Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't be Afraid of Doctopus...

As a teacher, there is nothing more frustrating (or “frightening,” it is Halloween after all) than trying to wrap up grading those last few projects created in Google and seeing this image….
It happens to the best of us, not unlocking the Google padlock to be able to share our work with the world!  Ms. Ruden, the art teacher the Middle School, has been exploring a product which aids in organizing class projects and makes it easy to share templates with a large group of students called Doctopus.  No, it’s not a character in a James Bond film, but a product created by an experienced teacher, who understands the difficulty in organizing 100+ electronic student projects.

Ms. Ruden is using the Doctopus Google Add-On to share a Google Slide template she created with her 8th grade students for a project about elements and principals of art.  The Slide Deck serves as a portfolio space, where students add photos they take to represent different art elements.  Doctopus automatically organizes all of the student projects into a folder in Ms. Ruden’s Google Drive and gives each student their own copy of the file that Ms. Ruden has ownership of.  So, there are no longer any permission issue headaches!

I know it’s Halloween, but please don’t be scared of Doctopus.  Once you understand the process, it can make your teacher life a lot easier, more organized, and help you to take steps towards a more paperless classroom.

If you’d like any assistance with trying Doctopus in your class or other technology assistance, feel free to contact me.

- Contribution from Amber Bridge, Grant Wood AEA Technology Consultant.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Google Classroom

Last May, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, Google Apps for Education previewed Google Classroom, a tool to help "teachers create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and communicate with their classes with ease."

That was welcome news for a few staff members who were already experimenting with the Doctopus script to make it easier to wrangle and access all the shared documents in their Google Drive. Doctopus did the job, but it had an intimidating interface and could be a little quirky.

The summer days went by and a few educators started sharing reviews of the beta version, but it wasn't clear that the official version would be released in time for the beginning of the school year. Fortunately for SCSD, the announcement for open access came on August 12 and a number of teachers have put Classroom into their Google toolkit.

Setting up Classrooms is easy and can be done with student emails (which pop right up as you start to enter the student name) or with a code that can be shared with your students.

(my classrooms)

(My alter ego, Junie Jones is a member of each of the 3rd grade classes)

Once your classroom is set up, you can create assignments and distribute them in a variety of ways and then edit and grade them. Best of all, the files are organized in a special Classroom folder in your Google Drive. No more hoping that students share properly or searching around for oddly named files on your Drive.

If you are interested in learning more about Google Classroom, visit the main site. There are also a growing testimonials and tutorials online. And of course, Jan, Maria, Stephanie or I would be happy to answer any of your questions. 

In the video below the demonstrator toggles between the teacher and student view. The student view is hard to visualize without a "dummy" student account to play with, so this is very helpful.

Here is another good one.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Reading, reading, reading

Every morning when I wake-up, I look forward to breakfast...
Image used under Creative Commons license via 

...seeing my son's adorable smile (I realize I am biased!)

...and catching up on the latest education and technology happenings on the internet.

Not necessarily in that order!

Rather than clicking through a handful of my favorite *education-related bookmarks to see if anything new has been posted, I access Feedly, an RSS reader.  Prior to July 1, 2013, I used and recommended Google Reader for the same purpose, however it has since been retired

RSS stands for rich site summary or really simple syndication.

I currently subscribe to over 200 educational blogs and content sites.

Some of my favorites include (learning about other district's collaborative learning team efforts), dy/dan (Dan Meyer is a former math teacher turned Stanford graduate student), Educational Leadership RSS feed from EBSCOhost (links to database entries whenever this periodical is updated), SCSD Media Services: Making Connections and the Iowa Department of Education's YouTube channel.

While I try to read all of the articles each day, inevitably the RSS queue can quickly pile up!  It is not uncommon to miss a few days reading and then to see over one hundred unread items!  Fortunately, it is easy to mark all as read or to sift through the items quickly using Feedly's keyboard shortcuts.

In addition, I try to spend a few minutes every few months pruning the feed (removing sources that are no longer active and seeking out new feeds).  The best part about having an RSS feed reader is that a person can customize it to fit his or her desire to consume content.  I think of RSS feeds as an individualized newspaper and professional learning source.

Do you have an interest in using an RSS reader?  I would be happy to help you get started!

-Matt Townsley


*In addition to education-related sites, I also subscribe to a number of sites related to hobbies and other personal interests.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Organizing Early

As a learner in school, our students have many obligations, especially as they get into older grades with homework, sports, extra curriculars, and family obligations.  As adults, we know the importance of keeping a calendar to helping us organize our personal and work lives.  At Solon Middle School, teachers are setting the stage early to help students have a strong foundation in task management by teaching them about the valuable technology tool, Google Calendars.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Mrs. Becicka, 6th grade teacher, about how the 6th grade team has implemented this with students.  Have you ever noticed the + sign on the bottom of a Google Calendar?
The + sign allows people to subscribe to a Google Calendar.  This means that the calendar will show up on a personal Google Calendar.  6th Grade students subscribe to their teacher’s calendar to be able to see all of their class schedules, homework assignments in one convenient place!  This is a great example of good teacher technology practice.  It’s easy for students and teachers.  Teachers only have one place to update and students only have to look in one place to see what is going on in classes.  Parents can also subscribe to keep up-to-date on class assignments as well.

It does take some student training to ease students into understanding the benefits of the Google Calendar, but Mrs. Becicka and the 6th Grade team are doing a great job at laying the groundwork for Solon students stay organized with Google Calendar.

- Contribution from Amber Bridge, Grant Wood AEA Technology Consultant. Want to share what is going on in your class or collaborate on a technology project?  Feel to to contact me

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Window in the Classroom for Parents - Photo of the Day!

The relationship between parents and teachers are key in helping students to be successful in school.  One of the ways to nurture that relationship is through communication.  Many teachers utilize technology to create newsletters, blogs, or even twitter feeds to communicate with parents and the community about what is going on in school.  

I came across a good example of this when I recently met with Mrs. Dibble, a Kindergarten teacher at Lakeview Elementary.  Mrs. Dibble gives parents a quick snapshot of what is going on in her class in an easy and quick way.  She has created a page on her classroom website called Photo of the Day!  During the course of the day, Mrs. Dibble will snap a photo of what is going on in her classroom, write a paragraph caption for the photo, and upload!  So simple and effective!  Mrs. Dibble can create a Photo of the Day! on the fly in the classroom, because it doesn’t take up too much time.

The Photo of The Day! gives parents a window into the daily classroom environment.  Kindergarteners are so hands-on in class the photos help to reinforce what is actually happening during classtime.  Students can also use the photos to help explain to their parents at night what they did at school.  Parents can even subscribe to updates on the page to be notified when a new photo is added. The Photo of Day! has also been used to showcase student work created on the iPad.  It would be very exciting for students to be able to show their parents and grandparents how their work is online.

Check out the Photo of Day! to get a glimpse of what is going on in Mrs. Dibble’s Kindergarten class.

- Contribution from Amber Bridge, Grant Wood AEA Technology Consultant. Want to share what is going on in your class or collaborate on a technology project?  Feel to to contact me

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Layers of Technology

As we transition to fall, I think about grabbing a sweater to layer up.  Fall is all about layering to stay productive as the temperatures start to drop.  It was a different type of layering I observed when I visited Ms. Miller’s high school science classroom - technology layers.   

Her classroom is an example of students having a voice in selecting and layering in different technology to help them be productive during their science inquiry work.  Technology layers started with personal devices such as phones and tablets being used as timers and cameras to create a visual record of their experiments.  Mac computers were used in conjunction with scientific technology probes to help students more accurately measure the variables of their experiments.  The layers continued with Google Sheets help them with data organization and graphs, EasyBib for source organization, and Google Sites to create a student portfolio that showcases their project.


For me, this is evidence of many years of Solon teachers teaching students how to be productive with different tech tools in the classroom.  All of the prior education has paid off.  Students were active and productive, truly showcasing what it means to be an independent learner.  Ms. Miller has created an advanced learning environment by allowing students to have the choice to use different layers of technology.  And she has organized it all in a way which makes it seem as easy as putting on a fall sweater.  Happy Fall!

- Contribution from Amber Bridge, Grant Wood AEA Technology Consultant. Want to share what is going on in your class or collaborate on a technology project?  Feel to to contact me