Saturday, January 27, 2018

Gamifying Writing Instruction

Last night at TeachMeet BETT Simon Johnson gave a great little talk about 21 Things Every Teacher Should Try. He didn't cover all 21 things in the talk (he only had seven minutes to talk), but one of the things that he did talk about was game-based learning. The example that he gave was gamifiying writing instruction.

In Simon's example of gamifying writing instruction he shared a grid in which students were given points based on the type and complexity of the words that they used in their writing. For example, students might earn five points for correctly using an adverb. Or they could earn could earn points for correctly using words from a vocabulary list.

Generally, I tend to think about "gamification" as a kind of a gimmick. That said, I can see it being beneficial to some students in the right context. For students who have a generally negative view of school and have become accustomed to grading practices that detract points for not doing something, a gamification of writing could feel better. Rather than seeing that they didn't use "x" number of vocabulary words correctly they could see it as "I scored 500 points" for using "x" number of words correctly.

Ten Overlooked Google Docs Features

On Monday I featured ten overlooked Google Slides features. Like Google Slides, Google Docs has a lot of features that new users often don't notice. Some these are features that even experienced Google Docs users overlook. Some of these features will save you time, some will give you more formatting flexibility, and others will improve the way that you share your documents.

1. Word Art
Just like in Google Slides, you can insert Word Art into Google Documents. The process of using Word Art requires that you use the "drawing" option found in the "insert" drop-down menu. Word Art is great for inserting colorful headlines into your documents.

2. Insert your signature
Once again the "drawing" option found in the "insert" drop-down menu is quite helpful. Use the drawing pad's free-form line drawing tool to create your signature and insert it into a document. You can do this with a mouse, but if you have a touch-screen computer it is even easier to do. Inserting your signature is a great way to personalize letters that you send home to parents.

3. File Export
Not everyone with whom you have to share documents is going to jump on the Google Docs bandwagon. For example, I used to write for a publication that only accepted Word files. That didn't mean that I had to write my articles in Word. I wrote my articles in Google Docs then just downloaded those articles as Word docs before sending them off as attachments. You can also download your Google Documents as PDFs, Rich Text documents, HTML, Plain Text, Open Document, and ePub.

4. Sharing Restrictions
One the original selling points of Google Docs was document sharing and collaboration. That feature is still the thing that makes Google Docs special. In fact, just yesterday at the BETT Show I saw someone presenting just that feature. But sometimes you want to share your documents without letting other people make copies of them or print them. So when you open your sharing settings select "advanced" and you can prevent people from copying, downloading, or printing your documents.

Restricting printing is a great option to use when you just want someone to look at your document for a final review but you don't want them to print it. For example, when writing up a IEP you might want a colleague to look at it, but you don't want him or her to print it because you know that he or she is the one who sends everything to a network printer and then forgets to pick it up for an hour.

5. Voice Typing
It used to be that you needed a third-party application in order to use voice input in Google Docs. Now you can just open the "tools" drop-down menu and select "voice typing" to start using voice input into Google Documents.

6. Google Keep Notepad
Are your students using Google Keep to bookmark references for inclusion in a research paper? If so, they can access those bookmarks without having to leave Google Docs. They can access those bookmarks and insert them into their documents by opening the Google Keep Notepad from the "tools" drop-down menu.

7. Change Default Page Layout
The question that new Google Docs users ask me more than any other is, "can I use landscape mode?" Yes, you can use landscape mode. Open the "file" drop-down menu and select "page setup." From there you can change the page orientation, the page size, change and set default margins, and you can even change the page's background color.

8. Columns & Grids
Need columns in your document? You can insert those from the "format" drop-down menu. However, the columns will apply to the whole page. If you only need columns for part of the page, use the "table" drop-down menu to insert a simple 1x2 table. The table's cells will expand as you type.

9. Headers, Footers, and Page Numbers
In the early years of Google Docs headers, footers, and page numbers had to be manually inserted. Today, you can have headers, footers, and page numbers automatically inserted into your document by making those selections from the "insert" menu. You can even apply them retroactively.

10. Import & Convert Word Documents
If your school is transitioning from a Windows environment to a G Suite environment, you probably have old Word documents that you'd prefer to not have to copy and paste or rewrite entirely. You can import and have those old documents instantly converted to Google Docs format. There are two ways to do this. First, if you just have one or two documents you can import them by selecting "file upload" in Google Docs. Second, if you have a lot of Word documents, bundle them into a folder then use the "folder upload" function in Google Drive. Just make sure your Google Drive settings (the gear icon in the upper-right corner) is set to "automatically convert to Google Docs."

If you're new to using Google Docs or G Suite in general, check out my G Suite for Teachers course.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Periodic Table of AR and VR Apps

At the start of the BETT Show Mark Anderson and Steve Bambury announced the release of their new Periodic Table of iOS Apps for AR and VR. The table is an interactive Thinglink image that links to AR and VR apps. The apps can be used to address topics in STEM, creativity, geography, storytelling, art, teaching, science, and history. Some of the apps in the table are free while others are paid. And it should be noted that Mark and Steve work in the UK so the links point to the UK version of the app store.

Important News About Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark is a great tool for making videos, storytelling websites, and simple graphics. It has been popular since its launch a few years ago. Also since its launch there have been many questions about whether or not it can be used with students under the age of 13. For while Adobe's guide for educators indicated that it could be used with students under 13 with the right supervision. This week at the BETT Show, Adobe made an official announcement about the use of Adobe Spark by students under age 13.

The announcement states that beginning in April students under the age of 13 will be able to use Adobe Spark with Adobe's school ID integration.

In the same announcement about age restrictions, Adobe announced that starting in April all of the premium Adobe Spark features will be available for free to all schools and universities.

Applications for Education
Adobe Spark Video is one of the tools that I feature in Teaching History With Technology because I believe that it provides a good way for students to create short historical documentaries. Ten other ways to use Adobe Spark are featured here.

The Coolest Thing I Saw at BETT Today!

Today at the BETT Show in London I met with Mike Tholfsen to learn about some of the free products that Microsoft is making for schools. He shared some more details on the announcements that Microsoft made earlier in the week, but I was absolutely blown away when he demonstrated Microsoft Translator!

Microsoft Translator does what its name implies, it translates your text in real-time. It support translations for sixty languages. But that's not what impressed me. What blew me away about Microsoft Translator is that members of your group or assembled audience can choose the language they want your words translated into. For example, I could be writing or speaking in English and have two people reading my words in Spanish, one in French, and another in Japanese.

Microsoft Translator will translate your spoken or typed words in real-time. To get started just head to the Microsoft Translator website then choose "start conversation." From there your translation room is launched. Your audience can join your conversation by either entering using a join link or by scanning a QR code. Microsoft Translator has dedicated mobile apps. It can also be used in any modern web browser on a laptop.

Microsoft Translator isn't a one-way street. People who have joined your conversation can reply in their chosen languages and their messages will be instantly translated into your chosen language. So just like in the listening example that I gave, I could have two people speaking Spanish, one speaking French, and another speaking Japanese and all of their messages will appear to me in English.

In addition to the stand-alone website and mobile apps, Microsoft Translator is available as a PowerPoint add-in. When installed into PowerPoint Microsoft Translator will automatically subtitle your slides as you speak. More than 60 languages are available in the Microsoft Translator PowerPoint add-in.

If you work with an ESL/ ELL population, you need to try Microsoft Translator.