Google is being Google, and they are in the process of shifting one of their approaches to their suite of tools. Google’s strategy has always been to put something out there and then iterate on the design. They are in the process of iterating on Chrome, and those iterations are something Google schools (especially with Chromebooks) need to know.
The main iteration is that Google has started to phase out Chrome apps, and they are filling that need in a couple of different ways. They are porting Android apps over to Chrome, encouraging developers to develop dynamic web apps, and they are helping developers to add apps to Google Drive. That last one is what this blog is all about. We are going to discuss my 5 favorite Google Drive apps. Of course, everyone knows about Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms, so we will skip those. To find the ones we are talking about, go into Google Drive, click new, and then click more.
We have started the heart of the summer season for schools. If you are out of school, you might be enjoying some relaxing time with your family by the pool. If you're like me, you're running through events both for you and your kids. Summer can also be a season though for learning, and my friends at Common Sense have curated some both some excellent books and podcasts to check out
Find the Books HERE
Find the podcast HERE
I have been debating whether to write something on this topic for a few days now, but I think it’s time. I typically don’t want my blog to have political issues in it, but I think the one that is in the broader conversation right now warrants it. If you disagree with my point of view, I hope you can appreciate it and agree to disagree. It’s something that has weighed heavily on my heart in the last few days, and if my buddies at Little Bits have the guts to speak out, I should too.
What am I talking about? This blog is going to be all about the current administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy. Why do I think it’s warranted here? It’s affecting children, and it makes me sick every time I hear about it. I also think there is a broader discussion to be had involving the way we educate children.
Immigration is an incredibly complicated issue especially when it comes to the US southern border. On the one hand, you want to protect the US from violence, drugs, and other negative influences that can come across our border from other countries who struggle to keep those things at bay. On the other hand, you also have to treat others as human beings no matter where they come from, their skin tone, their language, or any of the other factors that make cultures unique around the world. You also want to have compassion for those who are fleeing violent situations in countries of turmoil. No matter the case, a human being should be treated with compassion.
Compassion is not what is being carried out currently. No one in their right mind should condone the forcible removal of children from their family unit. Thankfully, public pressure has forced the administration to backtrack somewhat on that piece of their zero-tolerance policy, but there are still many who have not been reunited with their parents as of this writing. Others are being forced into detention centers with their parents which is better than the alternative, but it can still cause considerable harm to that child emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. While I don’t have the perfect answer on how to handle the issues of these families coming over the border, anything lacking compassion is not it. Can you imagine having to choose between staying where you are and possible dying violently or going somewhere else where your children could be detained in some way? I can’t.
As I have seen these headlines in the last week, I also got sucked into watching the teacher appreciation surprises that Ellen DeGeneres does on a regular basis on her show. Those videos give me hope that the United States won’t get sucked into a cycle of hate, lack of compassion and that there are still incredible human beings who see every person for the light that they are. In many instances, Ellen rewards incredible teachers who take students from lower economic backgrounds, and they get incredible things from them. Many times the kids in these pieces are migrant children. It gives you hope that schools can be a safe space no matter the factors that may differentiate that child on a surface level. There are SO many teachers who show that compassion every day, and they will continue to be some of the lights that shine the brightest.
I pray and hope every day that we can get to a point where we see other human beings as just that. Humans breathe the same way; they sleep the same way, and the bleed the same way. We have a responsibility to teach that compassion, love, and understanding to every student that walks through our doors. If we do, those students can get a greater perspective that will let them solve world issues, create things that help many, and change the world for the better.
Bringing compassion back is going to take everyone doing more. When policies are so anti-human, we have to scream from the rooftops about those injustices. Our education community is strong, and education businesses that center on “what’s best for kids”often fall on the same side of what is the most compassionate response. Just this morning, I received an email from my friends at Little Bits that did just that. They announced that they would donate 20% of all of their direct sales in the next week to help fight for compassion and against the extremist policies of the current administration. For them, that’s a huge step as it also coincides with what I imagine is one of their biggest direct sales weeks of the year. ISTE is this week, and I can only imagine the number of people who get excited about their product and make a purchase. It also took incredible guts to step out there at the risk of alienating a portion of their consumer base. Little Bits act of kindness was an incredible step, and if you were thinking about making a purchase, do it this week! The Little Bits Code Kit is excellent.
Personally, I want to do more to help these families, but I feel a bit helpless. As an educator with four kids, I don’t have considerable income that I can contribute to help. What I can do is teach my kids that we treat every human equally. They all have something unique to share with the world. Some go down negative paths and should have consequences for the choices that they make, but they are still human and need to be treated with love. I also want to empower all of my children to change the world for the better. The United Nations has something called the “Sustainable Development Goals or SDG’s,” and they can be an incredible place to start in understanding world issues.
I am no longer in the classroom, so my scope of change is primarily contained to my own children. If you're still in the classroom, you can go much broader. You see and mold a group of kids every year, and if you fill your class with compassion and love it rubs off. If you give kids the opportunity to understand world issues and the “SDG’s,” they could be that one kid that changes things for the better. If you don’t believe it can happen, watch this VIDEO from Google Science Fair winner Olivia Hallisey, it will change that view quick.
Education continues to be the light that can change the world, and it’s more important than ever. Teachers are the light on the front line of all of the issues that plague our society, and they can be the light that changes things for the better. If you're a teacher and you feel like the problems with the profession are weighing you down, remember that. Educators have to be there to change it to the positive.
There are those apps and tools that you know are magic as soon as you see them. They may do something no one has ever thought of, or they come up with a smart way to solve a problem. Seesaw was just that app for me.
Seesaw is a portfolio app. It allows kids to put all their work in one place and add reflections easily. It also has an easy login for your children as all they have to do is scan a QR code. To me, it gives you a multiuser tool that students can both create and turn in creation assignments on. It makes it easy to turn in on almost any device.
If you want to know more check out there PD in your PJs series HERE
One of my favorite tools is getting a significant upgrade. At its core, Symbaloo is great, social, digital bookmarking. It gives you a tile-based system to save all of your essential sites on one wall. From a school standpoint, this is great from the start because it gives younger teachers a place to have their littles easily access where they need to go.
Where it comes up a notch is when you realize that you can embed Google tools into it. This means it can be a fantastic avenue to things like choice boards and differentiated workflows. All you have to do is write the directions in a Google Doc then pop in the Google Doc link. It also means you can use it for things like curating Youtube walls
In recent years, Symbaloo has been basically three different platforms. They have had the regular Symbaloo I talked about above, a pro version which gives some control over domains, and a system called learning paths which uses the tiles to make a game board with learning activities. Would it make sense to combine all of these? Well, yes, and that’s what they are doing. By the end of the summer, all three will be combined!
Check them out at symbaloo.com.
Oh, SNAP! My good buddies at Osmo are running an awesome summer sale! They are giving teachers an opportunity to get the creative kit for 20% off. I am going to be honest and tell you that I was a bit skeptical of this Osmo product before I got it, but after I did, I should have known that the awesome folks at Osmo were doing something great.
If you have not seen an Osmo, it is a kit that gives you a base with a red piece that you can put over the camera of the device to mirror what you are doing in front of the device. They then give you interactive pieces to play with in front of the device that the device then reads and provides feedback through an app.
The Creative kit is being advertised as the pieces for the Monster app, but it also works with Newton app and the Masterpiece app. The kit includes a whiteboard, markers, and erasers specifically built to fit in front of the Ipad. You can take the Monster app and draw things for Mo the Monster to use in the app (he pulls them up on screen, you can draw lines to get a ball in Newton, or you can take a picture and then get trace lines in Masterpiece. It is a great way to bring out kids creativity!
If your hesitating on the creative kit…don’t. Getting another whiteboard to fit perfectly in the space for the iPad to read is next to impossible, and it is WAY better than having kids use 1000 sheets of paper to do just a few things.
You can find the SALE HERE
One thing we aren't doing enough in schools is connecting kids with the real world. This is a world full of problems and we have to prep kids to really tackle them. One of those problems is access to affordable, clean energy, and my friends at Participate have a course to help you teach kids just that.
What is Participate? It's a platform for learning. There are options for students (through using resource collections) and there are options for teachers (through using their chats, resource collections, and courses). It's just a matter of finding the best option for you! If it's teaching about clean and affordable energy you can see that HERE.
I am a big fan of what Little Bits are doing. I think they keep getting better and better, and their specific apps are helping students walk through the process of building electronics. The options for creativity and building with future skills are endless.
One of the coolest things about Little Bits is that the founder and CEO is a woman who has built a company that most would see as a leader in the STEM and Maker movements. What’s incredible is she still does webinars for educators! There is another one on Tuesday, June 12 from 1-2.
Here from her by clicking this LINK
As someone who is starting to travel a good deal, you learn there are certain tricks that help you get around. One trick is to use rideshare services like Uber and Lyft to get you to the airport. They are typically just a hair more expensive than a shuttle service and by using them you can go straight to the airport rather than waiting for the shuttle to pick up other passengers.
Where Uber and Lyft can really be cool though is using them as opportunities to learn. Every person who drives for those companies has some sort of story to tell, and the conversations you can have can often times be amazing experiences to learn about a time or a place you did not know about. Don't get me wrong, they can be off the wall (I have had plenty of those), but if we stop and listen we can become better just from that small interaction.
Today, I had the pleasure of an Uber named Richard on my way to the Tampa Airport. We started talking about Florida, and eventually, we got onto how he ended up in Florida. He mentions casually that he moved to Florida from New York to Kennedy Space Center. I, of course, asked the obvious question, "Did you work for NASA?" Not only did he work for NASA, he was an engineer in the 60's. Yes were are talking man on the moon, Neil Armstrong age. He then proceeded to tell me stories of how once Neil landed, NASA shrunk. From there he got into running a Hess gas station where he could tell me stories of the gas crisis in the 70's, but it got even better when he moved into stories of the bar business in the 80's where he ran the bar the Tampa Buccaneers hung out it. As a former history teacher, I was mesmerized.
To me, this small interaction just proves that everyone has a story to tell. It may be small and crazy, but it is still their story. Think about how much better the world would be if focused in on this. By focusing in on these little moments and interactions we have every day we can learn and above all, we can focus in on the fact we are all human beings. We might disagree with one another on specific issues, but if we can see that human being in people maybe we can make that compromise that makes the world better.
As school leaders, I think we have to make opportunities for students to have those moments. It could be as big as talking one to one to someone who is an expert in their field of interest, or it can be as small as giving that small opportunity for kids from different backgrounds to connect. Whatever it may be, getting students to students to see everyone as people and see their story may be our most important job.
One of my biggest takeaways from the FETC conference in January was seeing the Root robot live. I wrote about it at the time, and you can find that post at this LINK. Basically, Root is everything I was looking for in a coding robot, and I could not wait to try it out.
Fast forward to the beginning of summer, and I have tried them out. After FETC, I wrote the company and asked them if there was any way we could partner. Kennesaw State iTeach (where I work) was getting ready to roll out a maker bus and maker camps, so I saw plenty of opportunity for a partnership, and thankfully the awesome folks at Root did as well. They added us to their initial pilot program, and they worked with us to get us a few loaner Root robots before their first production units were out. Every interaction I have had with the Root team has been excellent, and it just shows a company with a commitment to working with educators. There are many education companies where that commitment can be hard to see.
What you want to know is my first impressions of the robot, right? Well, let's say its good, REALLY GOOD. We started off with a preproduction Root and a beta version of the app that only gave us Level 1 one coding (meant for pre-readers). The company was still working on the final version of the app (which has both blocks and text), but having level 1 allowed us to get Root out to some of the bus events we were hosting,
The activity we chose to do with Root was to have it write on the whiteboard style wrap on the bus. Root is magnetic, so he sticks to the side. The bus has a few quirks in it, so occasionally we would have to pick Root up and reset him, but other than that it worked incredibly well. Kids were able to use an arrow based pre-reader coding to draw shapes, letters, and whatever other abstract art they wanted to mural our bus with.
Root also hit some of the little things that go into coding robots out of the park as well. Pre-reader arrow based coding is often very childish so older elementary and middle fill like they get little out of it. That wasn't the case here. Root's pre-reader program is merely pulling arrow commands into a code field, and we used it successfully even with 8th graders. Just like others, Root also works through connection to Bluetooth, but unlike others I found that connection to be incredibly easy. You just open a programming field, click on the picture of the robot, and you're done.
One of the best things though had to be Root's battery life. I was curious if this would be longer considering it's flat form factor would make it easier to put a larger battery in, and thankfully it was! Root's battery life outperforms other well-known coding robots by a whole lot. We had Root, and these other companies robot's on our bus all day for events, and I did not have to recharge Root once. It beat others by almost double. To me, the simple connection and battery life are significant factors in purchasing, and the Root team has hit that out of the park.
What really makes Root great though is all the things you can do with it. You would think the shape of a robot is not a factor, but it becomes a HUGE factor when you think about building other things for it. Root's flat shape allows you to attach almost anything to it. This opens up the possibilities of having trailers, chariots, and more. It also makes it easy to build obstacle courses and cities for it. On top of that, I can envision doing an engineering challenge with it where you ask the Root to complete a coding task with the tallest building made out of something like straws on top.
I know in many ways I am gushing about this product, but after testing it, I think it's the first robot you should buy for your school. I think what gets lost on many when considering robots is what is the ceiling and what is the floor. There are several robots on the market that do cool things, but the ceiling is incredibly low. Root's ceiling is incredibly high. It's a robot that gives you multiple options right out of the box, and it's one of the only robots that is genuinely k-12. Check it out for yourself at codewithroot.com