Reflections on ISTE 2016

I have just returned from the 2016 ISTE Conference in Denver Colorado. Like every ISTE conference, I return both exhausted and exhilarated. I had a personal milestone at ISTE, becoming the Chair for the Independent School Educator’s Network; I am both excited and a little overwhelmed about the prospects of the new year. Looking back at ISTE, here are a few of the highlights.

Amazon Inspire

gallery-1467038201-amazon-inspire-landscapeAmazon announced the beta launch of its teacher platform, Amazon Inspire. It will be a free marketplace for teachers to access lesson plans, worksheets, and a variety of instructional materials. This is Amazon’s first serious step into the education market and I’m curious to see how it evolves. I signed up for early access, and you can to using this link.

Google Rolls out even more Tools

Google highlighted some very cool tools. One that especially caught my eye is Google Cast; this is a Chrome extensions that will allow users to project their screen wirelessly from one Chrome browser to another. It’s still in beta form, but holds a lot of promise. Google has also double downed on their programming tool Pencil. They have provided a lot of free tools to make programming with Pencil much easier and some tools to help you get started coding music, games, and art. It’s a great tool to bring coding into your classroom.

Microsoft Doubles Down on OneNote & MineCraft

Microsoft_OneNote_2013_logo.svgMicrosoft is putting a lot of weight behind OneNote (its powerful note-taking tool); paired with a Surface or other touch-based computer, it’s a great resource in the classroom. While I’m a great fan, I still see it reserved solely for older students (think High School and College) power users. It’s interface will intimidate beginners and it’s far too complex for elementary and all but the most advanced middle-schoolers. MineCraft was literally everywhere. One of my goals for the next year is to become more proficient in this tool so that I can bring it into my classroom.

Makerspaces are having a Moment

My good friend Vinnie Vrotny has been a makerspace advocate far before they were “a thing.” He put together and hosted our Makerspace Playground, highlighting cool activities and learning spaces that encourage exploration and creativity. Various themes on makerspaces and tinkering were omnipresent on the exhibitor floor as well as in various sessions.

ISTE is always an exciting time for educators, we get to see what’s coming and what has been going on at other schools around the world. I’m excited to watch these new tools unfold over the next year and then reflect on them again next year after ISTE 2017 in San Antonio.

5 Tips to Get the Most out of ISTE

This is reblogged from my post on Daily Genius.

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This summer, thousands of teachers will be descending on Denver to attend the 2016 ISTE Conference. ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education, is the largest, and sometimes most intimidating, tech conference due to its sheer size and the volume of attendees and vendors. I have been a regular attender of ISTE for many years and have learned a few things about how to get the most out of the conference. Here are my top five tips for getting the most out of ISTE:

Download the ISTE App

ISTE has a robust conference app that is free for users. There is a lot to navigate at ISTE: calendar, locations, vendors, and more. The app will have the most up-to-date information at all times – speakers drop out of the conference at the last minute, a room change may happen, or you may want to track down a vendor whose tool you saw featured in a talk. The app will tell you everything you want to know. You can look up workshops and presentations by speaker and topic. It is the best tool for sorting througheverything about the conference.

Single Out 2-3 Topics to Explore

One thing that I have learned is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of poster sessions, workshops, and presentations at ISTE. To prevent information overload, go to ISTE with a goal in mind. What are the topics or ideas that you want to learn about most? Do you want to bring Digital Storytelling in your classroom? Build a robust Digital Citizenship program? Want to up your Google Apps game? Is your district or school rolling out a new tech initiative next year and you need more information? ISTE is a smorgasbord of teaching and learning, so focus on two or three topics that you want to explore. This is not to say you should avoid attending an off-topic session that grabs your attention, but having a clear focus at ISTE will help you to get the most out of your conference learning experience.

Vote with your Feet

Not every session will fit your expectations. If that is the case, you should feel free to “vote with your feet.” In other words, if you aren’t getting what you want out of a session, then you should leave and go to another one. Time is your most valuable commodity at ISTE, so use it wisely and explore as much as possible. Move around, enter a session late or leave early, and learn all that you can!

Go to Networking Events

ISTE has a lot of opportunities to network with like minded educators and leaders. If you are a member of an ISTE Professional Learning Network, be sure to check their bulletin board to see if they are hosting an event. By the way, PLN’s are open-enrollment, so you should feel to join one last minute and engage with your peers at the conference! In addition to PLN’s, many vendors host happy hours or networking activities to help educators come together and engage as professionals.

Take Breaks

It’s easy to get lost in your ISTE conference and not realize how much physical and mental energy that you’re exerting. For example, one day last year I clocked over 27,000 steps (almost 14 miles) on my Fitbit! Don’t let conference fatigue get you down. Take regular breaks, both physical and mental. If you’re staying in a conference hotel nearby, take a break in the middle of the day to reflect on your morning. You can write a blog post or a journal entry if it helps you to process; enjoy a long lunch (perhaps with a new networking friend); or just take a walk or a jog in the city. Taking regular breaks will help you to stay on your game throughout the conference.

ISTE is the mother of all tech conferences, but you can easily tackle it if you keep these tips in mind. Instead of coming home a little lost and exhausted, you’ll return to your school excited, brimming with new ideas, and ready to tackle the near year!

You can now use Microsoft Office 365 on Chromebooks. Here’s how.

This is reblogged from my post on Daily Genius.

Chromebooks have quickly become an incredibly popular tool in schools. However, this has previously limited users to only Google’s productivity tools. One of the most common complaints that I hear about Google Apps for Education tools (Gmail, Docs, Slides, etc), is that they are not as robust as those you find in the Microsoft Office Suite. Now, with the recent upgrades to Office Online andOffice 365, it is possible navigate to the full Office suite using a Chromebook – or any other device! Office Online and Office 365 offer new, web-based version of Microsoft tools and allows users to create and edit documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and more using only your browser. Another great feature of these tools is that it allow you to collaborate with others (even if they don’t have a subscription). All of your Office 365 creations will be saved in your OneDriveaccount in the cloud, so no need to worry about saving it on your machine!

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In order to use these new office tools, you will need to have either an Office 365 subscription ($99/year for a home and family edition) or sign up for a free Microsoft account at Office.com (note that if you have a hotmail account, those credentials will also work).

An Office 365 subscription allows you to download the latest version of the software to your device as well as to use Mobile Apps for free. Recently, Microsoft extended its traditional educational license to include a subscription to Office 365 for Education. So if you have Office on your school computer, then you have the ability to create an Office 365 account and access more robust features in the Office 365 suite; speak to your IT manager to see what options may be available.

To access the Office Suite online, go to: login.microsoftonline.com and login with your personal or school credentials (again, check with your IT manager). Once you are logged in, you will see the option to access all of your available Office tools and then select the tool that you want to use. If you are using an Office 365 Education account, your administrator can determine which tools will be made available and which may not be turned on.

As an example, in my domain, I cannot access Mail or Calendar because we use a different system and Sites and Tasks have been turned off completely. However, here are a few highlights of what is possible with Office 365 on anyChromebook or Computer.

Office 365 Start

Mail

Not only can you now easily access your email via the web, there’s even aChrome app. Like Gmail, Outlook now threads conversations, keeping all messages and replies together. From the web, it is possible to read and reply to messages as well as to organize emails into folders. A particularly handy feature is the green “replied to” indicator to show when exactly you responded to a specific message.

Calendars

Much like with Google Calendars, through Office 365 and Office Online you can now also access any personal or shared calendars. Students can subscribe to class calendars and even create shared calendars for specific courses or groups. A really nice feature is the ability to view different calendars as tabs. This way, you can view everything or only the events on specific calendars. If your school uses a lot of shared calendars, then this could be extremely helpful for scheduling purposes.

Collaborating with Office Online and Office 365

A great, new feature of the Office Online tools is the ability to add collaborators to any Word, PowerPoint, or Excel file! Simply click the Share icon in the top right corner. A new window will pop up giving you the option to share with view orediting privileges. You can share by email or via a link (no need for a subscription)!

Once the document is shared, you can collaborate in real time, from any device (including your Chromebook)! All of the Office tools have robust online features and sharing capabilities. You can even collaborate on a PowerPoint Presentation, include the fancy transitions, and even present directly from the cloud!

Expanding Office beyond a hard drive and into the cloud gives Chromebook users greater options, more collaborative abilities, and access to a more robust suite of tools to expand their learning environment. Look for more information about these tools in coming posts.

5 New Google Form Features

This is reblogged from my post on Daily Genius.

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If you have opened Google Forms lately, you’ve probably noticed that things are looking a little different! Don’t worry, this Google Forms does everything the older version did… agoogle formsnd a few more cool things! If you get a little annoyed with it, you can always go back to the old version. Just click the little the man in the bottom left corner and you will be back in your familiar territory. However, if you’re feeling creative, check out the new tools! Here are five of my favorites!

See Responses, Live!google forms

One of the new features of is that you can view responses as they come in. Select the “response” tab and view a summary of the results or click on “individual” to see how individuals have responded to specific questions. This is a great way to keep tabs on your survey as it runs.

Insert video/image

Ygoogle formsou can now insert images and YouTube videos directly into your survey questions. This is great if you want to have students watch a video and check for understanding or to make a quick demo of a tool you want input on. On the right hand side, select either the “image” button or the “YouTube icon” to add your content into the your Google Form.

Multiple Choice Grids

A new question type has been added, “Multiple Choice Grids.” This allows users to rank a series of questions. For example, if you want to rank a series of new technology features, you can set up a Multiple Choice Grid with the features in rows and rankings in columns. Even better, survey takers cannot select the same column twice. See below:

google forms

Publish with pre-filled responses

google formsA new feature for Google Forms is that you can publish a version of your form with pre-filled responses. This is a great tool if you need to do a “run-off” of one part of your Google Form. To do this, select the three dot menu in the top right and then click on “Get pre-filled link.” A new window will open where you select the answers you want to pre-filled. Pre-fill your select answers and click “submit.” Google will then post a new link for you to share out with your pre-filled form.

Insert add-ons

google formsWith the new Google Forms has come a whole series of new add-ons! To include an add-on, click on the three-dot menu in the top right and select Add-ons (the icon looks like a puzzle piece). Browse through the available add-ons to include in your form. One of my favorites is “Form Limiter” that will close a form once a maximum number of responses have been accepted. Another is “Choice Eliminator.” I use this tool when I want to allow students to select on topic from a list with no duplicate topics. Math and Science teachers, check out g(Math) Forms; using this tool you can insert complex equations into your forms.
The new Google Forms brings with it a lot of promise for further advancement and greater usability. Play with these new tools and try out a few others!

7 Great Things you can do in Google Classroom

This is reblogged from my post on Daily Genius.

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Recently, Google Classroom issued a new update: posting a question. This reminded me that Google Classroom has come a long way since its original release. While it’s still a great place to assign and collect homework, Google Classroom has become far more robust in the last year. Here are seven great things that you can do with it.

google classroomAssign & Collect Homework Across Media

With Google Classroom, you are not limited to what type of instructions you can post or what type of work you can collect. As a teacher, you can post an assignment with written instructions or a video “how-to,” and distribute a Google Doc for students to edit and resubmit (just to name a few examples). Even better, if you have an exercise you regularly assign in class (a weekly journal or blog entry), then just select “Reuse Post” to save time. When students complete an assignment, they can turn in a standard Google file (Doc, Sheet, Presentation), files (from Google Drive or the hard drive), a video posted on YouTube, and/or a link. This means that students can submit multimedia projects in a variety of formats; for example, they can submit the completed video of a documentary that they created, attach a written version of the script, and include a storyboard completed via Google Slides (or even PowerPoint uploaded as a file or linked from OneDrive).

Create an Assignment, but Save it as a Draft to Assign Later

Most teachers work ahead. Originally, Google Classroom offered no flexibility when posting assignments. When you wrote it, you had to publish it. Now, you can create an assignment and instead of hitting “assign,” click the down arrow next to it and select “save as draft.” Then you can publish it when you are ready! Now, keep asking Google to allow us to schedule when it should post and I’ll be a happy teacher!

Post an announcement

You can tell your students about a delayed quiz, remind them you are meeting in the computer lab, or make any other announcement to your students. Click on the plus button on the bottom right and select “Create an Announcement.” Just like assignments, you can save an announcement as a draft and publish it when you are ready.

Post a Question (Much more than a Question Tool)

Using Google’s new “Create a Question,” teachers can now post a question for a class discussion or a simple poll to check for understanding. When you select “Create a Question,” you have two options: multiple choice or short answer. With multiple choice, you can ask a question for a quick check for understanding; for example you can ask students to assess a short passage about a reading assignment or check how well they understand a math concept. With the short-answer option, students can even engage with each another by replying to one another’s comments. This is a great resource for an online class discussion.

Take your time Grading

One of my favorite new features in Google Classroom is that now I can take my time grading. With longer assignments, like essays, it was a challenge to effectively grade them. I would generally keep a spreadsheet where I recorded their grades and comments and then transpose them to Classroom when it was time to return the graded assignment. Now, Google Classroom will save your grades as you progress. Students don’t see grades until you hit the return button. No more using multiple tools or pulling an all nighter to grade big assignments.

Team Teach your Classgoogle classroom

Google Classroom is also no longer limited to one teacher per class. Now you can invite another teacher to your class. This is great for teachers who team-teach, student-teachers with a mentor, or a way to collaborate on classes across the school. To add a teacher to your class, open your course, click on “About” and then click on “Invite Teacher.” Simply enter the teacher’s email address and invite them to your course.

Google Calendar Integration

Now, assignments appear in your Google Calendar. This is a great way for students to keep track of their homework at a glance. Classes are uniquely color coded (they can change them in the calendar app). Students can even set the calendar to give them email, pop up, or sms reminders in advance.

No doubt Google Classroom will continue to evolve over time and more features will be added (like scheduling a post!). These robust features make Google Classroom an even more powerful tool in teaching and learning.

Who Needs Handwriting?

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a reader of my blog, you know that I am a fan of the Freakonomics Podcast. While educators are hardly economists, they address so many topics that are necessary to success in business as well as life. Today’s podcast release is something that is currently a hot topic in education: “Should we still teach handwriting?”

This question evokes some of the most surprisingly volatile reactions in people. This weeks episode highlights some of the key things to consider as we explore the role that handwriting and hand-written note-taking play in education and child development:

  • “What students always learned” really only goes back to about 1890…
  • Why is penmanship and handwriting connected to intelligence and should it be?
  • Slowing down via handwriting vs. typing  has been associated with a deeper and more provocative thought process.
  • Combing the mechanics of writing with thought stimulates areas of the brain associated with creativity.

If you would like to explore how economists look at this issue, check out: “Who Needs Handwriting?”

a free Podcast by Freakonomics Radio.

3 Free Map Creators

This is reblogged from my post on FreeTech4Teachers.

Maps are a great way for students to navigate their understanding of different topics. While it is useful for geography (of course), students can also use mapping to increase their understanding of a story in English, a lesson in History, studies in Ecology, and more. Here are three FREE tools that allow students and teachers to create interactive maps, and they don’t require a login!

Zee Maps

Zee Maps allows users to create interactive maps online for free (or an added fee for additional features). At the free level, it does not require a login. Users can import data from an existing spreadsheet or manually input information as they build their map. Users can add multimedia (images, video, or audio) in their markers and color code specific regions (zip codes, states, countries, etc). Another cool feature is that users can crowd-source information from their followers.

NatGeo Mapmaker Interactive

NatGeo has introduced a really cool, interactive map maker to the market. In addition to the traditional mapping tools of markers and shapes/colors, users can use a variety of base maps…

To read more, see my post on FreeTech4Teachers.