“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” —Bill Gates

Sunday, December 30, 2012

"I don't like Google Drive!"

I keep what is called a "contact log". This is a Google form in which I keep track of who I have helped and what was their need. I'll be honest, I have missed many entries, especially if they happened informally in the hallways, but I can still get good data. As the first half of the school year ended, I decided to take a look at the results gathered so far. I was not surprised to see that the number one request had to do with Google Docs.

Our school started using consistently GAFE this year. So, I can imagine it must be very frustrating for some teachers to be forced to use a tool they are not comfortable with. Of course, I remember the frequent comment from teachers saying, "I don't like Google Drive! Is there something I can do?"

All it took was to give them a few recommendations and that was enough to make their day! Here they are, from simple to complex (or should I say, from very simple to less simple) that have changed the teachers' experience with Google Drive.

1. Use the Starred feature. This will allow you to mark the files or folders that you want to keep handy. Un-star items when not necessary anymore. You don't want to keep a huge starred list that is as long as your Drive items.

2. Upload files. If there are files you have already created with another application, such as Word, they can be uploaded to your drive. In some cases, they can also be converted to Google format.

3. Create folders, and folders within folders. Organize your files by creating folders. Just like you would have done on your computer. The beauty of this is that you can nest folders within folders. Just drag and drop files and folders into other folders!

4. Color-code your folders. To make folders stand out, or to visually keep them organized, I suggest you add color to those gray folders. Besides, your drive will look much nicer!

5. Share a folder instead of individual documents. This is a simple trick to help you save time if you are in constant need of sharing files with the same people over and over again. Just adjust the Share settings to the folder instead and the permissions will spread to anything it contains. Caution with this!

6. Download the Google Drive app. This application will allow you to see your Drive contents through the Finder (Mac OS). You'll be able to manipulate the files and folders as you would with any other folders on your computer, with the advantage that anything your doing will reflect in your Google Drive!

Have you faced difficulties with Google Drive? How did you solve them? I'd love to hear your suggestions!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Instructional Strategies & Google Docs

This week at school we've been preparing for an upcoming professional development day taking place in January. This day will focus on the 9 High Yield Instructional Strategies. We will have Jane E. Pollock, author of "Improving Student Learning One Principal at a Time",  visiting our school. She will follow-through on her visit from last year and the work done by all teams and how they've incorporated the GANAG schema and the instructional strategies to their lesson plans.

As I was preparing for my team meeting, I thought, "How can Google Docs and Apps support this initiative?" This is what I brainstormed:

1. Identifying Similarities and Differences

  • Use the Spreadsheet chart capabilities to prepare comparisons.
  • Use the Drawing doc to create a mental map.
  • Use a Form to collect data that can later be graphed.

2. Summarizing and Note Taking

  • Student takes notes in a Document created by him or the teacher shares a pre-formatted Document with students.

3. Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition

  • Students can create a Presentation that can be shared with classmates.
  • Students can use a Form to keep a log or journal.
  • Students can create a video, upload to YouTube or to Drive and share with the world.
  • Create quizzes with Forms.
  • Simulate a quiz or trivia game with Presentations.

4. Homework and Practice

  • Use Presentations to create digital flashcards.
  • Provide templates created with Docs.

5. Nonlinguistic Representations

  • Use the Research tool to find images to add to any Doc.
  • Create a Presentation with images only.
  • Embed Youtube videos to your Presentations.

6. Cooperative Learning

  • Students can work collaboratively through any of the Google docs.
  • Create a trivia game with Presentations that students can play together as a group.

7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback

  • Use a table in a Document to prepare a KWL chart.
  • Insert an objective or goal slide in your lesson Presentation.
  • Create a quick survey with a Form as a pre-assessment.
  • Teacher and peers can make Comments to a Document.
  • Use Calendar to set goals and assign Tasks.
  • Have students keep an e-portfolio with Sites.

8. Generating and Testing Hypotheses

  • Write down hypotheses in a Document.
  • Use the Search tool to find information.
  • Use a Spreadsheet or Form to collect data.

9. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers

  • Create a Document with useful links and share with students.
  • Use Drawing to create a graphic organizer.
  • Use Tables in Documents to organize data.

I'm sure there are more ideas, and certainly that include other technologies other than Google Docs. If you have any more Google ideas, please make a comment. I'd love to include them in this list!


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Google Teacher Academy - Check!

Well, I'm back from the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View, still trying to digest all that happened. What an experience! Two days of intense learning, together with 61 more educators.

Here's an overview of what happened these days:

Day 1 - GTA - Arrived at 7:30am. Meet my team. Reception and breakfast. Welcome message and overview. Demo slam by the team leaders. First 2 break out rotations. Break and snacks. Get to know each other activity. Third rotation. Lunch. Google product demo. Last 2 rotations. Another break and snacks. Sharing of ideas. Google product demo. Digital literacy. Break. Action plans. Pinning ceremony. Dinner. End of day at 8:00pm.

Day 2 - Unconference - Arrived at 8:00am. Breakfast. Free choice hands-on sessions. Lunch. Free choice hands-on sessions. Googleplex tour. Closing. End of day at 4:30pm.

The days were packed with new information, revolving around 5 major strands: 
Visualizing your World, Sharing your World, Collaborating with the World, Exploring your World, and Searching your World. We got to see and hear first hand, from the leaders of important projects taking place in Google, what they are currently working on.

I am very impressed on how much Google has dedicated to education. There seems to be an educational value into any Google product there is. Pretty awesome!

I have tons of notes to sort through, much to remember, and a lot to try out! And to think that we just touched the surface of all the functionality of the major tools.

I value the professional learning community I have entered and the strong relationships I have established with great people from around the globe.

Thank you Google for an amazing experience and for the opportunity to help change the world!


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Splashtop Whiteboard App

Hi! I'm going to tell you today about an app I've been trying out with teachers this week. I'm talking about Splashtop Whiteboard. This is an app for the iPad.

With this app you'll be able to control your computer through the iPad, just like a remote, only that you actually see and touch what's on the computer screen. But that's not all, it includes functions that you would normally find with an interactive whiteboard.

You'll be able to highlight, annotate, draw, spotlight, save the screen, and more! This is great if you don't have an interactive whiteboard and if you are doing a presentation, so you can stand away from your computer.

Besides downloading the app to your iPad device, you will need to download the Splashtop streamer to your computer. Here's the cool part, the streamer is available for Macs, PC's and Linux computers. The connection will be done via Wifi.

The instructions are pretty simple, and come along in the web site and in the quick guides that will show up when you first open up the applications.

The description of the app says you can control your computer from anywhere, even your home, that's something I have yet to try out.

Here's a recommendation of something I discovered. You'll find the sound output coming through the iPad. That's not good if you have a large audience and want to hook up  speakers. Don't worry. Go to the computer's system preferences and make sure the sound output is set to built-in speakers, after that you can hook up the speakers to the computer.

The app costs $19.99, but that's a very small price, compared to what a full interactive whiteboard would cost.

We just started at school with this and we have 12 teachers piloting this option, as opposed to using a regular IWB. If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear from you.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Automator to the rescue!

Just last week I was in need of separating each of the pages of a PDF file into individual JPG files. Hmm...how? My first thought was that I'd have to take a snapshot of each page. I'd probably have to resize the page view so it could fit on the screen, then take the snapshot, and hope the quality of the image wasn't that bad. But there were too many pages...there must be a better way! I searched Google and sure enough, I found the answer!

Automator! I've had the Automator application for the longest time but had never even taken a peek at it. The solution I found involved using Automator. I decided to give it a whirl. Turns out it's not complicated at all. Below you will find the steps I took to create my routine. 

1 Create a new workflow

2 Ask for Finder Items

3 Render PDF Pages as Images
4 Move Finder Items
5 Hit Run...and see the magic!

6 Check the Log for work report until it says completed.

I saved the routine for future use and I've also created other routines, just as helpful, that I will share at another time. Here's a quick tutorial to get you started with Automator.

If you have any experience with Automator that has made your job easier, I'd love to hear about it!



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Password Protect your MS Office Docs

When talking with parents about safety and security, they have had concerns regarding the privacy of individual documents. I put together this quick guide to show how to add a password to a Microsoft Office document when opening or modifying it.


1. Go to Word-Preferences

2. Enter Security

3. Write passwords to Open and/or Modify

(If you select “Read-Only”, the person opening it up will not be able to make modifications to the document.)


1. Enter File-Passwords

2. Write the password to Open and/or Modify


1. Enter File-Passwords

2. Choose the option to write the password to Open and/or Modify

Now, when you open up, for instance, a protected Word document, you will see something like this:

If you have any comments or want to share more suggestions, feel free to add a comment.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Safe Searching for Kids

Teachers and parents have asked me for recommended search tools for kids. I have compiled a list of search tools designed for kids. They are all friendly options for young students.
We all know that the number one search tool is Google. Fortunately it has the option to turn on Strict Filtering (it works for images too) and as a parent, you might also want to lock these preferences.

Some basic recommendations I make to kids so they can try to avoid encountering inappropriate material while searching are:
  • Don’t make-up web sites that you type directly in the address box. For example, the child is looking for information about pandas. He types www.pandas.com. Yes, it sometimes works, but most often it’s not what you were looking for.
  • Use correct spelling. The common typos lead you to inappropriate sites.
  • Use keywords. Narrow down your search and make it more specific to the topic you need.
  • Use phrases. Be more specific by using phrases rather than isolated words.
  • Prefer web sites that end with .org, .k12, or .gov. They are better trusted if they have an organization or institution that is backing them up.
Nothing can replace adult supervision, so stay close and aware of what the young learners are doing.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

If at First You Don’t Succeed…Try Again!

I'm not sure when or how I first heard about something called the Google Teacher Academy. That was several years ago. I glanced through the program and didn’t consider it because I thought, “if only a few are selected, I’m not even going to come close, so I think I’ll just pass”.

Last year, I was encouraged by a colleague, who was already an Apple Distinguished Educator, to apply for such recognition. I did just that, and to my surprise I was honored and selected ADE 2012. “There’s no stopping me now!”, I thought.

Shortly after, the opportunity came around again but now with Google. I was looking for PD opportunities, related to my new position as tech trainer. My school was about to deploy Google Apps for Education. It seemed to me that Google was the way to go. I learned from another colleague that there were Google Certified Trainers and Google Certified Teachers. That’s what I wanted!

I looked at the requirements for each of them: I had to take 6 tests regarding Google Apps, attend a Google Teacher Academy, complete a comprehensive application, and commit to delivering courses at school.

The opportunity came around. Applications for the Google Teacher Academy, taking place in New York, opened up. I created my video, filled out the application, and sent it all. A few weeks later, the decision day arrived. I received the notification. It said I had not been selected. Bummer! Well, better luck next time. I was determined to try again, and again, as long as it would take.

Meanwhile, I completed the 6 tests and earned Google Qualified Individual status. I became more active on Twitter, I started my blog, updated my web site, and became more and more involved with using Google Apps.

Then, another opportunity arrived, now to the GTA in Mountain View, taking place in December. I reviewed the previous application and video I had submitted. I made some changes to the application and created a brand new video. This time I had more to add to the application. A few weeks later, decision day arrived again. I received the notification. This time it said something different. The first thing I read was, “Congratulations!”. Yes! I had been accepted! Yay! I was so excited!

I’m counting the days and looking forward to attending this much desired academy. I feel honored to be part of this select group of fine teachers and hope to make lifelong friends and partners and work together to support education and technology.

Stay posted, once I attend the academy, I’ll write about my experience and even publish some pictures.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Online Safety & Security

I’ve been having sessions with parents regarding digital citizenship topics. One of the sessions, I call “Be Wise, Protect Yourself”, has to do with online safety and security. I can’t stress enough the importance of these measures anyone can take to ensure their own and their loved ones’ safety and security.

We start by differentiating what each term stands for:

• Online Safety refers to making sure you and your kids are not harmed, physically or emotionally, through inappropriate images, videos, content, and interaction with an unknown person that makes you feel uncomfortable.

• Online Security refers to making sure your personal information, your files, and equipment are protected from viruses, damage, and thefts.

Basic Safety Measures:

  • Be careful when giving out personal information.
  • Don’t post photos and don’t tag them.
  • Don’t accept contacts you don’t recognize.
  • Kids should tell a trusted adult of anything that seems suspicious.
  • Adjust privacy and security settings.

Basic Security Measures:

  • Password protect when possible.
  • Use a strong password.
  • Sign-out of applications and accounts.
  • Avoid using the “remind-me” checkmark.
  • Look for secure connections (https).
  • Caution when giving out private information.
  • Adjust privacy and security settings.

If you have any experiences to share or have more advice, feel free to comment.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reducing the Size of PDF Files

Why would someone want to reduce the size of a pdf file? I had to do that…twice. When I asked our webmaster if she could please upload to the school’s web site the handouts I made for parents, she said they were too big. So, this is how I solved the problem.

My goal was to have my presentation available to parents so they could download it at home. The presentation was made with Keynote, a software application for presentations, part of the iWorks suite, for Macs.

The first thing I did was convert the keynote file to pdf format. How? 
File –> Export –> PDF.
The original .key file was 111 Mb. Way to big! I knew that, that’s why I converted to pdf. Smart me! Now I had reduced the size to only 4.3 Mb. I also took away the videos, and only included links. That should do the trick. Right? Wrong! Turned out it was still too big. The web master told me it would be best to have the file size down to about 1Mb. 
But how? No matter what I removed, I couldn’t take it under 3 Mb. Finally, the solution! Pretty simple, let me show you.

1. Open the pdf file. In a Mac, when you double-click on a pdf, it opens up with the Preview application.

2. Under File, go to Export.
3. From the pull down menu for Quartz Filter, choose Reduce File Size. Save and Replace.
4. Voila! Piece of cake! After that, the file size did reduce, now down to 506 Kb! Perfect! 
The quality wasn’t bad at all and the web page’s loading time is really good. After that, I’m reducing all my handouts, especially if they are going to be uploaded.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Digital Citizenship & Parents

Last year, as part of my job as tech trainer, I became involved with training parents too.

Early in the school year, parents were asked to respond to a general survey asking them about their tech interests. The majority mentioned wanting to learn how to help their children with security and safety, cyber-bullying, digital footprints, etc. At the same time, at the elementary campus, from K-5, we applied short surveys to students to see how much they already knew about digital citizenship topics. Results from K-1, like the ones below, raised some red flags. We were sure that we needed to bring the parents on board in order to make our digital citizenship program initiative a successful one.
So I took upon this huge task and started to look for the best way to approach this. In my search I gathered a large collection of online resources. I created a chart to categorize the resources according to the grade level, and developed a scope & sequence chart for the digital citizenship curriculum. (Which is still a work in progress.) One of the best resources I found is Common Sense Media. (http://www.commonsensemedia.org) I highly recommend it. It includes valuable information for all of us: teachers, parents, and students. It has up-to-date information, hundreds of videos, reviews, and even lesson plans.
To better prepare myself, I enrolled in ISTE's Digital Citizenship Online Professional development Course. (http://www.iste.org/store/product?id=2302). From one of the lessons, I confirmed the notion that parent education is key to a solid DC program, and the importance of having a school web site dedicated to this important topic.

I am proud of the time and effort I put forth into building our very own Digital Citizenship web site at school. Take a look, I am sharing the link to the site. I hope you find it useful. I am open to any comments you may have. http://www.asfm.edu.mx/parents/tools/digital-citizenship

Much of the content and framework included in this site comes from Common Sense Media, to whom I am very grateful, plus bits and pieces from other sources, and another chunk from my own experience. Additionally, I am running weekly hands-on workshops with parents. I truly enjoy meeting with parents and getting to know their points of view and experiences, and we all learn together!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Creating Tutorials with Quicktime

Dear Reader, 
Before I continue, I will make a small disclaimer: The experience I am sharing in my posts is mainly my work with Apple Computer devices, as well as with software for Macs. But still, I hope you find it useful.

Before Jing (http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html) allowed uploading videos to YouTube, it would only generate .swf files. A format that YouTube doesn't accept. A fact I learned the hard way.

I was preparing small videos with tutorials for teachers so they would feel more comfortable when they would start using Edmodo (http://www.edmodo.com). I was going to need about 30 in total. (Remember, small chunks of information is better.) I was faced with the frustration of already having created half of the videos and worried about the other half I needed. Honestly, I didn’t want to redo them, it had been a lot of work and now I didn’t have time. I thought to myself, “There has to be a way!”. In my search for that option, I came across Quicktime.

I’m sure there were other ways, but this was a simple, quick, painless solution. I looked for online converters, but they didn’t really satisfy my needs. Well, turns out you can record with Quicktime! Just choose File -> New Screen Recording. To think that all this time I thought it was just a video player. It had been always right there in front of me. 

How did it work? Simple. What I did was play my .swf files one at a time, recorded them with Quicktime, then uploaded the .mov files to YouTube. Yes, I know, the quality suffered a bit, but I didn’t have time to redo them. After “recovering” the videos, I went ahead and created the new ones I needed. Piece of cake!

By the way, Quicktime also allows movie recording and audio recording. 

So there you have it, this is the story of how Quicktime saved the tech trainer’s day!