Thursday, October 27, 2016


For a few years now, our school has had a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) policy, which is located in each school’s handbook.  This promotes the use of a student’s individual device for educational purposes during school hours at the discretion of each teacher in their classroom.  Many teachers are taking advantage of this opportunity to use a tool that the student already owns.  If you aren’t or you are but are not sure about the steps to be taken, here’s a refresher:

On the intranet, read your building’s student handbook with the guidelines.
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Students should register their device with the district.
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The form that they complete looks like this:

Once the students have completed this step, they are allowed to use their devices during school at the teacher’s discretion.  This can include using it for the class itself, as a supplementary material that the student is providing.  Here are some examples that teachers are already using this in the district:

Do you know of other ideas for using the BYOT agreement?  Send them my way!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Google Explore

“This presentation looks boring and bland.  How do I make it better?”

If this sounds familiar, Google is a step ahead of you -- they launched their updated EXPLORE feature just this month.

EXPLORE has been a feature of Google Sheets for quite some time, allowing users to see data in color graphs and summaries.

But now users can EXPLORE in Google Slides and Docs as well!

In Slides (Google’s version of PowerPoint), EXPLORE prompts users to enhance the look and feel of individual slides and entire presentations.  As the Google Docs Blog explains, “as you work, EXPLORE dynamically generates design suggestions… apply a recommendation with a single click.”  This saves you time AND makes you look good!

Using EXPLORE in Google Slides is an excellent addition for making intriguing presentations.  With Google’s integration of presentation themes and compatibility with third-parties like Slides Carnival* and Slide Share**, everyone can create and update presentation masterpieces.

In Google Docs, use EXPLORE to get suggestions based on your document’s content.  Recommendations could include images and content, as well as related information from the web or YOUR DRIVE.

Read more about Google’s EXPLORE feature on their blog: "EXPLORE in Docs, Sheets and Slides makes work a breeze -- and makes you look good too."

* Slides Carnival hosts Google Slides themes for all occasions.  Simply download a theme, then import it in Google Slides.

** Slide Share allows you to share what you know through presentations and infographics -- you can browse, download, and edit what others share too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

VR in the classroom

It can be fun and scary to think about the future.  There’s so much uncertainty, so much worry, but my sanity requires me to focus on the positive and the possibilities for the future, especially the future of education.

That’s why I’m excited to explore the idea of virtual reality (VR) in education.  It’s not like I think we are all going to have VR headsets next year for our independent stations, but it’s pretty exciting to consider the possibilities as this technology becomes more mainstream (and therefore more affordable).  It’s not a “right now,” but “soon.”

There are quite a few different makers of virtual reality headsets that just work with a cell phone now, ranging from cardboard to a sturdier plastic case.  The most popular are:

In order to use this in the classroom, it has to connect to the curriculum and our original objective - to immerse students in the learning experience.  From learning opportunities that simulate experiences, explore inaccessible locations, supplement course curriculum or travel to distant landmarks, there are some fantastic ideas for implementation.  These ideas can be made possible in a number of ways:

So, why VR?  Are there real benefits?  According to research by Samsung, 85% of teachers agree that virtual reality would have a positive effect on their students, but only 2% are actually using it in their classrooms.  These include helping students better understand the concepts, allowing for great collaboration in the classroom and increasing student motivation.

To get started, you need the gear.  This is definitely a topic I’m interested in exploring over the next few years.  If you’re interested too, get in touch and let’s work together!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Discover Databases

Every year, we ask students to complete several research papers and projects.  Every year, we remind them to use credible sources (and what credible sources are/are not).  It is our instinct to “google” stuff, which is great for quick facts and information.  

But how do we find credible, research-paper-worthy information quickly?  
And how do we help our students do that?  

The answer is databases.  

The libraries utilize several subscription and free databases, which are available for anyone to use on and off campus.  They are accessible through the school library websites:

This short video explains what databases are and why we need them.

Databases cover topics from history and science to literature and art to engineering and current events, plus everything in between.  Benefits of databases include:
  • Better information faster
  • Availability of current, historical, and primary source materials
  • Access to information from anywhere, anytime (it’s online!)
  • Pre-formatted MLA citations available

Please encourage your students to begin their research using databases.  From there, they can branch out to other internet sources.  And of course, we have plenty of books available!

If you would like to learn more about databases, or for your students to learn more, please contact your nearest librarian!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Putting Robots to work in the Classroom

There are several types of robots which have become popular in classrooms over the past few years.  They include Dash and Dot, Spheros and Ozobot.  Each of these has different benefits and your own creativity is the limit for how it might be used in your classroom, but here is some information on them and ideas for them to hopefully inspire you to try something new.

What you need
  • Has a toggle between “Drive” mode and “Programming” mode
  • Fun to drive
  • Virtually indestructible
  • Very easy to turn on and connect
  • App comes with challenge ideas
  • An “educator kit” comes with 12 spheros and chargers, measuring tape, protractors and stickers
  • “Programming” mode allows kids to try out coding on their own
  • Need accessories for more advanced usage, such as outdoors
  • Controls can be difficult for younger kids
  • Better for using on the floor
  1. Lightning Lab app (iOS/Android)
  2. Device with bluetooth to control it (iPad or other mobile device)
  3. Teacher Account and student accounts (if you want to save your students’ programs) on Lightning Lab
  4. To email Theresa and ask her to borrow them! :)
  • Great for younger kids
  • Two-parts allows for greater use
  • Teaches a simple type of coding, exposing kids to this growing STEM field
  • Speak and make sounds to accompany actions
  • Senses objects around them
  • Reacts to light and sound
  • Needs accessories for more advanced options
  • Pricier than other robots
  • Should be used on the floor preferably
  1. Mobile device with bluetooth
  2. One of the four apps to operate Dash and Dot (more info here).
  • Control with block-based programming and coding that is also color-coded
  • Play with multiple LED lights for different effects
  • Very small - only 1 cubic inch (good for table top play)
  • Charge and program with a computer
  • Follows lines and detects colors
  • Much cheaper than other robots
  • Smaller and more fragile
  • Must use the website to program it
  • Has a one-time upgrade fee of $9.99
  • Works best with the starter kit
  1. Ozoblockly website
  2. Computer with USB port for charging
  3. Set of markers for color detecting

The strength of these devices is in their ability to allow students to experience inquiry and project-based learning.  They can be used in a variety of ways, from being a pawn that moves through a review game, to an exercise in communication on the steps involved in a process.  Consider the concepts you are teaching this year and ask, “How could this be a tool in my classroom?”

Two middle school students program their Sphero to follow the line
Not every kid needs to learn to code.  Not every kid will work in STEM fields someday.  But every kid is inspired when you use 21st century technologies in their learning.  If you are interested in using the Spheros set of 12 that we already have in the library, please let me know and I would be happy to loan them to you or work with you on using them in the classroom.