GoogleForms to Collect Student Information and Data Validation

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For the past few years, I collected student email addresses (especially if they don’t use their school email address; I know they should, but that’s a battle I’ve chosen not to fight) by having them come up to my computer and type them into a Word document.

That seemed inefficient, so this year I’m using a GoogleForm. Not only does the GoogleForm make life a bit more efficient, but I can also add other information so that I can have that all in one place, specifically parent email and computer tag number (this tag number is used to set up classes in LanSchool; I’m not a huge LanSchool fan but I figure it’s easier to do it as one of the preliminaries than to try to do it mid-year).

That tag number, though, also includes a standardized WPS before the number itself and, of course, if students include the WPS in their form, the data is thrown off and I have to edit. GoogleForms includes a help text field, which includes a bit of extra instruction below the prompt, but students of course tend to read this quickly at best.

Because the tag number is a number, I figured there had to be some way to check (or validate) the number and indeed there was: data validation:

  1. In the edit field view, click on ‘Advanced Settings’.Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.44.03 PM
  2. ‘Advanced Settings’ provides a number of formulae.Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.44.29 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.40.47 PM
  3. I chose for this simply ‘is a number’, which makes sure that what is entered is a number (and of course including the WPS renders the number no longer a number).
  4. And you can include a custom error message, which in my case is a reminder not to use the WPS in the number.Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.42.56 PM


Gmail to Tasks

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A year or two ago I read about the psychological implications of an empty inbox, that an empty inbox vs a full inbox has the same impact as a clean desk vs. a cluttered desk. So I decided to give it a try: I made action folders / labels (I think someone else’s idea, but I can’t remember whose), folders / labels based on verbs rather than nouns to organize my email. My folders / labels are Act, Review, Respond, Grade, Drafts, and Pending (so there is a noun or two in there). And I agreed. The empty inbox was a nice thing. I’m not militant about it nor do I exclaim triumphantly when I do empty my inbox but it is something I strive for. The problem with the action folders / labels, on the other hand, is the same as physical folders: they don’t matter unless you actually look in them. So I will leave short term / emails that require immediate attention in my inbox to deal with them.

Last night I was looking to clean up the inbox, but there was one email that I needed to deal with by the 29th. I didn’t want to leave it in the inbox that whole time but I also didn’t want to file it away (and potentially forget about it, since it is time sensitive). I decided to try something I had learned while taking the GAFE exams: the ‘Move to Tasks’ feature in Gmail.

Gmail lets you take an email message and automatically add the subject line to your tasks list.

  1. With the email open, go to the More menu.
  2. Click on ‘Add to Tasks’.
  3. You can edit the the title / task in the task list.

I’ve included illustrations below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 5.35.56 AMScreen Shot 2014-08-23 at 5.33.39 AM

Samsung’s New Ad Pokes Fun at Apple’s Battery Life

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Don’t want a Samsung Galaxy but have to admire their ad (campaign). This one made me chuckle.

(from here via @applenws)

GAFE Exams Passed – Part 1: Approach

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I took a Google Boot Camp in March (April?): basically two days of advanced introductions to the GAFE suite. Now, I’ve been ambivalent about the GAFE suite as it has developed. I love Mail and Calendar; I rely on them daily. Drive is useful at times but I still find it too clunky to replace Word; Forms, on the other hand, a subset of sorts of Drive / Docs, is a fantastic tool and has streamlined many of my processes. Sites, like Drive, I find clunky, especially when something like Weebly makes life so easy.

On the other hand, no one can deny the ubiquity, the interconnectedness, and the usefulness of the GAFE suite, and so I wanted to pass the exams for both (obvious) professional reasons and investigatory reasons, i.e. taking the tests would formalize my introduction to and knowledge of the suite and potentially show me features that I will use that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.

In the wake of the boot camp, I took one of the tests and failed. This was not entirely a surprise; I had heard that they were difficult, not by virtue of their philosophy, but that the knowledge required is somewhat esoteric and some of the language can be confusing. The test itself also doesn’t say which questions were answered incorrectly (which I understand, of course). In the last two weeks, however, I passed them all, so I’m writing this to give an overview of them and some advice on how to approach them to best position you to pass.

For GAFE certification, you must pass four mandatory tests: Mail, Calendar, Sites, and Drive, and a fifth that you choose from three: Chrome, ChromeBooks, or Tablets with GooglePlay for Education; I chose Chrome. The tests are 60 questions and you have 90 minutes to finish. Each test took me around an hour and a quarter; Sites took me the longest at around an hour and 25 minutes. And I averaged an 87 / 88 on the tests (80 and above i passing).

You can navigate freely among the questions, so that a couple of times I stumbled upon the answer to a previous question when looking for another. If that was a different answer from what I answered, I could go back to change it. You can also mark questions for review, i.e. if you feel like you’re taking too long on a question, you can mark it and quickly return to it at the end of the test. Once you start, you cannot stop and you must pass all five within 90 days of starting the first. The GAFE certification lasts for 18 months from completion of the final exam and each test costs $15 to take (even if you fail). To get started, click here. You must make a Google Testing account, which is not your existing Google account; you need a new password for your testing account to go with your Gmail address.

A colleague (thanks, JS) forwarded some tips from a friend of hers who had passed the Drive exam. I will include those here and then offer my own thoughts.

Definitely have 2 computers at the ready when you take the test.  Have
one that you take the test on and another that you do all your
research and have your notes on(this was a mistake I didn’t rectify
until 15 minutes into the test)
• On said computer have open Drive, Spreadsheets, Docs and
Presentations, preferably with a live doc in each – you will need
these to experiment with as you are taking the test
• Find the info about the following – max # of columns/rows, cells in a
spreadsheet; max # of users that can collaborate or edit a google doc
(I think its 50 editors max).
• There were a lot of spreadsheet questions (good for me) that asked
about ‘what color does the toolbar become when you set a filter’ or
how many columns can yuo have in a spreadsheet, or can other people
delete your comments in a spreadsheet

 Someone told him that the bulk of the info you need is in the super advanced
guide ..
I liked the two computers idea but didn’t like the logistics of it, so I used two browsers instead, one with the test itself and the other with the reference material that I needed. Using Apple’s command-tab function made toggling between the two browsers easy (and easier than juggling two computers). I should add that I did use two computers for the Sites exam; I was at my parents’ house and they had a set up a bit more conducive to that; I preferred the two browsers. I found myself trying to move the cursor on one with the trackpad of the other, etc.
So I had Chrome and Firefox open, Chrome with my test and Firefox with the reference material. For reference, I had three tabs open:
  • (and this is the site mentioned in the quote above); changing the ‘sites’ in my example (or ‘drive’ in the above) brings you to the sites for the other exams: drive, calendar, mail, chrome: this, as mentioned above, is an outline of topics that provides an advanced overview
  •; this is Google’s help center (and the same applies as above; change ‘sites’ to any of the other apps for the parallel site) that is of course searchable
  •; just Google itself for broader searching

The difficulty here was figuring out which resource would best answer which question. I had the best luck with the help center and Google itself; the edutraining site was too difficult to navigate but it wasn’t searchable except using the Find feature. The help center was useful when the help center itself answered a question; I learned quickly to avoid any search result that sent me to a user forum; these were too unfocused and too difficult to browse quickly. If the answer didn’t turn up in the help center, I used Google itself. I should also add here that this site included questions and answers directly from the Sites exam; not sure how Google would feel about that (more in the Part 2 post); and ironically in a GoogleSite; I did not find similar sites for the other exams (and I only stumbled across this one in a Google search, and, no, I did not use it, though I thought about it). I should add too that the advice about having a something live to experiment in was very useful for specific types of questions, i.e. questions that asked which of the following is NOT an feature of blank: it was very easy to go into blank and see what the features were.

So to sum up:

  • two browsers
  • the sites above
  • live examples of whatever you’re working on

And even with these, I only scored above a 90 on one of the five tests (others, mid- to high-80s).

But this should be a pretty secure path to passing the GAFE tests. Once the tests are passed, you can (if you want) start the application for a Google Certified Trainer.

Good luck!

Find my iPhone: Every Now and Then….

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Find my iPhone (the app) is hardly perfect. It can be disabled by someone with your phone through the settings (especially if you don’t have a passcode on your phone); it doesn’t work if the phone is powered off (and any thief worth his salt would know this and immediately power off a stolen iPhone); and it no longer matters if the thief restores your phone to its original settings via his/her computer. The simple bottom line, then, is if you’re worried about losing your phone or having it stolen, your best line of defense is a passcode, but that is a bit like bringing a knife to a gun fight.

On the other hand, Find my iPhone can be terribly useful for the klutzy, ditzy, or simply careless. Or the incredibly organized who, on occasion, can be klutzy, ditzy, or simply careless. (Can you see where this is going?)

I couldn’t find my iPad Mini. I hadn’t lost it. I wasn’t panicked. I could even narrow its location to two places. In my own house. But I still couldn’t find it. I decided to try Find my iPhone (which, as you might have guessed, can find any iOS device on your account; it really should be called Find my iOS Device; but I’m guessing that didn’t roll off the tongue so easily). I’m not sure why I decided to try it; all it would really do, I suspect, is confirm that, in fact, my iPad Mini was in my house. Which it was. And which it did.

But I (re)discovered a feature of Find my iPhone about which I had forgotten: the Play a Sound feature. Now, I had never used this before, but it seemed potentially useful in my situation, a bit like calling your cell phone from your home phone and tracking the ringer to find it. So, I hit the button (after hitting the actions button) and, lo and behold, my 10 year old (who was very excited to join in the hunt) and I heard a soft pinging, a bit like radar, from somewhere in the house. We went downstairs, to the family room, to the kitchen, checked the radiator, even back upstairs. Still the pinging but no iPad. Finally Will (10 year old) solved the problem: it’s in your suitcase, Dad. And he was right.

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 10.24.34 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 10.25.02 PM

Remember those two potential locations? One was the bedroom, placed there to be packed. The other was the family room, where it recharges. Well, I was right (sort of) with the first. It had gone into the bedroom, but had in fact already been packed, the part I forgot. And then the suitcase had been moved downstairs.

But without that ping, I’d either still be looking for the iPad Mini or had been without it at least until I was unpacking my suitcase.

Find my iPhone: every now and then, those little features come in real handy.