Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Chrome Apps, Extensions & Add-Ons: Another Round!

Minus the snow, a pretty accurate description of my days lately!
As of this writing, I have been on break for about a week and a half.  My last official day of work for 2016 was Friday, December 16.  I went into work on Monday, December 19 to work with my technology partner on completing an inventory of my school's Chromebooks (we have over 800 and the inventory lists were a mess!), but other than that, I have been somewhat "off the grid" for the past week or so.  I have kicked out a few tweets here and there promoting some upcoming events that CUE-NV is hosting (for me information and registration info, see my previous post here), listened to a few messages on Voxer (all of my Voxer friends must be off the grid too, it has been very quiet), but that is about it.  Like many people in education, I wanted/needed a brain break for a few days.  So instead of focusing on work, I have spent time with my family, my mother and sister came to visit for a few days, I took my 5-year-old daughter to see Rogue One (she fell asleep, but it gave me the opportunity to focus, and I thought it was an excellent film, I look forward to seeing it again before it leaves the theatre), and I have caught up on the DVR that continuously piles up during a typical work week.  However, that doesn't mean that I haven't had ideas or the itch to write during that time.

In the past few weeks, I have discovered some more great Google Chrome apps, extensions, and add-ons that have made my professional life easier.  I am sure that if you haven't used these tools before, you will find them to be just as amazing as I do!

If your account has been given
access to Team Drives, you will
see the option in your Drive like
in the image above.
Team Drives:  If you have a GSuite for Education account (formerly known as GAFE account) for your school and district, you may have seen this option appear in your Google Drive.  Essentially, Team Drives is an easier way to share and edit documents with a group of people.  The possibilities for employing Team Drives are endless!  I envision them to be used effectively for PLC teams, departments, grade levels, administrative teams, and so much more.  So how do Team Drives work?  A person creates a new Team Drive from their account and adds people to the Drive.  You can set different permissions for each person, from as little as view only to full access that allows people to add others, add files, edit files, and delete people and files from the Team Drive.   When somebody adds a file to the Team Drive, it automatically shares it with the other people within the Drive, NOT directly to their Google Drive.  All edits are in real time, just like a regularly shared Drive file.  If a person is removed from the Team Drive, they no longer have access to the files.  I have created a Team Drive for the technology team at my school to share all of our inventories and other technology related documents.  In addition, I created a Team Drive for my school's administrative team for easier access to documents like school/district policies, staff evaluation resources, sports schedules, and other files.  There are a few kinks that Google needs to work out, such as the ability to add an entire folder, rather than just files, but so far, Team Drives is a great new tool that will make the sharing and editing of files between individuals much easier.

Find both of these great add-ons in Google
Sheets by using the Get add-ons option 
Power Tools & Yet Another Mail Merge:  If you are like me, you used Google Sheets extensively.  You also need to communicate with your colleagues on a regular basis via email.  Two add-ons for Google Sheets, Power Tools, and Yet Another Mail Merge make using Sheets and communication more simplified.

Power Tools has numerous functions within the add-on that allows you to modify data within a sheet.  Some of the options include removing data (duplicates, extra spaces, blank rows/columns, etc.), clear data by type, change the formatting of numbers, split data into columns, and so much more.  I use the remove duplicate and remove blank rows function the most in my daily work.

Yet Another Mail Merge is a great way to send personalized emails to your colleagues.  Using data tags, the program will pull information from a spreadsheet, such as names, and insert it into an email draft that you create in your Gmail account.  You can send the email immediately or schedule it to be sent at a later time.  It even has a tracking function that allows you to see who has opened the message.  The free version of YAMM allows you to send to 50 recipients in 24 hours.  Since I communicate with about 150 people regularly, I spent $25 to buy the premium version for one year, which allows up to 1500 recipients in 24 hours.  I have yet to try it out, but you can also send personalized attachments to recipients through YAMM!

A QR code for my blog created using
The QR Code Extension.  
The QR Code Extension:  QR codes are a great way to differentiate instruction, share materials, and disseminate information easily.  The QR Code extension makes it easy to create a QR code for any web page!  The extension allows you to modify the QR code, even personalizing it with images (requires a third-party account, which is free).  Once you have created a QR code, you can modify the size of the code and download it as a .png file for placing in documents, presentations, websites, etc.

It even has a scanner embedded that allows users to scan QR codes using the webcam of a laptop, Chromebook, etc.  So instead of needing to use your smartphone or a tablet with a QR code scanning application, you can use the Chrome browser to scan a QR code!  Simply open the extension, select scan a code, and hold up a QR code to the webcam to scan it!

In closing, I can't help but take a moment to pay tribute to Carrie Fisher, who left us this morning (as of this writing).  Unlike many, or even most Star Wars fans, I did not become a fan until I was an adult.  I was never a big fan of science fiction growing up and my experience with the original trilogy as a kid was very limited.  I definitely did not see the prequel trilogy until recently.  However, I am definitely a full-on fan of the franchise (even the prequel trilogy, I don't think it deserves the relentlessly negative press that it gets; sure it's not as good as the originals, but what is?), my 5-year-old absolutely loves it, and I am working on my 20-month-old son.  Carrie and the rest of the cast of the 7 movies of the saga and Rogue One have definitely made an impact on me, my family, many of my friends, and society as a whole.  Not to mention her voicing of Angela on Family Guy is always good for a few laughs.  She will be missed and like too many other greats that passed on in 2016, she was taken way too soon.  As educators, we fight each day to revolutionize our craft and make our students and the world a better place.  Until next time, in honor of Princess Leia and the Star Wars franchise...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

CUE-NV Events of 2017

Cookie Monster joined CUE and look at how
excited he is!  This could be you! 
2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year for CUE-NV.  As an organization, we are attempting to build our brand, recruit membership, and host more events for members and nonmembers alike (although, we hope that if you take the time out to attend one of our events, you should become a full-fledged member of the Dark Side; we have cookies, or CUEkies, right Jason Borgen?) Numerous events are already published and ready to go.  There is also the CUE National Conference in Palm Springs, various CUE Rockstar events, and Fall CUE events that are absolutely amazing.  I have attended each of those events before, and I can vouch for their awesomeness.  You will learn a ton and meet some amazing people, many of whom I consider good friends now.  So without further ado, I present to you, a schedule of CUE-NV events for the upcoming year!

CUE-NV Tech Fest
Where: Douglas High School, Minden, NV
When: Saturday, January 28, 2017
What: numerous presentations on innovation and technology with a keynote by CUE's own Jon Corippo.

Register now for $40 (if you are a CUE member, send an email to 21stcenturylearning@cue-nv.org for a promo code to save $20).  If you are interested in presenting, submit your proposal for a free registration!

Silver State Tech Innovator Symposiums
Where: Various locations in Las Vegas, Reno, and Carson City
When: February 25 (Las Vegas & Reno), March 11 (Carson City), March 25 (Las Vegas), April 22 (Las Vegas & Carson City), May 20 (Las Vegas & Reno)
What: A series of one-day tech events with a monthly focus: G Suite for Education (February), iPads & Chromebooks in Education (March), 21st Century Learning (April), Digital Literacy & Citizenship (May).

Please see the following links for registration.  Registration is only $15 for nonmembers, $10 for CUE members (be sure to complete the form on the registration page to request your $5 reimbursement.  CUE-NV is also looking for presenters for each event; your registration fee is waived if you submit a proposal that is accepted.  See links below for proposal submissions.  Carson City events are still in the planning stages; more information will be provided at a later time.  

Registration Links
February 25 (Las Vegas):  http://bit.ly/LasVegasSSTISFebruary
February 25 (Reno):   http://bit.ly/RenoSSTISFebruary
March 25 (Las Vegas):  http://bit.ly/LasVegasSSTISMarch
April 22 (Las Vegas):  http://bit.ly/LasVegasSSTISApril
May 20 (Las Vegas):  http://bit.ly/LasVegasSSTISMay
May 20 (Reno):  http://bit.ly/RenoSSTISMay

Proposal Submissions (indicate which location on the form)

Reno Spring Tech Camp
Where:  Damonte High School, Reno, NV
When: April 28-29, 2017
What: Two-day event featuring a keynote speaker, numerous presentations on innovation and educational technology, lunch, and a year membership to CUE

Register now for $89, with prices increasing to $99 on April 21.  Looking to present and having your registration fee waived?  Submit a proposal and if it is accepted, you will be able to attend for free! 

Where: Western High School, Las Vegas, NV
When: September 29-30, 2017
What: The largest annual event for CUE-NV, a two-day conference with keynote speakers, numerous innovation and educational technology sessions, CUESTEAMpunk Playground, vendors, breakfast, lunch, giveaways, and a year membership to CUE.  

Register now for the super early bird, super low price of $69 (only 46 tickets remain!) before prices increase to $89, $99, or $109.  The request for presenters will be made available at a later date.  

CUE-NV will also be hosting BeerCUE on Saturday, January 28.  The Northern Nevada event will be held after the CUE-NV Tech Fest at the Tail Dragger Cafe in Minden and Hennessey's Tavern in Las Vegas, with both events starting at 5:30.  A CUEHike is in the planning phases for May.  

As you can see, plenty of opportunities for professional learning, networking and building your PLN. If you have any questions, feel free to contact CUE-NV at 21stcenturylearning@cue-nv.org.  

Until next time...

Friday, December 9, 2016

Hour of Code: Minute 61 & Beyond

What about your beyond Hour of Code?  What have you done in minute 61 and beyond?
This week has been a celebration of technology with the worldwide Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code.  Millions of students worldwide have participated in various activities to bring more attention to the importance of studying computer science and coding.  Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about the importance of computer science and coding and how, frankly, I was a coding idiot for several reasons.  I pledged to educate myself more in the wonderful world of coding, including signing the pledge on code.org.  I am proud to say that even though I did not participate in an official Hour of Code event, I definitely put in more than an hour of time this week to familiarize myself with coding and can honestly say that I was missing out all of this time.

Complete the quizzes, earn your badges, and get this bad boy!
Earlier this week, I completed the Apple Teacher certification in iPads and Mac.  Each part of the process involved eight short quizzes about Apple products, such as Keynote, Numbers, Pages, iMovie, Garageband, and others.  A search in iBooks or from appleteacher.apple.com will turn up study guides to assist you in preparing for the quizzes and earning your badges.  I found some of the quizzes, like Productivity, Creativity, and iMovie to be very easy, while Garageband and Keynote were much tougher.  This should come as a surprise to me, which it doesn't, as I have used iMovie much more than I have Garageband (to tell the truth, I honestly can't recall a time that I ever used Garageband).  An addition set of quizzes with more badges focused on Apple's Swift Playground.  These badges are going to have to wait as I will need to do some extensive study and practice.  

As for the Swift Playground app, I can't say enough good things about it.  Apple provides study guides that are available for iBooks and activities within the app that explain key vocabulary and outline easy to follow tasks to build coding skills.  A fun little avatar that walks around demonstrates whether or not your code is correct.  Over the course of a couple of hours, I went from knowing absolutely nothing about writing code to writing code that had my avatar walking around, jumping, and collecting gems.  I have also started looking at some other coding apps, such as ScratchJr., to build my skills.  Do yourself a favor and check out Swift Playground, if you haven't already.

My daughter will be getting this soon!
Weeks ago, I signed up for a training offered by my school district that was hosted by Apple, with a focus on STEM education.  While the training was designed more for science and STEM teachers, I signed up for it hoping to learn some skills that I would be able to share with teachers at my school in my coaching role.  What I got was way more than that.  Now, it probably was not a coincidence that this training was held during Computer Science Education Week.  Not everything presented focused on computer science, but there was a great deal of coding with Parrot, Sphero, Osmo, and the Swift Playground.  In addition, the session gave instruction on some great science-related apps, iBooks, and iTunesU.  I was able to bring a ton of great resources back for my teachers, and I improved my coding skills at the same time.  They are offering an English/Language Arts themed session with Apple in February; I am already signed up!

It was a good week! 
With a straight face, I can look you in the eye and say that I have done something beyond the Hour of Code.  I can say that I am no longer lower than a novice.  I can say that I am a novice coder moving very quickly toward something higher than that.  I will not be writing apps or building a new operating system to compete with Windows or Chrome OS anytime soon, but I am a lot further along than I was four days ago.  Hopefully, this has been a week in which you have improved your computer science and skills as well.  

Until next time... 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Computer Science & Coding: What does it mean to me?

The week of December 5-11 is recognized as Computer Science Education Week throughout the world.  Many organizations and schools have activities planned in celebration of CSE Week on a wide array of levels.  It is no secret that the future of the United States and the world is going to depend on computer science and coding.  The problem is that the world is millions of computer scientists short in fulfilling the jobs and careers that are available.  As educators, we need to do a better job of preparing students for the jobs of the future.  It is never too early to have students start planning for their future.  While it is typical that schools have career days and job shadowing experiences, most of these experiences do not happen until a student is in high school.  We need to start with kids as young as kindergarten in coding and computer science to prepare them for the future.  

A bit of a disclaimer: I am not a coding expert.  I am not a coding enthusiast.  In fact, my knowledge and skills in coding are below novice.  However, what I do know is how important it is that coding becomes more of a focus in our schools.  Not that it should be used as an excuse, and I don't fall back on this as a crutch, but I failed to see the importance of coding for a long time because I was a social studies teacher.  I didn't have computers in my classroom.  My curriculum was already hard enough to cover in 9 months, let alone bringing in more to cover.  Overall, my philosophy was, "How is coding going to apply to and help me teach my standards?"   It took me until the CUE Conference 2016 in Palm Springs to final start to realize that this was a misguided, misinformed, and detrimental point of view.  
Watch Hadi Partovi's TEDx talk here.

One of the keynote speakers at CUE 2016 was Hadi Partovi, a man that escaped the horrors of war in his birthland of Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, came to the United States with his family, and founded numerous tech companies, including code.org.  His hour-long keynote highlighted his life, his education, and statistics on the present and future of the global economy in regards to computer science, females and underrepresented minorities in computer science, and why we must press politicians to take notice of the importance of computer science.  I left his speech, like many others probably did, inspired to make changes.  I went to a coding session later that day at the conference, and while I did not get much from it (the session was more of a "sit & get" on places you can go to get information; they were good resources, but I wanted to see action, not words), it inspired me to change my attitudes toward coding.  

Fast forward about nine months, and sadly, I am not much further along than where I was in March.  I could make excuses all day long, but I take full responsibility for not bettering myself as an educator by exploring more resources and learning more ways to incorporate coding into all subject areas, not just computers classes.  So today, December 5, 2016, I took a step forward to righting the ship by signing the diversity pledge on code.org, vowing that all students can code and should have the opportunity to learn to code.  It is my duty and responsibility to use the numerous resources that are available to educate myself about computer science and coding, and I vow to take advantage of those resources, which include:

Your PLN:  If you are reading this, there is a great chance you got the link from Twitter.  The people that you follow are a great resource of activities and information that can help you to build your computer science and coding skills.  A recent #tosachat Twitter chat highlighted coding, and while I was completely lost, I was able to glean tons of great resources and make connections with people that are much smarter than I.  

Computer Science Education Week:  Visit csde.org for great information on lessons, collaboration with educators around the world, and a blog that will provide you with a solid base to start your coding journey or to enhance what you are already doing.  

Code.org:  The gold standard of coding resources, it provides resources for students, parents, teachers, and works as an advocate for promoting computer science.  They also sponsor the Hour of Code, which will be happening in classrooms around the world throughout this week.  

Khan Academy:  "The YouTube of Education" (ok, I made that up, but that's essentially what it is), Khan Academy provides short videos on coding and computer science that you and your students can use to build your skills.  

You may not have computers in your classroom and you may not have strong skills, but you can still code with your students.  All of the above resources also provide activities that require no technology.  And because our students today are a part of the generation that doesn't know a world without computers and the Internet, by introducing them to computer science and coding, they'll be able to teach you a few things.  

The biggest thing:  now I have to take my own advice that I have provided here and do something about it.  Until next time...