MCSD Ed Tech Review

Tools & Tips Worth Your Time

Issue 7, November 2016

Available Software

In the past few weeks, I've had a number of emails and phone calls asking if certain web-based resources are available in the district and/or how to access them. I certainly don't mind fielding those questions, but as a reminder, all of the products we license at the building and district levels can be found on the District Resources page of the Malone Teacher Resources site as well as information on accessing them.

Situational Awareness

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For many teachers, as they go through the process of integrating technology in their classes, they become focused on the specific tools, both hardware and software, and can lose sight of some of the considerations that make for successful and rewarding tech integration. Sometimes, the side effects of this sort of narrowed focus are relatively harmless, but sometimes they can be wider reaching. So, if you're having your students use more and more technology, here are a few things you might want to keep in mind. [Warning!]

Consider the tools, but focus on the goals.

Ed tech is a tool, it is never a substitute for a good teacher and good planning. It's perfectly natural to see a new piece of hardware or software and get excited about using it, but the foremost thought should always be how that hardware or software can help your students gain the skills and knowledge you want them to gain. Technology used for its own sake ends up being fairly pointless in the majority of classrooms.

There's a reason when we were all taught to write lesson plans in our college programs that the basic format started with the objectives. Everything that follows in the lesson must tie back to those objectives in some way. That includes our use of technology.

Now, the argument for the integration of technology is that it can enhance the process, increase engagement, allow for greater individualization of instruction and remediation. In that sense, technology can be used to increase the odds that students will meet our objectives.

In some instances, technology can also allow for an enhancement or expansion of our objectives themselves. What I mean is that there are skills and concepts that in the past might have had to remain theoretical, unpracticed, or simply instilled at a more basic level. For example, as things like 3D printers and laser cutters become available, skills like design and prototyping go from theoretical to something students can actually practice. Or, whereas we might have had our students learn about the customs of foreign countries before, or maybe set up a pen pal system, services like QuadBlogging can take these concepts to a whole new level, with more immediate, instant, and personalized contact between our students and students from around the globe.

Technology isn't a magic wand.

As I just said, ed tech isn't a substitute for a good teacher. Nor is it a standalone substitute for teaching. Anyone who thinks, "I'll get my kids using [fill in the blank with whichever service is being promised as a cure-all] and they'll all pass, test scores will go up, there will be world peace, and harmony will reign," is overly optimistic at best, delusional at worst.

The kinds of ed tech tools our district provides and that are freely available on the internet are powerful when used properly, and with the right mindset. They are great for aiding instruction, providing students with opportunities to practice and remediate, and often in making tasks easier. But they can't take your place.

Also, manage your expectations. Just as technology can't make a terrible teacher great, it won't make kids into adults. Just because you put a device in their hands, give them the power to become video producers, podcasters, webmasters, etc. doesn't mean they aren't going to be kids. They're still going to be immature and do inappropriate things. They're still going to cheat. In other words, they're still going to need to be taught by you how to behave in polite society, and have the concepts of right and wrong reinforced. In fact, as we all no doubt know, this aspect is made even more complicated by technology as now we're not just dealing with things like malicious note-passing, but texting, social media, and more. We cannot stick our heads in the sand, though, and pretend these things don't exist, or decide because we've had a case of inappropriate use of technology in our classroom that we won't use it anymore. We need to use the opportunities we have, and the mistakes they will inevitably make, to help them become the people we hope they will be. Just as you've taught them in the past why it isn't ok to say something derogatory about another student in a class discussion or on the playground, it's now more crucial than ever that we teach them that these things are not appropriate in the digital world either. If you're looking for help on this, Common Sense Media has fantastic resources for teaching kids of all ages about digital citizenship.

Remember where we are.

As more and more of our classrooms are infused with technology, there is, naturally, a tendency to want to carry that virtual learning past our own walls. We expect our students to access our Google Classroom outside of the period of time that we see them in order to get assignments, materials, etc. We give them assessments in Castle Learning to do on their own. We want them to complete their internet research on their own, and so on.

None of this is necessarily wrong. But, when you are planning, you need to be cognizant of the reality of life in a rural area. Not all of our students, or fellow teachers for that matter, have access to high speed internet, or even any internet at all, at home. You don't need to go very far off of some of our main roads to find places that Time Warner has deemed not worth expense of serving.

I've heard some teachers respond to this concern by saying, "Well, they have a smart phone." To which I reply, "Are you going to pay for their data?" I know that sounds snarky, but my point is that as a teacher I wasn't comfortable with the idea of the families of my students, in a public school, being financially impacted by my homework assignments. I went as far as to tell my students not to sign up for my Remind texts if they didn't have unlimited texting on their cellular plans. Families that have internet access probably aren't paying for it primarily so their kids can do school work, and depending on their provider/plan, they aren't paying extra when their kids do use it for that.

None of this is to say that you absolutely cannot assign work outside of class that would require technology. What I am saying is plan with those students in mind. If you're going to have a homework assignment in Classroom, or want them to do MobyMax on their own, or watch a Discovery Education video, give the assignment far enough in advance that students who don't have access at home can do it at school. Find out, discretely, who those students are, and offer to let them come in and use a computer in your room before or after school, during a study hall, etc. Give them the opportunity to be as successful as students who have the advantage of access at home. As a "worst case scenario," it never hurts to plan to have a hardcopy available of materials, when possible, too. Again, this just ensures that those without access at home have as much chance of success as everyone else. Shouldn't that equal chance of success always be our goal, regardless of the cause of an individual's disadvantage?

Don't use the above as an excuse.

We are all busy people. Many of us also tend to be comfortable sticking with what we know, or what we already have prepared. It isn't that difficult, when looking around at the things your colleagues might be doing with technology in their classrooms to find yourself thinking thoughts like: "Look at that, she isn't even teaching, the kids are just staring at screens," or "Kids need to know how to survive without a computer," or "I've got that kid in 5th period who doesn't have internet at home, so I can't assign work that requires a computer," or "My students have done well on the state test for years, why should I change anything now?," or a dozen variations thereof. I would imagine there were teachers thinking similar thoughts when the first mimeograph machines were wheeled until (until they got a whiff of that purple elixir).

Those who know me have heard it before, but let me say again, we aren't here for ourselves. We chose to go into public service. Your job is not about putting in the hours to collect a pay check. As corny as it may sound, there is a greater purpose to what we have chosen to do. We have a duty to do the best we can to prepare our students for their future, not our present.

Technology isn't going away. Just the opposite. We are living through perhaps the fastest period of large-scale technological change in human history. Think about it, the first iPhone was released less than a decade ago, ushering in the age of smartphones. How many of you, as you read this, have a smartphone within arm's reach. If you do, you have easy access to a computer with more memory and computational power than all of the computers combined that NASA used in the 1969 Apollo moon landing mission. Read that sentence again. If the past decade is any guide, imagine the world this year's Kindergarten students will live in.

My point is, it's easy to find dozens of excuses to teach lessons exactly the same way we have since we started teaching. I even said it above, sometimes, low- or no-tech are great, and the best option. But we also need to be doing what we can to provide our students with the skills to thrive in their world. We cannot use our own unfamiliarity/squeamishness around technology, or the challenges of living in a rural area as an excuse to not integrate technology in our teaching.

Let's Review!

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There are a ton of great tools available online to help you and your students make the process of review more palatable. Below is a small sample. For some of these, this isn't the first time they've been mentioned in the newsletter, but every time I talk about them to a group of teachers, there are always a few people who are hearing about them for the first time. Some of these are just too good and easy to use (like Kahoot! and Quizizz) for people to not know about them.

Hey, Watch This!

Many teachers are still hesitant to use YouTube videos in their classrooms, and not without reason. It can't be denied, though, that there's a ton of great content to be found there. It does require some sifting and strategy to find it, which isn't surprising when you consider that fact that 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute! For tips and tricks on using YouTube effectively, check out Issue 2 of the MCSD Ed Tech Review.

Here are a few videos that I think are worth checking out. Hopefully you'll agree, and maybe even consider using with your students.

If you have a video that you think is worth checking out, send me the link and I'll include it in an upcoming issue.
Interesting video which focuses on the need to design buildings to cope with the massive forces exerted by wind as they are built taller and taller. From a lesson point of view, this brings in everything from physics/math, to art in terms of design, and social studies as we look at the cultural ramifications of such buildings, and the future of such designs which see self-contained cities in single, massive buildings.
Have a hard time convincing your science students that all objects fall at the same rate in a vacuum? The BBC's Brian Cox visits the world's largest vacuum chamber, where 35 tons of air is pumped out, and gives visual proof.
Shakespeare: Original pronunciation
Picture an actor on a stage, and imagine that actor, complete with English accent, performing a soliloquy from Shakespeare. Now take a look at this video and realize that the very "proper" Shakespearean English that we are all used to is not at all what English of Shakespeare's time actually sounded like. Skip to 2:50 in the video to hear the same lines from Henry V read in both by father and son Shakespeare scholars.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead: A guidebook for the underworld - Tejal Gala
On its own, this video is a great, and well-animated, explanation of the Egyptian view of the afterlife and the purpose of the Book of the Dead. If you haven't ever seen the site, though, take a look at it in the context of a Ted-ED lesson. You can take their lessons and use them with your students, or use their lesson builder to create your own from scratch around a video of your choice.
This isn't something I would necessarily use in a class, but this New York Times profile on physics teacher Jeffrey Wright is worth watching. Even if you can't relate to his personal situation, or see yourself having the kinds of relationships with your students that he does, there are some powerful reminders about the things that should be most important in what we're doing, and the things that are most important in life. The accompanying NY Times blog article can be found here.

Google Pro Tip

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A Tale of Two Email Addresses and Crossed Wires

As more and more staff and students are using Google Drive to share documents, I come into contact with an increasing number of people expressing frustration and exasperation about having two email addresses, and two totally separate email services, Outlook and Gmail.

First, the background, so feel free to skip this paragraph and the next two if you already know why this happened, or don't care about the cause. Our Outlook addresses, the ones with, had been around for years by the time we decided to become a Google Apps for Education district. The problem, though was that at the time we moved toward Google, we were not ready to stop using Outlook and start using Gmail. For that reason, the only way for us to move forward and become a Google Apps district was for us to create a second domain, and thus was born.

At first, of the people who started using their Google accounts, not many even looked at the Gmail portion of those accounts. When they started noticing a problem was when another staff member would see them and ask about some document or other they had shared with them, and they would have no idea that person had shared anything. You see, Drive does give you the ability to send notifications to the people you're sharing with. Those notifications, though, are sent automatically to the Gmail address of that account.

Then, as people started using their accounts more, sometimes, addresses are picked up and added to email address books, and in the case of Gmail users, addresses get added. So not infrequently, people accidentally send email to the address they didn't intend to, and the other person doesn't get it because they don't actively check their Gmail inbox.

So, what do yo do to make sure you are not missing any important email, no matter which address messages are sent to? You link the two in a way that you only need to check one account but get the mail from both there.

Before you go any further, you're going to need to make a decision. Which email service do you want to use on a daily basis, Gmail or Outlook. At this point, honestly, the choice is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer Gmail because of its intuitive interface, superior labeling system and filters, while some people prefer to stick with Outlook because its familiar, like the beat up pickup truck that needs a quart of oil every 100 miles and which won't go over 45 unless it's downhill, but you keep driving it because you know how it works.

Now, this decision is not necessarily permanent. You can try one way, and if you end up not liking it, you can undo the change and try the other. So once you've decided, follow the instructions below that are appropriate for your choice.

Use Outlook to Get Email from Both Addresses

In order to only use Outlook and get your mail from both accounts, you need to log into your Gmail account. You can just go to and sign in. Next:

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That's it. From now on as soon as an email comes into your account, it will automatically get forwarded to your Outlook account. If you hit reply on the message, it will reply to the original sender, not your Gmail account.

Use Gmail to Get Email From Both Addresses

First of all, congratulations on making the right choice. As with the above method, in order to receive all of your email in your Google account, you need to log into Outlook. Then:

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Back Issues

1 - December 2015 - Hour of Code, Living in Beta, Tools for Engagement

2 - January 2016 - YouTube: Channels, Playlists, Content Create, Classroom Integration

3 - February 2016 - Formative Assessment Principles and Tools

4 - March 2016 - Brain-Based Learning Techniques and Tools

5 - May 2016 - End of the Year Tips and Reminders

6 - September 2016 - Welcome Back

Get In Touch

My job is to be here as a resource for you and your students. If you want help learning how to integrate technology in your classroom, please let me know. For more information on the sorts of ways I might help you, look at this.

- Mark Dalton, Ed Tech Coordinator