Monday, May 20, 2019

Building an Inexpensive Class or Education Website is Easy!

Over time, I’ve found many teaching peers say they would like to build a website but are ‘stuck’ on how to do it. Some want a classroom website for students and parents, or as a place to house their educational resources, or a simple blog to share their thoughts and grow their professional learning network. (PLN)

Well, it’s really not that difficult, nor expensive, anymore.

Gone are the days that you have to know code to make a good looking website. Yes, coding is a good skill to have, but if that’s not your cup of tea then this blog post is for you. Either read on or skip now to this Google Slides deck to learn how. (yes, it’s 51 slides but packed with animated gifs to guide you through the process) The focus of this deck is Google Sites, which is very user-friendly and the features continue to evolve. Additionally, you can connect a custom domain name for less than $20 USD.

Before you begin, a little thinking.

First, identify your purpose. Are you reinventing something already out there, or starting a personal and unique journey that you will enjoy and maintain? It could be a class website, a place for student e-portfolios, a resource bank for your school or professional organization (like a GEG or Edcamp), your teacher musings, an online resume….anything, really!

Second, identify your audience. Is it your students, parents, or your PLN? If you target a specific audience with content that is relevant to their interests they are far more likely to follow you. If it is too broad, it may be more difficult to build a following. (if that is what you want) Admittedly, this Learning Light Bulbs blog is very broad - anything related to teaching and learning. I knew this when I started it, so I feel less pressure to share each week.

Third, explore your options. What works best for your interests, time, and sense of expression. Companies such as Wix, GoDaddy and Squarespace (and others) are popular. While you don’t have to know code to build from their platforms, they do have a steeper learning curve. The (New) Google Sites is very user-friendly relying on simple clicks and a drag-drop method to building your website, even compared to (Classic) Google Sites. Blogger is another Google option but is more complicated. (FYI, this blog is built with Blogger)

Finally, set time aside to get started and follow through! A good idea is to look at some sample sites made with (New) Google Sites and online support resources before you begin.

Good luck, have fun, and paste your site or thoughts in the comments section if you have something to share!

Xu Chu’s Group

Preesh Network

Jivrus Technologies

Joshua Pomeroy

GEG Nagoya

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Google Innovator Academy - Why you should apply!

Have you thought about becoming a Google for Education Certified Educator? If not, I hope this post will encourage you to do so. Before explaining the process I give some of the benefits I’ve experienced through my journey using G Suite for Education and from becoming a #GoogleEI in 2013. You’ll find links embedded in this post and listed below. 

  • Working with a challenge. An inherent part of the Innovator Academy is to come with a problem that you aim to work with. The design cycle is used to work through your Innovator project. (and there are a lot of really cool project ideas - see some of them here
  • A massive growth to your PLN, locally & globally. Innovators are a dynamic community of educators and dedicated lifelong learners. They share, support, and engage with each other. It’s an active and enthusiastic community. 
  • Access to solutions. When I don’t have an answer to a problem (mine or a colleague’s), I ask an Innovator (and the Trainer community as well). Without exception, if I post a question I get multiple responses and almost always walk away satisfied and with new ideas and/or tools.
  • Opportunities to present. Although I’m a regular classroom teacher I have been all over the main island of Japan presenting for schools and at professional development events. I’ve been to the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as a presenter/workshop facilitator. These opportunities have allowed me to develop my skills in this area. (and meet a whole lot of interesting people!) If you live in the United States, there are many opportunities! (I'm admittedly envious of how much is happening in the United States)
  • Opportunities to test. From time to time Google will reach out to Innovators and Trainers for assistance in testing products or participating in/supporting initiatives before the launch. (often under NDA) It’s quite flattering to be in the loop before most people know there is a loop!

So how do you become part of this inspiring group of people?

  • Study for the GCE Level 1 & 2 exams. Complete the Google Certified Educator exams, both level one and level two. Be sure to study - just using Google doesn’t mean you’re a Google for Education ninja. Use the online study guides to support your learning.
  • Be detailed. Look over the Innovator Program application requirements carefully. In doing this you will have to think about a problem that exists in your educational context. 
  • Identify a problem. While finding a real-world problem you should interview people in your context to discover the nature of the problem. Equally important, find out if your ‘problem’ really is a problem. Don't make a problem that doesn't exist - you may find that you’ve been way off the mark, but hopefully discover what real problems exist. Your goal should be to have a positive impact that affects change, not the Innovator badge.
  • Be thoughtful. Craft your responses carefully. It’s a competitive application process and you’ll want to demonstrate creative thinking.
  • Craft your vision deck carefully. You use a Google Slides deck to create your “Vision Deck” that outlines your vision in 6 slides. Get feedback before submission. Ask any current Innovators (and other educators) to give you advice. 
  • Be active on Twitter and other social media. When doing this, don’t simply retweet. Focus your tweets on useful ideas, articles, videos, etc. If you want to be heard, say something worth listening to. Do this regularly, not once a week. Demonstrate your commitment to sharing and reaching out with meaningful posts. When applications are vetted your social media presence will be assessed. While this is not the be-all-end-all of your application those who are reaching out and sharing stand out. Quality and originality are better than five million retweets. 
  • Plan your application video. While amazing video production isn’t expected, a good video that focuses on the heart of your stated problem is essential. Avoid the one-take video of yourself talking. Use a Slides deck with narration, or a series of video and images that reflect your application. Have a look at some successful application videos on YouTube and use #GoogleEI on Twitter for inspiration and ideas. (and stick to the prescribed length of time - less is more!)

Good luck! We want you on the team!

Google for Education Innovator Academy Information & Application
Google Certified Educator Level 1 (click Fundamentals Training for the course)
Google Certified Educator Level 2 (click Advanced Training for the course)

More on Google for Education Certifications
Google Certified Education Trainer
Google for Education Teacher Center
G Suite Certification for Students (a new program for students!)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Note-Taking Skills: What methods work for you?

*This post will eventually be linked to an additional post with digital tools for note-taking.

Note-taking is a skill students should learn. What we may not be doing clearly enough is deliberately teaching students a range of note-taking methods and how to identify when one method may be better than another. Moreover, having a wider note-taking toolbox allows for differentiation and supports a range of learners and learning styles. Note-taking also helps with memory, organizing ideas for pre-writing, and review for tests/exams.

Note-taking is an active process, helping us concentrate and keep us engaged with our task - when conducting research, when listening to lectures, or when we discuss or debate. It helps us focus. This allows us to keep a permanent, condensed record of what we researched, heard, or independently thought for later review. Note-taking can help us organize ideas and processes, while not having to write down everything. As we actively process our thinking we can better understand what we’re learning, or question what we don’t understand. If taking notes from a lecture, we may learn information and ideas not found in a text.

Click the image to access a downloadable and editable Google Slides deck.
*It is admittedly text-heavy - please modify to your needs.

What should good notes have? 
(this will vary depending on what you are taking notes for)

  • Key concepts and main ideas
  • Examples
  • New vocabulary and definitions
  • References that may help you later
  • Questions, things you don’t understand
  • Your thoughts, ideas, and insights

  • Decide on simple drawings, symbols, abbreviations and acronyms for quick note-taking
  • Use colours, underlining, circling to highlight keywords and concepts
  • Paraphrase so you understand what has been written
  • If taking notes on a computer master the keyboard shortcuts you could use most

These are what I’ve found to be the most common forms of note-taking. (see the Slides deck designed for in-class use though it is admittedly somewhat text-heavy)


The Sentence Method
A basic method that writes all details in a chronological order.
  • Helpful when you don’t know the structure of an investigation or lecture
  • May be helpful for fast writers, but not for slower writers
  • Good for taking notes on a laptop

What’s the structure?

  • Start with a main topic written as a heading
  • Break main topics down into subtopics
  • Focus on the main ideas and supporting ideas only - not every detail and anecdote
  • Separate main topics from each other

Outline Method
A method that separates major to minor points.
  • Works well when there is a clear structure of a discussion, lecture, piece of text
  • Highlights the key points
  • Simplicity allows you to focus
  • Less time needed for reviewing and editing
  • Simple structure leads to better organization/scaffolding

What’s the structure?

  • List key ideas into a list of notes, scaffolded with subheadings and sub-notes (major points to the far left)
  • Indent each point as you go into greater detail
  • You can use letters of the alphabet and/or Roman numerals or decimals to further organize/scaffold
  • Go back and highlight/underline/circle keywords and concepts
  • *Easy way to remember is: main topic > subtopic or key concept > supporting detail or evidence > further detail or evidence/elaboration

Cornell Method
An organizational framework to take notes.
  • Separates major to minor points
  • Provides for noting keywords and questions

Focus is on

  • Recording information
  • Recording extra comments, questions, thoughts about the information
  • Summarizing the main ideas

What’s the structure?
Page is divided into three (or four) sections
  • One row at the top for title and date
  • Two columns in the center - the left side for keywords, concepts, and questions; the right side for a list of notes, scaffolded with subheadings and sub-notes (like the outline method in the previous slide)
  • One row at the bottom for a summary

Table / Chart / Matrix
A method that converts linear notes into a chart format.
  • Simplifies long notes or detailed topics notes into topics and categories (for example, when studying a historical event in detail)
  • Helps to be concise, emphasizes relationships and patterns, helps to identify gaps in the information
  • Helps with large amounts of information and specific details such as statistics
  • If you know there are only two topics, perhaps a T-Chart will work best (which helps with comparisons)

What’s the structure?

  • Divide your sheet into columns
  • Option one - columns only: Write a separate topic for each column and beneath these write key points (if you have too many columns, write a new set of columns below)
  • Option two - chart: Write a separate topic for each column and beneath these write key points.; you can also create a chart, and fill in categories both horizontally and vertically
  • Option three - a T-Chart: Set up a two columns with the one topic at the top of each column and write the key points under each relevant topic

Boxing Method
A method in which all notes that are related to each other are put into the same box or shape.
  • Good for isolating independent ideas
  • Supports organization
  • Visually separates ideas
  • Helps focus when reviewing (one box at a time)
  • Doing it digitally? Use iPad, Padlet, Google Drawing, Google Slides, Google Keep, etc. 

What’s the structure?

  • Identify your topics with the intention of grouping each one into a single box
  • Draw a new box as you enter into a new topic BUT don’t draw the bottom line until finished that topic (or leave it open in case you want to add ideas)
  • Depending on the topic (an event or a process) consider using chronological order
  • When reviewing draw lines or arrows to make connections

Mind Maps / Concept Maps
A graphical way of organizing your thoughts and showing how concepts are related or different and helps critical thinking.

  • Used to organize information, facts, concepts, equations, theories, etc
  • Breaks down difficult and/or detailed topics
  • Can be used to make connections between key concepts
  • Great for visual learners

What’s the structure?

  • Starts with a central idea with “nodes” that branch off into more related “nodes” with short notes - choose your central theme or topic and write it in the middle or top of the page
  • Determine your key themes and write them into separate branches called “nodes” (and decide a way to highlight them so they stand out as different from the other nodes)
  • Add keywords, ideas or concepts into sub-branches
  • Continue this until you’ve reached the core of the topic or subtopic
  • *integrate visual cues, such as diagrams, arrows, or colours, to emphasize concepts and connections
  • *use numbers or marks (ie) asterisks to help organize

Sketchnotes / Image Journaling
A method that involves bringing more visuals compared to typical note-taking.

  • Use images and text in a logical flow
  • Helps you to focus, listen actively
  • Helps you to remember
  • Images/sketches are simple and quick to draw - you don’t have to be an artist
  • Taps into a part of the brain that is ignored when only writing

What’s the structure?

  • Try to think of a structure or pattern in the beginning (a little difficult if it’s a lecture and an outline hasn’t been given)
  • Start in a top corner (doesn’t matter which one) or in the middle
  • Continue writing notes and drawing simple visuals, but keeping with a pattern that can be followed later (though sketchnotes can become wild and random)

Monday, January 14, 2019

ThingLink: A media-rich tool with endless classroom applications!

If you're into app smashing - the practicing of using multiple apps to create projects or finish tasks - then you will love media-rich ThingLink. (your students will love it as well) Teachers and students can easily create interactive infographics, maps, their own (scanned) drawings, as well as 360 videos. Create audio narration, images, videos, and quizzes. Why not take students on a 360° virtual field trip to a place outside of your country? ThingLink is available on smartphones, tablets, and desktop/laptop computers.

You can easily create projects that connect to developing digital literacy skills and addressing Common Core reading and writing standards, ISTE, and others.

Remember - it doesn’t have to be 360°! Click the image for a tutorial video, and then check out some of the ideas below.
Click the image for a tutorial video.

Here are a few of my ThingLink tours. Note the YouTube, image and text integrations.

Sensoji Temple Complex 浅草寺 | Tokyo, Japan

Graves of the 47 Ronin at Sengakuji Temple (泉岳寺) | Kanagawa, Japan

Mitsumine Shrine 三峰神社 | Chichibu, Japan

How about some other ideas?

  • Create virtual tours of places.
  • Create a campus map. Use icons to show if a hotspot is a video, or a particular kind of information. 
  • Create a kind of ‘hyperdoc’, but with a media-rich platform.
  • Create an interactive map of your community with popup images. Take a screenshot from Google Earth and use it as your base. 
  • Curate online resources for a project.
  • Have students annotate an image to demonstrate learning. (for example, a primary source document in history)
  • Annotate an image that shows a process, numbering the hotspots to guide the viewer. (ie) the volcanic process
  • Create a timeline of events in a story or event in history. 
  • Create a floor plan.

ThingLink is also updating regularly and has a new Tour Creator feature.

Keep up with the ThingLink blog for educators. (they have one for businesses as well)

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Common Sense Education - A One-Stop Shop for Digital Literacy for Parents, Educators and Organizations

Common Sense Education is a non-profit organization with a mission to help us all understand our relationship with the daily bombardment of media in our lives. As the website is chock-full of ideas and resources this post is a mere drop-in-the-bucket overview of the learning available at Common Sense Education. For parents, schools, organizations and individuals this is a bottomless pit of knowledge.

We’ll approach it with an overview of resources in each of the tabs. Also have a look at the wealth of videos on the Common Sense YouTube channel that provides tips and tools for educators. (and don’t forget the Donate button in the top right!)

At the top left you’ll find three tabs, For Parents, For Educators, and For Advocates. For Parents will take you to TV & Movies, Books, Apps and Games, and Advice for Parents. These include reviews and the Common Sense approval seal for honorable mentions. Teachers can find resources for promoting Digital Citizenship, positive Educational Technology, as well as professional development. The For Advocates tab will provide you with resources, and news that with help educators (and their students) to take action for positive and healthy engagement with media. This is all grounded in research that demonstrates the level of effort Common Sense is putting into giving users the most up-to-date information on how we engage with media.

There are other tabs in the banner dedicated to educators.

Digital Citizenship provides lessons for teachers, games and interactive tools for kids, resources for engaging parents and downloadable classroom posters. There are tutorials for curriculum content, as well as toolkits for: Social & Emotional Learning, News & Media Literacy, Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, Anti-Cyberbullying, and Gender and Digital Life.

EdTech Reviews & Resources has a wealth of resources in the recommended apps and edtech tools, teacher-created lesson plans, as well as tips for teachers using technology in the classroom. There is also a video library about digital tools, best teaching practices, and technology integration.

Professional Development includes a one-hour tutorial on Common Sense Digital Citizenship curriculum, and the Common Sense Educator program. Both provide a certificate upon completion. There is a commitment to become a Common Sense Educator, which opens you up to the Common Sense community. The deadline for 2019 is June 30, so get started. You’ll also find monthly webinars, expert advice, a video library, and case studies of schools successfully implementing digital citizenship programs.

Recognition & Community recognizes individual educators, schools, and entire districts for efforts towards “lead[ing] responsible and effective tech use in your school communities and build your practice along the way.” There is information on the Common Sense Ambassador program and how to become one.

The Common Sense Privacy Initiative is a “coordinated effort to evaluate edtech tools, protect student privacy, and build in safety and security from the start.” It’s better said from the Common Sense website:
  • Privacy Evaluations - Common Sense evaluates popular edtech apps using a broad range of legal requirements and best practices for data privacy. We focus on the core concerns of safety, privacy, security, and compliance.
  • Information Security Primer - Great for district and school technology leaders, this toolkit is for those looking to learn more about evaluating the information security practices of educational software.
  • Privacy Questions - Make sense of a vendor's terms of service with this question set that helps educators and administrators come to decisions based on their specific school and district policies.

As a final word, I highly recommend technology coaches and administrators have a careful and deliberate look at Common Sense Education as a vehicle for improving digital literacy in schools and at home.

Footnote: for further reading that will benefit educators and parents, read “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World” by Devorah Heitner. Here is my review of the book.

Google Forms in the Classroom: How-To Slides Deck & Animation Tutorial

By now, anyone working with G Suite for Education knows Google Forms and likely uses them in class. This post is to introduce a “How-To” Slides deck with animations. The deck can be copied and modified and is intended to be used as an extended-length workshop on using Google Forms in the classroom. However, for anyone interested in getting deeper into Google Forms, maximizing the app in (and out of) the classroom, this may be a useful tool for you. Note the first slides that have some links to practical ideas for using Forms in the classroom. Feel free to make copies and modify to suit your needs.

The Slides deck includes:

Getting Started - Ideas
Build Your Form Part 1: Framework
Build Your Form Part 2: Add Content
Send and Embed Forms in Web Pages
Access and View Responses
Make Your Form a Quiz
Force a Correct Answer
Using Add-ons
Independent Learning

Note that one can click links in the Table of Contents for easier navigation of the deck. Click here or on the image below access the Slides deck.

Click the image to access the Slides deck.

Good luck making Forms an effective learning tool in your classroom!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Why Whiteboards Are Awesome!

I dearly miss having whiteboard walls in my classroom. They were cheap, thin whiteboards installed on the walls turning dead space into active pods of discussion and collaboration. (and with so much space, sometimes work from a number of classes could be left over time for reflection and/or revision) Back in the day I could have students spread out in small groups sharing ideas in small groups that could be confidently shared out as we went through a variety of brainstorming, planning, analytical, and peer review activities. The monotony of ‘desk life’ was broken. So what was I to do when I found myself without my beloved whiteboard walls? 

The nearest dollar store saved the day - the kind that has large, but portable whiteboards for 10 dollars. Though not like the seemingly endless space of a whiteboard wall, my classes could do the same activities, read around the room. One unplanned bonus was the mobility of our new whiteboards - students could step out into the hallways, cafeteria, and the nearby playground if the younger students weren’t outside. 

Here are some of the activities I and my colleagues have done that were enhanced with whiteboards. 

Any subject - Creating a definition for a concepts, processes, etc. Students continued on with developing their definition by doing further research. 

Any subject - Taking notes from video. Students watched three different videos on the same topic and then determined what were the consistencies and inconsistencies with the content of each video.

Elementary Math - Addition and subtraction with game pieces. One of our Grade 1 teachers had students use a worksheet with whiteboards and small animal pieces to do the math problems, visually. 

Debate - Four corners debate. In this activity, students were given a controversial prompt and had to choose one of four ‘corners’ (options) in the room. Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree. Students with similar opinions could discuss their views and write them down to present their group thinking. This activity is great for the timid. They feel safe that others share their opinion, and can refer to the whiteboard when called upon to speak. 

Economics - Determining market forces in a Hawaiian vacation. Students were taught the economic concepts, and given a scenario for application. Note that they had a graph and text to explain their thinking.

History - Analyzing a primary source for the origin, purpose, content, value, and limitations. Each group was given a different primary source from the same topic of study and then presented. 

History - Writing the key ideas for one group topic in a jigsaw activity. Jigsaws are a common activity in all subjects, but having reference to the whiteboard was useful for students to discuss and record their thinking before going back to their initial group. 

History - For and Against Arguments. Why drop the atomic bomb? Students were given the two perspectives to research and later present. In the future, I may have students research the implications for the countries involved. (in particular the USA, Japan, Russia)

Social Studies / Individuals & Societies - Video recording script prompter. Students had prepared an election campaign commercial. With a 60-second time limit, one or two whiteboards was enough for each group. Moreover, they learned to use whiteboards as cue cards rather than reading a memorized script, helping students practice being succinct as well as presenting a prepared ‘script’ more naturally.