Saturday, December 24, 2016

When Old School is New Again

I was always looking for new technology to use in the classroom. However, I also knew when it was time to skip something that looked cool yet time-consuming in favor of a method I knew worked. Sometimes this even led to re-enrolling in old-school for the semester.

Google Forms vs Google Docs
Every Google guru we had at school was pushing Google Forms like it was heroin. I tried it and I tried it, and after several huge wastes of my time, I realized how much better Google Docs were for the same assignments. I'm not sure if G Suite folks are as excited about Google Forms as they used to be, but it's an example of not believing the hype. Google Forms is not as good as Docs for assignments, not as good as other online quiz programs for quizzes, and not even as good as other free survey tools. But it is built-in, so I tried to use it for quizzes. Again, I mostly went back to a quiz website I'd been using for nearly a decade.

Smart Board vs White Board
A few years back, if I would have said I preferred a good whiteboard or chalkboard to a Smartboard, fellow teachers would have looked at me funny. But that's exactly what I said. And now, it seems others are starting to agree. Without a lot of effort from teachers or from the company that introduces what is supposed to be time-saving and innovative technology, it goes nowhere. And that's where Smartboards were for several years in my school district. Like giant laser disc players.

If you find a better use for an old-school technology than for a new one, use it. The point isn't to force you to use new stuff. The point is to decide what works and what can be ignored. A perfect combination of old-school and new-school is the Cranium Chromebook Cover. It's for brand-new Chromebooks, but it's also a Whiteboard. It protects using old-school strength.

Contact Educabana for more info.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trying to get too far Ahead

Does the possibility exist that some schools try TOO hard to be in front of everyone else? Can a school really be too far ahead?

Salesmen would say no. Buy another product that will make you a leader. This software and that system and these devices.

Salesmen get paid only when they sell, not for advice. But you can't keep using the slate boards and plumes forever.

Search and read for real answers. People try to trick Google into directing you only to sales sites. Even this website would direct you to a sale if it's relevant. It's the only reason to write online articles, mostly. Look for people who have been there or are still there. Maybe they have a good reason for writing and selling. Then read some more. Ask friends. All that. These decisions matter; treat them that way.

From all the research, you might realize you don't need new grading programs every three years, especially once you consider a year to learn each new program.

You might also decide to stick with one teacher website creation system rather than expecting teachers to learn how to build websites every second year.

Who Owns What

You might wonder who owns your content as a teacher, student, or administrator. It's maybe a good question you don't really want to ask.

Let me give you an example of academic usage of someone else's content for gain. I had an education professor who used a different PowerPoint each lecture, and these presentations were VERY different, with several mistakes in each one. I began to wonder whether they were my professor's at all. And then when we were assigned our final project, I got my answer, as we were assigned to pick a topic and create a PowerPoint. No doubt, mine replaced whichever had been used for the topic. So, is that wrong?

Is it wrong if a teacher sells lessons created during prep time? Does the school own those lessons?

If you don't know, it's probably best to leave it that way. Technically, schools may own content created at school, but those schools will likely never pursue a claim, unless someone specifically asks about it.

I'm not saying you should run a curriculum writing business during your school day, but you're probably safe to sell whatever you create.

One thing I used to do is create grammar and reading tests using Wikipedia articles, and I found out that was perfectly legal to use and even to sell. Simply cite the article.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Setting up Google Drive Without Google Classroom - Still Better

Google Classroom offers a few features you might want, like due dates and completion buttons. However, it was not designed well, and the fact that it's Google and the flaws still exist implies it might never be fixed. We won't discuss all the flaws of Google Classroom here. If you've found this site, you already know they exist. What I am going to do is show you a basic method of creating your own Google classrooms without using Google Classroom. I used this method for a couple of years before Classroom, and from what I can tell, it still might be just as good an alternative.

Step 1
Folders not Files
This takes reverse engineering, especially since Google-trained people in my school told us how to do it all wrong. Have students on day one create a FOLDER for your class and share it with you (the teacher). Once these are all created and shared with you, drag them (in YOUR drive) into a folder with the class name, like Third Hour. The student folders should start with their last names, like Johnson,emily3rdhour.

Why this is good
When students create files in this class folder, it gets shared with the teacher without an email. Teachers can also monitor updates live, which means no more students saying they're working on it only to have nothing done. Alpha order makes grading easier.

Step 2
Make Copies to Edit
Teachers share documents that students cannot edit. This way, teachers can use them again and again. Students then make a copy and save it to their class folders. They can edit the copy. Google Classroom kind of does this part for you and the student, but it does not really work any better.

Step 3
Ordered Links
I used Google Sites, but this can be done in any CMS or even in a Google Document. Put assignment #1 on top and work your way down. If it's a website, keep it more static, and if it's a Document, maybe add dates each semester. Or add the links to Google Calendar each time one is due (another thing Google Classroom does in a basic way).

Why this is good
In five years, ask me why. Or when students miss assignments or join the class late. Or want to study. Or when they say they've finished an assignment and haven't. And about a dozen reasons for simplicity's sake.

Step 4
Tables not Forms
Don't use forms to do anything on Google if you can help it. What a waste of time. The only way to grade multiple choice, after five years, is still Flubaroo...are you kidding? And submitting assignments this way is worse than Google Classroom. Forms has the cool factor when your tech people train with Google, but most of us can see right through them pretty quickly. If you can't find anything better (like Quizstar), forms work for grading multiple choice quizzes. They only work for analysis if you use A -D as answers (as in a scantron sheet), which means full answers on a separate quiz sheet rather than a single quiz document. Life is generally better without Forms.

However, using TABLES in Google Docs IS the way to create assignments. As in, write a question and then add a single table box for the answer. Once students see this as the method, it's easy, and it's easier to grade.

Step 5
Give yourself more time to grade. Google does not help you in any way whatsoever, especially if you are a Language / ELA teacher. Classroom adds time on the frontend and still can't be used as the only gradebook. It also lacks a completion setting that allows you to give a grade for students at least reading an article. So it's not really even as good as decade-old Moodle, I guess. But I'm not saying to get moldy Moodle, either. Really, you'd be better off printing worksheets and using pens than playing around with this stuff if you want to save time (and that's from someone who has done it all).

In the end, using Google or Chromebooks (with protection) should be about students learning more AND teachers saving time, probably both. When it's neither, that's when we have to worry.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Lutheran Churches and Schools in Australia and Their Websites

Being an American and a Lutheran, I assumed most schools in Australia with a religious affiliation would not be Lutheran. While it's true that most of the private schools in the country are Catholic, I was surprised to see the number of schools that are indeed Lutheran. When I looked it up, it seems the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) is the main Lutheran affiliation. While it was kind of difficult to find actual churches right from the LCA homepage, I could click on the different districts in order to churches in New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, South Australia/Northern Territory, Victoria/Tasmania, and Western Australia.

Like Lutheran churches in America that I've dealt with, Lutherans churches in Australia seem to be made up of good people who follow Christ. However, just like American Lutherans, they seem to have non-existent or outdated websites. This will not help draw new members to the churches, and that makes me sad. Therefore, even though I live in Kansas (via Milwaukee, Wisconsin), I am willing to work with Lutheran churches in Australia to help improve their web presence. Schools, too.

I work as a freelance web designer with Luthernet Web Design. It's just me, but I can produce great websites as a Lutheran for Lutherans. I do it as sort of my ministry, as I also get requests from small businesses. I want to make the Internet into the Luthernet, one church at a time, and it seems there are quite a few Lutheran churches in Australia that could use an honest web designer to help.

Churches don't have to fly me in or pay for months of web development. I build websites fast and pretty, basing them off what churches already have. I also make sure they are easy to use and mobile friendly, since most new members will find a new church on a mobile device.

Check out some of my work at Luthernet or Passive Ninja. Churches can also see my creations at Brave New Church Web Design.

Also, if you run a Lutheran school in Australia, then you might want to check out the Cranium Chromebook Cover for your school Chromebooks. Contact me through Educabana for more on that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lucidcharts and Lucidpress Offer a Solution to a Problem You Might Not Have Had

Here's a link to a longer article with examples of using Lucidcharts and Lucidpress. Your school may not currently use Inspiration for charts like the ones created in Lucidcharts. However, if you're holding off on using Google Drive just because your old PC has Inspiration, this new option is worth a look.

Lucidpress is kind of a cross between some Adobe offerings and Microsoft Publisher. It might be useful. See below.

School Websites Should be Better Than This One (in Five Steps)

I know, you're thinking that your school website IS better than some blog website. Maybe. Maybe not. If you can't access your school website on a mobile phone, then this free Blogger site could be just as good, and that's really sad, since this is one of 20 websites I run, and your school just has the one. And it's the one every potential student and parent sees. Every current customer accesses. It's your public profile, not just for your building, but for all the teachers doing their best to educate the children. Your school deserves better than this.

Step 1
Check to see if your website is indeed mobile friendly, even if your sales rep has assured you it is. Sure, you might have a Wordpress, Joomla, or asp website, and it might be a CMS, but does it load properly on any device? You don't need a separate mobile page or some gimmicky app. Just a website anyone can see well on any device.

Step 2
If your website does not check out, it might not be that big of a deal. It could just be the theme or template that's older. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. There's even a simple way to make Google Sites mobile friendly (oddly, they are not by default).

If your website does check out, then check the speed. People tend to navigate away if the site takes too long, even if it looks glorious once there.

Step 3
Update your website with news. Some schools want to send out newsletters only, and this works for current students, but past and future students are left out, and in some ways, those are the folks who are currently most important to your web presence. Besides, how often do you read newsletters in your inbox? When I need info, I check websites instead of searching my emails.

Step 4
If all else fails, hire a good freelance web designer. That's what I do for a living, and I am much better at helping schools than some large corporation that is more concerned with new sales than making sure you are happy. It's likely a parent at the school or maybe a teacher could handle building and maintaining your website. I was a teacher for years, and my websites were always better than the ones my school used, and I built them for a fraction of the cost. You don't need some large firm that works for huge corporations. You can see my work at Passive Ninja, Luthernet, and Brave New Church, but I'm not necessarily looking for a job from you...just letting you know we exist.

Step 5
Wait, before you hire someone, try to fix that old website again. Or have the freelancer do it. The reason is that whatever old content you have should be transferred or redirected into the new website. A lot of established websites make the mistake of updating without migrating, and that ends up with many missed opportunities. You might not realize that your article about some school project back in 2011 gets twenty hits a month, and those will all disappear if you start over from scratch, so find out what you need to do in order to upgrade without losing what you have.

That's mostly it. Not nearly as difficult as trigonometry.