When You Teach to “the Average Student”, You Teach to No One…

This was another take away from ATIA.  This is an older video, but if you have not seen it, please budget the 18 minutes to watch it.  Rose makes a compelling case for personalized learning.  I’m hearted by the vision and goals in the CCSD Strategic Plan.  We are going down the right track!  But, Rose also challenged me with the concept that our instructional designs and environments are disabled and not our learners. 

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New Paper to Digital Tool

Google's built in OCR

As I posted earlier, I had the privilege of attending the ATIA conference last week.  I learned a ton!  One of the most high-impact takeaways is that Google has a really good and simple to use OCR product.  OCR stands for “optical character recognition”.  This is the software that can convert pictures of text into true digital text. A few weeks ago, I posted about a new tool we were rolling out in the district called Prizmo that does the same thing.  While Prizmo is good, I think this solution is even better!   With this built-in Google software, a teacher or (even better) a student could take a picture of text on paper and convert it to a digital format that can be used with Read&Write for Google.  This is really empowering, cool, and exciting!  Here’s how it works.

Take a picture of the page with a phone, iPad, or any other camera that will save the image in a digital format.  It doesn’t matter what the file type is either — it can be a “.jpg” or a “.gif” or a “.pdf”.  They’re all good.  Save the picture file to Drive.  While in Drive, right-click or control-click on the file to pull up a submenu — see the screenshot above.  Select, “Open with” and mouse-over the arrow to open the cascade menu — again shown on the screenshot.  Select, “Google Docs”.  That’s it!  Google will create a new Doc.  At the top of the Doc, will be the original picture.  And, below will be all of the text it could recognize from the picture in full digital format — ready to be read, edited, and used by students with Read&Write.  It is so simple, it takes much more time to explain the steps than to actually do them!

Besides the pure simplicity of this tool, it also seems to be really forgiving of text orientation, shadows, or other visual obstructions.  If you look closely at my screenshot, you can see my original picture has the text sideways, there some really visible shadows, and a lot of the text is in color-shaded boxes.  These are all things that have given other OCR software titles I’ve tried-out fits.  The Google tool converted this text with ease.  Here’s a link to the output of the conversion.  Notice, that it re-oriented the photo and Google even adjusted some of the font sizes to align with what was shown on the original paper.

I’ve been looking for good OCR software for better part of the last year.  I found out about this feature in a Google session at ATIA, but this feature was not part of the outlined presentation.  The presenter was doing some Q and A near the end of the meeting and mentioned this feature was there in an off-handed manner.  So, I’m guessing this has been in place for quite some time.  Grant Wood sent a number of people to this conference, too.  They attended this session as well and none of them knew this was their either.  So, I don’t feel quite so bad.

I encourage all staff members to give this a try with students.  And, better yet, encourage kids to use their phones to take advantage of this really great functionality.  Using this feature in conjunction with Read&Write for Google is a great way to give students “voice and choice” in their learning.  It will also make it possible for them to use their strengths to be more successful.  As always, let me know if you have questions or if you’ve had good luck with this tool.

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Spies in Florida!


Last week, the 31st through the 3rd, I was able to attend the ATIA — the national assistive technology conference in Orlando with other members of our AEM team here at CCSD.  The Iowa DoE paid for the trip as part of the AT grant that we were awarded a couple of years ago.  This was a great experience with lots of high-impact learning and many provocative and impassioned conversations.  One of my favorite moments had little to do with AT/AEM, however.  As Cheryl Kiburz and I were walking through the vendor exhibit hall, I had to do a triple take to be sure I was seeing that the US intelligence community had a booth.  I’ve been to a lot of trade shows over the years, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen the CIA in a vendor hall.  I thought it would be cool to get a picture at that booth.  I asked Cheryl to take it for me.  As I moved up to get in the picture, I let the team at the booth know what we were doing.  They let me know it was fine to take the picture, but they would have to get out of the shot — they are spies after all.  So, that’s why it appears that no one was at the booth.  After visiting with them, we found out that a couple of the agents at the booth were deaf or blind.  The booth was there to let the disability community know that the CIA does recruit and employ people with disabilities.  As Buddy Berry would say, this was a surprise and a delight.

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New Episode of Friendly Disruption

If you enjoy podcasts, there’s a new episode of Friendly Disruption now available.  This month’s guest is UDL guru and instructional designer, Kirk Benhke.  We also share a couple of cool Chrome extensions, NoCoffee and Wave.  NoCoffee is used to simulate websites for people with visual disabilities.  Wave is a great tool that can be used to easily and quickly audit any website for accessibility.

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Using Google Classroom to Differentiate/Personalize Instruction

This is a really brief video from the Google EDU in 90 team on how to differentiate and personalize learning using Google Classroom.  There are powerful and simple to use ideas in this two and a half minute video.  I strongly recommend all staff subscribe to the Google EDU in 90 YouTube channel for more really useful tutorials like this one.

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Google Updates Timeline on Removal of Old Version of Sites

It looks like Google is getting more serious about removing the old version of Sites.  Here’s the latest update from them.  It sounds like Google will be giving our technology team a preview of the tools that will be used to migrate from the old version to the new version in the first three months of 2018.  Depending on how that goes, they plan to roll these tools out all users in later in 2018. Based on that timeline, my guess would be that old Sites will be going away sometime in 2019, but again that’s just a guess.  While it’s still too early to know what this will look like and mean for content in old sites, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Most importantly: If you are creating new Google Sites, use the new version, not the old one.
  • As soon as I see the migration tool, I will do a screencast to demonstrate how to use it.  According to Google, I should see the migration tool before the end of March of 2018.
  • It sounds like only the “owner” (one of Google’s security roles) of the site will have the ability to migrate content from the old Sites to the new Sites tool.  So, if you have critical content in the old Sites tool and you wish to migrate it to new Sites — you will need to know who the “owner” of that Site is — they will need to be the one to run the migration when the tools become available.

I will share more information as it becomes available.  Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have questions in the meantime.

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Talk & Type with Read and Write for Google

I’m guessing that most people know that Read and Write had a builtin speech to text tool called — Talk&Type.  Even if you know about this tool, I strongly recommend watching this 5 minute tutorial on how to use it. This is a really strong tutorial in my opinion because it shows the tool “warts and all”.  While Talk&Type is really simple to use, there are some common pitfalls the video shows you how to avoid.  This type of teaching will really help teachers and kids get up to speed very quickly and should minimize frustration.  Enjoy!

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New Look Technology Office

This fall has been a time of rapid change for the CCSD Technology Department.  In addition to adding a new team member, we’ve re-envisioned, redesigned, and re-organized our office space.  The space is much more open, (and we hope) welcoming, and friendly.  This was a Herculean task and we purged a lot of old, useless gear — mainly cables and old, obsolete spare parts.

The technician workspaces are much cleaner and more efficient — both in terms of use of space and ease of work.

We spent a good deal of time organizing our parts inventory, too.  I need to give a big shout out to Doug Exline and Duan Carver (and the rest of his crew) for helping us mount the pegboard, the wall organizer, and our two large displays/monitors.

We also put together a museum space that has all sorts of interesting technology throughout the years.  The main attraction here is our 1980s Apple LISA computer with original documentation.  This was the project that Steve Jobs worked on before the Macintosh.  And, like most other museums, if you have a piece you’d like to donate to us, just let me know.

This is just the first redesign, too.  As the high school construction project progresses over the next three years, we will be making more changes and improvements to this space. We encourage everyone to stop down and visit us if you are in the neighborhood.






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Introducing Mary Corrigan — New CCSD Technology Team Member!

Mary Corrigan will begin work at CCSD on 12/28/17.

As almost everyone at Prairie now knows, we’ve had an open technician position for about the six weeks. We have such a small, tightly knit department that adding a new team member is both exciting and scary.  So, we took our time to do everything in our power to make the right hire.  During out posting period, we had applications from several strong candidates.  But, no one was a better fit than Mary Corrigan.

For the past ten months, Mary has worked for Cedar Rapids Schools as a technology helpdesk analyst.  Prior to that (from 2010-2016), she worked in the technology department for Whitnall CSD in suburban Milwaukee, WI.   In addition to years of experience within the public school sector, Mary has a Bachelor of Science in MIS (Management of Information Systems). She has an outstanding mix of technical expertise and practical experience within schools.  I was thrilled when she accepted our offer last week.

Here are a few of Mary’s thoughts on joining the Prairie technology team:

Since moving here from Wisconsin 18 months ago, I’ve heard such great things about College Community School District. I’m excited to be part of it now and look forward to supporting the students and staff!

Mary’s first day will be Thursday, December 28th.  She will be spending a week with each of our technicians before being assigned her own spot in our rotation plan.   We will be updating the technician rotation calendar with Mary’s information in early 2018.  In the meantime, we will keep all of our other technician rotation assignments as they were previously — we now plan to go back to having 1.0 FTE at the HS and Point and .5 FTE at Creek.  When you see Mary out and about our campus, please give her a warm welcome.

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New Student Online Registration Now Live!

As I announced at all of the building staff meetings I attended last summer, we are moving forward with Online Registration.  While it has taken us a little longer than I thought, we launched OLR for new to the district kids and families earlier this week.  We plan to use this online form for registration for all students next summer, too.  This does not mean that we won’t have a registration event in August.  That practice won’t change for next summer.   But, On-Line Registration will mean the end of most of the paper forms families will need to complete.  So, the days of the big, thick registration packet being mailed out to each student are over!

Becky O’Connell, Angela Sleeper, and Bill Paarmann put in a lot of work on this project, so if you see them — give each them big “Thank you!” for their efforts.  If you want to have a look at some of the process, you can go to the district homepage–>Registrar/Enrollment–>School Registration/Enrollment K-12.  Here’s the direct link to the Google Site Becky has constructed.   As with any project this large and complex, there will need to be refinements and improvements.  But, this process will ultimately save parents a lot of time.

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