We are a Microsoft tools for teachers and Google Apps For Education tools for both staff and students in our district. There was a day when I was very vested in the MS Office Suite of tools. Then comes Google Drive, making document collaboration a much more user-friendly experience. Yet, teachers transitioned from MS Outlook client to the full Office 365 experience and that’s where we are at today.
I’ve heard so many great things about Microsoft Teams for teaching groups and PLC collaboration. I am part of a 3 teacher advisory team overseeing an 8th-grade leadership group of students. We created a group chat via SMS, which was OK. However, our conversations blended professional topics along with personal events. The combination made it difficult to find school business entries in a long SMS message thread.
While listening to Windows Weekly podcast on the TWIT network, they mentioned at various levels how great Microsoft Teams was and growing in popularity. It was already in our Office 365 tools, so we decided to take it for a test drive. It makes for a safe way to continue our school group chat conversations, with end-to-end encrypstion. Secure chat should be at the top of any school’s list as educators communicate sensitive student information on a regular basis.
After I created our team, we all downloaded the Microsoft Teams app for our phones. Two Android phones and one iPhone, we connected with ease. The chat feature was super user-friendly and we were all in right away. Then we created a Word document with our key Google Drive shared document links, for easy access. All seemed good, but not great yet.
Then I stumbled on a link to add Google Drive to our team. Super easy and now our journey took on a productive path. We were already using our Outlook Calendar for planning advisory events and school business. Our calendar planning was integrated with ease.
Yes, it's still early using this Microsoft tool and a new adventure for professional connected technology. Early reviews are very good for our small team. The Microsoft Teams usability is much easier than creating a new habit. I have to say I’m so fortunate to work with two very forward thinking educators, who were open to trying it. More to come later.
While traveling in Arizona my wife needed to visit the craft section of Walmart. Though I appreciate her skill and creative projects, this part of the store doesn't give me much energy or interests. I usually hit the entertainment area, then move to groceries. This is where my visit became interesting and nothing short of amazing.
This was a very large Walmart and a good long walk from 4K televisions to the grocery area. Since I was really wasn't shopping, I was walking and just taking it all in. People watching definitely is part of my walk. Often wondering what people do or where are they going as I observe. I'm sure they are thinking the same of me.
That is when I saw a young lady walking towards me way down the aisle. She caught my eye by how she was carrying herself while walking towards me, with a gate of confidence and very carefree. A huge smile on her face, with eyes that lit up along the way. I would guess she was in her low to mid 20's.
I'm always envious of people with those natural smiles, which includes their eyes. I was raised to be stoic and not to let people read me. Thus, the natural smile thing kind of passed me up. She was one of those people that would seem to give positive energy, carrying herself with humble confidence.
Meanwhile, I was having one of my conversations with myself of; what does she do? I bet she is one of those people who gives energy to those in her presence. Are you still in college? Were you born this way or is it part of how you were raised? There had to be a reason and I ran those options through my head. Her energy and upbeat style never came down.
Then we were getting closer together, making eye contact. I could never have the same smile, yet I grinned and said "hi". She returned the gesture and word, stopping in front of me. Then reached in her back pocket, returning with a playing card face down. Handed it to me and walked away. I paused, only looking at the back of the card, thinking how strange.
When I turned the card over, a little bit of me was changed forever. Initially, I saw the queen of diamonds. Then in written black marker "Thx 4 being you", with a smiley face at the bottom. I was astonished as I spun around, looking at her walk quickly away. I had so many questions, yet she was out the door and gone like that.
This person took a "Lo Tech" playing card and made a real "Hi Impact" on me. Passing on a small gesture of kindness, while I was asking myself, "Why Me". I had to find my wife to share my experience, to which she got choked up. Then telling my friends and later, my students. Her kindness has gained even more momentum and strength as I returned home, over 1,700 miles from that Walmart.
You guessed it, I have taken a black marker to an old deck of playing cards. My initial goal is to distribute the cards to those students and staff that are sharing kindness in the hallways. The responses have been that of puzzled at first, then a huge smile and a gracious “Thank You”.
I am so lucky to have interacted with that random lady from Arizona who shared the card with me. More important the reminder to raise my awareness of kindness that is present daily. There is so much good in everyday!
So many people young and old write really poor emails. We all know what it looks like when one of those emails arrives in our inbox. Poorly written emails don't get attention right away unless we have a connection or vested interest in it. What better time to teach my 6th graders the power of a well written email.
We start with learning the basic Gmail tools since we are a Google Apps For Education school. I like to start with a quick tour in settings or as I refer to it "Gmail under the hood". Gmail settings can be a confusing and overwhelming initial journey. Pick the settings tools you most often use to make your email experience effective.
The two settings tools I like to teach students about are the labels and signature. We create at least two labels, one for school announcements and another for academics. I compare setting up their labels to creating a plan of organization in Google Drive, which most learners have prior knowledge. Many students go beyond that, creating and personalizing their labels to be more specific to subjects, assessment, etc.
We alway have "Sincerely" or "Respectfully" yours to start their signature and then add their name. This is a good time to teach email security and when its safe to use their full name in emails. As well as NEVER have their home address or phone in the signature. Finally, don't forget to "Save Changes" at the bottom of the settings page.
It's time to add contacts to our address book. Contacts are no longer within Gmail, but a stand-alone location. We go to the Google Apps tiles in the upper right portion of the Gmail tab, then scroll down to "Contacts". I model how I add people who are in our GAFE school directory and then create groups. Students must add all of their teachers and add them to the group day they have them. We are on an A Day and B Day alternating schedule.
We are now prepared to learn the simple email tools for creating a professional academic email. Of course, it all starts with a clear, but brief subject line. Everybody can improve on making sure the subject contains what the recipient needs to create a click to open. 6th graders struggle with a subject line that is too simple or too much.
The email ALWAYS begins with "Dear Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. Teacher", and which title goes with the surname. The body must have an extra line space between the salutation and the message. Since letter writing is not common practice, crafting the correct email format is challenging for students. Practice makes progress!
Now students create the body of the email by adding more depth and clarity to their subject line. The goal is to make the body clear and not too wordy. I tell students to "Get In" and "Get Out" with their message. Be clear, to the point, respectful and appreciative, since many student emails are asking for something.
Always proofread before sending. Looking for spelling and grammar errors as well as attempt reading it through the recipients perspective. Finally showing students they have 10 seconds to click the "Undo" after sending, to get the email back for modifications.
Our email assignment is to send a practice professional email to a current teacher. I send an email to teachers that we will be doing this assignment and most teachers reply with thanks or constructive support. This communication between students and teachers is very powerful.
Within the message, students state that this email is an assignment and a practice professional email. In addition, I tell students the great positive power they have with the email. The power is telling the teacher why they selected him/her for this assignment. There must be something the student likes about the teacher, class or both. Write that cool thing in the email.
Since this is an assignment, students must Cc me. I reply with feedback as needed. The power part of the message is so pure and beautiful from a 6th-grade perspective. The practice professional email assignment is truly a positive buzz for students and teachers. There are many meaningful ways to teach communication tools in our classrooms and this is but one.
App smashing is happening in my classroom more and more. What is app smashing? I like the definition on K-12 Technology; “App Smashing is the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks. App Smashing can provide your students with creative and inspired ways to showcase their learning and allow you to assess their understanding and skills.” That pretty much sums it up.
We did this recently for our “All About Me” project. This assignment hits 3 state standards as students create a presentation in slides about a topic they are very vesting in, themselves. Students hit 7 topic areas in their presentation, then present and share with the class. It is so much fun and hugely insightful as to what students bring to class each day.
The problem was the presentation was a one-shot event to those who were in class that day. Beyond that, there was valuable information that teachers should have access to about each student that they normally would not know about. Of course, app smashing solved this problem.
We would use three of my favorite classroom tools; Google Slides, Screencastify, and Flipgrid. Most students were surprisingly knowledgeable about each tool. The class started by creating their “All About Me” presentation in slides. I encouraged multimedia support where applicable. In addition, we talked about how the presentation is supporting the student message, not just reading off the screen.
It was time to present. I like to use Cast for Education. Doing presentations this way doesn’t tie up my teacher workstation and students feel much more comfortable using their device to share. After delivering their project they submit the assignment in Schoology.
Next, we go to the Web Store to add the Screencastify extension. Remember to review the extension and app terms of service so the tool fits the audience and aligns with your district's policy. The extension is super easy for initial setup, linking to their Google Apps For Education account. One default setup setting is for the video to be published to YouTube, but we change that to Google Drive with one click.
Students open their slides presentation, then start Screencastify. After the 3 seconds countdown, it is time to present their project just as each child did in front of the class. They love the pause button to gather their thoughts for a better final product. After recording they simply “Save to Disk” on their device. This works well with MacBooks, Windows or Chromebook.
Now they open Flipgrid and then the assignment topic I created for this project. They start the topic just as if they were doing a video recording. However, instead of doing that they click on the “Options” or what I call the gear just to the left of the record button. There will be an option to “Import Video” and this is where students upload their project.
Just like that their projects are shared with their peers. I will share this Flipgrid topic with core teachers to view as they see fit. What a great way to learn more about our students, beyond the classroom. One more thing, the kids love app smashing and sharing their student voice.