Saturday, December 6, 2014

Getting to Know Office 365 with my Students


This week I signed up my students on Office 365 as part of a district initiative. I sent home a draft waiver provided for me by the district IS department. 

Office_365_Landing_Page

Office365 landing page

On the first day, I got 22 of 29 responses back, all with a “yes” answer. 

Once I had all the waivers back I created accounts for my students one at a time.  There is the option to bulk upload names of kids all at once in a CSV file, but I chose to do it one at a time so that I could assign the students’ password.  I followed a naming scheme for login ID’s designated by the district, and create a set of passwords for my class that each student would find easy to remember.  Office 365 wants an 8-16 digit password with capitals, letters and numbers.

Unfortunately, even though I assigned the password (as opposed to letting my students choose one), I left the box ticked that told them to change their password after first login.  Because we did this as a class at the same time, I instructed them how to change their password so they could easily remember it.

I asked my four students that have their own laptops (2 have laptops purchased by their parents, two with old laptops from their parents’ businesses), and showed them how to login first during our silent reading.  They logged in, with no trouble. They then distributed a set of Chromebooks on loan from CUEBC (really awesome initiative) to students who didn’t have a device.
Some kids who were watching and waiting, jumped in and logged in on the own.  Kids who could login themselves easily helped kids who were having difficulties, or who didn’t remember where to click.  To make it easy, I put a link on my teacher website.

Our first adventure related to our Math class (which is what we would normally be doing at this time).  Each student open an excel spreadsheet.
I then gave every student $1,000,000.  Using only Black Friday or Cyber Monday flyers they found online,

Using a simple formula, kids added the 12% sales tax to the sticker price of their purchase, and kept a running total as they shopped.

Mr_Gill_Goes_Shopping_Office_365
The rules were simple:
1.) Shop only using online flyers
2.) Always factor in the taxes
3.) Keep a running total
4.) At the end of 20 minutes, MR GILL KEEPS WHAT YOU DON’T SPEND.
Students worked independently, or formed ad hoc collaborations.  In a frantic shopping frenzy akin to the real Black Friday sales, kids feverishly scoured the flyers for deals, deals, deals.  Students bought gaming computers, tablets, and leather purses.  This was not making enough of dent in their budget, so they started buying higher end items, like watches and jewelry.  One student found a 4.5 meter tall replica of a the Transformer, Bumblebee. 
I have no idea where he found it.
When they read out numbers, I discovered they were not fluent in reading numbers above 9,999.  This needs to be revisited.   I also found that they were talking about math, and trying to estimate and strategize when they were shopping. 

Performance  

Overall, we had students on Chromebooks, iPads, Android tablets, and laptops working on Office 365, and it performed well.  I noticed a little lag when Excel was performing a calculation, as did my students.  In some cases it could have been as a result of using lower powered tablet devices.  Or, it could have been our network speed at the time.  I don’t think I can attribute this to Office 365, but more testing over time will tell. 
Also we learned that you don’t have to hit save in the web app.  You can give your spreadsheet a name by using “Save As”, or by just typing it right over the word document.
Students are able to open Office365 documents using apps installed on their local devices, but then they may need to save their work as they go.  But at least it is saved in an accessible location, and needs only a browser to get to their “stuff”. 
Up next: tear-free grammar lessons, and editing dialogue with ease.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mobile in the Classroom: Office Lens


Who uses this handy survival tool? image What does Office Lens do? Something vastly better than taking a picture of a piece of paper.  It takes a picture of a document: image(Actual angle of document in picture) And then it justifies the angle, corrects the color, and makes cropping the picture easy. image It then sends it to my OneNote in the cloud!  (Adds to my Quick Notes section of my Personal Notebook)  On average it takes about a minute, possibly two with slower bandwidth to appear in my Notebook, while I am working in it.   What could be easier?  Putting resources in OneNote means I can then mark it up, write directly on the page, save it as a PDF, and then put it where my students can access it.  Also, OneNote can read the text in photos, so I can extract the text to edit it if I would like! I have been using multiple math sources to cobble together a combined Grade 6&7 curriculum.  With OfficeLens and my Surface Pro 3 and stylus, I can shoot different pages from multiple sources into my One Note.  I can then mark up the page of notes, and post them to my SharePoint at the end of each lesson. One ambitious student checked the notes when he was away from class, and was ready to make up his work when he came back to class.  This saved both of us a lot of time and effort. At conferences or meetings you can capture slides and whiteboard drawings while people are presenting.  Just keep writing notes, and the pictures you take in OfficeLens appear after a bit for you to put in place.  I use it for my daughter who benefits from using technology, and finds working with paper challenging. Other students  in my class that have adaptations for learning disabilities also benefit from using digital copy, and OfficeLens allows me to go from paper to OneNote – where kids can choose how they want to mark up their work.  I just send them the page from my notebook to theirs. Although OfficeLens is available for Windows phone and now iOS, I cannot find it in the app store for my friends with iPhones.  Perhaps this is available only in the US?  Regardless, keep an eye out for this app, as it is a time saver and a game changer!












Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Own “Hole in the Wall”

 

Sugata Mitra is one of my favorite educational researchers and presenters.  I was intrigued by this thought:

There will always be places in the world where good schools don't exist and good teachers don't want to go, not just in the developing world but in places of socioeconomic hardship.

His 2010 TED talk does a pretty good job of explaining his “Hole in the Wall” experiment on children self-organizing and learning, with the aid of a computer, and no adult intervention.  I strongly recommend his thought provoking and highly entertaining TED talk.

Pretty cool stuff.

Some members of CUEBC, the Computer Using Educators of BC, a provincial specialist association here in my home province, would like to revive the “hour of code” or other approaches  to get the average student interested, or at least aware of, computer programming.  This gave me an idea. 

One of my learnings having played with this Surface Pro 3 is with Kodu.  Kodu is a free program that introduces kids to the idea of computer programming by creating a video game with simple instructions and a Minecraft like environment. 

What if I combined the two ideas? 

I propose to put a Microsoft Surface tablet (probably a Surface Pro 3) on the wall of an elementary school hallway, about three and a half feet off the ground.  It would be encased around the perimeter in Plexiglas, secured to the wall, and powered.  I further propose that it be set to wake up when you hit the windows button on the tablet, and then it would be configured as to show Kodu.  Perhaps it would also have a few other apps too, but they would be quite limited in selection. Other than explaining that there is a tablet in the hallway, and that it is very nice, and can be used to make video games, I would then offer no adult intervention or help.   I wonder if kids when they go by the tablet would:

a) play with it

b) figure out how to edit Kodu

c) gather in numbers around the screen

d) talk about what they are learning

e) create something new

What could go wrong.  Someone could damage the tablet.  Someone could attempt to steal the tablet.  But, if reasonable precautions are taken, I bet the kids would find it an interesting experience, and would treat the tablet well.   Perhaps the tablet would be behind Plexiglas, but a Surface Touch keyboard would be open to the kids (touchable, but not removable).  They are quite durable! 

surface touch keyboard

This would further mitigate risk to the tablet.

I believe we need teachers, but I also believe that kids are able to self-organize and learn in the right situations, and think that Kodu would be perfect for this.  Imagine getting elementary aged children interested in computer programming because they like challenge, and enables them to make a world how THEY envision it.  One where they are in the driver seat. 

Isn’t that why people code in the first place?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Survival Skills for Digital Natives in the Analog Jungle

Part 1

Students in my class come with their own set of needs.  In this series of blog posts, I will be sharing some of the skills I am teaching them to help themselves in class.  I teach the whole class these skills because although they are targeted to some, they are beneficial to all.

Lost in Translation

Some of my students are newly-arrived from other countries, and they are paying a lot of money to attend our schools as International Education Students.  But, due to government cutbacks there is less support for these students, in class or in the form of pull out classes. 
I have a borrowed Surface Pro 3 tablet for my classroom, a 1st generation Surface RT and my own personal Windows phone.  All have the Bing Translator app.  This app allows someone to speak into the device, or hold the camera over some text, and the app will use the power of the cloud to translate.  There are offline translation packs available.  My most commonly used one now is Chinese (simplified)
When you use the translate app on the tablet, it allows you to easily toggle between translation direction.  I can ask a question, hit the switch arrow, and my Mandarin speaking student can answer back in his own language.  Below is a transcript of our conversation:
Back and Forth Conversation Using Bing Translate
Sometimes I needed to translate part of a sentence, sometimes we used it for the whole sentence in our conversation.  At the bottom is the two way arrows that we use to switch back and forth between languages. 
And on my Windows phone:
Bing Translate on my Phone

Wherever it is supported I use the speaker icon so that my students can hear the words spoken to them from the device.  This is because early in my career I read a book by Jim Trelease (the Read Aloud Handbook) which said that listening comprehension is higher than reading comprehension for children up to age 13.
I am told the translation is pretty accurate, and that the pronunciation is understandable. 
This is incredibly empowering for my students.  One student has now gotten his own tablet, and is writing Mandarin characters which are being translated into English.  He feels very proud to be able to communicate on his own while he is learning English as fast as he can.
It isn’t perfect, but it is one more way to equip kids with skills to advocate for themselves, and to be more independent in school.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Surface Pro 3 Part 1

 

Removing Barriers

My inquiry this year is around using technology in ways that improve student – teachers rapport and communication.  There is a natural tendency to focus on the new and shiny, but this year I am looking at using technology only where it makes a positive impact on student learning. 

But choosing the right tool can make all the difference.  Today I want to talk about meetings and technology.

Meetings are mostly about listening.  Meetings are sometimes about recording, and about making conscientious contributions when the moment presents itself.  Sometimes the meeting is in a room full of people, and sometimes it is with one parent.  Regardless, if you have your screen up, and keyboard clicking with eyes on the screen, some people will be wondering if you are distracted.
With the Surface Pro 3, I can use OneNote with my stylus in the lying-flat position.

image
This means that people can see what I am writing, and for some reason people associate writing with being on-task whereas typing may or may not be on-task behaviour.
By being transparent in my technology use, I won’t risk being distracted, and more importantly I will not risk others thinking I am distracted. 
Surface Pro 3 Tablet
Photo from Microsoft.com
I believe the Surface does this better than the iPad because of the finer tipped stylus, built in palm block, and great handwriting recognition native to the OneNote app.  While it is possible to accomplish much of this on an iPad, I have to use different add-ins, and I can’t save it to my server or my classroom website.  I could also save it to a flash drive, or an SD card as well if I so chose.Device or someone else’s cloud are my only choices with the iPad, which means I may not be compliant with FIPPA regulations keeping sensitive information in some sort of cloud application.
Now, let’s see what else I can make this thing do.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

ISTE 2013 Part 1

 

The first few days of ISTE were a whirlwind.  I got a quick start to the conference with a 7:30 – 11 am workshop with Dell on Sunday.  While they were showcasing some of their new technology such as the new Windows 8 Pro tablet, the Latitude 10, the session facilitator tried to keep the focus on teaching practices.  I thought he did a good job of getting us to talk to each other, sharing teaching ideas and experiences, and some of the apps he showed were as good as iOS apps.  However one thing remains a challenge for the latitude 10, and other tablets, and that is projection. I don’t have a really good solution for wireless projection of a windows tablet yet, but perhaps if anyone out there has a good solution, please let me know. 

The ignite speakers that preceded the keynote were excellent.  Michelle Cordy taught me how to “hack my classroom” for some out of the box ideas that bring more authenticity to the classroom. I also listened to a video game designer talk about how kids don’t want to be spoon fed instructions in games as learning the game is part of the fun. Also, you can’t just “bolt” fun onto the side of an educational game, and vice versa.  People who play games want to learn “through” them, not from them.

The opening keynote featured Jane McGonigal.  She spoke about how there are millions and millions of people playing games today, and that game playing is a good thing.  What really hit home was what people got out of playing games, such as challenge, feedback, and the joy of an authetic “win”.  I wonder how I can make my classroom teaching more game-like?  What can I do to inspire kids to try over and over again, and feel that learning is “levelling up?”  I was impressed with some of the large scale events Jane facilitated, like getting 500 kids into the NY Public library to write a book in one night as part of a game called “find the future”.

There is something to be said for banner events – and it makes me think I need to create a banner event in my class. 

More on ISTE 2013 coming in future posts, including what George Couros taught me about facilitating change in my school, as well as what I could do if I had one iPad in my classroom.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Support Your Local Co-Op

 

Due to budget cutbacks, our Staff Development department is going to be much smaller.  As a result, schools are going to have to look to themselves for professional development.  I had the pleasure of working with the staff of Coquitlam River Elementary once or twice a month for this year on integrating technology into the classroom. 

image

 

One of my last suggestions was to have people put up their hands and give a 30 minute session on some sort of technology in the classroom idea.  Two teachers said yes, with the first teacher volunteering to present on using MS Word’s “Book Fold” feature .

The format was to create a lunch hour “Lunch and Learn” 30 minute workshop, complete with a student sample, written instructions, a digital template so you don’t have to make it yourself, and of course a demonstration of how to create a book using the book fold feature. 

This lunch hour workshop adds no time onto the teacher’s day, makes for “easily digestible” concepts, and provides support so teachers can use the idea right away. 

But how many teachers are interested in integrating technology into their classroom?  I found that about half the teachers would be interested in attending this particular workshop.  But I also thought that a number of teachers at three other schools within a five to seven minute drive of Coquitlam River Elementary would be interested in creating books with their students using MS Word. 

I asked principals to inquire with their staff to see if one teacher was interested in attending.   The principal would go into the teacher’s class on the Friday, 15 minutes before lunch.  This would allow the teacher to get to the host school, sandwich and laptop / notepad in hand.

Four teachers attended from the three other schools, as well as four members from the host school’s staff. 

image

If you count the principal, we then had 9 people attending this workshop.  And when I asked teachers from each of the schools that attended, they all:

 

  1. Enjoyed the topic
  2. Appreciated the strict adherence to the timeline
  3. Made a commitment to using the idea, sharing it with a colleague, or sharing it at a staff meeting 
  4. Would be willing to share a 30 minute idea of their own on using technology in the classroom at their school, and invite teachers from the other 3 schools to attend.

Principals were also really supportive of this idea going forward, especially as there will be fewer professional development options next year.  They have committed to encouraging a teacher, (or perhaps more than one) to share a 30 minute lunch time workshop, to communicate this workshop with the other members of their pro-d Co-Op, and to cover a teacher’s class 15 minutes before lunch to allow a teacher to get to their neighbouring school to attend the 30 minute workshop.

What I wonder about next would be the importance of providing handouts online and perhaps screencasting to support teachers sharing a lesson they learned at a staff meeting.  That would be like bringing the teacher who taught the lesson to 3 different staff meetings at the same time! 

But regardless of what technology is used, local schools banding together to provide pro-d for each other sounds like a sustainable model, and I am looking forward to see what September will bring.

Incidentally, the next 30 minute workshop will be in September, and the topic is “Pinterest for the K-5 Classroom.”  Stay tuned!