Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spanish Characters in Google Docs on Windows, Chromebooks, and Macintosh

I have had several requests from Spanish and Dual Immersion teach on using the special characters in Google Docs on different platforms,  hopefully this will be useful as a cheat sheet that can also be shared with students as well.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Help Me Help You - An Ed Tech Jerry Maguire Moment

Asking Better Questions When Collaborating

I have noticed this pattern when working with my client-teachers.  It's this way that some folks ask questions that, even though everyone is on the same side that, all trying to be great collaboration-worker-bees, seems to actually obfuscate the goal or objective. It also tends, if left uninvestigated, to achieve suboptimal solutions.

So I thought I would write a little thought-piece to help my teachers help me to help them.  I would like to suggest a shift in a certain habit of mind that I see sometimes.

Suggestion: Ask about your end goal or product, not about the process you've already decided you think you want to use.  
If you've already decided a process and/or a tool before you ask for help or advice, you're artificially narrowing the scope of the collaboration.

An Example: 

  • What the teacher actually said: How do I use (name of product I've never heard of) to wirelessly get my PC laptop up onto the TV.  I asked (name of IT guy) but he said the district doesn't support that.
  • What the teacher actually wanted: After I move my desk to the back of class
    <away from the TV> can you help me find a way to display my laptop on the TV.
The teacher here had already decided the process had to be wireless, and had already decided that the one product they knew about was the tool that it had to be done with.  But the important part in this case wasn't even necessarily that the display be wireless, which is what both the "IT guy" and I initially focused in on. To the teacher, the important part was that the desk be moved from the front of class.  Its placement at the time--between him and his students--allowed them to monitor his attention on them during screen-based instruction to better time their off-task behavior.

Now, once I understood his actual goal, we were able to come up with a solution he hadn't thought of. Our arriving at that solution began with me asking a variation of a question I find myself asking quite often, "What do you really want to accomplish here?"  In this case, I believe what I asked was, "Why does it have to be wireless?"  This lead to getting at the heart of the teacher's real goal. That was fine; I don't mind asking questions and having a dialogue.  But there are downsides to that kind of inquiry all being on me (or any support person).

The biggest of these potential pitfalls is the client-teacher being frustrated (the mortal enemy of excitement and exploration).  This frustration stems from either an assumption on the part of the teacher or from unrealistic expectations.  The assumption that I sometimes get from teachers is that by asking a version of "What do you really want to accomplish here?" I am either saying "no" or I am somehow being dismissive. I never am, and I realize that I need to be reflective of my tone and approach, however, sometimes people's reactions to you are about them, and not you.  I've actually had a teacher respond, "Can you just answer my question, please."

Another downside is unrealistic expectations.  The unrealistic expectations come from a phenomenon in Ed Tech, I like to call "How Hard Can It Be?"  I think some folks in tech who are both knowledgeable and passionate get folks excited, or impressed, who then assume that either our expertise or the technology itself is unlimited in it's capability.  Of course neither is true. The truth is that neither of those things are unlimited--working with tech can be amazing and joyous, but it can also be confounding and a little frustrating (example: as I write this, Google Hangouts is behaving strangely--delays up to 20 minutes on messages in the same thread depending on which device I use).  Managing these expectations can help to mitigate disappointment that isn't really based on the situation or choices available, but more what a teacher thought they were going to be able to get or do.

Another Example:

  • What the teacher actually said: How do my kids insert bar graphs or charts in Google Docs on the iPad.
  • What the teacher actually wanted: I want my kids to continue to write about and chart their fluency progress in a graphic sort of way on their iPads. We've been doing it in Pages, but I want to use Google Classroom and I think it has to be done in Google Docs to use Classroom.

Again, here, had I simply answered the question that was asked, the answer would have simply been, "You can't."  But that would have been a huge step back and as you can see from what the teacher "actually wanted" would have allowed a misconceptions to persist.  The truth here is two-fold.  First, as much as I love Google Apps for Education--which is a hugely, massively large amount, on an iPad Pages is the better choice for the task she wanted her students to do. Second, in Google Classroom we can turn in pretty much any kind of file format, plus Pages on iPad will convert to .doc or PDF for you.

Isn't part of the work of a coach to delve into these things and collaborate with the client-teacher to find the solutions?  
I am not saying that I wouldn't, or even that I want to have to do it less.

However, isn't part of being a good collaboration partner learning to work better and develop good habits of mind that allow us to get to solutions better instead of dwelling on communications hang-ups?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Editing MS Office Files in the New Google Drive

One of the reasons to switch over to the New Google Drive is that, with a little boost, it allows you to edit MS Office files (Word, Excel, & PowerPoint) without converting them into the native Google format first.  This can be a real boon to folks who are getting documents from people that send them in Word and need to get them back in the word format.  It can also somewhat mitigate conversion problems that arise from highly formatted Word documents when converted into the Google format--if you've tried this, you know it doesn't always go so well.

The video below is a step-by-step walk-through of how to setup your Google Drive to enable this compatibility solution.  I say it in the video, but to be clear this is a Chrome-ONLY solution.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Looking for Apps & Websites?

Teachers often ask me and the other Ed Techs for help finding apps and digital tools they can use in their classroom. It's hard to take the time to slog through the app store or try out websites. Common Sense Media is a trusted, nonprofit source for Digital Citizenship and Literacy curriculum for schools and media awareness and advising for families.

Graphite™ ( is a free service from Common Sense Media designed to help preK-12 educators discover, use, and share the best apps, games, websites, and digital curricula for their students by providing unbiased, rigorous ratings and practical insights from an active community of teachers. You can filter your search by subject, grade, skill level, and Common Core.

Check out their 2 minute intro video.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Molding Young Minds

Did you know that FSUSD is considered a regional leader in Education Technology?
Well, we totally are. 
And we are because of the work and lean-forward attitude of our teachers, leaders, and district.

Because of the incredible work of our teachers, who embrace 1:1 and BYOD instruction, others are looking to us to for learning and leadership.  The Asst. Director who leads our department was contacted before the end of the 2013-14 school year by an instructor at the UC Davis School of Education.  The Education Department at UC Davis reached out to the FSUSD Ed Tech department to help them teach the Computers in Education course for these new Mult. Subject credential candidates. Several of the Ed Tech Specialists are even acting as guest lecturers for the course.

Last week, (9/8/ - 9/12/14) I got to be a guest lecturer for the student-teachers.  My topic was building a PLN.  The presentation materials are below, feel free to use, borrow and adapt them as you see fit.

I really enjoyed this experience and there are lots of takeaways. For me one of the biggest and most comical is to remember to take demographers with a grain of salt.  Not assuming prior knowledge, it turns out, is a good teaching technique always, always, always.

We have all heard about how the Millennials and the following generations are all digital natives.  I am not so sure.  Or at least I am not so sure that we should all assume that "digital native" means "is comfortable with/knows how to do everything on the Internet".  For the vast majority, they had never used twitter before, a very small number didn't want to use it at all, and there were little stumbling blocks and user hiccups that were mostly down to user inexperience/error.

To my Gen X and Boomer friends, don't believe the hype...the kids are just as lost as you...they just don't mind it as much. :-)

Dr. PLN-Love -or- How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Create My Own Professional Development

Friday, August 15, 2014

Setting Up an Automatic Signature in Gmail

I hope everyone had an excellent start of the year!​ At this hectic time, I thought you might be able to use a little tech tip that will save you a few seconds every time you type an email. You have all probably received emails that include, at the end, a person’s name, site, job title, phone number, etc. Have you ever wondered how to set it up so that all of your emails include this information without having to type it every time you send an email? This can be done by changing a setting in Gmail. Click the gear icon on your Gmail screen and select Settings. 

Scroll down until you see Signature. Select the signature box and type in any information you want included in all of your emails. 

You can customize your fonts ​and​ add a picture​, quote​ or link to end every email​. If you would like your name to appear before the original email in a reply, check the box ​below your signature. You are done. Now, every time you hit the compose button, your name and any additional information you chose to include will appear automatically.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Just Twitter! The Smart Kids Are Doing It

If you are reading this that you aren't on twitter because you think it's for trash, or gossip, or just plain useless, please take a second to read the infographic below that the article that in links out to.  But you   Twitter enables you to have a circle of teachers to call upon and to offer your great ideas far beyond what you could possibly have at your school site alone.

But that's just the start of know what, don't my word for it...Twitter for Teachers is a web page put together by The USC Rossier School of Education.  If you don't want to take my word for it, check them out.

Twitter for Teachers Infographic

Google Apps Want To Go Home

Over the summer Google made some changes to how the file type icon (the colorful rectangle we see in me up or left corner of Google Docs) behaves in Google Docs, Google sheets, and Google slides. These changes make the desktop version of these applications behave more like the mobile apps that they are related to. The screencast below explores the changes made to these icons and the changes and functionality in the Google drive productivity Apps. I think this will make switching between the mobile version and the desktop version of Google Drive and the Google Apps for Education much easier in the long run.

Correcting & Commenting on Student Work Just Got Easier in Google Docs

One of the issues for teacher with electronic writing from students is that we are not used to grading and giving feedback digitally.  This should surprise no one.  Exceedingly few of us that are currently classroom teachers have any models for electronic feedback on writing.  I take classes at the local community college for fun and enrichment and I have a few models, but they are based on specialised products.

With Google Docs, as awesome as the collaboration tools have been, grading, especially the more technical parts of writing (grammar, syntax, usage, punctuation, etc.) have been a  little cumbersome.  Mainly what you have is the commenting system, which can get unwieldy for secondary teachers with over 150 essays to grade at a time.  I have seen some teachers use the highlighting tool and then color code errors and that's an inventive solution, but Google has added a feature to Docs, that is going to make all of our grading-lives easier.  It also has potential to make student more accountable for peer editing responsibilities.

This features is called suggestions and it is perfect for showing student the correction they need to make to the more technical side of their writing.  And one of my favorite things about this feature, you can use it whether you have editing rights or comment-only rights.

Check out the screencast below.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Welcome To Your Drive, There's No Turning Back...

(...okay, there is turning back.  For the time being, if you don't like the new Google Drive, you can go back to the "old" one.  I just wanted to paraphrase the Tears for Fears song)

The new Google Drive finally became available in our school domain, and wouldn't you know it, just a week before teachers report back to work.  This lit a fire under me to get on the Old G-Drive vs New G-Drive screencast I have been thinking about.  I made a 10 minute compare/contrast new Google Drive walk-through video for the schools I support.  I hope you find this useful.

When you make a video like this, I discovered, it's actually pretty easy to get into all the little nooks and crannies, as it were, of the tool and show and say more than you really to.  As it is, this is 10 minutes long, and I think it hit the main point that people will find useful.  Equally as challenging was to not get into a review of the new Google Drive and keep a more or less neutral and encouraging tone.  I think I have managed that.

If it still seems blurry after the first 10 seconds or so, you may want to turn up the quality to 480p (click on the little gear in the lower right of the video window).  After I added annotations in YouTube, for some people, it seems to have kicked the default down to 240p and that makes it blurry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Use Google Draw to Make Custom Wallpapers for Mobile Devices


"Be Careful What You Ask Me When I'm Fresh From An Ed Tech Conference" 

 I was sitting with a friend Sunday evening after the Palo Alto GAFE Summit, in the Palo Alto Creamery when she asks me, "There's gotta be a way to like write something witty and make it the background on my iPhone, right?" Immediately I had about three things come to mind. However, the one I liked the best was using some of the new tricks I had just learned from James Petersen (@jpetersen02) at the GAFE Summit.

 "YEAH! You can totally make it in Google Drawing, and then save it as a .PNG in your Google Drive on your MacBook, then open it in the Google Drive app on the have the Google Drive app, right?  NO?  Why not?...okay, never mind. Download the G-Drive app, and then save it from there to your camera roll. Presto!"

This is something that isn't that hard, but there are a handful of little steps, that are easier to see, so I thought I would do a quick blog post about this #StupidTechTrick, because part of me thinks this might be a good way to personalize tablets in a 1:1 setting.  I also wanted to see if anyone else in the Ed Tech world could think of another use for this trick.

Also, it should be noted that this will work with iOS mobile devices as well as Android ones.

Step 1: Figure out what is the resolution of your device.  You can find this out with a google search.  In this case we're talking about iPhone 5 which has a listed resolution of 1136 x 640--this measurement is in pixels.  We're going to reverse the order of these because most people wants their wallpaper in the "portrait" orientation.

Step 1a: Open up a new Google Drawing and then click FILE>Page Setup and change the size of the Canvas of your drawing to "Custom".  Make sure you put the narrow side (smaller number) the width--in other word the first number.

Change the canvas to a custom size.

Switch the unit type to pixels.

Set the measurements.

After clicking OK, you should have a tall, narrow canvas.

Step 2: Here you need to do the creative design work.  You can start by changing the background color by right clicking on the checkerboard pattern (which is an an indicator the the background is transparent), alternatively, you can lay down a textbox or other shape(s) to fill in the space.  You can also select images from your computer, Google Drive or from the web. 

If you are an iPhone user keep in mind that the bottom portion of the screen is always taken up with the dock that has your 4 always-on-screen apps.  For Android users this varies a lot by device.

PROTIP: If you are going to get images from the web, look for the .PNG file type since these have the potential for transparent backgrounds.  

Perhaps, change the background.

Add images, graphics and text.

Step 3: Download your masterpiece in a chosen form.  I usually use .PNG but I think a .JPG would work just as well.  After you have done this, upload the file you just downloaded back into your Google Drive--make sure this is one of the Google Drive accounts that you have linked to your mobile app.  And yes, you can have more than one account linked to the mobile app--Google is awesome.

PROTIP: If you have the Google Drive desktop client, you can just drag the downloaded picture into the right folder, or, depending on your settings, you might be able to download it right into your Google Drive via the desktop client. (Is your mind blown?)

Download your desired file type.

Step 4: Once you have the desired .PNG or .JPG into your Google Drive, switch to the phone or tablet you want to put the new picture on as a wallpaper.  

Open up the Google Drive app and find the picture--look for ".png" and the thumbnail preview to make sure it's the picture file and not the Google Draw file.  Once you've found it, download it onto the phone (or whatever device). 

Make sure your Drive app is up to date and has all your most recent files.
You can do this by dragging down on the opening screen and getting the little flipping color circle.

Navigate to the place in your Google Drive that you uploaded the picture to.

Open that file and tap on the 3 dots.

Choose Save to Camera Roll (in iOS devices) or whatever location on your device.

Step 5: Now that you have the picture on the phone that you want to make it the wallpaper of, switch to the Photos app (on an iOS device).  In case you have never done this, I have included screenshots below.

NOTE: iOS has a feature called "Perspective Zoom" with wallpapers that causes the picture to enlarge a bit and may cause the edges of the picture to disappear.  If you're okay with that, no worries.  If you don't like it, you can use the pinch-zoom gesture to shrink the image and turn this off, so the whole image fits as you intended.

Tap the share symbol (in iOS), this will give you several options.

Look down at the bottom row of options.
You may have to side-scroll to Find the "Use as Wallpaper" control.

Perspective Zoom is a slight enlargement to facilitate the parallax effect.
If you don't like this you can pinch a little to get the whole picture to show at once.

If you have pinched the screen will show that Perspective Zoom is off.

Tap set and pick which screens you want this image to appear on.
Home screen" is where the icons for your apps live. The :lock screen" is what you see what the phone is locked.

...and Presto!

You're Full of Win!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Principal's Perspective: 1 on 1 Collaboration to Support Technology Integra...

The Principal's Perspective: 1 on 1 Collaboration to Support Technology Integra...: We lost one of our veteran teachers earlier this year when he moved on to become an Ed Tech Specialist for the District. It was initially se...

I've been doing some 1-on-1 coaching at the sites I support.  One my my principals did a blog post, with a contribution by me, on how it went and what we covered.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Can't I find It In Shared With Me?

Has this ever happened to you...

You're a teacher:

Someone at work tells you that your principal or your department chair shared something with the whole staff a week ago, and you need to work on it.  You go straight into your Google Drive, check your Shared With Me section and cannot find it whatsoever.  Now you go back and search through your email, only to find you've already deleted it. Now you have to ask the original person to re-share it, and they insist they've shared it to the whole school, "just look in your Google Drive," but you just cannot find it there?
This only happens with stuff shared to the whole school, why can't they share anything right?

You're a principal:

You have an important document that you need to share with all of your staff, both teachers and clerical.  You click the blue share button, type in the group email alias for your site (i.e., click Send, then Done, and you're good.  Right?

Two weeks later a handful of your staff say they can't find it in their Google Drive.  You double check your email and Google Doc, and you did use the right email group.  When you tell them to check Shared With Me, they claim to not be able to find it.
Why can't they organize their Google Drive better? Are they maybe not receiving all the group email?

In truth, everybody is a little right here, and everyone is also a little off.
The principal did share it to the whole school and it is also not in anyone's Shared With Me.

Many people don't realize that for a shared file or folder to appear in another person's Shared With Me area, that person's specific email address, NOT a group email alias, has to have been used in the share settings.

Using this kind of email group means it will NOT appeared in people's Shared With Me Area.

Does that mean I have to type in everyone's name each time I am going to share will all of my teachers/students/grade-level teammates?

No, fortunately there is a pretty simple solution.  It's not as effortless as the group email alias, but it is more functional, and after the initial setup it should be pretty easy to maintain.
Then answer it go into Gmail, and get into your Contacts Manager.

Once there, it is pretty easy to set up a contact group. Once you've done that, you can then type in the name of that contact group in the invitation area of the share settings, and Google will automatically insert all the individual emails for you.  Then, share away as you have been doing.  Now when you share with your group of people, you're still only typing one email address, but it's going to all the people you need it to, and going to a useful place in their Google Drive.

If you'd like to watch a step by step screen-cast video on how to do this, click here.

The Difference Between Visibility and Sharing in Google Drive

We've all seen the share controls for a Google Drive file, but most of us only look toward the bottom half.  We are, most of us, familiar with the "Invite people" window and we know what the difference between Can Edit, Can Comment, and Can View are.

Google Drive Sharing Controls

Rarely, however, do we look at that top half, Next to the word "Private" and click "change" to see what that button does.  That opens up what are called the Visibility Settings and it designates how people can access your file.  Visibility changes can make your document more widely accessible through link sharing or search.

Within a GAFE domain, there are five visibility options.
Visibility Choices
The choice that is on by default is "Private" or "Specified People" (blue).  This used to be known only as "Private".  What this means is that only people you have specifically made collaborators on the file can get to it in any way.

Public Visibility

The choices at the top of the setting (red) are related to each other and both allow a broader array of people on the internet to find your file.  They are pretty straightforward.  It is important to note that these settings eliminate the need for a Google account login to access them.

Public on the web: 
This is pretty much what it sounds like.  It is accessible to anyone on the web and it is indexed for search by search engines like Google and Yahoo.
Anyone with the link:
This is still on the web, but is NOT indexed for search.  You can think of this as an unlisted phone number--anyone can call it, but only if they already know it, because they just can't look it up.

Why would I use these?
It should go without saying that neither of these would be used for anything sensitive or having any kind of confidentiality.  
Public is a great setting if you are trying to get the word out on a document or file very easily and quickly, for example, anything we wanted to share with parents or the community at large, we would want to change the visibility to "Public".
Anyone with the link is a good setting if you want to give easy access to information to a bunch of people (like parents, or students) and want to allow them to share with others they know might be interest that you don't know. You'd use this instead of "Public" if you still wanted to keep it out of search engines for whatever reason.

In-District Visibility

The Choices in the middle (green box in the second picture) are very similar to the red choices, but confined to within the GAFE domain, or in our case, confined to within the school district. 

Fairfield-Suisun School District:
This is conceptually similar "Public on the web", but requires an FSUSD login to be able to access it.  Additionally, it is not indexed for search by big search engines, but it will be indexed by Google Drive search and may be opened by anyone in the district (or the organization that runs the GAFE domain you are in).
People at Fairfield-Suisun School District with the link:
Again, this similar to "Anyone with the link". but also requires an FSUSD login. Docs set to this option are accessible to anyone inside the district who has the URL of the file.

Why would I use these? 
These settings allow us to easily and quickly share within our organization on a large scale, but also allow those with whom we work to share to others that we may not know first hand, but who can benefit from access to the document or folder.  The "People at FSUSD with the link" especially makes it easy to copy and paste the file’s link into chat, email and calendar invites for quick access and feedback.

One Last Thing

By default, the visibility settings allow "Can View" privileges, but they can be changed to allow for editing or commenting.

Choosing any of these settings gives Can View privileges by default, but this can be changed.

Contact Groups for Gmail & G-drive

This is a screencast I put together for FSUSD personnel on how to create gmail contacts groups to facilitate groups emails, but also sharing to groups of people in Google Drive.