Sunday, January 3, 2021

A New Habit for a New Year: Schedule your Gmails

I am a notorious late night worker. I get my second wind after 9 pm and can be very productive into the wee hours. For years, people have asked if I ever sleep because the time stamp on my emails betrays me. One of the new habits I am going to try to adopt this year is to schedule my emails for during business hours.

It's been almost two years since Google added the email scheduling feature, but I still don't take regular advantage of it. In the one-minute video below, I model how to use the feature. There is a small drop-down arrow next to the word Send. Click it to reveal the scheduling options. Some default dates and times will appear, but you can also pick a custom date and time.

Let's say you're an administrator getting caught up on work during a school vacation. Instead of sending out emails that probably won't get read or attended to during vacation, schedule their send for the first day back from break. Now you're crossing things off your to-do list and increasing the likelihood that your staff will add these items to theirs. Or you're a teacher sending out missing work notifications at the end of a day. Maybe try scheduling those emails to go out so they are seen first thing in the morning. A secretary who has to compose the welcome back message? Write it days or weeks ahead of time and schedule the send so you don't have to add the welcome message during the return to school craziness.

I've known how to do this for a while, now I have to develop the habit. When I go to click Send, I'm going to think about my timing. If timing IS everything, this easy feature could mean everything to my work.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Year of Puzzles

Yesterday I saw this tweet Annie Perkins tweet and immediately loved the idea of this puzzle. The idea is to use the pieces to cover up everything except for today's month and date. I love puzzles, but this one is a special puzzle that changes every day! Annie shared this link so that admirers could buy one. I did and I hope people will buy one because, in addition to being fun, it looks beautiful. But, if I want to use this puzzle in my classroom, especially in my socially-distanced-pandemic classroom, with all my students, a digital copy makes a little more sense.

As a result, I set out to make a digital version of the puzzle. At the risk of venturing into long-winded-descriptive-recipe-blogger territory, I'll briefly describe my process. Lots of Google re-creations for me are Google Drawings, so I started there by inserting a Table. Then I used the shape tool to make a square that I used as a template to adjust the width and height of the table's cells until they were squares. I shaded in the cells of the table that I didn't need and added text and numbers to complete the puzzle frame. Then I copied and pasted my square template to build all the pieces out of identical squares. Then used "Group" to lock the squares together into the pieces. Voila! Digital puzzle. 


You can click here to get your own view-only version. It doesn't look nearly as lovely as the original physical version, but it will do the job. Make a copy (File menu > Make a copy) for one you can edit or share with your own students. When you click on a piece, you will get blue handles. Hover on the circular one to click and turn it. You can use the Rotate function (Arrange menu > Rotate) to rotate the pieces over if you need to flip them. I like the idea of giving each student a copy to solve daily, like a personal puzzle table. 

Final thought: It was easier for me to make the puzzle than to solve the puzzle!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Pro Tip: Restrict Access to Worksheets in Google Sheets


Let's say you're tracking data on students and you want to look at all the data for your students in one spreadsheet, but you'd like to share certain data on certain students with various people. Seems like it should be easy to give different people access to different tabs, right?

Several times this year I have wanted to have a spreadsheet where I accumulate data of one type or another and I share one or more worksheets (or tabs or pages) of the spreadsheet with people to view. What I have found is that while you can give people editing rights to certain worksheets, there is not a native way to restrict viewing access to one worksheet. I did find a workaround and I am sharing it here in case you also need this functionality. I admit that the workaround is not as easy as clicking the share button and making some changes, but it's not as hard as it might initially look either.

  1.  Create a spreadsheet that will hold all the data that you want to share. This will be your master copy of the data that only you can access. Organize the data in a way that will make it easy to export and share.
  2. Create another spreadsheet that will pull data from the master copy. This new spreadsheet is the one you will share with viewers.
  3. In the spreadsheet you will share, click in cell A1 and type this formula:


           Replace the items in red above with information from your master copy of the data.

spreadsheet URL: Copy the web address of the spreadsheet that is your master copy of the data and paste it between the quotation marks.

worksheetname: Between the quotation mark and the exclamation point, type the name of the worksheet (or tab or page) from the master copy of the data where the data you will export can be found.

cell range: list the first and last cell from the worksheet you selected that you want to import. The first and last cell will be separated by a colon. The cell range A1:J30 will import data in cells A1 through J30.

The first time you import the data, you may have to grant permission for the spreadsheets to talk to each other, but after you grant permission, if you update your master copy of the data, the second spreadsheet will automagically update as well.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Place for Students to Congregate

A collective cheer went up earlier this summer when Google announced that Meet would include breakout rooms this fall. That is, until educators realized that breakout rooms would only be available for GSuite Enterprise customers. Breakout rooms are one way where Zoom and Meet differed in the spring, so many people are anxious to have this feature in the Google tool they can access. I saw a tweet recently (I'm sorry that I can't remember who tweeted it!) about Congregate as a way to manage groups in video conferences, so this week I tried it out.

Congregate is in public beta and will accommodate groups of twenty so far. Sign in with your Google account and create an event. Once you have created your event, create tables. You can add seats to the tables to make your groups a particular size and name them table 1 and so on or get more creative. Invite participants to join. When participants join, they will enter the lobby of the event and can be seated at a table.

When you are seated at the table, a Google Meet opens up. Then you can video chat with the members of your table. You can see the Meet controls under the photos in the image above. Each table also has a chat function. If you move to another table, you end up in a different chat.

The host of the event can change the number of seats at the table or throw a table away. You can also see at a glance how many people are at each table. Within the settings you can change the color scheme, add a password to your event, and add dates for the duration of your event.I loved using this tool! I love the look of the tables and that students can move around. It was easy to set up and join with Google accounts. I love that I can join the tables and listen in on the student conversations and then pop out to the next table. While I am doing that, I can watch the lobby view for student movement or access the chat to check in. 

Now I just have to hope that Congregate stays free (at least for this school year) and adds capacity for a few more students. With those two things, this tool will enhance a lot of classroom experiences this year.

Meeting Students Where They Are -- on TikTok

Last year I joined the Texas Computer Education Association. They say everything is bigger in Texas and TCEA is no exception. It was a big deal - literally - when they offered a free membership and I snapped it up. In 2020 they offered free memberships again right around Teacher Appreciation Week, so I grabbed one up again. Boy am I glad I did! As part of the membership this summer, I have participated in several free "Lunch n Learn" webinars, fast introductions to topics. My favorite one this summer was about using TikTok in the classroom.

The thirty minute webinar was a crash course. The premise was simple - you don't have to buy into the social media aspect of TikTok. And you don't have to dance. Instead, use the quick and easy video editing tools of TikTok to make short clips for your classroom. When you have your video perfected, you can download it. Then you can upload to YouTube or post it in your LMS.

Teachers are masters at using a tool in their classrooms even though the tool may have been designed for something totally unrelated. My plan is to make videos that make chemistry more tangible. In chemistry, we do a lot of talking about what the particles look like, so that seemed like a good place to start. Thirty minutes was perfect for inspiration, but I needed some extended time, so I turned to my local TikTok expert, my teenage daughter. She showed me the basics. Choose a sound. Record a video (15 seconds, 60 seconds, or use a template). Add a filter if you want. Add effects. Add text. Publish publicly or to your private collection. Download if you want.

She helped me make my first video:

And I created the second one all by myself:


OK, the second one has some problems. In the spirit of sharing my learning, I posted it anyway. It's a work in progress. Now I know that I have to use vertical video. And everyone on TikTok can probably guess my age.

As I think ahead to the coming year, which will no doubt bring more remote learning, I am giving a lot of thought to engagement. One way to engage students is to meet them where they are, in their learning spaces, instead of demanding they enter ours. TikTok is one students space where I hope to meet them this year. Keep watching here, or on TikTok, for my progress.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Just in Time for Back to School: Nearpod Your Videos!

As we inch closer to the beginning of the school year, many of our favorite tools will start rolling out updates that make us love them even more. The first of these exciting announcements, for me, came from Nearpod. As of yesterday, they have incorporated interactive video moments into their already amazing presentation and student response tool. I was lucky enough to be in the beta testing group for this feature, so I am very excited to begin using it with students.

Nearpod already offered an easy-to-use platform for interactive presentations. Bring in a presentation, or build it in Nearpod, and add questions to gauge student understanding or weblinks, videos, and virtual field trips to deliver content and increase engagement. Now they have extended some of these interactive features specifically to videos.

Like presentations, you can grab a ready-made video from their library or bring in a video from YouTube, your computer, Google Drive and more. Once your video is loaded, click at various points on the video timeline to add an open-ended or multiple choice question. When you're all done, click Save. Then launch the video the same way you would a Nearpod presentation and deliver the 5-letter pin code to your audience.

When people watch the video, they will see a timeline across the bottom of the screen. Blue circles on the timeline indicate places where interactive elements are inserted so students will know when questions are coming. Questions pop up underneath the video and can be expanded to take up the full screen. Students can leave a question blank but they must submit an answer (or a blank answer) in order to continue the video. It is possible for students to rewatch portions of the video if needed. Want to see one? This sample will be available through September 30, 2020.

Once students have watched the videos, their answers are available in the Reports section of Nearpod. A very clean layout makes reading student answers easy. Navigation arrows in the upper right hand corner make jumping from question to question a breeze. The video report reminds me very much of what you see during a live lesson; it's easier to find what you need here than with a typical Nearpod report.

If you have used EdPuzzle or PlayPosit, you can probably already list some advantages of interactive videos. So far, this tool certainly does not do everything that those two do, but I like that this feature is now embedded in a tool I already love and my students regularly use. As I think about providing instruction this fall, and consider my options for experiments, I know I will use Nearpod's latest addition quite a bit. Plus, interactive video at Nearpod will continue to evolve, so I am expecting great things to come of this tool. I can't wait to see where it goes next!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Feedback Loop with Floop

In my live classroom, when students encounter a new concept, I check homework for completion and provide feedback (correct answers, worked solutions, answers to their questions) in real time. In my remote pandemic classroom, this was something I let go. I still provided answers and worked solutions, but I didn't require students to turn in their work, partly because I didn't have an efficient way to check it. I think that changed this week with my discovery of Floop.

Floop is a web-based feedback tool. With a couple of clicks, you create a class. Give the join code to your students so they can join with an email address. Create an assignment. Students upload their work, as an image or a PDF or from Google Drive, and submit.

Teacher goes into the class and assignment. Click on a student's work to provide feedback. This part was REALLY easy. Simply click anywhere on the work to leave feedback. A panel on the right will record your comments. With the flip of a toggle, you can easily add comments to bank (or not). This is great for those things we say over and over again (units! sig figs! show your work!). After you have the comments in a bank, you can just click and drag them onto the student work, so it is EASY to reuse your comments. When the student opens the assignment, s/he can click on the colored dots on the work to see the comments. Students can reply to the comments, too.

So far, it seems like a typical feedback tool, but Floop goes a couple of steps further. Floop is designed around the idea that providing prompt feedback and allowing students to act on it, while helping them receive and provide feedback will net bigger gains in a classroom than merely providing feedback alone. Once everyone has submitted work, a Peer Review can be conducted. The teacher can ask peers to look for something particular or keep it general. Peers provide and receive feedback anonymously with guiding questions from Floop. Students are prompted to support their opinion of the work with evidence, suggest improvements, and celebrate positive features. Following the review, the teacher can see all the feedback a student gave and received.

Student submits work and feedback is received. In order to complete the feedback loop, students can resubmit. Floop makes this very easy with the addition of a Resubmit button once a student has submitted the first time and feedback has been received. The teacher will then be able to click through all the versions of the assignment for each student. I probably wouldn't use this feature on my nightly homework assignments, but it would be great for lab reports or other similar assignments that might involve a couple of drafts.

Floop has been free for the 2019-2020 school year. Next year, it will be $7 per month if you pay for an entire year or $10 per month if you pay for a month at a time. They offer a referral program too, so if you subscribe and refer others, they get a discount and you earn credits. Want a discount on Floop for yourself? My referral code is kkvtly7. Type that in when you pay for it for $10 off.

Things I liked about Floop:
  • It passed the 15 minute test. In 15 minutes, I had a class and assignment ready to go and was looking at sample work (that I submitted as sample students from a separate account). The interface is clean and intuitive. Easy to use, both in terms of technology expertise (hardly any required) and functionality of the tool.
  • The price is right. I don't know if I would pay $80, but at $40, it feels worth it to have a solution for seeing my students' homework assignments - in their handwriting - and efficiently provide feedback.
  • I have not used a technology tool in my classroom for peer review. This one has that feature with built-in supports to help provide meaningful feedback.
  • This tool is based on research about feedback. It was created by a STEM teacher to fill a gap she saw in education.

When we teach remotely next year, I will definitely ask my students to upload their homework through Floop. Then I can check and offer feedback from my remote location. To prepare for this, I will likely introduce Floop and get them using it for other assignments too so it becomes part of our routine. I am looking forward to using this one next year!