Another Great Update for the Google Drive App

There was a big update for the Google Drive app for iOS today. The last update gave us the ability to create and edit word processing documents in the app, manage sharing, and upload pictures and video. This time we got:

  • Create and edit spreadsheets within the app (including realtime collaboration on shared spreadsheets)
  • Upload any filetype from other apps using “Open in…”
  • Manage file uploads

These are all great improvements, but the biggest change in my opinion is the “Open in…” feature. I tried it out and found that I could create a document in Pages and then upload that document in .pages format to my Google Drive. Once there, I can share that document with another user, who can then download and view the work in Pages on his iPad or Mac! I was also able to upload a large Keynote file in the .key format.

The upshot of all this is that now we have a way to share all sorts of filetypes without resorting to email (and the limitations that brings). For example, I can have a student create a great Keynote presentation and then turn it in via Google Drive without worrying that the file is too big to attach to an email.

Google has really improved their Drive app in the last few months to make it an excellent option for use on the iOS platform. What features would you like to see them add next? Let us know in the comments!

100 Learning?

100 Cute?

For my son, 100 is the biggest number in existence. If you ever want to express the idea that something is truly superlative, just label it with 100. For example, if you had a really great time at the park today, you had “100 fun.” If I am eagerly awaiting a weekend birthday party, I’m “100 excited.” You get the idea.

Of course the idea of using a quantitative measurement for an abstract concept is ludicrous. But he’s four years old, so we give him a pass. After all, he’s cute!

As I think about the way we treat assessment in our classrooms, it occurs to me that we might do the same thing. I teach a unit. I give a test. A student takes that test and gets a 92. He now has 92 learning.

We have attached this type of quantitative measurement to teaching and learning for so long now that it doesn’t even strike us as being odd. We never ask the question, “what do these numbers mean?” Are we measuring what we think we’re measuring? Are we even using the right unit of measure?

The fact that we’ve been using this method for so long should suggest that a) something about it works, b) its too hard to do anything else, or c) we’re afraid of what a better assessment might reveal. I suppose there is also a third option – a combination of the first three.

I am willing to admit that there is a correlation between a student’s grade in a class and his ability to show mastery of the concepts. But when we use those grades to rank and sort and determine important life decisions like college entrance is correlation enough? And when we also use factors like “neatness” and “class participation” in the equation, does that not lessen the correlation?

All this to say, I find myself more and more on the student portfolio bandwagon. Not just because it is the latest fad in assessment and not because it gives me another opportunity to use technology to solve a problem. I am in favor of the idea because in a world where the number we assign to a student can make or break him we owe it to that student to be as comprehensive and transparent with the grading process as possible. A cumulative portfolio of student work gives us a tool to attempt just that.

Of course no single classroom teacher can change the entire structure of academic assessments. But just because you still have to give a grade doesn’t mean you can’t also provide a portfolio. If what people like Tony Wagner (of Harvard University) and others say is true, colleges and universities are slowly starting to see the value of a portfolio in their admissions process, while simultaneously devaluing standardized assessments.

How can you do this in your classroom? Here’s a simple two-step solution:

  1. Assign meaningful work
  2. Archive the products of that work

Step one is really the hard part. Keeping an archive is easy. There are a variety of ways to do this, including just taking pictures or making recordings of the student’s work. You can then save it to a hard drive or post it to a blog so that there is a lasting record of what that student has done. Use standardized file formats so that they are easily accessible across platforms, and you’ve got an invaluable tool for that student to give an authentic account of what he or she can do.

We can argue all day about whether the educational system will ever change to fully adopt methods like this for assessment. The answer to that question, however, is irrelevant. If we can see the value in the endeavor and know that it is technically possible, why not start now?

We 100 owe it to our students.

The Personal Learning Network – Practice What You Preach

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” – Luke 6:40

This, for a teacher, should be one of the most sobering passages in scripture. The idea that my students will be like me when fully trained gives me a renewed focus to “practice what I preach.” In other words, am I an example of what I want my students to be?

It is easy to gloss over this idea with a simple “yes” and move on. If my objective is for my students to have knowledge of a subject then I can affirm that I do know my subject. However, if my objective is more than just knowledge, but also includes actions and dispositions, then the scene is a bit more cloudy.

To answer this question, we must first be clear on exactly what we want our students to be like. Again, the question is not “what should they know,” but rather, “what should they do.” Lately we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the ideas around the “4 C’s.” Creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration are the skills we say are necessary for our students to bear influence in the world that they will inherit. We could probably add a few things to that list, but I think it is certainly a good starting point.

So then, in light of the wisdom of Luke 6:40, what is the example that you are setting for your students? I would ask if you “model” the 4 C’s, but I don’t think that word is strong enough. To really do this, we must truly embody the 4 C’s, not just model them. Its not enough for us to talk about these things in class, they must be part of who we are! I think of it as the old idea of being a “lifelong learner,” re-imagined for the 21st century.

This is a tall order for many. Our lives are filled with so many things, who has time to invest in remaking ourselves into a 4 C’s teacher? It seems such a daunting task, but there are things that we can do to lower the barrier to entry and get ourselves moving in that direction.

To that end, I want to spend a few posts expanding on the idea of a “Personal Learning Network,” or PLN. Your PLN is a network of people around you that you can interact with and learn from. They may be people you know or (thanks to the magic of the internet) people who you may never meet. It is a sort of etherial thing that can bring real growth in the way that you think about your classroom and your students. It is a place for two-way interaction through conversations, comments, and even tweets! And, perhaps most importantly, it is something that you can initiate with surprisingly little effort.

So, I’m going to spend the next several weeks developing this idea a little more fully. In the mean-time, here are a few links to sites that expand on the idea of PLN’s – mostly without the Biblical guilt trip. 🙂

Personal Learning Networks for Educators: 10 Tips – Mark Wagner, Getting Smart

5 Things You Can Do to Begin Developing Your Personal Learning Network – Lisa Nielsen, The Innovative Educator

PLN: Your Personal Learning Network Made Easy – Kate Klingensmith, Once A Teacher…

Did you know that if you do a Google image search for "iPad" and "Hammer" you will get a bunch of pictures of MC Hammer? Me neither!

Thoughts from Boston (other than “I don’t like snow anymore”)

I discovered that I don’t like it when it snows sideways!

I was fortunate enough to spend three days this week in Boston attending the first EdTechTeacher iPad Summit, held on the campus of Harvard Medical School. This was a fantastic time of learning and discussion with great presenters and thought-provoking questions. It was also an opportunity for me to experience my first “Nor’easter” – an experience I could have done without! I had never experienced snow that was parallel to the ground. I also did not know what it felt like to be a human snowdrift. I can now check both of those items off my bucket list.

I will be sharing quite a bit of what I heard with you through this blog over the next several days, but I wanted to start with a thought that was shared by Justin Reich (Co-founder of EdTechTeacher) on his blog before the conference ever began:

If you meet an iPad on the way, smash it.

This, of course, is a statement designed to grab your attention. It is also an important point about how we use iPads. In his post (to which you can find a link below) Justin discusses how we must guard against turning our attention to the “what” — iPads and apps and systems and tricks — at the expense of the more important question: “Why.” As we move forward in this new paradigm of school in a 1-to-1 program, we must remember that the idea is for every student to have an iPad, not for every iPad to have a student. The main thing is still the teaching and learning. The iPad is a tool that we are using at this particular point in time and space. It is a fantastic tool, to be sure, but it won’t last forever. Our attention must be squarely focused on the things that will.

So, take a moment to read Justin’s post yourself and then come back here and leave a comment. How are things going in your classroom? Do you struggle with losing sight of the students for all the iPads? Do you forget that there are iPads in the room? Could your class function exactly the same if we took away all the iPads today? I look forward to your thoughts!

If You Meet an iPad on the Way, Smash It — Justin Reich, EdTech Researcher

New in iOS 6 – Lock an iPad into one app

When Apple releases a new version of their operating systems, they never come with a user’s manual. We (the users) are expected to figure this stuff out as we go. In the case of iOS 6, they boast of over 200 new features, most of which are not specifically spelled out.

One exciting new feature for teachers is something called “Guided Access.” This feature allows you to lock an iPad so that it is “stuck” in one app only. You can do this on-the-fly, and can lock the iPad into any app of your choosing. Once the feature is turned on, it is a simple thing to engage and then turn off when you’re done. For a complete explanation of this feature and how to employ it, check out this post from the OS X Daily blog.

Enable “Kid Mode” on iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch