Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The only thing that doesn't change is change

Whether you’re a new grad just joining the District, or you’ve been here for longer than you can remember, you know that with everything ed-tech, nothing stays the same for long.  Just three years ago Google Apps for Education (GAFE) was only in use at a few schools, USB memory sticks were the way for students to save files, and Chromebooks didn’t exist.  Today, every student in every school, from K-12 has as a GAFE account, all schools have SchoolZone and WIFI (we quadrupled bandwidth at most schools in April), students can access all of their work from anywhere over the cloud, and at 14,000 Chromebooks, we nearly have more Chrome than Windows devices in EPS.

In terms of impact on student learning, I see the impact that the meaningful integration of these technologies every time I visit a school or hear a teacher share at our Community of Practice days. Teachers and students are working collaboratively on Docs and Presentations, creating videos, writing blogs, using email and other online tools to design and enhance projects, and make connections to the world outside of their school walls.

But you know all of this.  Ya, things change.  Yes, things get better, faster, stronger (and cheaper!)  As we head into summer, what do teachers and students in our schools have to look forward to in terms of changes in the upcoming school year?

  • Increased support -  for teachers for learning & technology - A TIPS Team member is assigned to each Leadership Group to work with principals and other consultants to provide targeted assistance to school in support of the Learning & Technology Policy framework.
  • Google Sites facelift - with more integration with all other Google Apps.  If you’ve used all of the Apps, you know that Sites, while pretty awesome, is due to get some design upgrades.  You’ll be able to make your sites look even better, and usually Google makes things easier as well.
  • Google Mail facelift - this article came from PC World, but believe's coming. Some new features, but mainly a cleaner look to get you to what you need to know faster!
  • New Chromebook models - these will continue to get faster (better processors, more RAM), lighter, and (hopefully) cheaper! Also - we'll have ChromeBase (Now available) and ChromeBox devices (Fall 2014) available for lab or library set-ups.
  • Android Tablets with Google Play for Education - We will be piloting Android tablets that take advantage of some of the same manageability functions of Chromebooks with a few schools in the fall . Google promises:  Low cost Nexus 7 tablets pre-configured to work in our domain; Bookmarks, Apps, WiFi and other settings can be set via our Control Panel (just like Chromebooks); Multiple users signed into one device - but each with access to ONLY their Apps and files (not a big deal for Div 1, but for older students, yes!). Most schools are happy with iOS devices, so we'll be comparing these to see if there are any advantages to these instead.
  • Online Fee payment - Currently in the pilot phase (5 schools in fall 2014), but the project goals are for parents to be able to pay their students’ school fees, library fines, and even field trip fees through SchoolZone.  More info on this coming soon, but this could free up a lot of time for you to use on more important things!
  • Google Classroom - This has been described to me as the “glue” that brings all of the Google Drive Apps and management together for teachers.  Lots of positive buzz about this lately, and the TIPS team will be testing it over the summer.  It’s supposed to have a Google Plus-like communication platform to use within your class, and make sharing and grading Docs easier.  Maybe not a big deal for Div 1 teachers, and we’ll see if it adds to the features already in SchoolZone.

Terry Korte
Technology Integration Coordinator (TIPS Team)
Edmonton Public Schools

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Preparing For Division 2

Hi everyone! I don't actually teach Div1, but I've been invited by Colette to come blog because we've shared a whole bunch of resources this year. I teach a grade 4/5/6 class, and we've been talking recently about the skills that we'd love to see kids come to us with. Here's a list of things that I'd like to see, but always end up teaching kids how to do in September and October:

1. I'd love to see kids that are familiar with creating things in Google Drive, whether it's a document, a drawing or a presentation. I get why forms and some of the other more obscure ones aren't used all the time, but those three would be the basics. It would let us jump into creation instead of getting a feel for tools and the inevitable "Create" button talk.

2. Have an understanding of how passwords work. Too many kids have had the same password for way too long. It'd be nice if by the end of Grade 3 they're familiar with creating a password that's unique to themselves and why they shouldn't be sharing it.

3. Check and send basic email. This is a 21st Century skill, and every year, I end up emailing things to kids and answering the same question; "How do I find that?" If we're really teaching kids about Digital Citizenship and how to use things correctly, then they're going to need to understand the basics. Email writing should replace letter writing. I can't believe the Great Canadian Mail Race is still going on (but that's a topic for another time).

4. Numbers 4 and 5 kind of go together, but they're important in this day and age. Google something. It'd be really nice if they could think "I'm not sure about this..." or "I'd like to know..." and then could go to Google and look at search results to find answers. Kids already know this early, but we should be guiding this to make sure we're getting the results we want from this strategy. The critical thinking piece of looking through results, and explain their reasons for picking specific results is something that should be developed on a yearly basis.

5. "Google Before You Tweet..." The permanency of things on the internet is important, and kids need to have an idea about "The Grandma Rule" and sharing things. If we're talking about sharing things with a class Instagram or Twitter account, they should know just what to put up there, and be thinking about why they're sharing it as they're doing it.

Most of these are pretty basic, and if you're using tech in your classroom, you're probably doing them already. (If you are, thank you!) If you've got suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments, email me, or tweet me @NotebookNick. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Writing For A Purpose: Email

21st Century Writers

How do we make writing authentic for 21st Century learners? The new Learning and Technology Policy Framework reminds us that students need work that is not only authentic but also personalized. So what does that look like for our students? Text messaging, blog posts and email instead of letters, reflections that stay in a journal at school and stories for the bulletin board outside the classroom.  


I have begun using RAFT with my grade two students this term. RAFT is a writing strategy. Some people use RAFTs. I usually use that with older students. In fact, I thought both were really tools for older writers. However, I have found using RAFT with my grade twos helps me make the activities more personalized for them. 

  • R= role of the Writer: Who are you as the writer? 
  • A=audience: To whom are you writing?  
  • F=format: In what format are you writing?  
  • T=topic: What topic are you writing about?
  • S=strong verb: What strong verbs help define this writing?

With my students, I have been choosing three parts and letting them choose the fourth. So, I might tell them their role, audience and topic but they get to select the format. This allows for students to personalize the experience themselves.

Email Format

My students did a science experiment with cornstarch and water. It was an exciting experiment, so I wanted to channel that energy into a writing assignment. I used RAFT to set the assignment:
  • Role: To tell 
  • Audience: You pick (mom, dad, aunt, grandfather...)
  • Format: Email
  • Topic: the science experiment using cornstarch and water 
Students did a first draft in their journals and then did some revisions. In their agendas, I sent home a note asking for email addresses. Those students who did not return one, sent the email to a staff member at the school. 


In general, I was really pleased with the project. I'd like to do it earlier in the year next year. Perhaps even collect a number of email address throughout the year that students can have in their writing journals. That way, when they choose to do an email, they already have the resources necessary. 

The one downside was those families who did not return the email addresses. Some students were disappointed not to be able to send it to a family member.