Thursday, September 26, 2013

VoiceThread For All at Leyden

A few Leyden teachers have been effectively using VoiceThread with their students for a couple years and, with our evolution into a 1:1 district last year, word has been spreading fast and many other teachers have expressed interest in utilizing this tool.  After consulting our department chairs, we learned there was enough interest to warrant a district license.  As of today, all Leyden teachers and students have access to VoiceThread.  Since we already use Google Apps for Education, VoiceThread seamlessly integrates as a domain app that shows up in the Google More menu along with the other tools we have installed.

Since all of our students have Chromebooks, once they log into their device they are already logged into their Google Apps account and clicking on VoiceThread from the MORE menu does not require any additional authentication.  Single sign on is a beautiful thing!

So, what is VoiceThread anyway?  Basically, it's an online tool that allows you to upload many different types of media, such as images, videos, documents, and presentations into an online format that allows for group conversations.  Those you share your VoiceThreads with can leave comments via text, audio recording, webcam, and even text messages.  In addition, the doodle feature allows those making comments to draw directly on the media.  For more into, play the embedded VoiceThread below.

I'd love to hear more about how VoiceThread is being used both here at Leyden and at other schools.  Please comment on this post to share your VoiceThread enhanced activities.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Manage non-Google Assignments in Teacher Dashboard

Yesterday, while cruising up I-57 back from the University of Illinois in Champaign after presenting at the AdvancEd conference, Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey) started up a conversation that began with his now famous "I have an idea..."  In this case, it was more like "I really wish..."  Basically, we were talking about how well Teacher Dashboard has been working for us at Leyden and Jason was suggesting how great it would be if our teachers could also manage assignments involving non-Google Apps tools in TD.  I reminded him about my digital dropbox idea which uses a single Google Form to collect the URL's of each non-Google project.  While he agreed that method was working for some teachers, it still required them to leave Teacher Dashboard and did not provide an easy method for providing the students with feedback without utilizing some scripts.  After a little brainstorming, here's an idea I came up with.

  • Teachers could create a Google Doc template (text or spreadsheet) for an activity/project/assignment that involves a tool other than Google Docs or Blogger, which are currently managed in Teacher Dashboard (i.e. Glogster, VoiceThread, Themeefy, YouTube, WeVideo, etc.).  By the way, I'm a huge proponent for assigning an objective to students and letting them pick their own way of demonstrating their learning (see Student Choice Leads to Creativity).
  • The template should include at least a spot for the students to paste in the URL of their products, but could also include things like a rubric, project check list, reference list, etc.
  • Teachers would then use the Smart Copy tool in Teacher Dashboard to push out the template to each student.  This automatically creates an individual copy of the template in each students' appropriate subject folder in their Google Drive with edit rights for the teacher.  And, of course, the teacher gets to control the name of these documents.
  • Teachers can then use the filter option when viewing their class in Teacher Dashboard to view just the links to each specific activity/project/assignment document.  By opening each document, the teacher would be able to see the link to the student's product, add notes or comments, possibly add grades, check off items in a check list, and other options for interacting with the student throughout the process of the activity/project/assignment.

I'd be very interested to hear from anyone that tries out this idea to learn how it works for you and/or how it can be improved.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Get Animated Images Created For You By Google+

In case you missed the news about the Auto Awesome feature roll-out in Google+ a while back, if you upload a series of photos taken in succession (at least 5) into Google+, Auto Awesome will automatically stitch the photos into a repeating animation.  You can turn Auto Awesome on/off in your Google+ settings:

Here's the first one I created of my 2-year old dancing in our kitchen.

In addition to creating motion images, there are four other Auto Awesome features:  HDR, Smile, Pano, and Mix.  You can read more about them here.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Searching - One of the most important skills you need to learn today

Today, just about anything you want to learn is available at your fingertips.  The key is knowing how to effectively and efficiently find what you're looking for and validate that it's accurate information.  The search tools and apps are becoming more sophisticated by the day, but there are still searching strategies and tips that everyone should know to help improve your results and get to the answers you seek.  We all occasionally complain that we don't have enough time, so better searching should help you acquire a few more precious moments in your day.

Better searching could also save you from making a big mistake....

Or save the day in a tight pinch...

Or make you a hero with your kids...

Or even land you that dream job...

While these examples are fun, often times the problem you are trying to solve or the research you are trying to gather requires you to dig deeper than the first hits you get from a simple search.  I believe that searching should be taught or reviewed in every class, regardless of grade level, at the beginning of each year.  Heck, I'd even go so far as to say that we should consider making it part of high school graduation requirements in some way.  Maybe one day.  Until then, there are lots of opportunities to improve your searching skills on your own.  For many, including me, the search engine of choice is Google and there are two phenomenal self-paced courses that you can take at any time to help you learn the power searching skills you need.  Even if you don't want to go through the courses, the brief videos would still be worth your time to watch.  I strongly recommend that you check them out at