Monday, September 30, 2013

Chrome Extensions, Apps, and Tips to Improve Teacher Productivity

As a teacher, there is never enough time in the day to get everything done.  Google's web browser, Chrome, has a lot of great ways to increase your productivity.

Chrome allows you to add things called extensions and apps which can help you speed up your every day tasks.  And you can set Chrome up so multiple users can use the browser, so that you don't need to sign in/out of everything all of the time.  

Here is a Google Presentation full of my favorite apps, extensions, and tips to make an educator's life a whole lot easier.

Read through it to learn how to capture screen shots, cite your sources, leave voice comments for students, and more.

If you have some of your own favorites that are not listed here, please share in the comments.  I love learning about new extensions and apps.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Creating a Google Custom Search Engine

Have you ever wanted your students to search a topic on the internet, but were afraid of the results that they would get?  Are the hits they get age appropriate or even the right topic? You can create your own custom search engine, where the students can search and only find websites or sources that you want them to find.  

What you need to do first is find all of the sites that you like.  You will then go to Google Custom Search Engine.  

How To

Choose "New Search Engine" and then start copying and pasting your websites into the boxes.  

Change the name of your Custom Search Engine.  (It auto-names it the first website you enter.)

Now you will be able to get the link to send out or an html embed code to add the search bar to your own website.

Here is a sample Custom Search Engine for Science Current Event/News Articles.  This is what it looks like when it is embedded into a website:  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Increase Parent Communication: Giving Parents Website Contact Cards

I want to really work on making my classroom transparent and giving parents the opportunity to access all class materials and easily contact me.  At open house this year I handed out contact cards to parents.  (I designed them using TechSmith's Snagit, which I LOVE! It is a great tool.  Check it out if you haven't used it.  There is a free trial.  I had the cards printed at Vista Print.)  I also gave one to each student on the first day of school!

On my website, parents can find class calendars, the course syllabus, instructions to download the Google class calendar, directions to sign up for Remind101 texts, and links to grades and assignments.  I made cards that look like my webpage, including important contact info, my Google Voice number, and a QR code of my webpage on the back.



Monday, September 9, 2013

Using Google Voice to Communicate with Students and Parents

I have always preferred to communicate with my students and parents through email.  With email, I can reply at any time and from anywhere.  I can be at home or even out and about, sending emails from my phone.  (I know many teachers hate bringing work home with them, but sometimes it is easier to respond to emails on my own time.)  Phone calls are hard to return because parents may be at work and many times don't answer the call.  And I don't want to call from my own cell phone in the evening.  So I end up having to to play phone tag quite a bit.
Hungarian Telephone Factory 1937 Budapest
Even though I tell parents that email is the best way to get ahold of me, and the quickest way to get a response, many parents still prefer to call me.  In the past, many did not have email accounts.  But even now, when I believe almost everyone has email, many parents still prefer to speak to me when they have questions or concerns about their students. Also, it is a bit tedious to check my school voice mail.  I always forgot how to get into it and many times parents speak too fast when leaving their number, and I can't call them back.

Google Voice

I have been hearing on twitter about teachers using Google Voice the last few months, so I decided to do some research.  I read some blog posts by TJ HoustonBill Price, Lisa Nielsen, and Alice Keeler.  Here is a summary of some ways that Google Voice might be helpful for a teacher.

  • Google Voice allows you to create a new/free phone number.
  • Parents can call my Google Voice number for free using the widget embedded on my webpage.
  • You can connect this Google Voice number to all of your phones - so if some one calls it, all your phones can ring.
  • You can set it up to get emails or texts if you get a message, missed call, or voice mail.
  • You can turn off the ringing, so the phone goes straight to voicemail at any time, and can schedule times when it will ring or not.
  • You can call or text people using your cell phone, but only the Google Voice number shows, not your own personal cell number.
  • Any voicemails that come in can be transcribed.  You will have a record of all received calls.  And if the parent speaks quickly, you can see the transcribed message, and don't have to worry about keeping up to write down their phone number.
  • You have a call log of all incoming and outgoing calls.  You can add notes to the calls so you have a record of communication with parents/students.
  • You can record received calls. 
  • You can have students call in as part of an assignment and can then embed the message on a website if wanted.  Here are some ideas of how students can use it:
    • Students can text in answers instead of using clickers
    • Students can call and leave a message practicing speaking a world language
    • Students can ask questions about material in a flipped lesson

How I will use Google Voice

I have my Google Voice setup so calls will only go through to my cell phone (I didn't set it to ring my home phone) before school, during my prep period, and after school for one hour.  Parents can get ahold of me directly during this time.  If they call during class or in the evening, they will leave a voicemail which will be transcribed and sent to my email.  I can then choose to call them back when I am free, while I am at home, or can wait until school the next day.  But the message will be saved and I can forward it to anyone if needed (it's an mp3 file).  

You can also choose to never actually have your phone ring and have no messages or texts go to your phone either.  Instead, you can install the google voice extension to your chrome browser, and you will get notifications of any calls or messages when you open up chrome.  (If you don't want any of the calls to go to your phone, when setting up Google Voice, you will still need to enter in your cell phone number.  Then change the settings by unclicking the boxes to have calls, texts, or messages sent to your phone.)

I will be using Google Voice to make all calls to parents this year because it will keep an electronic log of calls.  It will replace my notebook that I kept (not always up to date) and I can add notes to each entry in the log about the conversation.

I have also embedded the "call me" widget onto my webpage so parents or students can easily call me, for free.   I have listed my Google Voice number on my class syllabi so parents can easily call me, even if they can't access my webpage.  However, if a teacher didn't want to give out the number, they could just use the widget, and parents could contact them w/o knowing the Google Voice number.

I am excited to try this out this school year.  I will update this post after using it with my class.  If you have any suggestions or ideas, please let me know.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The BEST Way to Assign and Share Google Documents with Students

The best way to organize, assign, and share google documents with students is using the script gClassFolders.

I have been using google docs with my students for years.  Last January we became a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school and I began to discover google scripts.  Scripts are magic!

In the past, I had had students create their own documents and share them with me.  I gave them a specific way to name/title the documents, but they didn't always follow my instructions.  And many times they would forget to change the sharing rights and I couldn't view their documents.  And I was so bad at organizing my google drive - their files were everywhere.

That is where the magic of scripts come in.  I can send out documents to students that are already name properly, with the student name, class period, and assignment in the title of the document.  I can control the sharing rights and even "embargo" the assignments, by changing student editing rights so they can't change the document after the due dates.  And I can automatically organize the documents into class or student folders.  I can use google search to find them, or go to a spreadsheet for an assignment and click on the link to each student's document.

To do all of this scripting magic, I use gClassFolders to set up the folders for each class and student.  Then to send out the documents/assignments, I use the hub in gClassFolders to run the Doctopus script.  I can assign individual or group assignments and change the share settings for the entire class at one time.

In the following videos I will share how I export my class rosters from Infinite Campus, run the gClassFolders script to set up my class and student folders, and then run the Doctopus script to send out an assignment.  

How to export class rosters from SUHSD's Infinite Campus and auto type in student email addresses:

How to set up and run gClassFolders:

How to send out documents using Doctopus:

*Note (9/3/13):  It looks like you can now create folders in your gClassFolder Teacher folder and they will show up in Doctopus when choosing folders for templates.  When I created this video, that was not an option.)  

This seems like it is a really complicated process, but you only need to set up gClassFolders once - at the beginning of the year.  If students enter or leave your class, you can update your gClassFolder roster and run the script again.  

From that one original roster, you can then run three other scripts; Doctopus (for sending out documents and running the goobric (rubric) script), Autocrat (a mail merge script), and pageMeister (a script that creates a page for each student on a class website).  

The first time I did this, it took less than a half an hour.  Once you get the hang of this, it will be a snap each time you assign students a google document or presentation.  

Pictures of Documents, Folders, etc. After Using the Scripts:

Sites with more script information: