Friday, 12 December 2014

Google Drive Videos in

We are a Google Apps school and one of the advantages of this is that there are a number of applications that allow our students to log in using their Google apps username and password.

One of these applications is Video Notes ( It is an application in which you load a video into the browser and you can type notes as you watch the video. The notes are time-coded to the part of the video when you started typing the note. You can click on any note and it will take you to that part of the video. works really well with videos that are posted on the internet like ones on YouTube or Vimeo.

As our younger students can't upload videos to YouTube or Vimeo, we have them put the video into the Google Drive. Even though integrates with Google Drive really well, it isn't easy to add a video from Google Drive into However, It can be done and this is a powerful tool that can be used in many ways in the classroom.

If you want to enable dictation (speech to text) on your mac, you will need to turn it on in your system preferences.

Remember to start with and then add the number part of the address of the video in Google Drive.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Online learning resources - beyond text

When we first start to add online learning resources for our students, it's a natural tendency to simply add offline resources - the worksheets, presentations, and readings that we've already got.

Unit Makeover

Just because we've taken a resource and turned it into pixels rather than ink doesn't mean our students are going to be excited to look at it. As the media our students find engaging evolves, we to need to look for things that are going to engage our students and result in meaningful learning.

Here's an example of a Unit makeover aimed at a HS Economic topic. In this example, there are four different kinds of media embedded. (See the playlist below to see how to find the embed code and add to the OLP) These elements are structured with a particular flow in mind, each one is also framed by the teacher with specific instructions and questions to the student helping them know how to interact with the media.

Capturing sound in student thinking and learning

One of the aspects of student learning and thinking that we are trying to capture at United World College is students' thoughts during their partner conversations. We know that a way that students learn best is by talking about their thinking with a partner or group.

As digital literacy coaches, we have been trying to find ways to capture this thinking. An easy way would be to use an iPad or a computer to record the partners talking.

However, when we tried this, we discovered that the sound was terrible. In many cases, we had to ask the students to speak very loudly and have everyone else in the class not make sound. This worked, but wasn't a very authentic and easy way to capture these conversations. Some teachers tried pulling students out of the classroom to a quiet place and recording the conversations there. Again, not something that is easy or that sustainable.

We wanted a solution that worked in the classroom, when all the students were talking and was easy to set up. We decided to try out a few different headphones with built in microphones. Why headphones? Headphones are commonplace in the classroom and we don't want to purchase any special equipment if we don't have to.

We tested microphones that have one plug for audio in and audio out and that worked with the iPads and with the MacBooks. Why these particular headphones? These headphones were given to us to try by our good friend Doug Taylor who is a teacher and app developer.

Headphones #1-3 are over ear headphones and headphone #4 is the in ear Apple headphones with a microphone.

The test was simple. I set up a computer and an iPad to record a conversation between two students. The other students in the class were also having conversations in the background. I started with the computer and quickly rotated the headphones through to try to get as fair a test as possible. Then I recorded on the iPad and, once again, rotated through the microphones as quickly as possible. For each of the test, I moved the headphones as close to the girls talking as possible.

Have a look at the results for yourself.

I noticed a few things. First and most importantly, it didn't matter which headphones I used, they were much better than the sound recorded from either the iPad or the computer without a headphone attached.

I also noticed that the sound recorded by the macbook seemes louder than that from the iPad.

If I have to pick the ones that I felt were the best, I feel that headphones number 3 and the Apple headphones (#4) gave the best sound. In terms of cost, we can get headphone #3 for less than $15 and the Apple ones are more than twice that cost.

So in conclusion, if you want to record the sound of partner conversations in a noisy room, get some headphones and you will hear a big difference.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Learning to Manage Distractions

One of parents' biggest concerns around student use of technology is that of distractions. The same tool we use to create and learn, can be used to entertain and derail productivity.

So what are our options, as teachers? As parents?

We could create elaborate structures of control (blocking certain websites, turning off wifi etc), but that is only a temporary solution.

At UWCSEA, we prefer to educate students about distractions, with a view to creating informed citizens, who learn to manage their tendencies to get distracted. This is of course what all adults need to learn to do themselves...

This skill of self-management takes time to develop, and students need lots of opportunities to practice. They may well need frequent reminders throughout their schooling of techniques and approaches to reducing distractions, and this is where responsive teaching comes to the fore.

One of the ways we have begun to educate students about distractions is through the Personal and Social Education curriculum. Recently, I co-taught with a Grade 3 teacher, who was concerned her students were getting side-tracked with Google Chat, and who wanted some strategies for helping students remain focused during class.

When I walked around the room, I asked if I could borrow a few students' computers to show the class. Here's what we found:

Like adults, students in our Grade 3 class loved personalising their computers. The majority had chosen a desktop background of something they were interested in (Minecraft, soccer players, horses etc) and many had changed their Gmail backgrounds to have snow falling or animated gifs moving in the background at all times.

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
Movement and colour can attract attention, often away from what we should be focusing on. Think about visiting a news website, for example. Advertisements often contain moving elements, as these attract the eye - a deliberate attempt by the advertiser to get you to notice what they are selling.

If we choose to have moving elements on our Gmail backgrounds, or our desktop wallpaper (one of the options on a Mac is to have a new desktop background picture every 5 seconds), then we are making it much harder for us to concentrate on our school work.

Colours that help promote calm and thinking are greens and blues, so they were recommended to the students as colours they might like to choose for their desktop and Gmail backgrounds. We encourage personalisation, but we want to make students aware that their choices have an impact on their learning. Students went back to their computers and made changes they were comfortable with.

The ability to send and receive instant messages is a relatively new phenomenon for our Grade 3 students. Understandably, it's an exciting feature to explore. Many students have older brothers or sisters who like seeing their younger sibling online, and take the opportunity to check in. This puts the younger student in a bit of a conundrum - do I reply to my sibling, or stay focused on my school work?

In one of those serendipitous twists of fate, this exact scenario occurred while I was in the room, providing us with a perfect teachable moment.

We plugged in the computer of a student whose sibling had sent a G-Chat message, and asked the students what they could do in this sort of situation. There were lots of animated discussions in groups about this scenario, and we collected some of the responses and evaluated them as a class.

"We could turn our G-Chat to invisible, so noone knows we are online."
"So can people still send you messages when you're invisible?" we asked.
"Yes, they could."
"Have a think about how that might that affect your learning," we suggested.

"We could turn our G-Chat to busy, so people know we're working."
"So can people still send you messages when you're busy?" we asked.
"Yes, they could."
"Have a think about how that might that affect your learning," we suggested.

"We could sign out of G-Chat when we're at school."
"So can people still send you messages when you're signed out?" we asked.
"No, they couldn't."
"Have a think about how that might that affect your learning," we suggested.

We then sent students back to their desks to make a decision that would help them remain focused on their learning following the discussion with the class.

Documenting Thinking
The final piece of the puzzle was to document their thinking about distractions, and the changes they decided on for their laptops using a Quicktime Screen Recording, which we embedded in their Google Site (see below for details)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Using Quicktime Screen Recording to Reflect

Students are always asked to reflect on their work. But how do we do this? Most of the time we get them to write a reflection. In my experience, these written reflections take a lot of time and students may not express their thoughts completely for a number of reasons. Students can be oversaturated by the sheer number of written reflections they are asked to complete and therefore don't always say everything they want to in their writing.

A great way around this is to have students use Quicktime screen recording on a Mac to show their thinking and reflect on their learning in a quick and simple way.

When most people think of Quicktime, they think of an application that is used to watch movies. However, there are three very useful functions available: movie recording using the isight camera, audio recording and screen recording. Although we have students use the movie recording function to capture videos of themselves and the audio recording to capture them speaking, I want to focus on the screen recording aspect.

When you select screen recording, the computer will record what is happening on your screen. You can either choose to have the whole screen or part of the screen to record. There are also options for the audio to be on (I always have it on so we can hear the students talk) and for the mouse clicks to be captured. I often use screen recordings to create tutorials for teachers, but they are perfect for students to reflect on their work and to capture their thinking.

In the example below, a student has used Quicktime to create a screen recording to explain the choices that they made when creating a poster. The student originally used Pages to create the poster and made 5 duplicate versions of the poster to gradually improve with each version. It didn't take long for the student to reflect on the process and what they did. This type of screen recording can prove very valuable to teachers.

Screen recording can take many forms for student reflections. Students can have a document written in Pages or Google Docs open and explain what they felt they did well and what they need to work on. They can highlight passages that show what they learned or what they were particularly proud of. If they are working on a specific skill, they could highlight where they have demonstrated that in their work.

When teachers start to see the value and ease at which these reflections can be made with Quicktime, they will realize that there are so many possibilities for using Quicktime screen recording in their classrooms.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Bling up your Google Forms with Images and Fonts

Google have updated forms with some great custom options for Google Forms. You can read about the update on their blog.

This is really exciting news for those of us who use forms a lot as the standard themes had become a little tired looking. The now you can select from a wide variety of fresh new themes.

But, there's a lot more available than just the new themes. For any theme you select, you can customize the theme by adding your own header image, changing the font, color, size and style for all the different text classes.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Growing Up Digital: Resources for Families

We recently hosted another edition of our annual Growing Up Digital night for grade 6 families and grade 7 and 8 families new to UWCSEA East. The evening's primary purpose is to provide space and time to begin the important conversations between Middle School students and their parents around how and when digital technology is used at home. We recognize that putting a device -- a Macbook Air -- in the hands of a (pre) teen can often change the dynamics of the home. While it's impossible (and, some might argue, inappropriate) for us to give blanket "digital rules" for every family, we do think it's crucial for each family to have conversations to determine parameters and agreements for technology and media in the home. Growing Up Digital night acts as a prompt to begin these discussions, guided by our leadership team and Digital Literacy Coaches, who can act as both facilitators and consultants with families.

Slides from the evening are below. You'll note that a significant part of the evening -- nearly 30 minutes -- was for active discussion between parents and children around the Family Media Agreement.

As promised, we have for you a list of resources to help you navigate your conversations about Growing Up Digital in your family. We've roughly divided these into three categories, but you'll note that there is a lot of overlap between them.

Time Management Tools

SelfControl is an app for Mac OSX that you can set to block what you determine to be distracting websites. You can block them for a certain period of time, or forever. 

StayFocusd is a Chrome extension you can use similarly to SelfControl, but just for sites you access in your Chrome browser. It's highly customizable -- you can set it to kick in at the same times every day, for example -- and easy to set up. However, keep in mind it is only for one specific browser. 

RescueTime is an app that installs on your Mac or mobile device, and it tracks all of the time you spend on every app or website. It automatically determines standard "productivity" ratings for each site and app, but you can customize this in a very granular way. While RescueTime does not block or limit any apps or sites, it's an excellent tool to use to track how you are actually using your digital time. Each week it sends you a report with detailed infographics which you can view by the day, week, or month. 

Parental Controls exist in the System Preferences panel of your Mac. You may want to consider setting up a separate "study buddy" account on your Mac that has Parental Controls enabled. 

The Tomato Timer is a web-based tool based on the Pomodoro Technique. (There are several other tools and apps available based on this technique -- a quick search will turn up hundreds of hits!) Set the timer and while it is running (25 min), dedicate your time to focus on a specific task. When the timer finishes, take a break! Check your Facebook, go for a walk, get a drink, and then get back to work. 

Tips for managing media at home

Common Sense Media is one of our favorite organizations, and they have several ideas to help you manage devices at home, from setting screen limits to helping kids use Facebook (or not) for homework. On a related note, our colleagues at Dover have written a piece about how multi-tasking and learning don't mix very well. 

For families who would like to set up filters, there are a couple of solid options. Norton Family allows you to set filters on specific computers and other devices. If you'd like something that isn't device-specific but rather filters all traffic into the home, Starhub and SingTel both offer "safe surfing" options, though there is a small monthly fee for these services. 

School policies

You and your child signed several forms before we allowed you to take that laptop home. If you'd like to review the official policies and protocols for use of College technology, on and off campus, our College iLearn page has all the paperwork you need. 

We're here to help! Please feel free to email us or stop by our desks in C319. 

The Noun Project

Thumbs Up designed by Nick Holroyd
from the
I would like to highlight one of my favourite sites ever:
The Noun Project. It is incredibly useful in the classroom, and is a delight to use.

You can search for anything on The Noun Project and find a graphical representation of it.

Designers upload their creations to the site, and people can download and use these icons as long as they attribute the designer. Attribution is made incredibly easy: all you do is click on the 'how to attribute' button, and it's all ready for you to copy-and-paste.

The really exciting thing for me, is the ability to change the colour of the icons using a simple Chrome Extension called
'The PNG Project'. Provided you know the hex code (I use the websafe colour palette in Pages or Keynote to find mine usually - though a google search of hex codes would lead you to some great sites), you can change the icons to match whichever colour scheme you like.

For details on how to use The Noun Project, please watch the tutorial below.

Digital Portfolios - Organising your Google Drive Folders

At UWCSEA East, we are using Digital Portfolios for Grades 3-5. These take the form of Google Sites.

One technique we are using is embedding Google Drive folders in their sites, so content can be populated automatically.

Students already have folders set up in their Google Drive (via Hapara, or Teacher Dashboard), so the following tutorial shows how students set up their folders ready for embedding in their sites.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Digital Portfolios using Google Sites

Grade 3, 4 and 5 students in our school are using Google Sites for their digital portfolios this year. One of the ways we can support them is through short video tutorials that break down some of the aspects involved in creating a site.

The tutorials have been uploaded to Vimeo and put into an album. We will continue to update the album with more and more videos over time.

How to Search for Creative Commons Licensed Images

One aspect of the UWCSEA Profile we can develop with our students is being principled by choosing Creative Commons Licensed images in our work. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, at UWCSEA (and many other leading schools), we believe that ethically, we have a responsibility to teach students (and teachers) about academic honesty and what Rodd Lucier terms "creative integrity."

To this end, we encourage our students to:

1. Create their own content first.
2. If this is not possible, we recommend searching for Creative Commons licensed content.
3. If they still can't find what they are looking for, the next step is to use a copyright image with permission from the original creator.
4. Only once they have exhausted the above steps, will we accept the use of copyright images, with attribution.

For some, this can seem a daunting prospect. Where do I even go to find CC licensed content?

The following tutorial will help alleviate some of those concerns. It will explore the use of as a starting point for finding images. It also shows how you can reference any CC Licensed Flickr image easily using Cogdog's Flickr CC image bookmarklet (simply drag the blue button to your bookmarks bar and click to attribute from Flickr).

For more information on Creative Commons, please read our blog post Creative Commons Explained.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Changes to Tabs in Student Google Sites

A couple of changes need to be made to Primary student Google Sites so they can work more effectively.

1. The literacy tab needs to be renamed Reading Workshop.
2. A new page needs to be added to Writing Workshop.

See the video below for details:

Attaching New Keynote or Pages Files to Email or Putting Them in Google Drive

When using the new Keynote or Pages applications, you cannot attach the files directly to emails or put them right in to Google Drive. There are two simple solutions to fix this problem. Save the files as Keynote '09 or Pages '09 files or compress the files before attaching them to emails or inserting them into Google Drive. Have a look at the screencast.

Thursday, 21 August 2014