Friday, March 24, 2017

MSDSC Technology Team

Moonshot Thinking

My moonshot thinking started about a year ago. I had long collaborated with Chantell Manahan (Director of Technology) for the need of a team of teachers with which I could collaborate, train, and encourage to develop leadership skills. Around December, this committee started to be formed. Chantell and I made a list of individuals in each building and sent out invitations. With the invitations that were sent out, I received responses from 16 individuals that will participate in quarterly meetings with myself and other various members of the technology department. We will plan professional development opportunities, analyze district needs, and provide support as MSDSC has many experts on utilizing technology. By forming this team, the members can glean information and resources from one another as we journey down the road of utilizing Chromebooks in a 1:1 technology setting. 

Our team had their first meeting here in March of 2017. It was a great experience to discuss dreams, goals, and vision for our district. To kick things off, I asked them to do some moonshot thinking; what dreams do you have in your classroom if there were no boundaries? Some wanted new furniture options, additional subscriptions to software/websites, new and fun ways to display content. Regardless, my point was that I wanted them to take the time to dream without restrictions. 

Mentimeter Word Clouds

Since this was our first meeting, we needed to establish expectations for the group. I utilized a tool called Mentimeter to collect their thoughts. These thoughts populated into the form of a word cloud. Mentimeter has other interactive presentation options, but I liked the idea of an automatic word cloud generated to accentuate consistent thought with the group. Mentimeter is a free product, but you are limited to two interactive slides per presentation (upgrades available). 

I started with the question of what the expectations were for the group as we met during meetings. It is interesting as we all desire specific elements. We want the opportunity to collaborate, communicate, and the sharing of ideas. We desire the time to be able to share thinking in a positive environment. We all need that support. If I were to write expectations for the group myself, the outcome would have been similar. My goal is to provide this opportunity. 
We also discussed the need for collaboration via the web. The expectations could be similar, but online learning spaces pose some different struggles. Commitment was a common theme as we discussed other virtual learning experiences in the past. Online learning requires involvement and commitment. It also involved a consistent meeting space. Though it isn't necessarily as flexible as I'd like, Google Classroom is a common place for us to meet as teachers already visit it. A school's learning platform typically makes for the best choice rather than requiring teachers to create new accounts for an unknown tool. 

Another major theme that stood out was the need for consistent deadlines. The team felt it was important to have specific days to expect communication and specific days on which they were to respond. By doing so, we will solidify the necessity of commitment and involvement. I was encouraged by the great ideas developed as it helps me plan and pursue meeting their learning needs. 

Leadership Graphic Jam

This team isn't as much about technology as one would assume. The main goal I have is to provide opportunities to grow as leaders. Whether is is opportunities to present and share with staff or collaborative discussions around the role of teacher leaders, opportunities are abundant. 

One way I'm working on my own development as a leader is through a few books I've been reading. (Which I am proud to say I've been doing while running on a treadmill. An amazing feat, I know.) One book in particular that I've found very useful is Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufe. This book has very little with being a teacher, but all about organizing teams and developing vision/direction. It is full of great brainstorming activities to motivate groups and drive project refinement. The game we used in our session is "graphic jam". 

During our graphic jam session, we looked at the 8 Characteristics of an Innovative Leader by George Couros. I took each characteristic and wrote it on the dry erase board. Participants then took post-it notes and attempted to visualize what those words meant or what came to mind as they thought about that word. They brainstormed in silence and posted their thoughts on the board. (Can you believe a technology coordinator is having the technology leadership team use post-its on a dry erase board?) 

A post shared by Lance Yoder (@edgaged) on

When it was all said and done, we did a gallery walk and discussed thoughts and impressions from the responses. We discussed what a leader was and that they have the potential to be leaders even if they do not encompass the eight characteristics George mentions in his blog post. We as a team can be that leader as we all have certain characteristics that stand out more than others. That balance is important as some characteristics are more pertinent depending upon the situation.

I did digitize this activity on my own. I did take each image and drop it into Google Slides. This will be an online activity shared with them to allow additional reflection and conversation as these teachers will explore how they can develop into leaders.

Technology Showcase

As part of the leadership building process, I asked the team to come with one technology tool they either use to aid in their teaching or have their students use. I gave each member five minutes to share examples, discuss use cases, and field questions from the group. Presenting in front of peers is an important skill to develop in a position of leadership. Most teachers will tell you that they can talk in front of their students all day, but once they get in front of their colleagues, fear takes over.

The goal here was two-fold:

  1. Provide the opportunity to present in front of a safe audience. This is a group of people that had already stated clearly that they wanted to be able to share and discuss in an environment free of judgment. 
  2. Introduce technology tools and tips that could aid in the growth of the entire team. 
Videos were created of each member's presentation. I took each video and put it into a shared Google Slides presentation. I promised the group that I would not share their videos publicly this round but hoped that it was something they would feel comfortable doing in the future. For now, I can share one of mine so that you get a feel for what took place: 

Final moonshot

I'm excited for this team of teachers. I'm excited to work with them and help them build confidence as leaders in their schools and across the district. Bringing a moonshot thought to the close of this post is very fitting. What if one of these members becomes a leader in education in the state of Indiana or even nationally?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Google Docs Assigning Tasks

Let's get organized!

For quite some time, Google Docs has been the king of online collaboration spaces. They changed the way we work together. Google Docs has certainly spawned much of the collaborative online spaces that exist today. Even other technology giants have found their hand forced to rethink cloud-based workspaces due to Google's influence.

As a teacher or organizational leader, the tasks built within a Google Doc (Sheets and Slides as well) is fantastic. It allows the user to use the comment feature to highlight specific parts within a collaborative document and assign that highlight directly to an individual. To do this, add a comment (ctrl+alt+m), add a plus sign along with the user's email address. The comment box will suddenly populate with users within your organization and allow you to assign the task to that user. The assigned task will then alert the user via email and provide a checkbox within the document for when the task is completed.

Check it out:

In the classroom

Teachers can use this to guide and direct student group projects. As groups collaborate and build lists of needs to plan and prep their project, the teacher can assign specific tasks to students using the task feature. The teacher will then receive an alert when the task has been marked as completed. This is great for reminders to check in with that group when work time rolls around again. 

Using the assigned tasks feature would be great for students as well. Every group project needs a leader. The leader can assign tasks and receive the feedback to help manage the group. Their partners will know what jobs they need to complete in the grand scheme of the entire project. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Google Classroom Speed Grading


A teacher's time is so valuable. Technology is intended to aid in the ability to save time. Google Classroom is a tool that can do just that. You can instantly distribute content to students with just a few clicks. The teacher has an automatic checklist of who has completed an assignment and who hasn't without having to flip through a pile of papers and check off names. Teachers can access classwork everywhere! It is like having your paper turn-in tray everywhere you go as you can easily access Classroom via the web or mobile app. Earlier this year I posted how you can utilize an iPad or an Android device to handwrite on the students' assignments. This was a nice feature added that bridges the gap between our individuals that like to mark papers with a pen and technology.

With all of these positive aspects of Google Classroom, I still hear a cry for help as Classroom and grading is not a match made in heaven. The teachers I hear this complaint from are correct. There are still issues in the workflow. When teachers open a student's document/slide presentation, it takes a lot of time to load. If the teacher holds down control, he/she can click on multiple docs and they will open in separate tabs. Again, this requires a lot of load time. There has to be a faster way as teachers do not want to go through this process for every single assignment.

Speed Grading!

You may or may not have noticed it in Google Classroom, but there is a link leading directly to the Google Drive folder where the students are uploading their assignments. (It isn't the most obvious link; so don't feel bad if you have never noticed it!) When you arrive in your Google Drive folder containing the assignments, the teacher can then right-click on one assignment and see the preview button. Instantly the preview of the doc/slide assignment will appear with the student's name attached to the document name and nifty arrow keys appear to the left and right of the preview screen. The teacher can merely click on those arrows to move to the next student's assignment or even use the arrow keys on the keyboard! 

There is a catch! You cannot leave feedback directly on a document in the preview screen. So for the teacher to give feedback, it works best to have Google Classroom open in another tab, second screen, or a separate device. The teacher can then use the private comment feature in the assignment on the left column where all the student names reside. Grades can also be inserted. 

To see it in video action, check out my video on the entire process.


Sometimes typed comments are not enough. Think about how long it would take to go through a two to three-page paper and use the typed comments in Google Classroom. In these scenarios, you'll need reinforcements. In my example, I am utilizing Screencastify to create video feedback for the student. There are plenty of other options out there that you could use to create video comments. I am only using Screencastify because it is easy to create shared links to the videos and post them in the comments section in Google Classroom.

If you are unfamiliar with Screencastify, click here to view my previous posts.

Here's how to utilize Screencastify to create video feedback:

What's working for you?

Are you a Google Classroom pro? What tips and tricks do you have that are great to know for workflow? Please share those in the comments section! 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Google Keep and G Suite

Keepin' it real

Being a longtime fan of Google Keep, the recent news of Google including it as part of their GSuite products is exciting news! I've utilized Google Keep for a variety of purposes and Google continues to add to the awesomeness. It is simple, easy to use, and very versatile...finally available for all students to use. I have posted about Google Keep in the past but felt it was necessary to revisit it due to recent news.

What does Google Keep have to offer?


In a nutshell, Google keep is digital post-it notes. Just like the real post-its, you can select from a variety of colors, make quick lists, organize them however you want, and then throw them away when you are finished (or archive if you think you might need it later.) Create checklists, take notes, and share with your peers. It works across the platform as users can access by visiting or downloading the Android or iOS app.


Need to make a shared list? Add collaborators to your lists for projects or notes for meetings. Collaborators can add text, images, and drawings to the notes just as if it were their own. Drawings and annotated images are not live while the illustration takes place, but it will update after a user returns the image to the note. What a great idea for collaboration in class. Have a shared note and each student could add a drawing/annotated image related to the learning experience. Instantly, all participants can see a collection of ideas. 


OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. Users can take a picture or find an image online and it will take the text from the image and convert it to typed text into the note. It works as well with drawings but is not as accurate as it has to overcome different handwriting styles. 

Copy to Doc

OCR is very valuable due to the fact that you can take the text captured in the image and instantly transfer it over to a Google Doc. This is also and awesome option for teachers taking notes using Google Keep. It causes me to recall the days that I used transparencies. Now teachers can take their written notes (using a touchscreen Chromebook or Android device) and share them with students via a doc shared through Google Classroom. 

Organize Thoughts

Users can organize thoughts several different ways:
  1. Color coding
  2. Drag and drop
  3. Labels
These are post-it notes. Old-school notes allowed you to write separate thoughts in any color you like. Users can move these items around on their desk in order to organize and adjust planning and thinking. The advantage of the digital version is that you can label these notes. As soon as you click on the desired label, all notes associated with the label of choice will appear. Almost like the user can separate the workspace. Users can also pin important notes so that they constantly appear at the top of their feed. 


Reminders can be created in two ways for Google Keep notes. One way is by time. Set a specific time and the note will pop up with an alert on all devices associated with the Google account. The other option is to use location reminders. I use this frequently as I create notes when I need to visit a store or arrive at my school. It instantly appears on my phone when I arrive on location.

An Overview

Google Keep Extension

Google keep is also a great tool for research. Students and teachers can use the Google Keep Chrome Extension to quickly take notes. When I am on a site and highlight text, I can instantly place the text into a note. As I continue my research, I can highlight new pieces of information and include them in the same note. With notes accessible in an unobtrusive manner, Google Keep makes for a great research resource. When I'm all finished, I can revisit Google Keep and see my notes along with a link directly the site from which it came. Easy access when I need to continue my path of learning.

New Feature in Google Docs!

Now Google keep notes are available with the Keep Notepad in the tools drop-down within Google Docs. Upon clicking on the Keep Notepad, the notes and resources that have been gathered can be accessed and pulled into your document. This is a really cool idea for teachers that utilize hyperdocs. Students could gather resources or create sketchnotes and have access to them in one collaborative document! This is perfect if you are a Google Classroom user as you can quickly set up a shared document with all students having edit access!  

Google Keep for Research

The video I put together on how to use Google Keep for research focuses on the use of the Google Keep Extension in conjunction with the new Googke Keep Notepad available within Google Docs. Using these tools together allows for a smooth workflow and amazing research experience for both students and teachers. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Google Calendar Appointment Slots


A nifty update to Google Calendar is the option for appointment slots. Create an event on your Google Calendar, select the appointment slots option before you save your event and you are well on your way. It will give you an exclusive link to the appointment slots available on your Google Calendar. The link would merely need to be posted and available for all participants to access. It could be sent out via text, Remind, email, or even social media outlets. (This should probably be limited to closed formats to avoid unwanted scheduling. A closed Facebook Group would be a good example of where you could post appointment slots.) This would be a great option for scheduling appointments for parent/teacher conferences (with some limitations that I'll list later) or principals that need to schedule evaluation meetings with teachers.

What about students?

Could you utilize appointment slots with students? Of course! Teachers could post time slots for project conferences. Students could use it to communicate that they need the teacher to evaluate their progress or as a final grading of their presentation/report/project. This would be especially applicable to the Flipped Classroom model if students are moving at their own pace. When students hit a wall, need direction, or are ready to move on to the next unit of study, they could easily use the appointment slots to see when a teacher has time to meet with them. If you are a Google Classroom user, this is especially applicable as a separate calendar is created for every Classroom you own. (I highly recommend using the Classroom calendar associated with the class you are teaching so that other class appointments do not get mixed in and create confusion.)

I think back to when I taught fourth-grade and I could have used the appointment slots feature for students in writer's workshop. I would require a final conference before students turned in their work. They could easily do this by scheduling an appointment so that students that finish earlier can get their final evaluation completed and students that need additional time could schedule later. Great way to keep your schedule on the right track!

Possible issues...

This isn't perfect. Here are a few issues:
  • One issue I see is that you really need to use separate calendars depending on the audience you are using. If you use appointment slots on the same calendar, the next set of visitors would be able to schedule an appointment on a previous/later event. 
  • A second issue is that users must have a Google account. Most people do, but I'm sure that teachers scheduling appointments with community members may run into issues. It is a blessing at the same time as it does automatically tie the username to the appointment and place it on their own Google Calendar.
  • A third issue is that it currently does not integrate well on mobile devices. When I attempted to access it from my phone, it would not open properly in my Google Calendar app. Since most community members use their phones for receiving/sending email, it could cause a problem. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Google Play for Schools

Where I'm From...

I've provided technology integration training for Windows machines, iPads, and Chromebooks. I spent four years primarily focusing on using the iPad as I worked in two elementary buildings. All the while, I used a Chromebook at home and my phone of choice was and still is an Android. In the Summer of 2015, I was provided with a new job opportunity as technology coordinator at MSD of Steuben County. It seemed like a great fit as I have love for both the iPad and the Chromebook; here I had both. At the start of this year, we took our aging iPad 2's from our kindergarten through second-grade classrooms and provided them with the Asus Chromebook Flip. I thought the transition from iPad to Chromebook would be smoother since we were dealing with a touchscreen device.

In reality, the transition from iPad world to Chromebook has been a love/hate relationship. I love all the Google has to offer, but I always felt that the touch-friendly app realm of the iPad was a natural fit for younger learners. The iPad app world is very multimedia friendly. They have apps that will prepackage images and videos into a cool animation or presentation in a matter of minutes; processes that take much longer on the Chrome OS platform with web-based services.

From a techie's standpoint, the Chromebook is a much easier device to manage. I can log in from any location and push out what I want to any group of students. If a device breaks, I can enroll a new one into our domain with a mere email address and login. As soon as the student signs into their device, everything loads back onto the Chromebook that was there before. It is as if the malfunction never took place. If students need to access Google products, the Chromebook is a perfect fit. You don't have to use an app version that is missing key elements. Students get the full-blown version of the Google Suite without the limitations of the app.

Google Play for Schools is at MSDSC!

A few weeks ago, the option to install Android on our Chromebooks appeared in our district Google Admin Console. For the last week, I've been slowly making Android apps available for staff and students that have the Chromebook Flip (kindergarten through second grade). Some teachers are aware as I've been introducing some of their new options in passing through the hallways or at lunch. Excitement has been brewing as many of the old tools they used on the iPad are now available for their students again.

So this is the official announcement for my kindergarten through second-grade teachers that they are able and their students are able to utilize the tools provided for them in our own Google Play for Schools Store. You and the students cannot explore the entire Google Play Store. It is only what I make available via the Google Admin Console. In my video below, I run through the process of how to access and download Android apps, but there are a few things you should know.
  1. Your Chromebook is essentially running two different platforms. You have Chrome OS which is what the students have been using this school year. You also are running Android...kind of. I made available Google Drive, Google Slides, and Google Classroom for Android. They are very different than the web versions you are used to using. They are a mobile version. Reason two is why I made them available. 
  2. If your students color a picture or save a video that they create with Toontastic, they need a place to save it. It will not save to the Files app in Chrome OS. If you want students to save something, they will need either the Google Drive app or they could send things directly to you using the Google Classroom app. When they want to export something they create, they will have to select share. If they have installed Google Drive or Google Classroom, it will give them the option to export to those locations. Saving to the web version is not an option at this point. (2/24/2017)
  3. When you download an app in the Google Play Store, it will be available with your Chrome apps when you press on the launcher. You can sort and organize these like you do on a smartphone or tablet. You can also drag apps to the "shelf" at the bottom of the Chromebook. 
  4. Apps will initially be launched in a smaller screen. Some apps do not perform well when you put them into full-screen mode. You will figure that out as you use them. 
  5. Google Play for Schools is still in beta. So if the app is buggy...that is why. Don't lean heavily on everything working perfectly.

Why I'm Excited

This week I also had the opportunity to give an are school district a small tour of our Chromebook initiative. They visited several schools with differing devices. They wanted to see the Chromebooks in action at the elementary level. This was exciting for me as I've had experience with integrating three different platforms. 

I heard many comments about how well the touch capabilities and the option of a keyboard with the touchpad make the Chromebook a great option for students. From the techies, we discussed the management side of it and how it fits the scheme of a smaller technology team well. They were excited at the opportunities that Google and the touch-enabled Chromebooks had to offer. At one point in time, I would have countered that the Chromebook is not a perfect fit for all grade levels. With the ability to use Android apps enabled, it really is almost perfect.