Another school year down and another amazing visit to InnEdCO 2018 in Keystone, CO! It's been so great to have such an amazing conference local to Colorado when ISTE only comes to Denver once every 5 years. After 4 days of learning, connecting, and growing I want to highlight several things I took away from this incredible experience.
Everyone needs to be at the table when it comes to innovation - Several of the sessions I attended discussed how we can innovate in our teaching, student learning, curriculum, and professional development. There are so many great tools and resources to help us become innovative but one of the most important themes I took away is who you have at the table in order to accomplish this innovation. Without the support and shared vision of administrators, an educator may not feel comfortable or supported in taking the risks and making the changes necessary to help students become innovative.
Building relationships is crucial - Edtech Coaches, Technology Integrators, Digital Coaches, etc.. are becoming more and more common in school districts across Colorado. Many sessions focused on how these positions can be successful in helping support teachers and students in using technology to accomplish learning goals. With these roles being often viewed as 'one more thing' for a teacher it has become important to show value to teachers so they feel like using coaches or integrators as a resource will greatly help them and be an asset. Two of the sessions centered around the DPS MyTech program which looks to successfully implement 1:1 devices in 14 schools and that included putting Digital Coaches in place to help support teachers and students.
All the groups and individuals I listened to from DPS, St. Vrain, Boulder Valley and others made a point to emphasis how important it was to establish relationships with their teachers and administrators to create meaningful connections. Once these relationships were established it then became possible to help teachers integrate technology to dynamically accomplish learning goals.
Design Thinking, Inquiry Learning, & Project/Problem based Learning are still the goal - These aren't new ideas and over the past few years the ways to implement them has been all over the map (and I don't think that's a bad thing). Many sessions used the design thinking framework to help the audience work through concepts and rethink how they are addressing student learning, teacher professional development, and technology implementation. I really like this process and find it so useful in designing dynamic experiences and coming up with great ideas. It is exciting to see it become somewhat of a standard for working through a process to utilize the best thinking of all the people in the room.
Can you really create an innovative and dynamic lessons if you aren't incorporating inquiry or project-based learning? Students are no longer engaged with old school drill and kill pedagogy. If we aren't letting our students identify problems, ask questions, and come up with solutions then we aren't preparing them for the next level in their education and beyond. Thankfully with the help of edtech there are a ton of ways to implement these strategies.
How do we teach Digital Citizenship and Digital Skills to our students?- We can't expect to inject all of this educational technology in our teaching and not help prepare students to be thoughtful and purposeful with its use. There are several programs out there to try and help a educator pass on these skills to students, but Google has recently jumped in the game with their Be Internet Awesome digital citizenship program and Applied Digital Skills program for utilizing GSuite. Both of these programs are filled with resources that can be modified or plug and play to get a teacher going with their class. Check them out if you haven't already!
Google now has a digital citizenship & safety curriculum (3-5th grade) that’s free online and doesn’t require a sign-in https://beinternetawesome.withgoogle.com/en
Applied Digital Skills curriculum provided by Google to help teachers teach applicable digital skills to students using GSuite. Resources are available online and can be modified for differentiation. https://applieddigitalskills.withgoogle.com/
-Does require Google account to track progress and access materials.
So there you have my big take-a-ways from this year's InnEdCO conference in Keystone, CO. If you've never been make sure to plan on attending this summer and connecting with a ton of amazing educators who all are looking to utilizing edtech and innovative thinking to improve how we educate in Colorado. Please add any of your highlights in the comments section if you did attend.
We did it! Aspen Schools has successfully held its first EdTechTeam summit to promote some great things happening in edtech and motivate and empower educators from across the state. The goal of the summit is to improve teaching and students' learning with the help of some awesome tech tools and ideas. The process of hosting the summit at your home school is time-consuming and exhausting, but incredibly rewarding. Here are 5 takeaways or ah-ha's I had from this amazing experience:
1. We need to give Geo a chance- One of the incredible members of the EdTechTeam, Jeffery Heil, gave an inspiring keynote to kick off our summit and presented a session on taking advantage of the Google Geo tools to engage and excite your students.
Taking advantage of Google Earth now being web-based is a must for teachers of just about any subject or content area. The 'Voyager' component of Google Earth is an incredible educational tool that curates content normally not available to students.
Google Maps and My Maps are great ways to create custom maps and really individualize your experience in a variety of places. Once you have created a map you can export it as a KML file to import into another My Map or do a Google search for relevant KML files that have been created by others that you could use.
Street View lets students get up close and personal with places inside and out that they may never have a chance to visit in person. The ability for everyone to contribute to Street View puts an incredible amount of power and agency in students' hands that can lead to powerful learning and connections, but please be considerate of students' privacy and safety when encouraging sharing.
Google Expeditions is a powerful AR (Augmented Reality) tool that lets you use mobile devices to take students all over the world and beyond for fun and interactive experiences. Starting its full roll-out this fall the power of this is unlimited whether you have a full class set or a few to run an engaging center. I can't wait to see how this develops!
2. Google Applied Digital Skills Curriculum- Google has recently released it's Applied Digital Skills Curriculum which walks through practical life applications that can be accomplished with the GSuite tools. Use this to teach students (or adults) how to research properly, create a budget, stay organized, and much more. Teachers can guide students through the self-paced learning that can be done individually or in groups and the lesson plans and resources can be downloaded to allow modification to meet your specific needs. I think we are finally getting to the answer to all teacher's favorite question: "When am I going to use this in real-life?"
3. Tinker Thinking is important- We were extremely lucky to have very energetic and innovative Jessica Loucks presenting at our summit. I attended her session called Thinkers That Tinker and was motivated to integrate more design thinking into our teachers' lessons and students' learning starting at the most basic of levels. Our first activity was using Makedo kits to design and build a creature out of cardboard! We were given a few requirements and then set off in groups to get creative. In a short amount of time we had all created very different concepts that we presented to each other and participate in a Launch Cycle that can easily be adapted to working with our students. I think the simplicty of design thinking and creativity is often lost on educators as we are pressured to juggle so many things and to step back and slow down is good for us and our students to be creative problem solvers that aren't defined by the barriers around us. Moral of the story: don't be afraid to tinker and let your students tinker!
4. Leadership- In addition to hosting the weekend summit we were also able to have a leadership pre-summit specifically for administration, teacher-leaders, and other school leadership positions. The Leading & Learning session was led by Mark Garrison who did an amazing job of motivating and inspiring us to think about how our students are learning and what ways technology can play a role. We covered several of the models for thinking about and evaluating tech use with teachers (TPACK & SAMR) and students (4Cs, TIM, & T3) and framed our discussion about what good teaching can look like with the assistance of technology as well as how we can coach teachers to use technology effectively in their teaching practice.
Participating in the pre-summit and the full summit made one thing clear to me regarding leadership: we need our leaders to participate in these types of events in order to better understand how technology fits into the educational model and can be leveraged to promote student and teacher success. We had several principals attend the full summit and one summarized his revelation perfectly: "I went in thinking this would be all about the gadgets, and soon realized it was about ways to promote and improve student learning and great teaching!" So refreshing to hear this coming from the leader of a building who will then hopefully pass down that excitement and energy to their own staff when looking to set goals for improvement.
Teachers and staff can do a lot by "leading from the middle" when it comes to improving our students educational experience with the aide of technology, but getting our leadership on board is crucial to long-term success!
5. Do you say it GIF or GIF (JIF)?- I am a lover of GIFs. Several years ago I attended a session in an EdTechTeam summit that really showed me the power of these simple graphics and how they can be easily created and used creatively to achieve a lot of different goals in the educational sphere. In hosting our first summit I decided it was time to share my love of the GIF by participating in the Demo Slam. For those of you not familiar with the Demo Slam it is an exciting, fast-paced, and competitive showcase of innovative & fun tech tips to get people motivated to try great things. We use this model in our own district to get people engaged before staff meetings and showcase the amazing things happening in the classroom.
In my attempts to be funny I opened my presentation with the statement that it's pronounced GIF not JIF along with an attempt at a witty jab at those who think otherwise and then proceeded to do a mediocre job of presenting my information. My new best friend and nemesis, Jeff Heil, decided to take it upon himself to impromtively change his original topic and troll me to the point of destruction using this simple video below:
After that short video and a quick tutorial on a very easy way to make GIFs using Google photos I lowered my head in shame and accepted defeat... Until the next day when the entire summit was presented a video message from the amazing Ken Shelton (c/o Tracy Purdy) making his case for the use of phonics and linguistics that result in Graphic Interchange Format (GIF) pronounced with a hard G! I stand with Ken and will forever hold on to my opinion that it's pronounced GIF and not JIF!
There are my 5 big take-aways from the 1st (hopefully not the last) EdTechTeam summit in Aspen, CO. If you attended please feel free to share any of your favorite moments in the comments section.
As my school staff move towards a full integration of GSuite for EDU tools to optimize our workflow. We have begun to really take advantage of Google Calendars to keep our schedules organized and accessible to others. Here are some tips and suggestions I have after working with staff in developing best practices:
Layering & different views - Google Calendar works on the premise that you can easily meld a lot of different calendars together in order to stay organized. When you have a whole organization using the calendar it allows for easy sharing and access to calendars making coordination with peers simple and effective. Don't forget that you can alter how you are viewing your calendar based on your needs. Schedule view is often forgotten and can really help keep you organized if you have a lot of events. Day, Week, or 5-day view might help keep things organized if you need a clear picture of several calendars all at once.
Sharing - Much like Google Docs one of the big advantages of Google Calendar is the ability to easily share it with other Google users and control what exactly they can see. Calendars can be made public or shared individually with a varied level of detail/access depending on what you deem appropriate. Avoid unnecessary emails about your availability by giving some level of access to your calendar/schedule to your cohorts.
Invites & Attaching documents - One of the lynch pins of organizing your calendar with others is sending invites. This insures other parties are aware of a meeting or event you have scheduled, inserts it on their calendar, and will let you know who has confirmed or denied their ability to attend. Use the 'Find a Time' tab when creating an invite to easy see invitees availability (if you have access) to avoid back and forth correspondence about best times. When any corresponding documentation (i.e. agendas, supplemental reading, notes, etc...) would be helpful, simply attach it to the calendar invite so you have quick access. This feature is great for standing meetings that you may have a running agenda for, no need to search your Drive for the document!
Making appointments - One feature only available for organizations like schools and businesses is the ability to make appointment slots that users can then sign up for and make an event on both calendars as a reminder. When you are in a support role, like myself, it is an easy way to stay organized and again avoid unnecessary emails back and forth to find times that work for everyone. View the Google Help center documentation HERE and watch the quick GIF below walking through the process.
Syncing & Embedding - Everyone's using GSuite aren't they? Though a tool like Google Calendar always works best in it's home environment, it's easy to give someone (or larger audience) access to a calendar in a few different ways regardless of their Googleness. Each Google Calendar you create has the ability to be imported into a calendar viewer and grab an embed code to easily display your calendar on any webpage that allows for custom HTML.
Spreadsheet import - When you have a lot of events you'd like to put in a calendar all at once, the thought of clicking on each day and entering the details can seem like a massive time suck, and it is. The ability to create a quick import template via Google Sheets is an incredible time-saver that makes populating a calendar quick and easy. Find the instructions from Google HERE and access a template I've created HERE.
There you have my advice for some of the best features and tools of Google Calendars that have really helped my district get the most out of this tool. If you have been a longtime user of Google Calendar none of this should come as a surprise, but getting everyone on your team and organization on board with these features and tools is paramount to getting the most out of Google Calendar and being efficient and organized. Please leave any tips or advice in the comment section that you've found helpful that wasn't mentioned above.
You've often heard my ranting and raving about the great things done for edtech and education from the amazing people at the EdTechTeam. I was accepted to present at their Colorado Summit in Louisville, CO this November and joined 600+ educators for a weekend of fun and learning. It was truly an awesome event and a bit overwhelming with all the participants and presenters to hone in on the best tips, tricks, and practices to take-away and back to my teachers. Here is a list of the amazing things I gained from this incredible two day event:
1. Chromebooks are the answer! - I'm sure this could spark a lengthy debate on which device is the most effective for student learning and there can be a case made for a variety of devices depending on environment, but the more I speak with other educators in a variety of situations the Chromebook continually seems to rise to the top. In my district we have been steadily moving mostly to Chromebooks for students, but still have a mix of devices including iPads, iTouches, Android tablets, Macs and PCs. The Chromebooks are a breeze to manage using the Admin console and the simplified interface of the Chrome OS lets students get just about everything and anything done within the GSuite workflow.
Once you do take the plunge into the world of Chromebooks there are plenty of great tips you and your students can use to maximize your experience. I sat in on a session with Sean Williams (@seani) who walked us through some of the useful shortcuts, apps/add-ons, and extensions. Review his slideshow HERE, but some of my favorite are:
Shortcuts - save yourself some time and sanity with these keyboard shortcuts.
Ctrl+Shift+T - Open your last closed tab(s)
Ctrl+Windows Switcher - screenshot
Ctrl+Shift+Windows Switcher - selected area screenshot
Ctrl+Shift+? - Pull up a map of all the available keyboard shortcuts and what they do.
Extensions - get the most out of your Chrome experience with great extensions to improve you and your students workflow.
Extensity - as you continue to add more and more extensions you may notice some issues with performance.
Too Long; Didn't Read (TLDR) - this extension has been out for a while, but seemed to take a hiatus and wasn't working for the past year or more for most users. Well it's back, and I urge you to use it with your students to get great short summaries of any website and assist with their reading and summary skills.
Add-ons and Apps - when working in a Chrome environment it's always key to find useful apps or add-ons to allow you and your students to do more. Apps are currently being phased out in the Chrome environment so they are essentially websites again.
Equatio - allows you to insert complex equations into most GSuite tools. Use voice, handwriting (touchscreen required), or keyboard input. NOW FREE FOR TEACHERS!!
Draftback - add-on for Google docs that enhances the existing 'version history' that can be used to see past revisions and revert back to those versions. Great way for you and your students to watch the evolution of the writing process and reflect on practice.
Desmos - a powerful graphing, web-based, calculator that can be used individually or as a class with teacher-led activities and instruction.
Google Keep - turn your sticky notes digital! Create to do lists, notes, and reminders that can be shared with others, organized, and inserted into Google docs.
2. Bitmojis and Google Slides - There are a ton of great uses for Google Slides in the classroom and I was blown away by Sylvia Duckworth's (@sylviaduckworth) presentation on tying together the Chrome extension Bitmoji and Google Slides to create fun comics for teachers or students to use. Many of us have already dipped in the Bitmoji world via Snapchat, but utilizing the Chrome extension is a great way to use these fun comics to create meaningful digital literature for both students and teachers to express themselves. Check out Sylvia's presentation HERE and her website (sylviaduckworth.com) for more awesome ideas and how to get started.
3. Sketchnoting - Another great topic championed by Sylvia Duckworth. She gave several presentations during the summit to help people get started and advance their skills in how sketchnoting can work in the educational environment. As we do move to an more digital environment for students it's important to still provide students with tactile ways to record and remember information. There often seems to be a disconnect if students simply type down their notes and we are getting closer with the tools available to live comfortably in both worlds. I cannot do the topic justice in comparison to Sylvia so please check out her presentation HERE, blogpost HERE, and her website for more information on how to find the best tools and strategies for you.
We were also introduced to Rocketbook which combines the best of both worlds when it comes to taking notes and keeping digital records. Sketchnote, doodle, draw, scribble, etc... and use an app on your phone to send your documents to a variety of locations all at once. Very cool tool I recommend checking out.
My favorite take-away was the WolframAlpha add-on which essentially puts the power of Siri into your Google Sheets. Insert questions into your sheet and use the add-on to quickly grab the answers. This is obviously the most simplistic use of this amazingly powerful add-on so add this to your Sheets and start playing.
So there you have some of my biggest takeaways from the incredible Colorado Summit put on by the EdtechTeam. Alas, I am only one man so there was no doubt a plethora of other great things happening that I couldn't get to throughout the Summit. I've said it in previous posts, but if you are able be sure to make the time to go check out a summit near you. The information, connections, recharging, and excitment gained from this two day event is incredible. Feel free to comment on any of the topics above or any great ideas you've taken away from this or another EdtechTeam Summit.
I've been a big fan of the EdTechTeam and their awesome summits providing meaningful and exciting edtech PD for teachers. They have also branched into online learning and offer a multitude of great courses through EdTechTeam Online. These course focus on GSuite tools for education, Apple Teachers, Paperless classrooms, assistive technology, teacher leaders, and other critical teaching tools and strategies. Courses are anywhere, anytime learning that can be taken for graduate credit. This summer I took their Creating Global Learners with Geo Tools course and was pleasantly surprised at the power of GSuite tools like Google Maps to enhance a teacher's lesson in far more areas than just Geography.
Being an extensive GSuite for EDU user I was amazed at all the new tools and ideas I gained from taking this course. The possibilities of utilizing Google Maps to teach a multitude of subjects and help students gain a global perspective is seemingly endless! One of the things that really stuck out to me was the http://www.geteach.com/ map comparison engine. I see a lot of use of this tool for students to get amazing visuals on data that can be used for a lot of teaching purposes. Another tool that I really saw the benefit of was using My Maps as an alternative presentation tool for teachers and students that helps look outside of their world. The Google Lit Trips is a great place to get started and I plan on sharing that right away. I really hope to promote the use of this with the teachers in my school and get the students engaged in different and broader way than they are used to.
Here are some of the resources I explored in the course that really stuck out:
Google Art Project - Great resource to expose students to digital media resources for history and art. Specifically, the historical figures section provides access to great pictures and primary sources that can be used for students to create their own narratives about a figure and then do some research to compare stories and facts.
Google Crisis Map - Interactive Map allows students to layer various types of data about various crisis situations nationally and worldwide. The weather, hazards, emergency preparedness map would be a great basis to teach students how to collect data and analyze patterns from different regions with other corresponding data to make their own hypothesis on why the weather and hazards may be occurring.
GeoGuessr - Game that uses Google Street view to give clues about a mystery location in the world. Great way to teach students to use context clues to be able to narrow down a location based on what they can see and what makes sense in a particular region.
Into the Wild map - My Map creation of the locations visited by Christopher McCandless from the story Into the Wild. This could be used as an example of how students could use My Maps to create their own maps based on a book they’ve read. Including links and other resources at various locations mapped from their story.
Google Street Art - Access to audio tours, online exhibitions, world collection, and artist stories to provide students access to a genre of art that isn’t always easily accessible and can be just as moving as traditional art. Good way to get students interested in art who may not be interested in traditional art.
My final project was to create a lesson using My Maps to help students become better global citizens and understand a larger impact they and others have on our world. I chose to focus on population growth and what it could mean for various places and cultures around the world. Use the button below to access the lesson plan and feel free to use it or modify it for yourself.
My post may have given you some insight to how tools like My Maps can greatly enhance your teaching and students' path to becoming global learners, but there's nothing like the real thing. Go check out the EdTechTeam Online learning place and take advantage of some great courses they have to offer. Feel free to comment below on any ways you've helped your students become global learners or utilized tools like My Maps in your teaching.
I was very excited to have an opportunity to attend and present at the EdTechTeam Summit April 29th-30th in Breckenridge, CO. I always jump at the chance to take advantage of an event so close to Aspen that never disappoints and always provides me with great resources and ideas to take back to my staff. Below you will find some of the strategies and tools that stuck out to me during my two days at this awesome event:
Make Learning Visible! Creating Student Digital Portfolios with the new Google Sites - Everyone seems interested in utilizing digital portfolios as the most effective way to display student work, and most importantly, understanding. The biggest question has become how do we do it? There are plenty of avenues out there and if you are a Google school then I think the new Google Sites has to top your list. The site revamp has really made sites a useful tool and with many of the same sharing and privacy functionality as a Google Doc it becomes very easy for students to use and limit visibility until the time is right. Some updates to the functionality of the teacher-student workflow would be nice (Hey Site Maestro!) but I think the pros far out weigh the cons. Check out the amazing resources and presentation by Pamela Lewis for more great info on getting started.
Map What? Map That! - Google Maps and My Maps are two amazingly powerful tools that can be taken advantage of in many ways in the classroom. Mapping data from a Google Forms survey can give incredible visual context to what is being collected. By coming several of the GSuite tools a fun and interactive scavenger hunt can be created that has students traveling to various locations around the globe watching informational videos on YouTube, answering questions in Google Forms, and retrieving information from Google Slides and Google searches. Check out Leslie Davison's presentation for more details on what activities like this can look like.
Zero to Ninja: Sheets and Forms- EdTechTeam's Michael Wacker walked us through the process of becoming Google Sheets and Forms Ninjas by completing a self-paced activity that earned you digital badges along the way based on your completion. So while learning a bit more about Google Sheets and Forms was nice, the real take-away I had was the process of becoming a "Ninja" and earning the digital badges that came with each level of accomplishment. The process was set up through Google Slides which provided the instructions for each activity and then a final submission of which levels you completed via Google Forms gave you the necessary codes to get your badges and keep them in a Google Sheets trophy case. The badging process was facilitated through a great add-on created by Daniel Sharpe that can easily be used for multiple applications. I see so many applications of this process both with students and teachers. Check out Wacker's site with the ability to become a Ninja in all the GSuite apps.
There you have three of my big take-aways from yet another amazing two days of PD, learning, connection and excitement at the EdTechTeam Breckenridge summit. Below you will find another summary of my reflection on two things learned and how I hope to apply them in my own practice. Feel free to comment below on any experience you have had with any of these tools/ideas and what works for you and your students/staff.
Many people have been talking about flipping the classroom, but I feel like it has hit a wall when it comes to implementation. Some of the road blocks are obvious: lack of access, lack of training/PD, and unclear learning targets, but what are other reasons are there for people to take advantage of this strategy? I think the unknown is one of the biggest hang-ups people have in looking to implement this in their own teaching and I've put together a presentation with some resources to help get you started.
Some of the highlights from the presentation that I find particularly useful are:
I made sure to mention the ISTE standards and SAMR and TPACK models at the beginning of the presentation to get people thinking about the "why" when it comes to using any of the tools to try and flip content. I think when we have purposeful use of these tools to deliver content to our students in effective and innovative ways we can really see the benefits of flipping the classroom and how it can impact the work we accomplish with our students. My biggest piece of advice is to start small and focus on one area you really see potential in and branch out from there. If you have any great examples or experiences flipping your own classroom feel free to comment below. Feel free to refer and use the presentation for your own teaching and have fun flipping out!
There have been some significant and simple changes since my last post about Google Forms and I thought it was time to get the word out for all you avid Forms users out there.
So there you have some new and some not so new features as well as a few tips on how to maximize your Google Forms experience. If you have had any experience or other ways to utilize these please share in the comments below.
There's a lot of learning happening in today's classroom and in turn lots of discussion of how we can best showcase that learning for the students' and teachers' reflection on their practices. The buzz word has become digital portfolios! There are many reasons a digital portfolio is a useful way to showcase what is happening in the classroom and no one reason is the best.
You have many teachers wanting to focus less on grades and more on conceptional learning and what better way to still have evidence of how your students' are accomplishing this then by having each individual create a collection of their best work to showcase to parents, teachers, students, and the public alike!
Project-based learning is another great concept in education that has been gaining momentum and by using a digital portfolio you can easily collect and display all the great work that was happening throughout the project as well as the end result. A great example of what project-based and more specifically, student-led, classrooms and digital portfolios can look like lives in Paul Solarz' classroom and website. Check out his book Learn like a Pirate to learn more about his awesome strategies and all the great work he is doing with his students.
Post-secondary education prep has become so crucial in our education system whether that is college or another trade. Using digital portfolios to help students create effective resumes for college or other institutions.
These and many other reasons are great justification for the use and practice of digital portfolios. The question then becomes which tool or medium is the best way to create digital portfolios for students. These suggestions below are not a fully comprehensive list, but should give you some ideas on how you could get started or modify your own version:
Thinglink- This website allows for easy creation of interactive pages that students can link various resources or digital media to in order to create of collection of work that can be easily shared with others.
Google Drawing- If you are using Gsuite then you can mimic a tool like 'Thinglink' with Google Drawing. Students can place text or images on a Google drawing page that can then be linked to other student work. An awesome AMS 6th grade teacher, Mark M., has instituted this method with his own class with great results.
Google Drive- Another simple way to collect student work. Create a folder in a student's Google drive that can have sub folders for various subjects. Students can then simply drop in work they would like to be part of the portfolio and keep a collection going throughout their time in school. Though the collection is easy some downfalls are effective ways to display the information once collected, ability for students to reflect, and the easy of saving items that aren't savable file types, like a link to a web resource.
Google Sites- Gsuite users should definitely take advantage of the easy and beautiful new Google Sites as an option to create great looking digital portfolios. Websites are great ways to collect a body of work, provide reflection, and showcase it to the public and in the case of Google sites, the sharing permissions can be locked down for younger students who aren't quite ready to be fully out into the internet.
Weebly/Wix- Much like Google sites, Weebly and Wix offer easy to use platforms to create beautiful looking websites that can be used as digital portfolios. They both have very simple interfaces that allow for quick editing that doesn't require a lot of website building experience. Students can collect all types of work and post on the website One of the AHS Business teachers, Sheri S., has her students create websites to help build their 'brand' and use as a piece of an application or resume.
Adobe Spark- This is a great suite to make a lot of different web-based projects and the ability to make a digital portfolio is definitely one of those options. Accounts are free to create and gives you the ability to make videos, pages, and posts. Be sure to check it out for portfolio options or just a great tool to create digital media.
Blogs- There are so many tools out there that can help you blog. Google sites, Wix, Weebly (which you are currently reading), and many others all have options to add a blog section and there are specific tools that pare down a full website to a simple blog interface like Blogger or Wordpress (also a robust website creator). A blog works well for a digital portfolio because it allows a place to collect work, provide reflection, receive feedback, and share with the world.
As I mentioned earlier this is a short list and in no way the full quiver of tools and programs you could utilize to create a digital portfolio, but they are a great place to start! Please comment below any tools not mentioned that you have had experience with creating digital portfolios or just your thoughts on digital portfolios and their benefit in education.
Being an avid GAFE (Google Apps for Education) user it only makes sense that I utilize Gmail as my email service of choice. With my district being a Microsoft user before starting the transition to GAFE the move to Gmail as an email option was not easy. Systems we have in place to connect our voicemail to email (Unified Messaging), and our Active Directory to manage and create user accounts made a jump to Gmail difficult. With some convincing (and obvious needs in a GAFE world) our IT department enabled dual delivery to Microsoft Exchange and Gmail and has started to put systems in place to sync the accounts so Gmail use could be more wide-spread. If we are going to be all in on Google then we needed to be able to use the communication tool that works best with the rest of the suite!
Below are some of the settings, add-ons, and other Google tools that I've found useful in making Gmail work for me:
Inboxes- You have the option to sort your mail into multiple Inboxes or change the format of your inbox entirely to help keep you organized. You can have 5 inboxes working at once (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums) I found using that many to be a bit overwhelming and even more difficult to keep track of all my messages. I ended up settling with just using two (Primary and Social) to keep some of my messages sorted, but not beyond retrival. You can also change the type of inbox you use to change how messages are displayed and if you'd like to give more priority to messages you've marked important, haven't read yet, starred, or a combination of all your sorting options.
If you haven't already, definitely go play around with all your Inbox options to find the right combination that supports your work flow and organization.
Labs- Gmail offers many experimental features called "Labs" that you can enable to enhance your Gmail experience. I have found a few favorites that I think make my Gmail experience more enjoyable:
"Preview Pane" is a great lab that creates a preview screen of your messages and simulates many other mail clients view. I like the ability to see an entire message every time I click on a message so this lab is a must for me. It also helped many of our Microsoft Outlook users ease into the transition from Outlook to Gmail.
The "Unread message icon" is a very simple lab that provides a quick visual in your Gmail tab of how many unread messages you have in your inbox. If you're like me and have multiple tabs open all the time the ability to quickly view if you have any messages is a great time-saver.
If you're using Gmail then you are probably using Google Calendar to keep track of your schedule. The "Google Calendar Gadget" is another useful lab that brings your schedule easily into view in your Gmail tab. No need to switch tabs to check your calendar, simply check the bottom left corner of your Gmail tab to see your availability.
Labs are constantly being updated and changed, so try not to get too attached as they may change or be removed at anytime. Don't let that stop you from finding and using great additives to your Gmail experience. Labs that do really well often end up becoming permanent features.
Boomerang- I love this app/add-on for Gmail! Boomerang allows you to easily send messages at a later date, "Boomerang" messages back to your inbox in a designated time frame, if none of your receipts have opened or clicked the message, or if no one has responded to the message. It's a great way to get a bunch of emails done on the weekend or evening, but schedule their delivery to a high traffic time when you know they'll be seen.
The other piece that proves really useful is the Boomerang Calendar element. If you are in a position like an Edtech Coach, and are constantly scheduling appointments via email then you will really appreciate the clarity this option brings. Now with the click of a button in your email you can insert your schedule over the next couple of days or week and even give the recipient options to pick an appointment slot that will then register on both your and their calendars. Events already scheduled simply show up as "Busy" to keep information confidential.
*Pro Tip- Make sure when you have all day events scheduled in your calendars you designate whether your are 'available' or 'busy' as that will affect how they show up in your email via Boomerang. If you have an all day event scheduled as 'busy' then you will see a block covering the entirety of that day as opposed to marking it 'available' if it's simply a reminder of something happening that day and you have other items on your agenda.
There is both free and pay for versions of Boomerang you can opt to use and depending on your needs as an individual or organization you may find the extra features and functionality necessary
Google Calendar- If you are using Gmail then you shouldn't stop there! Take advantage of the compatibility with Google Calendar to keep your schedule organized and easily accessible. Sending and accepting event invitations is quick and seamless when using both Gmail and Google Calendar. Tools like Boomerang and labs like Google Calendar gadget (mentioned above) are great add-ons that really take advantage of the two tools together and can up your productivity. View your calendar in day, week, month, 5 day, and agenda views depending on your preference. Multiple calendars can be created and shared with others to help sync up schedules. When your calendar is too overwhelming you can temporarily turn off specific calendars to help you focus on important events. One of my favorite options is the 'Tasks' feature which lets you create a list of tasks that will display on the right side of your calendar and if you put a due date on a specific task it will also be inserted on that day in your calendar. Google Calendar has enough meat to it to warrant its own post, but just know that using it in conjunction with Gmail can really boost your productivity and keep you organized.
So there you have the reasons I'm all in with Gmail. As I said earlier, you can't fully take advantage of everything GAFE has to offer unless you use it all. If you are an avid Gmail user and have any additional advice or great tools to enhance your use please leave them in the comments below.
Tech Integration Specialist at the Aspen School District. Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Former 4th grade teacher and Spartan for life! Go Green!