Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Good Chrome Extensions for Students with Disabilities

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their experiences with you. This is a guest post from Clint Winter. 

I am lucky because I get to be an Instructional Technologist in the Clarke County School District in Athens, Georgia. Our school district is a 1:1 district in grades 3 to 8. Also, we are a Google Apps for Education District. Our teachers are using electronic devices in order to better differentiate for our students. I have been working with our district Assistive Technology Team to help identify useful chrome extensions for our students with disabilities. We like chrome extensions because our students can sign into their chrome browser and take their extensions with them! Our team decided to focus on the areas of organization and accessibility when finding extensions for our students with disabilities.

Since we are also a Google Apps District many of our teachers are encouraging their students to become better organizers with the Save to Google Drive Extension. This extension is very beneficial for our students. Students can quickly save web pages and images straight to their google drive to be able to evaluate later. Also, for organization, our students are utilizing the Google Calendar Extension. Google Calendar extension allows our students to set reminders on their calendar to turn in assignments, have classroom materials ready, and also to receive a daily agenda of what they will be doing for the day. This helps our students better plan out their day. Many of our students that we serve have deficits with organization and these two tools are helping to overcome that barrier.

For some of our students with reading deficits we are using Chrome Speak or Announcify to have web content read aloud. Students like Announcify because the text that is being read aloud is the main focus of the screen. Also, we use Readability to help students with print deficits. This extension removes the clutter from a webpage and focuses on the main article. Our students can choose to make the text larger or smaller based on their needs. These extensions are helping us make our 1:1 devices accessible for everyone.

Differentiation is a crucial part in a 1:1 environment. Chrome extensions are dismantling barriers that have long been put in place. Students with disabilities typically have teachers or peers assisting with gaining access to curriculum, such as having to be called out of the room to have text read aloud or being pulled for a class to work on organization skills. With the use of Chrome extension our students with disabilities are gaining independence and are in control of accessing the curriculum which fits their best learning style.

Clint Winter is an Instructional Technology Specialist with the Clarke County School District in Athens, GA. Before working in Instructional Technology Clint taught Middle School Special Education for 12 years. You can follow Clint on Twitter @ClintWinter.

Your Principal Dismisses the Value of Technology in Your Classroom...Now What?

This week I am giving some guest bloggers space to share their experiences. This is a guest post from Alicia Roberts. 

Communication is king. But what happens when your message is vetoed from the top before you can share with the masses? Here is the story (from my perspective) of how we should all consider rewriting the definition of the value of technology in the 21st century.

I could see my students using technology for entertainment, social networking and balancing their schedules all day long...and yet my campus wouldn’t support harnessing that same technology for classroom application. Dismissed and discouraged...what was I to do?

Searching through academic solutions to my problem I stumbled upon The Broader Value of Communication (link opens as a PDF) and came across this fantastic observation...

The poorer you are, the more valuable communication is. People with little money are often willing to spend up to 40 percent of their earnings on mobile services. To them, each call is an investment from which they expect a positive return. And the value of communication is by no means only monetary.

I knew the students on my campus understood the concept well. My students attached great value to mobile services they believed increased the size of their social network, improved their GPA’s through access to relevant material, and provided them a global market to barter within. Many of the students on campus did not have money, but they embraced the value of being plugged in without hesitation. The same was true for a large portion of the staff.

Using my new found perspective I re-coined the phrase technology integration to something a little more well defined: Technology for a Purpose. The “buy in” on campus was based on the idea that technology use didn’t have to be high tech. “Technology” was not the important thing; the important thing was using “it” in the right way. Empowering students and staff to refine their use of technology as a well developed tool of communication was and is the noble cause I had been trying to articulate without success.

I am now enjoying watching the fruits of a collaborative integration of student devices. The ideas shared below won’t require money, teacher in-service hours, or rewriting a curriculum map. Just time :) And honestly, I found that it didn’t take long before that first inch of progress turned into a country mile of success.

Alicia Roberts is the Instructional Technology Specialist at Paradise Valley Christian Prep in Phoenix, AZ and EDU Development Specialist at Grand Canyon University. For more tools and trends check out Teach2Inspire.com!

The Technology Workflow of An Assessment Task

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas with a larger audience. This is a guest post from David Wees. 

In our work with New Visions for Public Schools, we use rich mathematical tasks such as the ones from the Mathematics Assessment Resource Service (MARS) as common assessments for teachers to use as formative assessment tasks. This allows teachers to collect information on their student’s performance and at the same time have evidence of their thinking prompted by the mathematics of the task.

The available MARS tasks do not always align with our unit perfectly and so I occasionally create tasks similar in structure to the MARS tasks to fill the gaps.

Here is the workflow:
1. I start by creating a draft of the assessment task in Google Drive, which allows me to share the task and get feedback from my colleagues, both in person and online. Here is a sample task that I created that because of the feedback, we decided not to use.

2. I download a copy of the assessment as a PDF, and open it in Adobe Photoshop to shrink and crop the task so that each page is exactly the right size for use as a watermark.

3. Using Datacations’ Data Driven Classroom (DDC), I create an exam template, which our data specialist Erik Laby downloads. Full disclosure: We have a grant from DELL that funds our use of DDC.

4. Once Erik has a generic template and an exam template for each teacher’s students downloaded, he runs a script in Adobe Acrobat Professional which uses the cropped assessment tasks and overlays them onto the exam templates as watermarks. Here is a sample of what the first page of a task looks like after processing.

The bubbles on the right are where teachers record their scoring decisions, and where DDC collects the data from the task after the scanned version is uploaded.

5. Our mathematics instructional specialists then email the PDF files to the teachers they support, and those teachers decide when to give the tasks to their students, and then using a rubric shared by us in Google Drive, score the tasks. The teachers then scan the task, and upload it back to DDC, where if everything goes smoothly, the data from the task is recorded and automatically analyzed by DDC. A side-benefit of this process is that we end up with access to scanned copies of student work.

One challenge we found is that if the task is not printed exactly correctly, or if in the scanning process the pages become misaligned too much, then DDC has a hard time reading the data from the scans, and as a result, we have to correct these errors manually.

6. Teachers then have access to data reports in DDC, which include error analysis, item analysis, and an overall summary, and can then use the data to inform their instruction. This is another area where we are exploring using Google Spreadsheets to give teachers a more detailed and unit-specific analysis.

7. Erik also exports the data back into Google Drive, where he uses it to create data dashboards which contain analyses (such as unit by unit comparisons or pre-post task comparisons) not available in DDC. One requirement here is that we use Google Apps for Education for storing our data since it meets the requirements of FERPA and the free version of Google Drive does not.

8. Finally, in department-based inquiry teams at each school, teachers choose a few target students and study their work on the assessment task in detail. This allows them to collaborate to find evidence of student thinking, analyze this evidence, and decide on instructional next steps for these students that can further inform their instruction above and beyond what is possible with just the aggregate information alone.

This workflow allows us to meet some of the goals of our project, which are to;
  • promote the use of rich mathematical tasks, 
  • collect and study evidence of student thinking in collaboration, 
  • use evidence collected on these assessments to help inform instructional decisions.

If you are interested about learning more about this project, please contact David Wees at New Visions using the email address: dwees [at] newvisions [dot] org.

David Wees is the formative assessment specialist for New Visions for Public Schools. He has taught in four different countries, and has his masters degree in educational technology from UBC. On his blog, he shares his thinking on education, mathematics, and educational technology. He can also be found on Twitter at @davidwees.


Erik joined New Visions in 2012 as a data researcher. He brings experience in educational program evaluation, curriculum, educational media and assessment materials. Erik holds a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently pursuing an M.A. in educational psychology from Hunter College.

iPad Orienteering with Klikaklu

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas with you. This guest post comes from Ben Wiggins. 

Our Grade 2/3 composite classes have been involved in an iPad pilot project this year. Each class has 6 iPads in class which they can bring to specialist lessons such as PE. In PE we have used them, mainly with free apps, in a variety of ways including; completing google forms and book creator for reflection tasks; measuring heart rates; collaborating in the development of team strategies using Coachnote; recording performances with Ubersense and playing them back in slow motion; scanning QR codes to facilitate independent learning and collecting evidence of student learning in an online portfolio with Threering.

One of the most popular activities with the iPads has been Orienteering. We ran this unit concurrently with coordinates topic in Maths class. After a range of lead-up activities we moved onto completing orienteering courses on campus, using the free iPhone app Klikaklu.

Using Klikaklu the students chose a course and scanned the QR code to receive the first clue of the location they had to go to. All of the clues were grid references from the school map. Once the students had worked out the clue's location, off they ran. When they got there, they pressed the reveal button which then showed them a picture of an object in that location, which they had to also photograph. If their photo matched they were given the next clue.

The actual skills of taking a grid reference and working out where it is on a map and going to that location to find an object, are the same as in previous years. The big benefits of using Klikaklu, apart from increased student motivation, was the management of the lesson.

It didn’t take me long to set up 7 courses of varying difficulty. As they involved photographs of permanent objects (I did made the mistake of using the recycling bins as one location, and found one afternoon they had been taken away to be emptied), it meant no more setting out orienteering cards and collecting them in again everyday, or having to go off to find cards which have been accidentally moved!

With the app checking to see if the photographs match ,rather than me or students checking for correct letters or punch stamps on an answer card, it allowed me more time to help students master grid references, which increased the success rate.

I also upgraded my app, so that I could use Staggered Hunts. This means that several groups could all choose and complete the same hunt at the same time, but they would each be given the clues in a different order, thus avoiding groups just following each other. Another option I will use in the future is the Scavenger Hunt, when the students are given all of the clues and then they have to work out the quickest way to get to all of the locations – a bit more like ‘real’ orienteering. I also plan to have the students creating courses for each other.

I will leave the final word to one of our 8 year old boys who often finds PE a bit of a challenge. He ran past me several times in the lesson shouting out that this is brilliant. At the end of the lesson he came up and gave me a big hug and thanked me for “the best lesson ever!”

Ben Wiggins is presently a PYP Physical Education teacher at the International School of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He has previously taught PE in the UK, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and Thailand, to students as young as 3 through to those in University, and lots in between! You can can follow Ben’s journey of trying to integrate technology into his PE classes on his blog Ben’s PE Musings and on twitter @PE8574

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Burlington High School Goes Live

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas on Free Technology for Teachers. This is a guest post from Jenn Scheffer.

Since January, the Burlington High School student-run Help Desk has been integrating Google Hangouts Live On Air into the curriculum. As the new Instructional Technology Specialist at Burlington, one of my goals for the program was to leverage the power of Hangouts, empower student voice, and connect my students with a global audience.

We’ve aired eleven episodes so far and it has been a rewarding learning experience, both for me and my students. The weekly broadcasts, occurring each Friday and lasting approximately thirty minutes, provide students with an authentic learning experience, and while each show has been successful, there are quite a few logistics that go on behind the scenes to make the episodes possible. The first step in creating our show, which we named Help Desk Live, involved students creating our own YouTube channel as well as our own page on Google+. Students also collaborated to develop a logo for the show as well as a new category on our blog called Help Desk Live. Each episode is scheduled in advance as a Live Hangout On Air and is made public. Episodes are promoted several days in advance via Twitter and the Help Desk blog. A schedule of upcoming episodes is also created using Google Docs. This document is made public and it lists the guest, show hosts, topic, day and time of the episode and features show notes.

Producing a Hangout On Air
The production process of a Help Desk Live episode starts with the identification of a topic and guest. Over the past eleven weeks, topics have centered around several trending educational topics including digital citizenship, social media in the classroom, student blogging, Google Glass in education, augmented reality, and student-run tech teams. Most guests are members of my professional learning network (one is my former student!) and were contacted and booked to appear on the show either via Twitter, email, or a phone call. Booking guests using social media has shown students how a tool like Twitter can be used for professional networking and connecting with industry experts.

Beyond networking, and booking “talent,” students have learned how to coordinate the logistics of a live broadcast, developed their interviewing skills, and understand how to conduct themselves professionally in a high-pressure situation (going Live can be quite nerve-wracking!). Help Desk students have rotated hosting episodes and conduct research on the guests to prepare for the interview. Students have also contributed to the development of interview questions and during the episode itself, students must be active listeners and use their critical thinking skills to keep the conversation going.

The Future of Help Desk Live
We plan to broadcast fourteen episodes total for season one of Help Desk Live (14 for 2014) and for next year, my goal is to have students produce episodes independently from start to finish. I also plan to have students utilize more of the features in Hangouts including the Screen Share and Q & A option. Lastly, I hope to have several guests on each episode at a time (ultimately a panel of 10 guests would be ideal) and bring to the forefront educational issues that are student-driven. In terms of learning goals, I know students will produce even higher quality shows in 2014-2015, as they will have an archive of fourteen past episodes which they can critique (my performance as a host included) and determine how each aspect of the show can be improved.

Students Learning from Students
One of the most exciting episodes of the first season of Help Desk Live was episode 6. In this show, we had the opportunity to talk with Paige Woodard, a senior at Franklin Community High School in Franklin, Indiana and a member of Don Wettrick’s Innovations class. Paige has been nominated for a Bammy award in the student voice cateogry. From my perspective, and I think many teachers would agree, this episode was one of the best because it was students learning from students. Education is shifting so much so in the 21st century that the lines between students and teachers is becoming more and more blurred. We are now at the point where we are all learning together and this particular episode underscores that educational paradigm shift.


Jenn Scheffer, M.Ed. (@jlscheffer) is the Instructional Technology Specialist at Burlington High School and has thirteen years of teaching experience at the secondary level. Jenn’s background is in teaching technology, marketing, and business management courses. Prior to becoming an educator, Jenn was the Assistant Director of Admission at Southern New Hampshire University. Jenn also serves as the co-moderator to the Digital Citizenship Twitter chats held every second and fourth Wednesday of the month.