an important and helpful time - I never want the tools to be hurdles for the students. I want the students to be comfortable with the tools and how to use them so it's not a problem when it comes to the test.

Now for the upcoming weeks, my classroom visits will consist of "fun" activities. Trying to balance the focus of testing with lower key - yet still learning rich activities. I can't take credit for the basic idea - but I've taken some good ideas and made them my own. Both of the activities I share below can be used at ANY point in the year, as well as provide students an opportunity for "freedom" when there is time in your schedule. Both activities can support classroom activities if you are willing to stretch your thinking and allow students a bit more creative stretch.

I never claim that my activities are perfect, and often, I leave a classroom with a post-it note full of ways I can improve, adjust, add or subtract, or otherwise alter the activity. What you see below is version 2.0 of both. I created them & went into two separate classes, and walked out with my notes. I spent some time this weekend - around my daughter's soccer tournament games - adjust and updating. As always, please take what you find, and modify it to better suit you and your students.

Leveling Up with Pixel Art in Google Sheets ↬ a 2nd grade teacher asked me to come in and show his students pixel art. We did it last year and his students enjoyed it very much! (Several of them have reminded me of that this year as 3rd graders.) I decided not to reuse last years activity from Eric Curts "Pixel Art Activities for any Subject with Google Sheets" (it's a really good one to use!). I wanted to create something for 2nd graders that would allow an easy entry along with leveling up a bit, while at the same time being able to teach a bit of Google Sheets. I'm happy with the results and judging from their reaction, they were too!