Google Announces CourseBuilder Tools

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Thought I would share this post from Google (thanks, MB, for forwarding it along) about a new technology Google is testing to facilitate online course design. According to Google’s Blog, their online course on Power Searching was so successful that they decided to adapt the technology they used to create a version for public use. It appears still to be in the testing phase but would seem to have a lot of potential. I don’t drink the Google kool-aid entirely but this seems like an area where they might excel.

Sharing Student Assignments with iCal Redux

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I wrote a few weeks ago about how I was proudly using iCal to share student assignments. A few days ago I updated the calendar, strode into class, and declared that students now had another few weeks of assignments on their calendar. Or they didn’t. No updating. No lovely colored rounded rectangles. Nothing. I realized that downloading the file that put those assignments on their computer didn’t subscribe them to the calendar, and without a subscription they wouldn’t receive updates. So an edit to the previous post. Here’s the (new) process:

  • still starting at iCloud with the shared calendar link
  • copy the link and email it to students
  • students go into their iCal to the Calendar menu and hit Subscribe….
  • the link is then pasted into that window
  • (hopefully this should do it…)

Using GoogleForms for a Simple Classroom Buzzer


Revision, 4-28-17. I had been struggling with how to make available the form in an auto-copy way, rather than people contacting me and asking me for a copy; it wasn’t very intuitive on GoogleForms how to do it (admittedly, though, I am anti-GoogleDocs in general, though I do love the Forms, point being I use it as little as I have to). I found this post that explained it, however, so this link should provide you with an auto-copy of the form.

[original post begins here]

The age-old problem: how to track students’ volunteering for game show-type activities? I’ve used a bunch: Eggspert (which the kids loved, but just took too long to set up), the ol’ hand slapping the desk, raising the hand, even just shouting out. The best option I had was at my old school, Bancroft School in Worcester (MA), where the language lab would keep track of the order in which students used the ‘call’ button, so the call button in effect became the buzzer.

With the 1:1 I figured there had to be some sort of computer based way to do this, so I hit the App Store. Indeed, there was. has all sorts of buzzer-type paraphernalia, including an app for both the computer and portable devices. Even better, the app was free. Sounded good. Problem was twofold, though. 1. All computers had to be on the same network (a common requirement, and one that we at least don’t have; my computer is on a different network from the students’); 2. the structure of the app seemed too restrictive, i.e. it seemed that you could have two teams of five each, while I wanted probably 8 or 9 teams of 2-3 each. Back to the drawing board.

What I really wanted was just a button on the students’ screen that they could click on that would then somehow record the order in which that button was clicked. I knew that GoogleForms timestamped all entries, so I wondered if that would work. And for the most part it did. It’s not the most elegant solution, I’ll admit; I wish there were a bit more customization available (I wanted that button but had to settle for a text box), but overall it mostly worked, and the students seemed to enjoy it.

The process is pretty basic:

  • one field: student name
  • the process: students type their name in the form but don’t hit submit
  • the question is read
  • the submit button becomes the buzzer
  • the form on my computer autopopulates as students buzz in
  • (interestingly enough, there were a number of ties time-wise on the form, but I went with the top name; I wonder what puts a name at the top; does Google time it beyond hundredths of a second but only shows hundredths? or does it somehow randomize the ties?)

The one adjustment I would make, and this is only for those of you whose school use Google for email, etc., is that I would require students to use their Wayland emails and leave checked (which for most of my forms I uncheck) that box that says require users to be part of the Wayland domain (however it is phrased). I could then have the Form autorecord the username of each student, which would prevent some impersonation that began to take place as the game went on.

Overall, though, the GoogleForm proved a viable buzzer. I’ve included below a screenshot of both the form itself and the results of one or two questions.

Notebook View in Word

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With the advent of the 1:1, at least a couple of my students have been taking advantage of Word’s Notebook view. It’s a nice looking format with some features that seem to make it very useful. I’ve not used it myself, but from what I’ve seen my students do you can collapse and expand bullets (to save space by seeing less or see more), create diagrams / shapes, and demarcate sections (similar, it seems, to sections in Excel). I’ve included an image here of both the blank page and a page that one of my students used to outline her paper (reproduced here with her permission; thanks, SB-S).

Good Overview of Some Twitter FAQs

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I’ve written a good amount about Twitter here. Here (thanks, Steven Anderson / @web20classroom) is a good post for educators starting with Twitter, as it takes the perspective of one fairly familiar with Twitter but also one that understands teachers’ concerns going into using it. For instance, I’m finding myself at the point in my Twitter use where it’s difficult (really, impossible) to keep up with all of the tweets I receive.

Simple GoogleForms to Streamline Your Classroom

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I’d been toying with GoogleForms for a while last year, but didn’t have a lot of success. The link always seemed wrong or the privacy settings weren’t quite right, and I got away from them. But this year, for a number of reasons, the most prominent of which is the 1:1, I decided to return to give them a try and, to be honest, I’m glad I did.

GoogleForms is a quick, efficient way to collect information from students without having to go around to each of them or take time out of class to record it. Here are the ways I’m using them this year (with screenshots):

  • Book Numbers. I teach three English classes, two of which have 8 or so books, so keeping track of those book numbers through the course of the year proved challenging. Now with a simple GoogleForm not only do I have a self-populating spreadsheet with all of my book numbers but the students complete it on their own rather than me taking class time to do it; it’s linked in their CMS. (One note: I had originally created the form with a field for each book, but then realized that students wouldn’t be able to return to their original form as they received books throughout the year, so in the end, rather than having a spreadsheet with [student name] and then [book name] for each book, I’ll have 8 [student name] rows with a title and a book #. Not ideal, but still better than the old way.)
  • Contact Information. As a soccer coach, I’d spend part of the first practice’s stretching session passing a clipboard around and having the team fill out their contact information. I would then type it up and pass it around again to make sure I had read their handwriting correctly. Now, I have a GoogleForm linked to our page on the school’s CMS, and they took care of it on their own. I’m also using a Google form to collect sizes and customization for the t-shirts we’re ordering.

  • Standardized Testing Sign-ups. I’m the Testing Coordinator at school, and this is my first year running PSATs, for which students register themselves with the school (as opposed to SATs for which students register directly with College Board). I’d had some experience with this as AP coordinator and it isn’t efficient (and that’s with the majority of AP takers set by virtue of taking an AP course). I was hoping for a more efficient way to sign students up. GoogleForms did it. Students now go to our testing website ( and follow the link to a GoogleForm. So far, I have over 160 sign-ups, all organized in a spreadsheet with me doing little other than checking it, answering some questions, and setting the form up. Much more efficient.

I’ve not quite reached the point of using GoogleForms for class; I aspire to that. But to see some nice examples of that, check out this post here.

iOS 6 Limits Devices to One App at a Time if You Want

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Saw this link on Twitter (thanks, @kylepace) to a concise and clear explanation of a new iOS 6 feature that will benefit educators and parents by preventing iOS device users from leaving an app. Thank you, Apple.


Sharing Assignments Through iCal Shared Calendars

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Last year I experimented with shared calendars via iCal. I had always kept my planbook in iCal, and would print out monthly calendars to distribute and/or post to ItsLearning (and outside my room). This worked but was a bit cumbersome (printing in iCal is a few too many steps). With the advent of iCloud, I figured that the shared calendar would work well: I wouldn’t have to print and students cold have their assignments wherever they go. Unfortunately, not enough students had Macs and/or devices to make it worthwhile. This year, however, with the 1:1, all students have Macs, so I’m back to sharing calendars, and it seems to be working well so far.

From iCloud, click on the speaker-type icon next to the calendar. A share window will appear. I use the public calendar; I’m not too worried about the general public seeing or hacking my school calendar. I used the ’email link’ button but this didn’t have great results. Many students received the email but the button wasn’t active (it was for some; it seemed that the Comcast email interface let the button be active, but that others, especially Google, did not). So I copied the link from the window and pasted it into an email. This worked fine. The link downloads a file that the students then open which then puts everything in iCal. I assume, though I have yet to confirm, that as I change the calendar, it will change on their computers.

So with their assignments right there, let’s hope that they can be more assiduous about their work….

Update: I’ve included a screen shot of the share window on iCloud, and you can see how iCal (in the iCloud version here) functions as my planbook (for both school and otherwise).

Sorry, Kikutext, I’m Back to Twitter

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My Twitter and Kikutext travails have been documented, so I won’t belabor them. But with a little legwork I think I’ve managed to get Twitter to do what I want it to do: send messages to each class direct to their phones and the ability to access multiple classes if I need to. The only thing I’m not quite sure about is direct messages, which I don’t think I’ll be able to do, but that was the least interesting aspect of Kikutext anyway for me.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Make a Twitter account for each class (this requires multiple emails, which is the frustrating part, but I had enough random ones lying around that I could do it; if you don’t, dummy Gmail addresses will do the trick): @dehlat345, @dehe4gol, @dehmedieval, @dehclassical, @deharcheo.
  2. Tell students to follow their class’ account via their cell phone (rather than their Twitter account): text ‘follow [twitteraccount]’ to 40404. For full instructions from Twitter, click here. If students follow via their Twitter account (which some have done also, though hopefully not instead of), I found last year that my tweets were lost among their others.
  3. Sign up for a Splitweet account, which allows for the management of multiple Twitter accounts, and link all accounts to Splitweet.
  4. Send a test tweet and have students turn their phones all the way up for a chorus of pings, dings, and other noises (perhaps the most fun part of the process).

Splitweet is the key. Without it, you’d be logging in and out of various accounts too frequently to make it worthwhile (and TweetCaster does something similar, though not quite as elegantly, on the iPad, though you can of course access SplitTweet on the iPad via the web browser). But with Splitweet I can just check the account / class to which I want to Tweet and it goes right there.

Tonight I received two emails from students saying that they couldn’t find the homework. I didn’t think much of the first one; figured it was a glitch. But the second one made me think that there was something wrong on my end, which indeed there was: the assignment had deactivated because I assigned it a day later than I had originally planned. So I changed the deactivation date so it was visible again, and Tweeted that there was a problem but it was now fixed, a message that went right to my students’ phones.

QR Codes & Parents’ Night Update


Parents’ Night was this past Thursday, the great QR Codes debut. And…it wasn’t so great. It wasn’t entirely the QR Codes’ fault. One of the projectors in my two rooms was being fritzy and, without it to project my Course Guide, I wasn’t going to rely entirely on the QR Codes, so I did exactly what I said I wasn’t going to do and made photocopies. Yargh. I did show and pass around the QR Codes sheet, and a few parents zapped them and got the Course Guide on their phone (which both I and they thought was pretty cool), but it wasn’t quite the technological revolution that I was hoping to be (a bit gimmicky, EU-H). So a worthy experiment, but perhaps none of us (me or parents) are quite ready technologically.

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