Sunday, December 14, 2014

Teaching with Digital Tools: Website Design Reflection

I am wrapping up a post-graduate class, Teaching with Digital Tools. Throughout the course we were asked to evaluate the efficacy and usability of various digital tools within the classroom. As someone who is confident in her understanding of educational technology, I learned a lot from this experience and have made immediate use of many lessons. The final assignment is to create a blog and publish a post reflecting a recent website development experience. We were asked to create an educational website that allows students to interact with and respond the shared information. I created Topics in Media.

About Topics in Media
Topics in Media was designed to help middle school teachers engage students in discussion of current technology, information, and media topics.  The goal of this site is to help students see the larger issues involved with technology use, such as privacy, security, and ownership of data.  For controversial topics, opposing viewpoints are essential. Discussion prompts are included to help teachers and students engage in meaningful discussion, and perhaps debate, on the profiled issues.  Students will be able to discuss current issues involving technology, evaluate resources for reliability and bias, and make more informed choices about their personal use of technology tools. I hope to add topics to the site (already gathering information on the recent Sony hack).

Pros/Cons Google Sites
I have been developing websites since the late 1990s. While I still enjoy handcoding HTML and CSS, it is hard to argue against the speed of creating a website with Google Sites or other similar tools.  Sites makes the process of creating a website almost as simple as creating a document.

  • Favorite features:
  • Unfortunate features:
    • I don't like that each page automatically allows comments and shows attachments. I don't want comments on most pages, and I prefer attachments to be embedded into the page design (not a link at the bottom of the page). It is an extra step to hide comments and attachments for every single page.
    • I wish it were possible to easily temporarily hide pages from view. For example, a teacher could create a website for a class, including all lessons and activities for the entire year. It would be useful for a teacher to easily toggle the visibility of pages while moving through units. Currently, site owners must use page level permissions, a feature that some find cumbersome and confusing.

Advice for Creating a Website
A website is simply a presentation tool. All of the rules that relate to presentations apply.

  • Purpose: Have a clearly defined purpose. This will determine the content, media, structure, and even the style of the site. Everything should support the purpose of the site, extraneous elements will only distract.
  • Audience: Know your audience. Think about how they will access information, what media format they prefer,
  • Content: Focus on the content, "pretty" design can come later. Check your spelling, teachers!
  • Organization: Create an outline. Sketch out the structure of the site, consider subpages to keep the navigation simple.
  • Visual aids:  All media should be high quality and have a direct connection to the page content. Ensure that you have permission to use images, videos, audio, and other elements; always cite your sources.
  • Appearance: Design elements should complement the content. A common style throughout will indicate a coherence of content and be less jarring to the visitor.

Before publishing a site, invite others to preview and provide feedback. Even after a site is published, it is easy to correct errors, make additions, and remove outdated content. Consider adding an "updated on" note to pages. Even if your site includes a recent site activity page, most users will not take the time to locate or view such a page.

GTSD staff interested in learning more about Google Sites are invited to contact Mrs. Bond. Looking for inspiration? View the Staff Intranet, Ms. Hardiman's Stone Stories, 6th grade's Book Trailer Project, and 8th Grade Media Literacy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An Hour of Code Can Change Lives

My dad was a tinkerer. He built TVs from kits, fixed lawn mowers with spare parts, and made wooden rubber band rifles. I was his helper, always ready to hand over the requested tool. In the early 1980's he brought home a Texas Instruments computer. At the time I believed computers were the tools of scientists, the government, or big companies... certainly not 8 year old girls. After unboxing, we spent hours figuring out what this machine could do. I'm pretty sure we skipped dinner that night. We designed simple programs to add numbers, tell jokes, and draw shapes. We saved our projects on cassette tapes, sharing them with friends and family. That first hour of code changed two lives. My dad was beginning to turn his hobby into a career; by the late 80's he went from warehouse worker to CAD designer. I was turning a "toy" into a learning tool, designing programs to help practice multiplication tables and spelling words.  Many years later I have the best job in the world: I get to help make learning more effective, authentic, and fun through the use of technology in schools.

This week, during Computer Science Education Week, we celebrate the Hour of Code. I challenge you to try something new: step out of your comfort zone and play a simple game. Drag and drop commands to guide an Angry Bird through a mazehelp a monkey get his banana, or make a cat dance. Browse the lists below for more options (all web based, all free). Think about how these tools can work in your classroom -- not just the computer lab. Think of coding as just another communication tool. What ideas are your students struggling to share?

For elementary students, or beginners with a lighter interest:

For olders students, or those with a more serious interest:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Video: This Will Revolutionize Education

This isn't what you think.  As someone who believes in the power of technology to transform the learning experience, I love that this video helps to put technology, and every other "revolutionary" tool, in its place.

H/T to Prof. Beaudry who shared this video with the Teaching with Digital Tools class.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cool Tool: EasyBib Tools (Chrome Extension)

EasyBib is a freemium web based MLA citation generator. With a free account (be sure to sign in with Google!), users can store bibliographies, notes, and even have a digital review of an essay.

The paid version of this tool provides citation generation for additional styles (APA, AMA, Chicago, and more). The School Edition simplifies the process of teaching research using digital tools.

While this citation generator does make things a bit easier, it is not perfect: sometimes fields will be completely wrong or will be missing key information. Researchers must verify everything, fill in the missing pieces, and know when to stop looking for the missing pieces.

Related resources:
  • EasyBib knowledge base. Help articles on how to use EasyBib tools (note that some are behind a paid subscription), videos showing how to format citations, guides on on note taking and bibliographies.
  • Scholar Space Teacher resources. Includes posters, handouts, and ready made presentations on MLA formatting, website evaluation, plagiarism prevention, wikipedia, flipped classroom, and more.

To install the extension:
  1. Must be logged in to Google Chrome with Google Apps credentials.
  2. Go to Chrome Store, search for "EasyBib Tools" extension.
  3. This extension will help to create citations for web pages and other sources. It will appear in the upper right corner of the browser, just below the red x.

Create an account:
  1. Once installed to Chrome, click the EasyBib icon. Select Login.
  2. Click Sign in with Google. Follow the onscreen steps to connect your new EasyBib account with your Google Apps account.

To generate a citation:
  1. Be on the page to be cited.
  2. Click the EasyBib icon. Notice that EasyBib will attempt to help you verify the credibility of the site -- this is a help, not a guarantee.
  3. Verify the information that is automatically filled in the popup -- this is a requirement. Add/edit where necessary.
  4. Click Create Citation.
  5. Close window to continue searching OR Click View Bibliography.

To move your bibliography out of EasyBib:
  1. Click the EasyBib icon. Select View Bibliography.
    • Export: Copy/Paste, Export (Word .docx, Google Doc, OneDrive, Email, OneNote).
    • Share: Share a direct link, email, or invite other EasyBib users to view or edit.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Google Apps: Favorite Chrome Extensions

Extensions are additional software added to the browser, that when enabled can be used on nearly any page. While apps are more like shortcuts to places on the web, extensions are built-in tools that impact our view or interaction with content on the web.

Below are some of my favorite Chrome extensions for teachers and students. To install these or any other extensions you will need to be logged in to Google Chrome.

Adblock: Works quietly in the background, blocking ads from websites including YouTube. By removing distracting ads, students can more easily focus on the page content.

EasyBib Tools: Cite web sites with one click using the EasyBib Toolbar and receive advice on the credibility of the web site you're citing. Google Apps users can connect their Google account, facilitating login and export of bibliographies.

One Tab: Whenever you find yourself with too many tabs, click the OneTab icon to convert all of your tabs into a list. When you need to access the tabs again, you can either restore them individually or all at once.

Save to Google Drive: The Save to Google Drive Chrome extension helps you save web content or browser screenshots to your Google Drive.

Select and Speak: Select and Speak uses iSpeech's human-quality text-to-speech (TTS) reads selected text.  It includes 43 iSpeech text to speech voices.  You can configure the voice and speed options by changing the settings on the options page.

GTSD note: Students may only install apps/extensions from a select list. Anything listed in the GTSD section of the Chrome Web Store has been approved; these extensions have been added. Teachers and students are invited to share suggestions for inclusion with Mrs. Bond.