Google Classroom, Form, and Geo Tools Updates

I’m going to repost a couple of really cool resources that came to me from the Iowa Google Education Group.  The first post is directly from Google which includes new updates to Classroom and Forms.  Not all of these changes will be useful for all of us.  But, I’m guessing just about everyone will find something of interest.  The second link is a guest post from Stacy Behmer on the Shake Up Learning blog.  Stacy shares some new and old Google Geo tools and how they can be used with kids.

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Technology Personnel Changes

There are two significant changes on the horizon for the technology department this year.  As I’m sure everyone knows, these are challenging times for school budgets.  Even though Prairie is in relatively good shape — we have a strong tax base and a very supportive community — we still had to make some really, really difficult decisions.  Starting on July 1st of 2017, Bill Paarmann’s position was reduced to half time.  Bill will be onsite working each week — usually on Mondays and Tuesdays.  He will respond to all email on those days, so please be patient with us if you email him later in the week.

The other change is related to how we are deploying technicians.  This is part of our effort to enact continuous improvement.  We are going to a four role, three-week rotation for the techs.  The roles will are: data center/elementary support, 1.0 FTE, Prairie Creek support, .5 FTE; Prairie Point Support, 1.0 FTE, and PHS support, 1.0 FTE.   Each tech will rotate through each role every three week.  I’m sure I made this sound more complicated than it really is.  Here’s an example of how it will work: Monday, 8/20 Charlie Braun will be assigned to Prairie Point. On Monday, 9/11, he will switch to the Data Center role and Chris Ketchum will take over a Point.  We will run this as a round-robin rotation all year.  We’ve put the techs schedules on a Google Calendar.  We will also add a link for this calendar to the Staff Hub inside PrairiePride.org.   Bill Paarmann’s work days are also included on this calendar.  We hope that by rotating our technicians, we will do a better job of keeping all of them in the loop on new best practices and in turn improve service to students and staff.

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Summer Work 2017

The techs call this the Power Tower — a sculpture of all the individual power adaptor boxes from new Chrome books.

As always, it’s been a busy summer in the CCSD Technology Department.  For most years, I would share what our summer projects in the spring.  But, this year with all of the budget uncertainty, I didn’t know for sure what we would be able to do until after summer had started.  So, better late than never; here’s a list of projects we are currently working and some possible projects that we roll out during the school year if there’s room in the budget.

Student MacBook refresh.  As part of our sustainability plan, we updated 25% or student Macbook fleet.  This is just a little over 300 devices.  We integrate all of these to incoming 10th graders while we are loading and reconditioning the entire 1,200+ unit fleet.

Staff MacBook refresh.  Again, just like with students, we update 25% of our staff Macbooks each year.  We set a side eight days each summer to work with each staff member getting a new computer.  This year we updated about 120 staff computers.  One of the cool things that’s a bit different this year is that about 30% of staff getting new computers just wanted us to give them a clean system.  This is really different and interesting.  The staff doing this got their new computer right way — no delay — which I’m sure was appealing.  The other inference we made is that this shows a lot of teachers are really taking advantage of all of the storage options in Google Drive.  We hope that percentage increases each year.  I’m personally really looking forward already to the summer of 2018 when I’m scheduled to finally get an update — I’m last on the list 🙂

Student Chromebook Roll Out.  There was some good budgetary news here!  In our sustainability plan, this year we had planned to get Chromebooks for all incoming 6th graders as well as 60 devices for each of the elementary buildings excluding Hill.  The thinking here was that Hill already had devices would not need to update this soon.   However, the Chromebook bid this year came in low.  So, we elected to enough devices to start refreshing Hill’s Chromebooks a year early.  So, we purchased just under 800 Chromebooks.  All elementary buildings will be getting 60 units earmarked for 2nd grade.  We also took the best of what was left from this year’s 9th grade turned in HP Chromebooks and got them ready for use with all of Creek’s 5th graders.  Last year, all 5th graders had access to a Chromebook that stayed at school, but they were some of the oldest in the district.  These devices will be an upgrade.

New Student Device Bags and New Bag Policy.  We bought new bags for all of our student devices that go home. We think these bags both look better — they have Prairie logo embroidered into them — and be more durable.  So, we replaced all 1,200 bags for the MacBooks and we’ll give over 400 of these to 6th graders this year.  We are making a change to our bag policy this year, too.  Students in 7th through 9th grade will keep the bags they currently have.  However, we will not be replacing any bags during the school year.  If a student loses or ruins a bag during the year, it will be the student’s responsibility to find a bag or container to keep the CCSD device safe.  We expect both Chromebooks and MacBooks to be transported in a bag/sleeve when ever they are in transit.  Students in grades 10th and 11th grade will be charged a fine for bags that are missing or damaged at spring Macbook turn in.  We will replace ruined or lost bags for 10th and 11th graders each summer.  The reason we will not fine 6th -9th graders is that we don’t intend to have the device and bag returned until the end of a student’s 9th-grade year.  While we believe these to be good bags, we don’t expect the bags will be in good enough shape to redeploy after four years of constant student use.

The student MacBooks in new bags are now neatly shelved.

Lab Update.  We updated the video production lab at the PHS.  This lab requires really robust computers.  The software requirements out strip what our student MacBooks can handle.  The last time we updated this lab was over 5 years ago.

Prairie Creek Network Update.  This project was not planned.  In the middle of June, construction crews hit and destroyed the fiber optic cable running from our data center in PHS to Creek.  In most cases, fiber lines are located when there is digging/boring in an area.  However, this cable was installed in 1991 or 1992.  Prairie was one of the very early adopters of fiber optics.  Since this was so new, the installers did not think to include a locator line with the cable to find it later.  So, no one really knew the exact location of the cable.  This was laid long before I got here and before Duane Carver worked here, too.  When the cable was knocked out, we used that as an opportunity to run a new cable that had better speed capacity — and, of course, we included a located line for future reference.  With this new cable, we were able to add newer electronics to the Creek connection and increase the connection between PHS and Creek from 1 gigabit per second (GBPS) to 10 GBPS.   This is a tenfold increase in capacity.

Food Service and School Office/Clerical Updates.  We will be updating all food service point of sale computers and head cook computers this summer/fall.  We are still waiting for these devices to arrive, so this change might happen is some or all buildings after school starts.  We are also going to update several building office computers after school gets going.

Miscellaneous Updates.  We also have a number of other small, but still significant projects we are engaged with this summer.  For example, we will be reloading elementary MacBooks (about 50-60 in each building) to bind them to Active Directory.  We will be updating the Digital Art lab at Prairie Point with 13 inch MacBooks.   We also need to create the new software load and reimage all three of the Project Lead the Way labs, too.  And, there are a few cases where building budgets have purchased hardware to mount projectors.

While we’ve had summers with more projects in the hopper, we are still keeping very busy getting ready for the 2017-18 school year.  Depending on how the budget situation and construction plans go, we might have the opportunity to engage in some additional projects as well during the school year.  If we do get the green light to do some extra work, I will keep everyone in the loop with project details and timelines.

 

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Student Computer Intake — What You Might Not Know…

Today we will begin to take in the computers for 12th graders for our summer work.  I realized earlier that most people probably have no idea what this process looks like and how it needs to be structured so we don’t lose track of any computers.  I’m very proud of the fact that since 2012 we have not lost track of a single unit.  That’s not to say we haven’t had computers that are lost by students or stolen from students — that has happened.  But, all of these devices are accounted for and locked — rendered useless. The scope on this is amazing when you think about it.  Over the last five years, we will have processed over 12,000 device exchanges for Macbooks alone — distributing computers and collecting them.  That doesn’t include all of the Chromebooks and iPads we track as well.

Here’s how the process will work this year.  Students will come down to the technology office in the HS — thanks to the leadership team at the high school for being flexible on this location.  Each student computer has a barcode we’ve attached that we scan and “checks it in” to our Google Sheet.  This Sheet is amazing!  It tracks all barcodes, serial numbers, and device repair history.  Once the device is checked it, one of the techs looks it over to quickly assess if there’s any obvious damage — cracked screens, missing accessories, or other visible damage.   If there is damage, we note this on a paper form that is attached to the device.  We’ll go through all of the devices during June to get a list of fines together before registration packets go out in July.  The device is then arranged by homeroom and checked off a paper list.  At the end of each day, we re-check the paper list with each device.  Then, at the end of the main intake days, all homerooms are checked again (each device is touched) to ensure we have the right device in the right spot.  We then begin the work to track down the missing computers.  Typically, after the main intake is complete (around the last day of school) we need to track down 70-80 devices.  Some of these just have not been turned in.  But, there are a number of exceptions we deal with — students who need to keep devices to finish coursework to graduate.  Others need them for student council obligations.  Then there are special programs

We then begin the work to track down the missing computers.  Typically, after the main intake is complete (around the last day of school) we need to track down 70-80 devices.  Some of these just have not been turned in.  But, there are a number of exceptions we deal with — students who need to keep devices to finish coursework to graduate.  Others need them for student council obligations.  Then, there are special programs like super seniors.  By the middle of June, we usually have all devices accounted for in inventory.  This is when we send out the list of student fines — these must be paid before a device will be given out in the fall.  We then begin our process of re-imaging and redistribution for the fall.  This another pretty in-depth set of tasks, but the long and short of it is we touch each device to put new software on it, put a new label on each computer bag, and re-organize the entire fleet into homerooms for the 2017-18 school year.

Again, I am amazed and proud that after all of this shuffling, we have never lost track of a device.  We are blessed to have a great team doing this work.  Angela, Collin, Charlie, Chris, and Sam all contribute ideas and shape these processes and refine them each year.  We’ve significantly changed, and in most cases, improved the process each year.  This is a tribute to their hard work and talent.  I’m also very thankful for the high school staff, students, and administration’s flexibility, cooperation, and helpfulness.  This really is an endeavor that requires a full team to be successful.

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CCSD Accepted as a Google Reference District!

Google invited CCSD to apply to be a Google Reference District earlier this spring, and our application was accepted.  This is very similar to the Apple Distinguished School title we were awarded in 2013.  This is a nice recognition for all that we have done to move our digital learning plans forward.  What’s particularly validating about this program is that we were asked to apply based upon Google’s perception that we were doing really good things with their products.  Here’s a bit more info on the program from Google:

Google for Education Reference Districts are districts that demonstrate excellence and thought leadership through the innovative use of technology, including G Suite for Education (formerly known as Google Apps for Education) and Chromebooks, to drive impact and positive learning outcomes.”

In addition to the title, Google will no grant us access to some products in development and give us more insights into the direction the G Suite tools will be going.  This is a nice bit of recognition to celebrate the end of the school year.

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Why Won’t Netfilx Work Any More at School?

Late last we began to get reports about teachers having trouble with Netflix here at school.  We block Netflix for students while on the school network (it works on 1:1 devices when offsite), but it’s always been available to staff.  We started a support ticket with Securly, our internet filter.  We found out that Netflix has made some security updates and don’t allow proxy access to their service.  So, this means that Netflix will not be available for streaming on our network until they change this policy.  This change will also likely hit a lot of other larger networks that rely upon proxy services for security.

One possible workaround that’s possible, would be to download the content to your computer while offsite — at home or some other network-connected location.  I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.  Let me know if you have questions.

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Don’t Forget About Friendly Disruption

I know podcasts are not everyone’s thing, but if you find them useful, I would put in a plug for the one that Maggie Pickett and I are running — Friendly Disruption.  While we are training ugly, I do think the quality of each episode continues to improve.  Maggie and I try to find tools that are inexpensive or free to use with all kids.  We also visit with some pretty interesting and smart guests.

In April, we had a great conversation with Infinite Campus CEO and founder, Charlie Kratch about the future of education and digital tools.  Later in May, we’ll be visiting with nationally recognized digital learning consultant, Kevin Brookhauser.  Kevin is the author of the book, The 20 Time Project.  He’s an experienced classroom teacher and expert on designing highly engaging, authentic project-based learning experiences.  I encourage you all to give this a listen when you have time.

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Google Read&Write Stats

I just found out yesterday that we can run some basic utilization stats for Google Read&Write.  Below are the overall use numbers for the year to date and a pie chart of what tools within the suite are being used the most.

It’s nice to see a general upward trend in overall use.  Of course, I would love to see that number go even higher.  It also looks like most of our use comes from the screen reader feature.  While that’s a great tool, there’s so much more that Google R&W can do.  Here are a couple of quick resources if you wish to learn more about Read&Write:

Tutorial video (8 minutes)

Google Read&Write Toolbar visual guide

If you still want to learn more about Google Read&Write, drop me a line and I can connect you with even more resources. I’d also be happy to work with individuals or teams directly, too.

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Building Bridges 2017

I had the privilege to attend Building Bridges, the Grant Wood assistive technology conference on Tuesday.  I love this conference!  I know I’ve shared this idea before, but assistive technology is not just for kids with IEPs or 504s.  It needs to be a choice for all learners.  These tools are at the heart of personalized learning as described in our Strategic Plan — they are what personalized learning looks like in action.  While being essential for some learners, AT tools are good for everyone. Integrating these types of tools using Universal Design of Learning (UDL) framework removes stigmas and empowers ALL learners.  In short, AT is not just a “special ed thing” anymore.

There were so many great stories at the conference this year.  But, the one that resonated most with me was shared by the keynote speaker, Mark Coppin.  Mark is an AT advocate and related a story about a high school student, named Sady –pictured above –, who has some significant mobility and communication challenges.  For the past few years, Mark has offered an AT summer camp that gives kids a chance to try all different types of AT for a week.  During one of these camps, Sady confided in Mark that she was very interested in video production/editing after trying out some of the tools at his camp.  They worked together to get her some additional tools, and she continued to grow her skill and expertise.  Based upon this, Mark was able to get her a scholarship to Full Sail University (an online program).  That in and of itself is amazing.  Because of the UDL design of most of the Full Sail course work, most of Sady’s peers and instructors never knew that she was disabled until they needed to video chat.  Again, this reinforces one of the really great things about UDL.

However, the story gets even better.  Sady graduated with honors from Full Sail and began her career.  One of her first jobs was with Apple.  She produced the video linked on the page below.  It’s only a couple of minutes long.  I encourage you to watch it when you have time. It’s awe inspiring…

https://www.apple.com/accessibility/

 

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Securly Updates

While far from being a perfect product, Securly is doing some really interesting, new things.  They are a relatively new company, and they are growing their customer base as well as their product very quickly.  There are a number of new features that we have just started using.  Here are a few highlights.

Securly monitors a wide-spectrum of student online activity.  They scan all web searches and posts to social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) for students that use our network and/or our devices and uses a pretty intelligent algorithm to look for self-harm and bullying/harassment language.   If it detects something, it captures that information and “flags” it.  Starting in January, I was able to give building principals and guidance staff in our secondary schools (grades 5-12) a login that will let them monitor this type of student activity for their building.  These staff can also search browsing history for individual students as well. My hope is that Securly will continue to develop this part of their product and send an alert email to these staff when new content is flagged.  That sound likely within the next few months.

Another new feature we’ve rolled out in the last few days is Securly Auditor.  Auditor uses the same algorithm for self-harm and bullying/harassment and scans nearly all the tools in our Google Domain — Gmail, Drive, GChat, Hangouts, YouTube comments, etc…  Auditor does actually have the alert feature.  So, when it finds something, it will send an email.  Right now, we send it to an email group and it’s not targeted at a building.  It also shows a few false-positives.  But, it’s probably better to over-identify than miss this type of content.

Before the end of the school year, we will also be a launching the Securly parent portal.  This site will allow parents to see sites, searches, and social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) use for their children.  It will also send them a weekly email that highlights, top sites, searches, and educational sites visited.

 

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