More Google Goodness!

Last week I shared the Docs add-ons EasyBib and Table of Contents. Joyce Valenza highlights more of the most useful Google Apps Add-Ons for education in her NeverEnding Search blog:

Among the launch partners of most use in classrooms and libraries are:

  • EasyBib’s Bibliography Creator: allows you to search EasyBib and generate citations in MLA, APA or Chicago Manual of Style formats.
  • Thesaurus: highlight a word and synonyms appear in a sidebar box to the right of your document
  • UberConference: seamlessly organize a Web conference within Google Docs
  • Table of Contents: creates a clickable table of contents in a sidebar box
  • OpenClipArt: Find clipart from among more than 50,000 images and click on an image to insert it into your document
  • Kaizena Shortcut: opens your document immediately in the audio feedback app
  • ProWriting Aid:  offers a plagiarism, redundant phrases and grammar check
  • Template Gallery: allows you to select document formats, for instance: resumes, letters, invoices, calendars, planners, attendance sheets
  • Track changes: Manage the editing process when collaborating on a document
  • LucidChart: create and insert flowcharts, mind maps, and diagrams directly into your document
  • Calculator: a simple calculator appears in the right sidebar for help with basic math

Note:  Add-ons are not available for Google Spreadsheets unless you’ve installed the Google Sheets refresh.


Unleashing Genius Hour

Over the past few months I have been intrigued by tweets and posts from educators who have integrated Google’s concept of Genius Hour into their classrooms. Google used to allow (apparently, it has put the kibosh on this) its engineers to spend 20% of their work week working on pet projects. The thinking was that allowing people time to pursue their passions would increase productivity.  When the policy was in its heyday, Google claimed that 50% of its innovative projects were created from this time, including Gmail, Google Talk, Google News, and AdSense.


One of my focuses for the new year is to do more to help students “unpack” their individuality and creativity from what has come to be seen as the “confines” of Common Core standards. (Unpopular Opinion Alert:  standards are only as “confining” as the methods teachers select to incorporate them into learning experiences for students.) So when we returned from Christmas break, the first thing I did was survey my theater students about what activities, units of study, etc. they would like to explore during 2nd semester.

Responses to the survey were varied and included: “Study and create performance poetry; Write and produce a play; Read Shakespeare; Anything but Shakespeare, Read a modern play; Write a musical; Watch a musical; Learn stage makeup techniques; Perform another monologue; Write an original monologue; Direct a play; Film a Living with Lyrics video; Perform Reader’s Theater for the elementary students; More improvisation; Less improvisation…”  

When considering their responses, I realized that my students are amazing, talented, and creative, and I owe it to them to allow them to explore their passions, regardless of whether there is time to “fit it in” this semester. Thus, at 2:42 a.m. (or, what often manifests itself as MY genius hour) I decided I would pitch 20% time to my students. After sharing the video below, we were off and running! Students immediately began buzzing about their interests.

“This is SO weird. I told my mom I wanted to create my own YouTube channel for my original songs, but I have like NO time…does this mean I can work on this on Fridays?”

“I’ve written plays before, but didn’t get to do anything with them. If I write a play, and it’s good, can our class put it on for the school?!”

“I just bought a guitar and plan on self-teaching with an App I found, but with my new job, I don’t have time… can I use Genius Time to learn?”
ME: “Yes, and then how are you going to share with or impact others?”
HIM: “___said she wanted her project to be organizing a talent show for charity…My goal could be to master two songs that I could play at that!”

“I would like to organize a talent show or open mic for charity”

The only parameters I set up are as follows:

1. Each Friday would be devoted to Genius Hour projects
2. Students are responsible for arranging for what ever items they need in order to work on their projects
3. Students must complete this initial Google Form explaining the nature of their project
4. I did not require that their Genius Hour project be related to theater; however, nearly everyone selected something that can be related to the curriculum, which is great!

After the presentation in each period, students erupted in a flurry of cross-conversation. A few stayed after class to talk about their ideas, many emailed questions, one sent a link in a Google Doc and asked for my feedback. Literally HOURS after introducing the concept. My answer to all of their questions was, “Of course! You just have to find a way to make it happen.”

I can’t wait to see what they accomplish!

Additional resources for Genius Hour in the classroom


Best Present Ever? GAFE in August.

Though there are a plethora of individual, interesting, and engaging Web 2.0 tools available to enhance learning, THIS is the suite I crave for our district. My primary goal this summer has been to attempt to convince district officials, through emails, demos, and other means, that it is past time to provide students and staff with at the very least, a domain-based collaboration suite. Add FREE to the mix, and GAFE is a no-brainer! So far there has been no word on whether it will happen. In the meantime, these millions of users can’t be wrong … right?



So you wanna be a Google Certified Trainer Part II

In my last post I discussed the week-long workshop I participated in through ITSCO that covered the six modules and  tests that serve as the first step to becoming a Google Certified Trainer. After failing one test (ironically, the AppsMail test – I KNOW. My embarrassment called and wants it’s own zip code!) I’ve used Gmail for several years and never realized there were so many settings, options, offline modes, and ghost protocols, let alone the intricacies of IMAP vs. POP features, LABs add-ons, and Domain administrator settings) I was able to retake the test on the final day of training for an additional $15 fee. By the grace of (A. God B. Luck  C.Karma D. The Spirit of Larry Smith) I passed, and it felt like I’d won the TechGeek Superbowl!

Passing the six ninety minute tests (yes, you will use all 90 minutes for each test), however,  is but the first requirement in a series to become an actual Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer. Once an applicant receives “Qualified Individual” status by passing the tests, Google outlines the next steps, which applicants have up to 12 months to complete. From Google’s training site:

“Certified Trainer” individual applicants must:

  • Have previously achieved ‘Qualified Individual’ status.
  • Complete a case study demonstrating your experience in technology instruction and/or professional development. Additional strong references from school or business clients are required.
  • Submit a 2 minute video introduction about your background, role in education technology, and innovative approach to using Google Apps
  • Create sample learning materials and produce a short video which demonstrates your familiarity with Google Apps features.
  • Demonstrate extensive experience using and training Google Apps to educational organizations prior to application.
  • Commit to conducting at least 3 professional development activities related to Google Apps every quarter
  • View the complete application here.

I’m not worried about the videos. I have used Jing, ScreenCastOMatic, and a trial version of Camtasia to create How-To screencasts for my staff and students. What worries me about this venture is that we are NOT currently a GAFE district. Nor have we adopted any district-wide LMS. Our students currently do not have a way to transfer files from school to home. They do not have a way to co-author and create shared documents. Many outside blogs are blocked. All email is blocked. We allow students to register for their own Private Google accounts, but we our thin clients run an  old version of IE, which does not support Google Apps. In short, our students currently have extremely limited options for engaging in real-world educational collaborative experiences. Not that Google is the Be All End All of platforms, but it does have distinct advantages:

1. The entire suite, complete with storage, backup, security, apps, tools , live support, real-time updates, collaboration and publishing capabilities is FREE. Did I mention FREE?!

2. Read much more about the advantages Here

My hope for future posts, is that I will be able to document the implementation of  GAFE for Heath City Schools.