A Semester with Google

When we first announced that our students and staff would have access to Google accounts this year many people asked me, “What can we do with Google?” The answer to that is varied. One of the things I like most about Google is its variety of tools and flexibility to meet many needs. So the question really becomes, “What are your learning objectives? And is there a way Google can help meet those needs?” As the semester progressed, the teachers and students of BurbankUSD found many interesting ways to put Google to use. Below are a few examples:

One of the least known tools within the Google Suite

is Google Draw. The applications in education are numerous. In one Kindergarten class, the teacher created a template,

which was shared with the students through Google Classroom. The students worked on both number identification and mouse skills as they manipulated the numbers into the correct order on the screen. file_000Students were also excited when they learned how to change the color of those numbers.


A second grade class also explored the creative possibilities of Google Draw. After a short tutorial on some of the tools, students used the shapes to create animals and added text boxes to write about their work.

Another way Google Suite has been utilized is as a curation tool. A 3rd grade class has started developing a digital portfolio of their work utilizing Google Slides. Students imported a picture of a physical project they had completed in class. They typed a reflection about the project on the slide next to the picture. They will be adding slides to the portfolio as the year goes on. In the end they will have a nice way to demonstrate what they learned throughout the year. The teacher is planning to create QR codes so that she can easily share the digital work with parents at Open House.

file_000-1Google Slides is also being used to aid in collaboration. A middle school Social Science class learned how to work in groups on a single slide show. One person created the slideshow in their Google account and then shared it with each member of their team. Each person was responsible for creating a slide with one section of information that they had studied the day before. In the end, each group had a slide show with all the information. Working like this required students to really communicate and work together so their finished project looked cohesive.

One of the benefits of Google tools is that teacher can now easily give “in file_003the moment” feedback to students. Students at both the elementary and high school level are doing work in Google Docs which allows teachers to easily see and comment as the students are working. In the past, students would not receive this kind of feedback until the assignment or project was completed. However, the teacher can now easily scroll through the students’ work, even as they are sitting in class typing. In one high school classroom students are using Google Docs to do their daily agenda and warm up. In the past, the previous weeks’ warm- up was collected on Monday, reviewed by the teacher and returned. Now, the teacher is able to scan the students work throughout the week. This allows students to make corrections in the moment. Likewise, a 3rd grade class is using a table in Google Docs to file_001-2organize their ideas as they research for their animal report. Having access to these documents as the students are working on them will allow the teacher to provide timely support, suggest edits and additional resources, as the students are working.

Teachers are also utilizing Google Forms on both the small and large scale. Several teachers have started giving quizzes and tests with Google Forms, either utilizing the self-grading feature within google forms or using the add-on Flubaroo. Google Forms was put to an even bigger test recently asluther-graph Luther used the tool to collect votes for their Dancing with the Staff event. They collected 17,000 votes that night and used the results graph to determine the winner.

These are just a few of the ways teachers and students in Burbank are putting Google tools to work for them. Are you using Google tools in a really cool ways? Comment below and if you are a BUSD teacher, please invite me out to see what you and your students are up to!

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Lessons in Learning in Lithuania

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

This summer I had the opportunity to enjoy a two-week cruise through Scandinavia and the Baltics. While in Russia, we did a tour which included two guided days in St. Petersburg and one very long train ride and guided visit Moscow. It was a lovely tour and seeing the Red Square is one of the highlights of my travels. However, for those three days we spent all of our time with the 13 others in our group and our tour director. We traveled everywhere in a pack and we saw things in the order our guide determined. Both the St. Petersburg and Moscow guides were very knowledgeable. They did a great job sharing their best impressions of Russia with us visitors. But what we saw and learned was filtered entirely through their lens.

After leaving Russia our tour stopped in three small Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We had pre-booked short tours in the both Estonia and Latvia. So after three days traveling in a pack through Russia, we again got on a bus and followed our guide through the small towns of Tallinn, Estonia and Riga, Latvia.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Both cities were charming, but I have to confess. At this point, after five days of being herded through cities, following the outstretched arm of the tour guide as he or she pointed out some interesting feature of the town, I was less than impressed. (Pause to note, I am aware that stating I was unimpressed in the same blog as I am talking about touring Europe, seems ungrateful, but bear with me…I’m almost to my point.)

Klaipeda Map

Map to the statues

The third Baltic country we were set to visit was the town of Klaipeda, Lithuania. We were scheduled for a day at the beach and were very much looking forward to a break from the “following the tour guide” scenario. So imagine our disappointment when the rain cancelled our excursion and we were given the option of a guided tour. We opted to get our money back and just explore on our own. That was the best decision ever.

Klaipeda, similar to many small European towns, is filled with interesting statues that all come with their own stories. In fact, many of those were pointed out to us by the tour guides over the previous five days. Klaipeda took a different approach. At the tourist information office we were handed a map with the locations of over 30 statues. On the back was a description of each one. Off we went on our self-guided, self-paced adventure.


Photo Credit: Kathy Patenaude

We whispered a wish in the ear of a little mouse with promises that he would make them come true. We pet the tail of the cat while making a wish. 


Photo Credit: Nicole Patenaude

Klaipeda Mermaid

Klaipeda Mermaid

We celebrated finding the mermaid as she was hiding down a flight of stairs and quite difficult to find. (Check out a great description of some of the statues here). We had a lot of fun exploring the city as we used the map to go from statue to statue. Sometimes we had to backtrack and our hunger at mid-day led us to decide to skip some of the more outlying statues, but we saw quite a few of them.

After lunch we ran into an Australian family from our tour in Russia. They asked us what we thought of the town. They found it quite boring, with nothing really to see. Their impression of the town was quite different from ours because, it turns out, they didn’t get the statue map. They also spent time wandering around the town, but with no guidance or information, the things they were seeing did not make a big impression on them. It was that moment when the lessons in learning really crystallized for me.

Imagine for a moment that my touring experiences were instead classroom experiences. The first five days were teacher led instruction. The teacher held the key to all the information we were going to get and determined the order in which we were going to get it. We learned together as a whole class, with little to no time for individuals to stop and explore things that were interesting to them. If one person stopped, they would hold up the whole group, and we had a timeline to follow. Sound familiar?

Imagine again, school is instead like the experience our friends from Australia had in Klaipeda. They were dropped in the small town, given no direction, and told to go see and learn things. Because they did not find the statue map that we found, their experience was in stark contrast to the fun-filled day of exploring that we did.

Neither end of that spectrum is ideal for learning. Day after day of teacher led, direct-instruction leaves students feeling that something is missing. It does not allow for the individual student to explore things that really peak their interest. Or allow the student to take time to review material until they truly understand it. However, simply dropping students in front of a computer with no direction, expecting that Google can give them what they need, is no better for true student learning. Much as my Australian friends missed the charm of Klaipeda, students are apt to miss the lesson if given no direction or support.

I have heard people comment that technology is taking the place of the teacher. But I would argue that teachers are more important than ever. In a time where students can access information at the touch of a button, it is vital that teachers facilitate the learning experience, guiding students on their learning journey. Teachers need to provide just enough information to lead students in the right direction, but allow enough freedom to explore at their own pace. A good lesson acts much as that map we used in Klaipeda. It provides points of interest, gives just enough information to ensure students are not wandering aimlessly, but allows the freedom and flexibility to choose the direction and pace of learning.

Not sure where to start in developing this type of lesson? It can be done without technology, but one form of this type of lesson has garnered much interest lately. The Hyperdoc, a term coined by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis, acts similarly to the map we had while exploring Klaipeda. It provides students a guide for their learning experience, but it hands the key to unlocking the learning over to the students. Make sure you check out the work they are doing and some amazing templates created by other educators!

The next time you begin to plan a unit, I hope you will consider

my lessons in learning from Lithuiania.


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My Vision for Education

Coming to the end of my Masters program in Educational Technology, I take a moment not to reflect, but to look forward. What do I hope education will become? And how can I play a part in developing that vision?

I believe that learning is more than acquisition of information. It is a synthesis of ideas that can be applied and adapted in a multitude of situations. Learning no longer means memorizing facts or procedures.  Instead the emphasis is on learning for understanding. With quick and easy access to facts at their fingertips, students no longer need to spend all their time memorizing.  Instead they need to gain the critical thinking skills necessary to access the information, organize it in meaningful ways and apply the information to unique situations.

I hope that education will become student centered. Students will actively create demonstrations of their knowledge. Time in the classroom is no longer spent sitting passively while getting information from the teacher. Students utilize technology tools such as blogs or e-portfolios, to create and publish their learning experiences. They work collaboratively with other students in the classroom. Student work is not only between the student and the teacher. , are used to demonstrate learning. The potential for work to be seen by people outside the classroom will have a positive impact on the learning experience.

As a result of variation in student learning progressions, assessment will be flexible. There are learning targets, but each student may take a different path to those objectives. Failure is no longer a negative, it is seen as a part of the learning process. Both students and teachers will need guidance and support to get to this point. I will be the safety net that both encourages them to take the leap and supports them if they stumble.

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Reaching a broader audience

My very first assignment for MAET was a traditional research paper. But it became non-traditional very quickly. That research paper had to be posted on a blog, this blog to be exact. It was my very first post. The potential for ANYONE in the world to see my work was terrifying. I was very hesitant when I posted that first assignment. I was used to school being about figuring out what my teacher wanted so that I could earn all the points and get an A. I had no idea how that one aspect, posting my work, would completely change the way I related to the learning experience. Once I realized that there was a wider audience for the work I was creating, my investment in my work increased tremendously. Up until that point, school for me had been about jumping through hoops to satisfy whatever the teacher seemed to want.

MAET has made me realize that learning isn’t about what the teacher wants, and it isn’t really about the audience either.  It is about me as the student. It is about creating and presenting to the best of MY ability. All of a sudden, I am willing to take risks that I never would have taken before. I want to find out what I am capable of so that I can showcase my best work to the world.

Learning this way has changed the way I think about teaching. It has changed the message I give to the teachers that I work with. That message is embodied in the video I created for my iVideo project. The directions for the assignment were as follows: You will develop an i-Video – an elegant, concise, powerful video that inspires the viewer to consider an important educational idea. Due to my own experiences with learning over the last two years, it seemed natural to focus on providing students with a wider audience for their work. And thus, the idea for my video, For Your Eyes Only, was born.

It’s not spy school, student work is not for your eyes only.

That is the sentence that came to mind when I was trying to come up with a video idea. I decided to create a video that spoofed a typical spy movie. It would show the student experience as if the student’s work was top secret, to be viewed by the teacher only. I felt the exaggeration of that experience could really drive home the message. Mid-movie, the screeching brakes signify to the viewer to stop and really consider if this is what learning should look like. The last part of the movie highlights some ways to take that same lesson, an essay, and connect the student to a wider audience. 

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Can you Twitter?

Things move fast in MAET Overseas. With week one and our iCinemagraphs complete, it was time to move on to week two. Infographics were the topic of the week. We were challenged to create an infographic to highlight statistical, timeline, process, or geographical-based information. I decided to use this opportunity to create an infographic that could be used in conjunction with a training that I run Twitter.

I feel Twitter has had a very large impact on me professionally. McHorney_Infographic
I have written about it previously here. The goal of my professional development is to help other teachers navigate the sometimes tricky learning curve of Twitter, in order to access the great resources that can come from the connections forged there. It is my hope that this infographic can serve as a reminder of the things covered in the face-to-face professional development.

Click here for the PDF. Feel free to edit, especially the TwitterChat section, to match your audience. The image of the Tweet can also be edited to reflect something that relates to your context. McHorney_InfographicCC

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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What do I teach?

Our first project for Year 3 of MAET Overseas was the iCinemagraph. Our initial instructions were to film video that represented something that we teach. This inspired some really great conversation for me, as I talked with several people about what it is that I actually teach these days. My current job has me working with other teachers to help them bring technology into their lesson plans. I settled on the idea that, with the right lesson design, technology can increase student engagement in the learning process.

The image below is the final product made on Adobe Photoshop.

Happy Student Typing

In addition, I have discussed my design ideas and iterations in the video below:


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Simple Works-It doesn’t have to be high tech in order to be engaging

I think sometimes when teachers picture incorporating technology into their lessons, they picture elaborate lessons with technology bell to bell. Mr. Howard, a middle school math teacher, understands that adding even a little bit of tech can go a long way. Mr. Howard is a new teacher who is working on his Masters in Educational Technology. However, that doesn’t mean every moment of his classes is dedicated to tech. Technology can be used to enhance the learning experience, but technology itself does not replace good lessons.

I had the pleasure of IMG_9471observing Mr. Howard’s class recently. The students were working on cross-multiplication and learning about scale factor. Mr. Howard used a fairly low tech program called Plickers to get instant feedback for both himself and his students. Plickers are a low cost student response system. You only need one internet connected device with a camera, such as an iPhone, iPad or Android device. The students each get a paper scan code that has the letters A, B, C, and D on each side. The student holds the scan card with their answer choice at the top and the teacher scans the room with their device. The projected screen shows the student’s answers for immediate, real-time feedback. In Mr. Howard’s class, the students worked the problem out on paper and held up the answerIMG_9472 they believed was correct. He could address the gaps in knowledge as they were happening. I was particularly impressed with the activity he did for one problem. The answer responses were split equally between A & B.  Mr. Howard had the students get up and move to each side of the room based on their answer choice. They had a few minutes to discuss with their group, why they believed their answer was correct. Then they presented their argument to the other side. Imagine the surprise when the students realized that BOTH answers were correct and they now understood the reasons for both. It was an impressive use of a tool that some might feel is limited by only having four answer choices.

Another tool Mr. Howard’s classes have started using is Prodigy. This is a math game that students can access on their phones or any Internet connected device. The content connects with the math standards and works well with the curriculum they are using at their school. Students in Mr. Howard’s class and several others are using Prodigy to supplement the learning they are doing in class. The students are engaged and the teacher is receiving real-time data on the progress of the students.

It is important that teachers remember that it is okay to start small. Introducing one simple tool can have a big impact on learning. Once teachers get comfortable with one tech tool, the leap into the next one will be even easier!

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You don’t have to be a tech genius to be a tech integrator.

“I have learned a lot from the students. We have learned a lot together.”

-Roseann Webb

5th Grade Teacher

Roseann Webb is a 5th grade teacher and a self-professed dinosaur when it comes to using technology. However Roseann has something that is vital to the transition to a tech infused learning environment. She is willing to admit that there is a lot she doesn’t know. The students in her classroom are empowered to learn and explore because SHE herself is willing to learn and explore.

I often see teachers who are afraid to take the leap into tech enriched lessons because they feel they have to be experts in a program before letting the students use it. Mrs. Webb’s class is the perfect example of why letting students be a part of the learning curve can be incredibly powerful. Everyone learns in the process and those with natural abilities in technology rise and have an opportunity to become leaders in learning. I saw a student, who dreams of being a computer programmer one day, help a classmate who has learning difficulties to get onto the correct webpage and utilize the split screen view. His willingness to help was a benefit to both students.

One project that Mrs. Webb admitted was a particular struggle for the class Datawas turning their individual results on a multiple intelligences assessment into a graph on the computer. This type of activity ties into State Standards, which people may not realize, include specific technology tasks (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7, CCSS.MATHEMATICALPRACTICES.MP4, CCSS.MATHEMATICALPRACTICES.MP5). The students volunteered, with pride, to show me their finished products. As they were pulling up their work, I was impressed with their ability to navigate the interface of the computer. Some used the trackpad on the laptop, some had brought a mouse from home to use, but they all appeared comfortable, confident and easily able to retrieve what they were looking for. Mrs. Webb acknowledges that students came into her class with varying amounts of technological experience. She has found creative ways to provide access to students who do not have computers at home. She is impressed with the progress students have made throughout the year.

Students have used the computers for a wide range of activities. They conducted research on a career they were interecareersted in pursuing. Students were able to report to me which websites they found valuable and how they used a split screen to take bullet point notes for their projects. They were especially proud of the fact that they had multiple tabs open in their web browser as they searched. Learning how to gather and synthesize information from multiple sources, especially online sources, is one of the standards for students put forth by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

In the lesson I observed, students were again utilizing multiple webpages to learn about the periodic table of the elements. Students split their screen and easily went between sites to find out whether elements were splitscreenmetallic, non-metallic or metalloid and recorded their findings on a worksheet. Students worked together, actively pointing at their computer screens and helping each other locate information.

All of these incredible learning opportunities are possible because Mrs. Webb and her students are willing to work together to learn and grow. The students appreciate the opportunity to use the devices and Mrs. Webb is excited to continue learning more as well. Some people might say that computer skill or savvy is the most necessary trait in incorporating technology into instruction. However, the mentality exhibited by Mrs. Webb and her students, the willingness to try new things and learn together, is the most important step towards a true 21st century classroom.

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Did you take that picture?

“Oh, we’re in education, copyright laws don’t apply to us.”

I can’t tell you how many times I hear that statement and how much it makes me cringe every time I do. Copyright law is difficult. It is hard to findTiger w/ Attribution clear cut answers, especially for teachers and students. However, it is not difficult to help students understand that if they did not create an image, then they should not use it as their own, regardless of their intended use. Not only should we, as educators, help students learn this, but we should provide an example in our own practice as well.

Easy, right? Well…not so fast. True, finding usable images is not that difficult. There are several tools and websites out there that will help find Creative Commons licensed images. You can even use a plain Google Image search, with the correct settings, to return only images that are licensed for reuse. That is easy enough for us as teachers. However, I have been working with a third grade class on a research project. While it may be easy to help them FIND the correct images, learning how to give proper attribution is difficult and a workflow nightmare. Especially when we are talking about young students just learning to use the computer. Asking them to switch between multiple windows and track down multiple pieces of information is daunting. I can understand why teachers succumb to the idea of just letting students copy and paste any image into their project and move on. However, that is a missed opportunity for a learning experience and I recently found a website that will make it a bit easier. (Thanks to Kelly Martin and her Padlet on finding copyright free images.)

Photosforclass.com utilizes the photo sharing site Flickr. It searches Flickr for images that are licensed with the proper Creative Commons license. The part that made this site rise to the top of the list of tools for student use is that when you download the image it automatically creates the appropriate attribution and adds it as a watermark below the picture.


Eliminating this step in the process, while still teaching students the importance of giving proper attribution is exactly what I was looking for in working with my third grade class. Give it a try the next time you do a project with your students or want to include images in your own presentation or blog.

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Elementary Research Projects? Try Kiddle.co

Looking for a way to help your students learn to do research? Are you frustrated with trying to sort through thousands of websites to find age appropriate resources? KiddleKiddle.co may be just the answer you are looking for.

Kiddle.co is powered by Google’s safe search tools and returns websites that have been hand-picked by editors to suit the needs of younger students. The results are displayed with a large thumbnail Kiddle2picture and are formatted with kids in mind.

When you are ready to have your students start their research, direct them to the website kiddle.co first. They can type their search terms in the box, just like with Google. They will get fewer results that will be geared towards student learners. For example, a search for tigers on Google returned over 200 million results. The first return was from Wikipedia and the second was the Twitter handle for the Detroit Tigers baseball team. Not exactly the highest quality sources for a student trying to learn about tigers. In contrast, the same search on Kiddle returned 45 million results. The first hit was from the website sciencekids.co.nz and the third linked to pbskids.org.

Kiddle.co is not without its faults. Some searches will return ads along the right hand side. While they are clearly labeled as ads, it will be important to teach students the difference between search results and ads. As with any Internet activity, student use of Kiddle.co should be monitored. Also, the image search tool in Kiddle does not have the same usage rights filtering options that Google.com utilizes. It may be best to have students return to Google.com when they are looking for pictures.

Google provides some filtering options that will allow you and youGoogle Image searchr students to find images with appropriate licenses. Do an image search in Google. Once the search results pop up, click search tools and filter Labeled for reuseyour results to show images “Labeled for Reuse.”

The images left in your results are images that are licensed as Creative Commons or Public Domain. There is a common misperception in education that it is okay to use images freely. It is important to teach our students how to find images that are okay to use and how to give appropriate attribution.

[Edited to correct incorrect attribution to Google as the designers of Kiddle. Kiddle is not affiliated with Google, but utilizes Google’s safe search tools along with being curated by editors. 3/4/16]

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