Captain Doofus & the Traffic Circle

We all have our irrational pet peeves.  Our things that are “small potatoes” but make us want to gouge someone’s eyeballs out.

One of mine is people who don’t know how to drive in a traffic circle.  You know the guy.  That doofus that stays on the outside of the circle even though they’re going 75% of the way around the darn thing.  Everyone sits waiting in suspense at the entrances to the circle, wondering “Will this be the lucky street that this fantastic driver turns on?”  No one can tell.  It literally could be any exit.  And we all have to stay out of Captain Doofus’ way because you just… don’t… know.

“Hey Kids, Big Ben! Parliament!” – GIF from giphy.com, originally from the 1985 movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation

Anyhow, I digress.  One day I was entering a traffic circle and there he was.  Captain Doofus.  I started to mutter driving instructions for him.  “Stay to the inside until you near your exit, dude!”  At one point, while starting to yell out, “How do you not know how a traffic circle works, doofus!?” I realized . . . a lot of people do it wrong.  And if that many people don’t follow the same process that I follow in a traffic circle, are they wrong . . . or is the traffic circle itself wrong?

If like 25% of users can’t use something correctly, the design itself needs to be reevaluated.  This reminded me of education (as things tend to do).  I can remember grading tests and groaning “ugh, they all got this question wrong!”  After further reflection, I’d often realize that either the question was unintentionally confusing or my instruction had led them astray.

That’s an oft-forgotten reason that we do formative assessment.  Not just to assess our learners, but to assess our instruction and content.  If a large portion of our learners are confused, we need to re-think our strategies, design and assessment.

Unsurprisingly, there are a few recently built traffic circles in my area that have signs, lanes and arrows painted in the lanes.  If the drivers were using the traffic circle wrong, you’ve got to change the traffic circle . . . because you can’t change all of the drivers!  And these newer circles changed to accommodate the users.

The moral of the story – Captain Doofus may not be a doofus.  You may have just designed a really confusing traffic circle.  Or he may have attended a crumby driving school.  But your best move is to design a more doofus-friendly traffic circle.

Screencastify, Paper & Math: Spin It Around, Write It Down, Explain with Sound!

This post originally appeared on the Screencastify blog, here.

We all know how important it is for students to demonstrate

their understanding of a particular subject or problem by “showing their work.” If your students are using tablets, there are a number of great interactive whiteboard recording apps that allow students to write with a stylus, annotate images and provide audio explanations.

But what about the large student population who are using Chromebooks, not tablets?  Some new Chromebooks have touch screens and a small number are ready to roll with Android apps, but for the majority of our students, this type of recording feature is nowhere in their near future.  And it’s a great feature!  What’s better than telling a student to “show their work”!?  Telling them to “explain their work” or, better yet, narrate it.

As an educational technology advocate and problem-solver, I am always looking for a hack.  And, here’s my hack for this.  Tell your students: “click on the Screencastify extension, select Cam, spin the computer around, aim it at a piece of paper, starting writing or drawing and explain away.”  In short, spin it around, write it down, explain with sound.

Check out my hack in action in the video below!

Easy Citations in Google Docs

Digital citizens are constantly sharing other people’s content.  We are all cultivators of stuff.  Images, quotes, GIFs, artwork, you name it – we share it.  It is very important that we teach kids to give credit where credit’s due.

Unfortunately, students are very resistant to citing their sources when they do schoolwork.  Why?  I believe it’s because it’s a pain to do so.  Who would want to cite their source if you have to do tons of sleuth work to figure out who the original source really was?  Who would want to cite their source if you have to enter a boatload of information into a separate site to prepare the citation to put in your document?

In my book, the goal for students, especially those in middle school, should simply be to get them to cite their sources.  I’m not going to stress out about if it really is the accurate original source.  I also wouldn’t stress about them correctly placing their periods and commas in their MLA citation.  I just want them to recognize that the content is not their own and that the originator deserves credit.  Google Docs makes that easy with two tools.  Let’s check them out . . .

Using the Explore Tool in Google Docs

This will only work for resources on the web (not books), but it’s super easy to use.  It creates footnotes, which I’ve heard aren’t commonly used in K-12 writing.  However, as you’ll see in this animation, you can easily copy those footnotes and turn them into a Works Cited.  Check out this GIF to see how:

Using the EasyBib Add-On

This tool is great for citing books, but not as good at citing websites.  It keeps track of your entire bibliography until you’re ready to add it to your doc.  If you are using the Explore tool for your websites, you can just combine them when you’re done, just like I do in the animation below.

Disclaimer: I’ve heard from a few sources that these two tools do not always produce 100% accurate citations.  In my opinion, as stated above, this is a risk that I’m willing to take, at least until students are in college prep high school courses.

Text on Both Sides of Images in Google Docs

When you look at newspapers, magazines or newsletters, you often see centered pictures with 2 separate sets of text on either side of the image.  However, when you center an image in Google Docs and set it as Wrap, the text continues horizontally around the image.  This may be useful sometimes, but in general, doesn’t look like what we’d see in a professional publication.

Now, Columns in Google Docs can help you with this, assuming that you want only 2 or 3 columns and that you want them to be equal widths.  But, what if you want more columns?  Or widths that aren’t equal?

Well, here’s the hack for you.  Create a table, put the picture into the table and use the remaining cells to type your text.  When you’re all done, set your table borders to 0 point (a.k.a. invisible!) and you’re good to go.  Check it out:

Docs Text on Both Sides of Image Animation

Canned Response Filter

In a separate post, I shared my love of Canned Responses in Gmail.  What’s better than being able to save time by clicking on a “canned response” to send it out?  Having your gmail do it for you!  That’s right – if you always send the same response to messages containing the exact same phrase or from the exact same sender, then you can create a Filter that automatically replies with one of your canned responses.  Super cool.

Tip: you may want to also select to archive the message, if you’d like it to also disappear from your inbox after the canned response is sent.

Step-by-step instructions are after the GIF.

Canned Responses Filter Animation

Continue reading Canned Response Filter

Canned Responses in GMail

I am efficiency-obsessed.  Anytime I can make something that I do in my job more efficient without compromising quality, I am in. Involve something Google-y in that and I’m not just in, I am psyched.

Canned Responses meets that criteria.  It allows you to save certain email text (typically for replies) that you send regularly.  You can then insert those messages when needed, make minor edits for personalization if needed, and send them out.  Awesome sauce.

The only flaw is the menu – you have to be really careful to not accidentally overwrite your saved canned responses by clicking in the wrong spot (insert vs. save vs. new).  But I can live with that!

Check out a GIF of Canned Responses after these brief setup instructions.

  1. Click the gear in the top-right corner of your Gmail window.
  2. Click Settings
  3. Click Labs
  4. Navigate to Canned Responses in the list.
  5. Click Enable, then save.

Canned Responses Animation

Boomerang for Gmail

“You’ve got mail.” – America Online

Those used to be such exciting words.  The news of having email was exhilarating.  Nowadays, it’s nonstop.  It’s a constant battle to keep-up and it takes tons of tact to send emails that get read and acted on, because your recipients are overwhelmed, too.

I’ve been using Boomerang for Gmail to help me survive the Battle of the Inbox. These are the 3 main features that I love about Boomerang:

1. Send Later

If you’re like me, you end up sending some 11:45 PM emails.  And if your coworkers are like mine, most of them are not typically reading their email at 11:45 PM.  So, schedule it to send first thing in the morning.  Do lots of work on the weekend?  Schedule emails to send on Monday.  Find some spare time to send an email that actually needs to go out in two days?  Type it now, schedule it to send later.  Check it out:

Boomerang Send Later Animation

2. boomerang

This is the feature that the name came from.  We often get emails that aren’t important yet, but will be important later.  They’re not worthy of our focus at this point, but we should look at them before next Wednesday.  So, throw them away and set them to boomerang back on Tuesday.  Ah, that feels nice.  Check it out:

Boomerang Animation

3. boomerang if no response

Ever send out an email where there’s a time sensitive need for a response, but not get the response in time?  Ugh!  If I had known she wouldn’t respond in time, I would have texted her.  With this setting, you can send an email or send away a received email and set them to pop back up in your Inbox if no one else responds.  That way you know that you need to follow up with them in a different way!  It’s also helpful when you’re hoping that someone else on the chain will answer a question, but this way you can insure that the question gets answered sooner or later.  Check it out:

Note: I’m not affiliated in any way with Boomerang, nor am I being reimbursed for this endorsement.  I just like their tool.

BTW – Right Inbox is pretty rad too.  Boomerang is just my personal preference.

Inserting a Timer in Google Slides

One thing that helps a lesson or presentation run smoothly is good time management with a visual timer.  It’s a lacking tool in Google Slides.  But, of course, there’s a hack for that!

Click Insert > Video and search for a YouTube video titled “x minute timer” with the appropriate x value filled in.  Just about every time limit a teacher or presenter could ask for in available!

Timer in Google Slides Animation

Choose Your Own Adventure Google Slides

This isn’t my idea, but it’s one that I love, so I wanted to make one of my GIFs about it.  I think that I first heard the idea from Eric Curts (@ericcurts).

Anyhow, Choose Your Own Adventure stories are a favorite from my childhood and if we can leverage them to help students be more active and engaged in the way that they show their knowledge of content, writing abilities or creativity – I’m in!

Here’s how to do it, first as a GIF, followed by step-by-step instructions.  And remember, Eric’s post linked above is a great resource as well.

Choose Your Own Adventure Google Slides Animation

  1. Create your starting slide.
  2. In two separate text boxes (or with two separate pictures or with two separate words/phrases within a text box) provide options for the next step.
  3. Create 2 new slides – these are the possible next steps.
  4. Back on the starting slide, click on one of the text boxes, images or text within a text box.
  5. Use the hyperlink button (or Ctrl+k) to link to the appropriate slide.
  6. Repeat the process for the other option.
  7. Now . . . add steps that branch off of those 2 options . . .

If you or your students make a really phenomenal Choose Your Own Adventure Slides project, I’d love to see it!

 

Schoology – Requiring Assessment Mastery Before Moving on

In Sal Khan’s phenomenal TED Talk Let’s Teach for Mastery – Not Test Scores, he illustrates the lack of focus on mastery in most classrooms with this metaphor:

To appreciate how absurd [teaching based on a pacing guide, not mastery] is, imagine if we did other things in our life that way. Say, home-building.

So we bring in the contractor and say, “We were told we have two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can.”

So they do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up. And two weeks later, the inspector comes, looks around, says, “OK, the concrete is still wet right over there, that part’s not quite up to code … I’ll give it an 80 percent.”

You say, “Great! That’s a C. Let’s build the first floor.”

He continues with this great metaphor, but I’ll stop there because the point is clear: it’s silly to have students move to the next topic or skill before they’ve mastered the one they’re on.  With technology, we have tons of ways to ensure this mastery.

In Schoology, you can require students exceed a minimum assessment score prior to moving on to the upcoming content.  And, if they don’t do well enough?  Have them learn from their mistakes, get better, re-take the assessment and then move on.

Here’s how to do it, first in GIF form and then in step-by-step form.

Requiring Test Mastery in Schoology Animation

  1. Go to the Materials Page for your course.
  2. Click Add Materials > Assessment.
  3. Create your Assessment.
  4. Include in the instructions a note about the minimum score and their ability to retake the assessment.
  5. Go to “Settings” inside of the assessment.
  6. Change the Attempt Limit to Unlimited (or some other greater than 1 option)
  7. Decide how you’d like it to be graded.  I go with “highest score.”
  8. Turn on Submissions (if you’re ready)
  9. Go back to your materials page.
  10. Click on Options > Student Completion.
  11. Set up Student Completion for your pages and assignments.
  12. For the Assessment, Select “Member must score at least” and enter the minimum score you’d like students to obtain.