Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I'm so exSITEd

Throughout this course, we have explored various options for creating a classroom website. From Wordpress to Blogger, and now Google Sites. The amazing thing is (if you aren't concerned with having your own domain name) these are all free! Google Sites is comparable to the other options, and seems to offer everything that they do, except the templates aren't quite as attractive in my opinion. If Google Drive is something that a teacher already uses or plans on incorporating in the classroom, then Sites would be a great option for linking forms, calendars, photos and more.

I created a page for my fictional 5th grade class: https://sites.google.com/site/carmody5thgrade/

I found it easy to navigate the editor and to edit the pages themselves. The toolbar is similar to most word processing programs, especially Google Docs, of course; so if someone is familiar with that, then creating a page should be no problem! Inserting a calendar wasn't difficult, but inconvenient that I could not link to a school calendar that was already created. It seemed that the only option was to use my Google calendar. However, I loved the ease of sharing a Form created on Google Drive, and the options of sharing a presentation, images, or other things on my Drive. The different templates available for each page are also a bonus, as one page can be dedicated to daily/weekly updates and formatted like a blog, while another page can be set up like a web page with fixed items. Links to internal or external web pages can be inserted anywhere, making site navigation and sharing of other resources easy to do. Revision History is another great tool available on Google, with the ability to view previous versions of your webpage, compare them with current or other older versions, and revert back to that version if you desire. This can be great if you accidentally make some changes or delete something important from your site.

I enjoyed using Google Sites, but I'll have to do some more exploring on Wordpress before deciding which option I'll use for a class site (because I know I'll definitely have one)!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Good Form, Google.

Well, I had a little too much fun playing with Google Forms. I really enjoyed creating a quiz, sharing it, viewing the results, and especially the summary of responses (charts and graphs created automatically by Google)! After viewing a few of the tutorials, I attempted to create my own form and found that it is very self-explanatory. The only difficult part (for me, anyway, as a newer spreadsheet user) was analyzing the data with the right formulas. Some of the suggestions in the tutorials did not work, so it took some trial and error to figure out how to do it. I came up with something that worked, but I know there is an easier way. Here is a link to the sheet behind my form: How Tony are you? Again, my favorite part was looking at the charts and graphs developed from the collection of answers. The most important piece of information I gathered was whom my friends considered to be the best Batman:



Forms also proves to be a valuable resource for teachers and other school employees. The only uses that I first imagined were creating quizzes and gathering student information; however, there are many more that can benefit both the teacher and the students. In regards to Common Core, Forms gives students a chance to conduct an investigation, surveying their friends or community about an important topic. They're also able to gather data, organize it, and make clear presentations using technology to create visual displays of their findings. Starting in elementary school, students are required to analyze charts, graphs, and other forms of visual information. Teachers can help them do all these things by creating assignments using Forms.

As much as it offers students, it seems that Forms does even more for teachers. It can be used for student progress, which saves time and is perfect for busy teachers in special education. School personnel can also share a "disciplinary form" (example from the text) among themselves to create uniformity throughout the system; and there's a way to have these forms automatically e-mailed to the student's parents when their child is disciplined! Teachers may also gather information from students or their parents easily with Google Forms, which can be shared via e-mail, school website/Facebook, or even a QR code printed on a take-home letter or flier. What if a student forgot a permission slip the day of the field trip? If Google Forms were used, a parent could easily submit all the needed information and include their signature in a matter of minutes. All in all, Forms is another great resource on Google Drive for teachers to use for efficiency and for students to use to prepare for college and career!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Six Apps for Elementary School Students

There are seemingly a million apps for kids out there. Here are six that I found useful!

1. Dictionary
I briefly examined Merriam-Webster's app before this one, and Dictionary offers much more, and for free! There is, of course your basic dictionary functions of definitions, sentence examples, word origin, and thesaurus. Also available is a "Word of the Day" displayed on the front screen of the app, and the ability to swipe to see previous words of the day as well. There's even a list of trending words that are being searched. Something I found very interesting was the plethora of slideshows about (drumroll . . . ) WORDS! The first few that I perused were "8 ways to say congratulations," "Dear Mom: 5 Adjectives for Mother's Day," and "10 Popular Baby Names Defined." These resources expand upon an otherwise simple app to assist users in expanding their vocabulary even further! And it's all very easy to use and navigate, making it an ideal resource for even elementary school students.

2. Drawing Pad
THIS IS AMAZING. That's what I can imagine my 4 year old saying after playing with this app. But it's also what I'm saying. There are so many options available! Different drawing tools (and a million ways to use each one), backgrounds (or upload your own image), stickers, fonts, etc. After a creation is complete, it can be shared, printed, or saved. The only drawback with this app is the possibility that it's too elaborate for younger users and could be overwhelming. However, if children are given a guided assignment using this app, that shouldn't be a problem. Given free reign with it, I'd be interested to see what some kids create, though!


3. Puppet Pals
So, I immediately thought of the viral video, "Potter Puppet Pals." Watch the vid on the right if you like to laugh. The free version of the Puppet Pals app does not offer much, but the "Director's Pass" is only $3.99 and Puppet Pals 2 is only $5.99. With these versions, there are more characters (including anyone you have a picture of!), more settings, and probably other benefits. Either way, users can create a mini-movie using pictures of characters. They can move around the screen, but their appearance does not change (except for size). It seems that you record one continuous shot, moving characters around and changing the scenery while you record. So planning ahead is important! The app also utilizes your microphone so one or more people can provide voices for all the characters. I know elementary students would have a great time using this, but I could also see teenagers having a great time being creative and silly with it! In the full versions, there are themes available like American History, Political Par-tay, Space, and War & Peace, so students can make educational movies with it as well!

4. MathBoard
Students can use a chalkboard! And without scraping their fingernails across it or getting eraser dust everywhere. Simplicity and ease of navigation are sometimes the most important aspects of an app when considering using it in an elementary classroom. MathBoard offers that and some learning tools without all the glitz and glamour, which is a breath of fresh air in the competitive education market. This app is for basic arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Students can take timed quizzes, enter a problem to receive detailed instructions on how to solve it, view math tables, or play one of three games to further develop skills and speed. Results can be saved (with timestamp) for teachers to view, or for students to keep a record of their growth. I wish there were a sharing option so that students could send their results to the teacher, but I don't believe there is. However, for a free app, this seems best used as a resource for students to practice and take responsibility for their own growth in these areas.

5. Piano Free
This app gives students a chance to explore a piano, learning the notes for different keys, how to play certain songs, and even some chords. It's pretty basic, but a good starting point for anyone. Even experienced pianists could enjoy playing along with popular or classical songs. I had some fun trying to keep up with Beethoven's Fur Elise and Imagine Dragons' Demons. There are unfortunately not many free songs available, but there is also a freestyle option in which students can experiment with different chords and notes. I wish there were a recording option, or something of that sort, but it is what it is. I think it would be neat to have students to work in groups and create a song of some sort using different free instrument apps. GarageBand is probably better suited for those kinds of projects, however. But it would still be fun to attempt!

6. Toy Story
Books that have pictures are always more entertaining and popular with young readers. well, Disney has upped the ante and provided a book with pictures, video, games, music, coloring, and a "read-to-me" option. My two little boys would love using this app, and I think it would assist them in learning to read as it highlights the words while they are being read aloud. If a student already knows how to read, they can turn off the "read-to-me" and enjoy the book as they would any other (along with interactive games and video). Something like this would be a valuable resource for students learning English or struggling in reading on their own. There is also a record option, so students could record themselves reading the book. This would be great for a project for older students to record and share with younger students or ESL students. Hopefully Disney offers similar apps for other movies, also!



Thursday, May 14, 2015

iPad Basics

I've enjoyed using an iPhone for the past 6 years or so, but I've never really had the chance to play around with an iPad. I assumed it would be pretty similar, just on a bigger screen; however, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much more can be done on Apple's tablet versus their phone. For this assignment, I was able to explore four different apps on the iPad. Below is my evaluation:

1. KeyNote

WOW! So KeyNote does practically everything that MS Powerpoint and Google Slides do, it just does it exponentially better! The layout of the program is similar, with your slides on the left side of the screen, your toolbar up top, and your workspace filling the rest of the area. All of the programs are easy to use after a simple tutorial or a few minutes of exploration. They also all offer different options for design templates, transitions, animations, fonts, and graphics; though KeyNote is far beyond the other programs in its visual aesthetics. I had so much fun just exploring all the different animations. When I found the wide array of choices for inserting charts and graphs, I couldn't believe it. Google Slides doesn't even have that incorporated into their program, but KeyNote has made it easy to display data in colorful and creative ways that students of all ages will enjoy creating! One of the biggest difference lies in the ability to control the presentation from an iPad, iPhone, or iMac. I can imagine elementary students in a classroom having an enjoyable experience creating and giving presentations via KeyNote on the iPad; much more so than I ever did with MS PowerPoint.

2. Box.net

Box gives you the options to store photos, videos, and other files from your iPad. From there you can share certain files/folders with others or transfer them to a different device of your own. I've used Dropbox for both of the reasons, but I like Box a little better. On an iPad, it seems like it's a combination of Dropbox, Google Drive, and even Evernote.  Adding/capturing photos and videos from within the app itself is uncomplicated, along with writing a "boxnote" that can include images and links with text. Other files simply have to be added to Box via their respective apps. I attempted adding my KeyNote presentation, and did it with no complications. Though editing within the Box app is impossible, someone would just have to open the file in its app to do so. The ability to share files with others makes this comparable with Google Drive. There are options to leave comments on files, so teachers or collaborative partners are able to easily communicate about projects with each other.

3. iThoughts

I remember "spiderwebbing" as a student, organizing my thoughts before attempting to write a paper. I've never used an app to do so, but iThoughts gives us the option to do that and more. Like most applications on the iPad, this one is just as easy to use. My first thought when checking out a new program is usually "would an elementary school student be able to use this?" If it's on the iPad, the answer is almost always "yes!" I would envision using this for a few different types of projects. One idea would be to have students create a map that describes the many facets of their individual lives (family, friends, school, hobbies, etc.) Another would be for them to use it in explaining a topic about which they are learning (i.e. The Six Kingdoms of Life,  The Civil War: causes, effects, battles, etc., Applications of Mathematics). Of course, it would be a great resource for Reading and Writing as well, used as a spiderwebbing tool or to develop an analysis of a book (theme, setting, characters, etc.) Once again, the iPad gives students a fun, creative way to do what they may have otherwise considered boring projects.

4. Safari vs. Rover

I've used Safari on the iPhone, Macbook, PC, and now the iPad. It's probably my second favorite browser to use, after Google Chrome. After five minutes of Rover, I was beyond frustrated. I understand the purpose behind the creation of the app: so that students have a safe browser specifically for educational purposes which also supports flash content. However, I hope there are better options. Rover is unable to multitask, which is almost essential for students to work on any kind of project in school. Instead, they have to bookmark a web page in order to go to another page. This annoys me, so I'm sure it would annoy a child with an even shorter attention span. Also, maybe the Flash supporting Rover was free before, but now it costs $9.99. If this has to be installed on every iPad in a classroom/school, that can become expensive.

I tried exploring the web, but without being sure which sites were "educational" I had to make my best guess. After cnn.com was blocked, I tried discovery.com. Unfortunately the front page runs on Flash, but I was able to view the news page more easily. One of Rover's goals is to protect children from inappropriate content, but the first article I saw was "When More Sex Can Make You Less Happy." On the page of that article, there are more links to other articles about sex. Elementary students would have a field day with those, but their parents and teachers would probably rather them not. I know there is no surefire way to prevent access to everything like that, but my point is that Rover cannot even effectively do what it was designed to do. Another frustration is that the wifi connection has to be a certain strength in order for Rover to work correctly. I can imagine this being a problem in many school settings, where there are many devices connected to the same network.

All in all, I would much rather use Safari for my personal browsing, of course. But even in the classroom, i can't imagine having students use Rover. Their internet browsing does have to be monitored, but there are better ways to do this. The greatest boast of Rover is the ability to view Flash content on an iPad. I would argue that there are so many outstanding educational resources available on the iPad that the Flash programs wouldn't even be missed. But that's just me. I have little patience for programs that don't always work or end up wasting more time than they are saving.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Making the Grade . . . book

I have never used any kind of Spreadsheet program (correctly) in my life. We use it to plan the worship service for church each Sunday, but no math or formulas involved there. I've used Excel to prepare my taxes to send to our accountant the past few years, but the only formula I used was SUM. So, when I read the assignment tonight, I felt a little overwhelmed.


Thank goodness for tutorials! Oh, but the tutorials with actually pertinent information were unable to be viewed. However, I did see a tutorial that briefly mentioned templates! I had no idea where to begin when preparing a gradebook in a program that I've never used, so I found a template for a generic Google Sheets gradebook.. By exploring the template, I discovered how to create headings, use formulas, organize data, and use more formulas. With the small amount of time I've spent incorrectly using Excel, Google's spreadsheet application seems fairly comparable. It was easy to use once I figured out where to begin (thank you Chuck Faber, template submitter!) I would have to say that the easiest aspect was the navigation. Like robots, my hands want to press TAB and ENTER, and those were the keys that got me around the sheet; so entering in the data for each student and assignment was quick and easy. Once I understood how to type in the formulas, those were fairly easy as well. I have a feeling they may be even easier, but that is something to discover another day.

I had to make a lot of modifications to the template to complete this specific assignment, and as I was creating different sections, I realized I should have probably used a new sheet to enter in various assignment grades. I developed it as if we were in the middle of the semester, so I had to enter my formulas so that they could give an accurate current overall grade, but also stay accurate as I entered in new daily/weekly grades. Check it out here, you may recognize my students.


 There are a few things that I'm still unclear about when it comes to Google Sheets (and spreadsheets in general). But it will just take some time and exploration. I have a good idea how to develop my own gradebook now, but I'm not quite ready to assign students to use it for anything. Luckily, there are some great ideas in Graham's text to get me started . . .

Google Sheets in Common Core

Being the most advanced and elaborate program in Google Drive, Sheets offers many resources for teachers to use in helping students meet the CCSS, The most obvious would be in the area of mathematics. By completing more in depth assignments containing various types of data and information, students can develop and demonstrate data literacy by studying, processing, explaining, and manipulating data in the spreadsheets. Teachers can create projects that help students collect data, organize it in a sheet, and then transform it into a chart or graph. Through this they are collaborating, using technology, creating visual displays of information, and discovering properties of data distribution. Even students in elementary school can use the basics of Sheets as a tool to record and organize data. From there, they can use Google Drawings to make their own chart/graph, draw it by hand, use the tool in Sheets, or all three! Gadgets and interactive charts add another dimension to Sheets as well. These are visually appealing, and will update as new information is entered, helping students recognize the need for technology and saving time since a new chart doesn't need to be created whenever data changes or is added. Of course, the greatest strength of Google Drive Apps is the Cloud. Being able to share, collaborate, and publish their creations, students are connected in ways like never before, enabling them to learn from others and receive help from educators in real time. If it weren't for that capability, I wouldn't have been able to even begin my assignment tonight!


Monday, May 11, 2015

Google Picasso


I am not an artist. When I look at an empty canvas, my mind is equally as blank. With Google Drawings, however, the somewhat limited tools actually make creating something out of nothing a little easier. I love this quote from Graham in Google Docs Meets Common Core, "sometimes limiting their options increases their creativity." As far as drawing and painting, I have the talent of your average elementary school student; so I can testify to the truth of that statement! By looking at the available shapes and lines, I was actually inspired. Now, my above drawing is nowhere near as impressive as Goofy, but it also didn't take much instruction or experimentation for me to learn how to use this cool application! As it turns out, Google Drawings is not just for making pictures for mom to hang on her digital fridge; it's also for creating professional documents, experimenting with graphic design, enhancing a creation in Google Slides or Documents, and countless learning experiences for students in the classroom.

With a tool to insert shapes (or create your own with lines and curves), students can explore geometric figures in a whole new way: defining shapes, making shapes, and creating pictures using an assortment of different shapes. In fact, the very vocabulary that Google Drawings uses is geometric in itself, which opens up even more opportunities for lessons (see below). That's just one of the obvious uses of this application, but there's so much more! Students can use callouts to create comic strips to illustrate otherwise seemingly boring topics, like fungi. They can create visually appealing flowcharts to demonstrate understanding about processes and events, which can be used as study resources for themselves or someone else!

The lesson that I explored invited students to create, manipulate, and name different shapes; and then use them to create a unique drawing. I love the ability to put the instructions inside the shapes themselves, not to mention the ease of sharing the one Drawing with the whole class and then having them create a copy for their own alterations. This seems that it would save so much time, especially if its an exercise that's used every year. Something I wasn't expecting to see displayed is the actual number of degrees that I'm spinning the object while I'm spinning it! The ease of naming the shapes and moving/spinning/re-sizing them makes this a perfect project for elementary school students that helps them understand geometry and enhance their creativity.

I made some kind of beaverduck dragon. Remember, I am not an artist. :)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Google Slip 'n' Slides

Power Struggle

I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft PowerPoint. I loved using it for presentations because I was familiar with it and I assumed it was the best option. I hated it because it was lame and it frustrated me. Well, I'm looking forward to trying out Apple's Keynote because after playing with Google Slides, I'm still left wanting more. There are some things I love about it, but there are also some frustrations. However, for a free online software, I'd say it's pretty solid, and I prefer it over the programs I've used before. When it comes to using in schools, there isn't a better option for helping students in all grades meet the rigors of the Common Core Standards.

Likes

One of my main problems with PowerPoint was transferring my presentation from one computer to another. I seemed to always have issues with pictures or videos or software compatibility. The cloud capability of Google Drive erases this problem nearly completely. As long as there is internet access, my presentation is accessible. In the classroom, this creates ease for collaborative work and publishing online just like Google Docs. I also enjoy the incorporation of Google Search, Image Search, Video Search, and Research right in the presentation. Students are able to easily enhance their presentations with media. On the same note, the animations and design options are very appealing and easy to insert; both of these tools help students meet Anchor Standard 5 for Speaking and Listening. Along with these notable qualities, Google Slides is easy to use and contains most of what anyone would need to create a great presentation. Here is my short trial run about the Memphis Grizzlies:



Dislikes

Inserting a video into PowerPoint usually gave me difficulties, mostly due to incompatibility, so I was hoping Google Slides would be better. Unfortunately it is not. The only option for inserting a video is through YouTube. When I used the search function, I never got any results (I even tried just searching for "cat," and we all know how many cat videos there are on YouTube). Then when I inserted the video URL (numerous different videos), it told me the video no longer existed. *After researching, it seems that this is a problem that many users have been experiencing recently in Google Slides.* Google image search also didn't display many results, but I believe that may be due to copyright laws (which I probably usually break when I make presentations, something I need to learn about before teaching students how to legally make a presentation). Slides doesn't have an appealing toolbar with colorful images at the top like PowerPoint, so it takes a little exploring and experience before one can create with ease and efficiency. I attempted to insert a pie graph, but creating charts does not seem to be an option with Google Slides. If I had the time, I could have gone into Google Sheets and made one, saved it as a image, then inserted it into Slides.

Sliders

Even though I have PowerPoint on my laptop, the next time I need to make a Presentation, I will most likely use Google Slides (that is unless Apple Keynote proves to be superior!) In the classroom, Slides is an amazing option for students. With its research, cloud, and collaboration abilities, it's a great resource for creating digital note cards for studying. With the line drawing tool, teachers and students can use it for geometry. With its price tag (free), schools can afford it!