Online PD. Heck Yeah!

This post is a bit late, but that’s what happens when the end of the year is fast approaching and there’s still so much still to cover from the pacing chart.  So I apologize for the delayed post.

I totally concur with the tweet from @mrhousepian.  We were taking one giant leap for #GGUSD…both feet in…wheels up…whatever you want to call it.  And I loved every minute of it.

Here’s the backstory…

One of the TOSAs in our district (@teacherlucero) and I have talked quite frequently about online PD and what that might look like.  He was able to convince our director to give it a shot.  So instead of our Blended Learning group meeting F2F for our last session in June, he scheduled two GHOs and had us sign up via a GoogleForm.

I chose to attend the first online PD.  I was joined by five other colleagues, in addition to @teacherlucero.  As soon as we logged in, we “signed in” using our GAFE accounts via a Google Form as proof that we were in attendance (our district is big on accountability).  The GHO started at 4PM with the intent that we might end up spending the first 20 or so minutes getting everyone online, setting up their lower thirds, playing around with the various Google effects, etc.  We took the entire 30 minutes to play around.  =D

We were patching in from all over…some of us were at home in our office, at the kitchen table, or even outside.  Several teachers joined us from their classroom/office.  I will start off by saying that it was nice to be at home, sitting in my comfy chair…talking tech and reflecting on our year.

At 4:30 @teacherlucero started recording our session.  He had prearranged questions for us to discuss.  The most engaging one being the technology tool that made the biggest impact on our teaching this year.  Everyone shared a different tool…and we started keeping a list of tech tools and websites in the chat window for future reference.  The intent was that this session would be recorded, edited, and posted for other teachers to view if they liked.  Where the view is currently being hosted, I don’t know…probably on @teacherlucero’s YouTube channel.

Will other teachers view our GHO?  Not sure.  But if they do, I’m sure that they’ll find it beneficial.  We all shared our favorite technology tool and how we used it with our students.  We talked about troubleshooting, lessons learned, best practices.  Everyone chimed in on the discussion.  We left links to websites and apps for future reference.  This type of curating of information is not something that happens in a F2F PD.  I mean, I know that people take notes during workshops, but it’s not collaborative and people who are not in attendance do not know what actually happened.

But with our GHO, it was recorded and there’s notes included.  So the impact of this PD has the potential to go beyond just the seven of us.  It’s basically saved for posterity.  😉

I was excited to participate in our first online PD for our district.  What makes this GHO different than others is that because it was recorded and because we signed in, we’ll receive the stipend that is normally only reserved for teachers who physically attend a PD.

Is this the new way to conduct PD?  I think so.  I can totally see this type of PD working in a similar way to EdCamps or an unconference.  We’re all so busy right after school…and most of the time I find myself rushing to the PD.  But when it’s scheduled at 4PM (or even later)…I have time to breathe.  I can relax a bit, eat a snack…and then engage in what I find most exciting…talking tech with like-minded educators.

I hope that our Director likes what she sees and hears about our sessions.  If we can move forward with this type of PD, I think it has the potential to have a larger impact beyond just the teachers in attendance.  Huge leap.  I’m ready for more.

#goodstuff #futureready

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Fun with GHO

So today I met up with my co-presenters for the Think.Create.Share conference.  We were talking about the student work that we planned to include and how best to share that work with attendees considering the fact that we cannot share outside of our GAFE domain.

But as usual, when getting together with passionate teachers…the topic evolved into a share-faire of new technology tools and how we could use those with colleagues and our students.

First up, GHO.

A couple of us have tried using GHO on a school device using the district wifi.  It seemed to work, but the video lagged here and there.

Today?  It worked beautifully.

The three of us (@PrimoHistory @WHistTeacher) joined a GHO using our GAFE accounts.  Now anyone who knows me knows how much I HATE being on video.  I love that I can turn my camera off during a GHO and just have my profile pic on the screen.  But today amongst my friends I learned how to let go of my fear of being on camera.  In fact, there were even some points in the conversation when I even forgot that I was on video.

When we all first joined in…I shared what I learned about GHOs from last summer’s #edcamphome.  I showed my friends how customize their lower third and explained a bit about Google Effects.  I chose to wear the princess crown which went well with the devil horns from @WHistTeacher.

And then we discovered the Draw tool.

I’m not sure how long we played around with that tool on each other’s pictures, but it offered us a much needed respite from testing and end-of-the-year burnout.  In fact, I don’t think that I’ve laughed that hard at work in awhile.  In hindsight, I should have taken a couple of screenshots of our handy work.

Oh well.  Next time.

While we were laughing and playing around with adding features and text to each other’s faces in GHO, we were also brainstorming about how this tool could be used to foster collaboration with peers.

After all, it’s not just fun and games with us.  We actually do look at the practicality of things.

In fact, earlier this week I was talking with another colleague about the possibility of using GHO to replace a face-to-face PD session.  The conservative nature of my district doesn’t allow for teachers to work “at home”…it’s like we have to be physically present in order to earn a stipend or get credit.  But it’s that kind of mind-set that is preventing us from being #FutureReady.  If we’re on video…and “they” can see us…then why do we have to be physically present in a meeting?  Any seasoned teacher knows that students can be physically present in the classroom and not hear one thing that the teacher is saying.  Being physically present does not equate to active participation.  But in a GHO…if a participant is on camera then there’s not much difference where the participant is in a physical sense.

I can see the power and usefulness behind using GHO for PDs and collaboration.  First, it would allow teachers to meet with content area peers who teach at a different school.  No longer should a singleton art teacher have to sit through a collaboration with other singleton subject-area colleagues who each have a different content specialization.  Second, it would allow more opportunities for vertical collaboration.  How easy would it be to set up a 30 minute GHO to share best practices?  Think about the value of the whole process.  We’d be using a new technology tool and unleveling the PD at the same time.

Sounds good, right?

For the Love of Learning

I think that sometimes educators underestimate students’ desire to learn and better themselves.  And I’m including myself in that mix.  But I’m always trying new things in my classes to see which students will rise to the occasion.
The picture I included here is one that I also posted on our class Instagram account which was pushed out to Twitter.  I wanted to shout from the mountain tops that these students were writing JUST TO WRITE!
I’m not kidding.
I told all my students that they needed practice in how to write like a historian.  Meaning…they needed to learn to cite evidence to support their statements.  But more than that, they needed to be able to analyze primary and secondary sources in order to be able to effectively use them in their writing.
So I gave them three primary sources.  I told them that as a group (self-selected) that they had to choose which Big Idea they wanted to prove:  “The Tang dynasty used (ruthless/ingenious) methods to strengthen China’s government, expand its borders, and increase its economy.”  I pushed the assignment out through Google Classroom.  Then the students decided who was going to be the owner of the document and from there he/she shared the document with their peers.
The students then tackled the primary sources, annotating as necessary as they looked for evidence to prove their Big Idea.  Some students started with bullet points, but others delved right into writing a full paragraph.  It was a site to behold.
Now keep in mind, this was an optional assignment.  Students are typically not required to do Level 4 (analysis/synthesis) or Level 5 (evaluation) writing assignments.  Student choice for leveled learning opportunities is the crux of the history program at our school.  We use a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales so that it’s VERY clear what students need to demonstrate mastery of in order to earn a specific grade.  
Click HERE to go to a wiki resource that contains the learning scales for World History.
Students who want to earn an A or B in the history classes need to write and write well.  As I tell students on their first day of World History, “We don’t give a lot of extra credit in our class.  You will not pass this class with extra credit.  You will, however, pass this class with blood, sweat, and tears…not necessarily in that order.”  There’s always a bit of nervous laughter from students that follow.
The purpose of collaborative writing assignments is to give students practice in writing with their peers.  And not just writing individual sentences strung together, but actually writing together in which they are actually editing each other’s posts and leaving comments for each other.  This type of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration is exposing students to the 21st century classroom.  Not only are students learning how analyze primary and secondary sources, but they are utilizing the thinking skills of a historian as they find evidence to prove their thesis or in this case the Big Idea.  Students are not only practicing digital literacy skills but also History’s Habits of Mind.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Moving Mountains

This past weekend has been fraught with dreams in which I was unable to control anything around me.  Having a background in psychology and an interest in dream interpretation, I took that to mean that I was internalizing a bunch of stress because I was locked out of my TodaysMeet account that I created using my GAFE credentials.  I previously posted my frustrations because this is not the first time that I have had to go WAY of out my way to get access to a technology tool that in all reality should be open.
And just to make things clear.  TodaysMeet was not blocked by my district’s firewall.  But I was unable to get the password reset email from TodaysMeet because we are unable to receive emails from outside of our domain.  
Because of my panicked emails which I sent to the Powers-that-Be, I started my day with a phone call from our Director of Technology who then spoke with “someone” in IS.  And within five minutes (I’m not exaggerating)…someone from IS called my room.  They wanted to see what was happening on my end.  
It was interesting to watch them work through all of the possible solutions to rectify my problem (we were screen-sharing).  But I know a little about technology, so I tried to troubleshoot things on my end before I sent the email last Friday.  I even troubleshooted this weekend on my home computer using my own network thinking that it was a district firewall issue.
And it was.  
It turns out that the password email I sent last Friday, prompted TodaysMeet to not accept my username/password combination even though I knew it was the right one.  The problem was that my GAFE account could not receive the password reset email from TodaysMeet because they are outside of our domain.
I asked if IS could somehow for one hour lift the ban on outside entities sending to my GAFE account so that I could see if TodaysMeet actually sent me a password reset email. I was told (by two very patient IS techs) that that kind of request needed to go up much higher than them.  They mentioned something about the Assistant Director of IT or even our Cabinet (we’re talking all of the Assistant Supts AND the Superintendent) being the only ones who could approve that kind of request.  
Geesh.  Things were getting serious.
I told the two IS techs that this was an expedited request because I needed the transcripts from my TodaysMeet classes for my CUE presentation.  I told them that it didn’t really matter if I could use my GAFE account ever again with TodaysMeet…I just needed the transcripts.  
They said they would try their best.
About 15 minutes later, my phone rang again.  It was the two techies from IS.  They asked me to check my GAFE email.  
My latest email was from TodaysMeet with a link to reset my password.
What?!?!
So, I immediately reset my password and logged in to my TodaysMeet account.  I finally had access to my transcripts.  I.mean.seriously.  Someone moved mountains for me.  And believe me when I say that I’m so very grateful.  
I have so many people to thank…starting with the two techies in IS (D+G), my principal, the Director of Technology, the Assistant Superintendent, and whomever gave the GREEN LIGHT to let an outside entity send an email to my GAFE account.  
All is right with the world again.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to sleep much better tonight. 

Foiled Again

My district is the perfect reason why you want your IT and IS departments to communicate.  One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing and doesn’t bother to figure how to work together to give our students and teachers the best learning opportunities possible.

To begin, my district doesn’t have a designated instructional technology department anymore.  We used to.  Before the whole technology revolution.  But when we needed it the most, it was quietly disbanded.  Instead, we have our IS department who are the gate-keepers to the outside world.  Everything that we want access to needs to be run through them.  We have to send them an email, cc our principal and then “someone” in IS will make the determination if that site is worthy to be unblocked.  I get that we need to have a firewall.  I also understand the need to have filters on our content…after all we are a K-12 district.

But here’s the frustration.  We are a GAFE district.  Hold your applause.  It took a few people FOREVER to convince IS (and perhaps our Powers-that-Be) that being a GAFE district would actually be a good thing for the learning process.  (This is not the blog post to go into the nitty-gritty, but let’s just say that THAT was an exercise in frustration.)

But I digress.

Here’s my frustration.  My district’s firewall blocks Twitter.  No biggie.  So do a lot of other districts.  So I found a tech tool that mimics Twitter but without the world-wide audience.  That I could deal with.  I teach middle school…I get it.  Enter TodaysMeet.  I’ve been using TodaysMeet for several years.  I mainly use it as a backchannel to gauge student understanding and learning.  I mostly used it when showing video clips so that all students had a voice.  I found a creative way to get students engaged in the learning process because they could see a live feed of their peer’s responses (enter #hashtags).  In TodaysMeet, I was able to keep transcripts for further review.

Last summer, during our week long PD session for my district, I introduced TodaysMeet as a backchannel for PD and also as a way for teachers to use it in their classrooms.  I received positive feedback from teachers because they saw this as an easy way to engage students in the learning process.

I shared my student work in TodaysMeet at several PD sessions that week.  I continued to tout the benefits of using TodaysMeet at workshops during the school year.  I even used transcripts from TodaysMeet in webinars and sessions that I presented to educators outside of my district.  In other words, I am a fan of TodaysMeet.

Then walked in reality.  I was unable to access transcripts when the TodaysMeet rooms closed.  But the solution was to purchase a subscription (at $5 a month) to have access to all transcripts basically in perpetuity.  I decided that that was the best option since I planned to use these transcripts to not only document student learning but also as something to share in future PD.

Did I mention that I’m presenting at CUE next week?  This is my second year and I’m so excited to share the hard work of my students.  Then came the blow.  I planned to use TodaysMeet yesterday with my students.  I went to set up the classrooms and I found that I couldn’t log in.  I figured, no biggie.  I’ll just have my password reset.  I waited for the email to arrive to my GAFE account.  Nothing.  I had the password reset email sent again.  Nothing.  Then it occurred to me…we cannot receive emails from outside of our domain.

Argh!

That prompted me to send an email to our Help Desk (the gate-keepers) tell them that I cannot access my TodaysMeet account because apparently our GAFE domain “does not support connecting a TodaysMeet account.”  But it used to.  So, really what it should have said was “Your GAFE domain NO LONGER supports connecting a TodaysMeet account.”  Did I mention that I have a paid subscription?  And that I’d been using my GAFE account with TodaysMeet since September?

Door closed.  Shut-out.

Oh, but I wasn’t done.  I sent the email to the Help Desk and received what was probably an auto-generated email with my ticket number and the message that someone would get to me as soon as it is possible.  Well, let me tell you…this isn’t my first time at the rodeo.  “As soon as it is possible” could mean several days or even weeks…believe me, I’ve been there.

I don’t have that kind of time.  CUE starts next Thursday.  I’m presenting Saturday.

I decided to email a couple of people who are higher up than the Help Desk.  My plea was that I’ve not only been using this tech tool all year, but that I have a paid subscription to something that I no longer have access to.  I can’t even cancel my paid subscription.  And perhaps more importantly, I need those transcripts as I planned to use them for my CUE presentation.  I mean…is this seriously happening to me right now?  (I didn’t write that last sentence in the email…)

Just when I think things are finally going in the right direction for my district (technology-wise), something like this happens.  But I’m not giving up.  I can’t.

But for the moment, I’m left waiting.

Mentally Taxed

Yesterday I introduced Google Classroom to my students.  It was hit or miss.  Mostly miss.  Students were able to log in.  But when accessing the assignment, it opened up for some but not others.  I deleted and reloaded the assignment on two occasions between periods to try to fix that issue.  But what happened is…is that some classes still had the non-working assignment, others had the new and improved one…and here’s the catch…Classroom then created a [template] in my Classroom folder of that assignment.  What.the.heck?

I was so frustrated with Classroom by the end of the day that I didn’t know what I was going to do today.  I posted a question in the G+Classroom community last night and received several responses over the past 24 hours.  This is what I love about educators…they are so willing to share their insight, experience, and suggestions.  =)

I thought today was going to be a new day.  I had made up my mind to use gClass folders because what I find to be the most powerful aspect about the whole Google suite is the collaborative portion.  Classroom pushes out assignments to each student, but I prefer to have them talking, working, arguing, corroborating…all skills of a historian.

It wasn’t that easy.  I changed the response destination for the GoogleForm entries (GAFE Sign-Ups).  And for the life of me, I couldn’t find the entries anywhere.  It was the weirdest thing.  Actually it was the most frustrating thing.  Good thing that my students are able to already work independently and problem-solve technical issues with their iPads.  Because I could not handle one more thing.

I solved the issue by creating a completely new GoogleForm.  Things started to go pretty smoothly by 4th period.  Students were logging in to Classroom via Chrome.  They were able to “Turn In” the assignment.  I could see their work in progress.  Life was good.

Until 5th period.

Google Classroom decided that it didn’t want to work.  We tried Chrome.  We tried Safari.  Google itself worked.  Just not Google Classroom.  I had maybe six students who were able to log in to work on the assignment.  The rest?  Well, bless their hearts.  They were so patient and sweet.  I was so proud of them.  Because in my head, I was losing it again.  It put me right back to Period 2 when NOTHING worked.  I had already taken something for my headache.  Did I mention that it was also in the high 90s?  And that I don’t have air-conditioning?  This is why I was so proud of my students.   We were melting…and GClassroom wasn’t helping the stress level…

And then 6th period started.  Classroom decided to play nice.  Students were logging in through Safari and Chrome.  They were completing the assignment, I was watching their progress in Drive.  Most were able to turn it in.  Life was finally back on track.

I can’t explain technology.  I can’t explain why it works during one period and not the next.  I don’t know why some students are unable to log in to the GAFE account even when selecting the “Add Account” option.  It’s weird.  It’s odd.  And it’s completely frustrating.

Having said all that…I’m not giving up.  I already ran the gClass script for my kiddoes.  The Spread of Islam (Movement) assignment had already been distributed to the appropriate Tables and Periods.  We just need technology to cut us some slack.  We’ve lost almost two days of instruction due to technical issues with Google and Google Classroom.  It’s time to get back on track.  Both with technology and our pacing.