Here We Go Again

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Once again it is time to saddle up and prepare to ride herd on another group of technology students. With the hustle and bustle of preparing for a new year I often forget how important it is to document what works and what does not. This year my goal is to journal, at least some of my classes, with an eye towards technique. We spent the morning in a professional development seminar presented by Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame.  Needless to say, while I did not agree wholeheartedly with everything that was said, I do believe that Mr. Burgess was correct in one very important area.  We absolutely DO need to carefully consider our presentation and we need to devise ways to make it more engaging.  We are packaging and marketing a product for sale and we are competing with some of the best marketers in the world for the attention of our students.  In order to engage our students and give them the best opportunity to retain the material we present, we must make it palatable.

Before anyone grabs the tar and feathers, I have not bought into the theory that each lesson needs to be an epic presentation of Hollywood-like special effects.  I survived the “Working on the Work” phase of 2007 and 2008.  We all built carefully crafted set-pieces to be trotted out for special occasions like evaluations.  I have seen teachers with fire station poles, amusement park rides, and all sorts of props in the classroom.  I don’t think that this is a legitimate expectation for every teacher.  I do, however, think that each of us can, and should, put more care into the format and presentation of our lessons.  Any good craftsman will be interested in improving their craft because each of us, in the end, wants to do the best we can for our kids, or at least, they should be our highest motivation.

At any rate, my goal this year is as follows:

1.) Document what I am doing in class with video, audio, and careful notes.

2.) Use that documentation to improve what I am currently doing and use legitimate data collection and analysis methods to determine what is good and what is not so effective.

3.) Brain-storm ideas for more ways to present information more accurately and more interestingly.

4.) Archive and share what works and what does not in the classroom on these pages.

Having said that…Wish me luck…Here We Go Again.

Teacher Tools Day 4 – SharePoint

sharepointTeachers are constantly faced with the necessity of posting something, be it pictures, lessons, pdf files, or especially videos to the web and then allowing students access to those resources. SharePoint, from Microsoft, is the best tool for that job, bar none. While a Google drive or other cloud service may allow you to share a file and grant permissions to your students, SharePoint simplifies the process and takes sharing documents to a new level.

What is SharePoint and do I have it?

Microsoft SharePoint is a business server application that allows users to post and share almost any type of file or media and then grant access to that material to anyone they choose.  The application integrates with Microsoft Office in a way that Google drive or other cloud storage applications can not hope to match.  It allows the user to post documents, set permissions, and then edit directly with Word, Excel, or other applications simply by dragging and dropping onto a webpage or folder.  SharePoint can be mapped as a shared drive to bypass the browser or it can be accessed as a web page.  SharePoint takes care of hosting and sharing video so that putting content on YouTube, which is often blocked in schools, or filled with inappropriate images, is not necessary.  SharePoint allows for the creation of sites for groups, teams, classes, and other units, and allows the creator to set permissions for those units down to the document level.  When combined with OneNote Classroom Creator, SharePoint becomes a Learning Management System in it’s own right.  It is fully customizable and allows users to create and publish apps that others can access if they are given the necessary permissions.  In short, SharePoint is a great solution for document control for any type of data.  SharePoint also contains a social media piece that allows students to collaborate and communicate while still being fully monitored and controlled by the network administrator.  SharePoint is fully accessible from outside the school network as long as login credentials are available making it an excellent way for parents to monitor the work their students are doing.  SharePoint is fully integrated into Outlook and can be used to create calendar entries for students to post assignments and reminders.  Finally, SharePoint is easily integrated with any school web site to allow secure access for anyone with school login credentials.

The online version of SharePoint is usually included with an educational subscription to Office 365.  If your school has Office for all of its students and teachers (and it should) then you very likely have SharePoint available.  The easiest way to find out is to ask your network administrator.  If not, then he is also the person to lobby for it.

I am often asked why I prefer Microsoft Office to the free online Google applications that offer similar services.  I am preparing my students for college, and/or the business world.  They will very likely not see Google docs again after High School.  By far the majority of the  market share of business document creation software belongs to Microsoft Office.  Why not start now teaching them something they will use throughout their careers?  Most corporate workers in America will be familiar with SharePoint, Office, and the other common Microsoft business applications.  It seems a waste to teach them something that they will use only temporarily, or at least, that is my opinion.

Useful Skills in Canvas

w3c_logoI am going to start a series aimed primarily at teachers who use the Canvas Learning Management System.  I have found, over the course of the last three years, some tips and tricks that can make your experience with Canvas easier, or possibly more effective.  The first trick I will offer is the use of HTML to control how your embedded images relate to the text you place them with in pages, quiz questions.  Most people ignore the HTML editor portion of Canvas and just use the Rich Content Editor.  I think this is a mistake because the HTML editor allows you much more control and functionality.  All you need is a cursory knowledge of in-line style commands and CSS.

Let’s say you wish to add a picture to the top of an informational page.  Ordinarily you would upload the file to Canvas, use the Embedded Image button in the page editor tool bar to place the picture, and then put your cursor where you want the text to appear and start typing.  The problem here is that if you wish the text to appear on one side or the other of the image and/or to wrap the image, it is difficult do do in the Rich Text Editor.  Often you end up with a single line of text next to the image and the rest of your text below the image, like this…

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With the addition of a tiny html snippet into the HTML editor you can go from this to what appears in the image below.

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To accomplish this task we only need open the HTML editor and find the code that embeds the image into the page.  We are looking for the following structure:

chrome_2017-03-08_11-12-51We see the line img src=”https://whitesboro…  This line tells us the source for the picture we have embedded into our page.  We need to edit that html slightly with the addition of the following snippet of html code.

“style=”float: left; padding-right: 15px;”

Everything, including the quotation marks, must be included.  Essentially this line of code tells the HTML browser to float or move the picture always to the left of the text and to give us a 15 pixel space between the right margin of the image and the start of our text.  Entered correctly, the code will now look like this…

chrome_2017-03-08_12-18-23This is the same bit of html with the code snippet above pasted in.  We placed the line of code between the “img” and the “src” and now our text politely starts at the top of our image, wraps nicely around our image, and gives us a 15 pixel buffer space between the right margin of the image and the left margin of the text.  This particular bit of html can be pasted anywhere that you are allowed to edit a page with html.  In fact, I used it on the smaller images on this page at WordPress to allow me to wrap the text around the images.  This is just one example of the power that simple HTML and in-line CSS style commands provide.  The link above will take you to the W3C page on style sheets and you can begin your journey from there.

If information like this is useful to you, please leave a like and share on social media.  If there is some topic you would like covered, please leave a comment below.

#TCEA16 Reflections

tcea2016I just got in from unpacking the car after an exhausting and thrilling week at TCEA’s state-wide convention in Austin, TX and now I have a moment to pause and sort out my thoughts before I go take a nap.  (As you might suspect, this will be a short post.  I really need the nap.)

First let me say that there is a great deal of talent, passion, and enthusiasm for technology in education in Texas.  I have spent the week with several thousand people who genuinely care about educating YOUR children.  Public school teachers in Texas are not lazy by any stretch of the imagination.  They are not uncaring.  They want nothing more out of life than to see your child succeed.  They work in the face of impossible odds and with very little in the way of appreciation, either financial or social.  They don’t need a lot.  Texas teachers will teach your kids using old fashioned text books, pen and ink, or the newest SMART board and laptop.  They don’t need a lot but they make use of anything and everything.  This week I saw people using computers and robotics and I saw people using rubber bands and paper clips.  Each was just a excited and committed as the other.  Both groups are now home and reinvigorated and ready to teach on Monday, or at least they will be ready after a good night’s sleep.

To all the teachers who have spent the last week at TCEA I have some suggestions that will make the experience a bit more meaningful…

  1.  Sit down ASAP and write down your impressions and thoughts about the past week.  Don’t let all that experience go to waste.  If you met someone interesting or who offered worthwhile information, write down their contact information and enter it into your phone or email address book.  Make a committment to contact them and continue the relationship.
  2. Recopy any notes that you may have taken.  Use OneNote or some other organizational aid to put what you learned in order.  Don’t let all those brochures and handouts get wadded up into the bottom of a suitcase and tossed out with the trash.  Organize what you brought back.
  3. Commit now to work next year.  We need volunteers.  Every member should spend at least one session as a facilitator or a worker at the TCEA booth or something.  Much of the work for this convention is done by a very few people.  Be one of them.  Besides you get a really cool T-shirt that is different from everyone else’s and it is not one that can be bought or given as a door prize.  The only way to get an “I can help you get connected” T-shirt is to earn it (or you could mug someone else who earned one but that would not be very nice).
  4. REST this weekend.  Sleep late tomorrow.  This convention stuff takes it out of you.  Be ready to get busy on Monday.  Get some sleep.  Take a break tomorrow.
  5. Pick three things that really impressed you and implement or involve them in your classroom.  Don’t try to cram everything in your notes into your daily routine but do incorporate three things.  If one doesn’t work, choose another but you should be able to add three tools to your belt that will make your job easier, better, more effective, or more fun.  Write the other things down and keep them for later but make sure you add three things when you go back to work.
  6. And finally, the most important thing you can do is go back to school and share what you learned.  This is the purpose of the convention in a nutshell.  “Learn and then Teach”.  You have been given a great many opportunities, tools, and tips; share them.  Give a class on something that impressed you.  Build a document that all the teachers from your school can access.  Just don’t waste what you’ve been given.

Well that is my take on it anyhow.  I am going to start organizing my notes while I can still keep my eyes open and I will see you in the classroom on Monday.

Status Report

Technology-wise it has been very busy around here.  The City of Whitesboro offered an e-cycling clean up for used technology.  I got rid of 11 PCs from my garage and hauled off 5 from the Police Dept. and 7 from the City of Whitesboro offices.  I did this because there were 6 of them that were suitable for inclusion in our “Computers for Kids” program co-sponsored by myself and the Whitesboro Chamber of Commerce.  My Computer Tech class will have a lot to clean up and install hard drives in next week.

I have received the syllabus for my summer session classes in my Master’s Program.  My professor seems like a great guy and I look forward to working with him.  I am SO ready to get started.  My first class will be advanced data manipulation and presentation in Office 2013.  I will be doing advanced Flash animation during the second part of the summer.

I did not get a lot feedback from the Online Safety post so I am not going to continue that thread.  I just want to remind everyone that you need to know where your kids are and what they are doing online as well as in the real world.  I will pick up a couple of new apps (Autocrat and Diigo) as soon as I have a moment.

I am finishing up our Digital Fluency program so I must be brief in order to finish a lesson plan for the training.  Hope to hear from you guys soon.

The Latest App Smash – OneNote and ShareX: A Great Combination

Introducing a great way to build easily followed lessons and interactive material; the OneNote Classroom Notebook and ShareX, the ultimate screen capture workshop.  ShareX allows you to sahrexOneNOtecapture still and video images from any screen and you can upload it to any possible destination on the web, all from inside the program.  OneNote allows you to build shared lessons and provides a way to present the information (the content library) as well as a way for students to securely complete and turn in assignments (the student area).  These two make a great combination.  ShareX is the best capture software I have ever used.  Find a video that you would like to use but can’t find an app or web site to download it?  ShareX to the rescue (Remember that just because you CAN download or capture a video does not mean you should.  Respect the copyright and the owners)  You can catch whole screens, whole windows, or selected areas just as fast as you can click the “Print Screen” button.  OneNote holds all this material and makes creating interactive lessons and flipped work as easy as pie.  Trust me when I tell you that I can build dozens of lessons per week that are professional looking with plenty of visual material to make learning a breeze.  You DEFINITELY need to try this.

Remind Me Again

As teachers we are constantly needing to communicate with students, other teachers, parents, and other stake holders in the educational process.

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Great care must be taken to secure the student’s contact information and protect yourself from potentially career threatening liabilities.  Remind101 (now Remind.com) makes the process easy and secure.

Remind is a web site using the twitter engine to send text messages to groups of students, parents, or anyone you choose.  The text messages are sent from a third party phone number and can not be replied to in any way.  While it may seem a bit frustrating at first, you can see how this is necessary to protect both student and teacher from any possible hint of impropriety.  The message is sent from the web site by the teacher to groups of students.  Each students receives the same message.  It is impossible to sent a private message to a single student.

Remind is a free service with basically unlimited group creation and student messaging.  It is also possible to embed HTML widgets into class web pages and blog sites to show the last message sent.  Students, parents, or other recipients must register at the remind.com web site or they may send a text to a number that the web site provides in order to sign up for a specific class.  Students who have multiple teachers using the service will get all their messages from the same number.

If you are sending SMS private messages to your student’s personal phones or devices you are placing your career and reputation at great risk.  Most schools have strict rules against this practice for good reason.  To avoid the liability and still provide the information your students need, check out Remind.com.  You might find it worth your while.