Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: December 2013

Shiver Me G21 Timbers

How do you know your students really understand what they have read? Of course, you ask ten multiple choice questions and award kids points on some expensive system, right?

Not in Ms. Thomas’s class.

Ms. Thomas and her students read Treasure Island as part of their G21 project. They looked at all different aspects of the book: Geography, weather, technology, social structure of the crew, historical context of the events in the book… The students created costumes, models, posters, a new site, and other interesting artifacts based on what they read and discussed in class.

Ms. Thomas has been compiling much of what the students did in a website. It is still a work in progress, but you can visit and explore Treasure Island.

Six Years Into G21

Last week, at the VSTE annual conference, I attended a session about project-based Language Arts classrooms. During the Q&A at the end of the session, I mentioned our G21 framework and a project from a teacher at GMS. The teacher next to me listened, and when I finished, she said, “Oh, you guys copied our idea!”

My first reaction was to be offended. We launched our G21 initiative in the fall of 2008. We blogged about it, met with teachers, did a lot of persuading. By the spring semester, John Hendron and I were busy presenting at conferences about our framework and what we were seeing in classrooms. By the end of the year, we had incredible projects to share. By 2010, Henrico launched its own initiative. More recently, Isle of Wight put together its i-sle21 program. I know there are other “(insert your word or letter)21” initiatives out there that have emerged as we refined our ideas over the past six years.

My second reaction was to think, “Well, this is so good nobody can fathom that a small county like Goochland actually did this!”

I am not sure which school division the teacher represented. I don’t know that it really matters. Who came first, second, or third is not as important as how much of a difference these ideas are making in the lives of students, in Goochland and other counties. I’ll file this under “Fair Use” and  hope the teacher who spoke to me is letting her students really grow and learn in her classroom.

Teacher Dashboard Workflow

It has been about two months since we started using Hapara’s Teacher Dashboard with our Google Apps for Education. So far, we love it. Everyone has good things to say about this tool that helps our teachers and students keep everything organized and visible.

Two of the teachers who have been the heaviest users of the tool are Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Ray. Both of them are Language Arts teachers who, in the past, have carried reams of paper back and forth between school and home. They have had to decipher interesting handwriting, straighten out crumpled papers, and struggle to give timely feedback to students. Since our introduction of Google Apps for Education about a year and a half ago, these two teachers have moved towards a paperless environment. Still, managing the endless lists of shared documents in Google Drive was not easy. Now it is much easier and much more effective.

I have learned from both, and today I sat down with Mrs. Ray to develop a workflow to make giving her students support and feedback easier. I thought other teachers might find it useful.


Teacher Dashboard Writing Assignment Workflow

  1. Create a document with instructions and a rubric. First, write the instructions as you would when you create a handout for students.

  2. At the end of the instructions, insert a page break and create your rubric. Be specific. Rubrics, in my opinion, give better guidance than the best set of written directions for almost any assignment.

  3. Use the Smart Copy function in Teacher Dashboard to automatically add a copy of the instructions and rubric in each student’s folder.

  4. Students write their paper “sandwiched” between the instructions and the rubric. Every time the student accesses the document, the instructions and the rubric are right there, helping students stay on track with the assignment.

  5. To grade the paper, the teacher scrolls to the bottom of the paper after reading the assignment and highlights the appropriate rating in the rubric.


This workflow addresses issues that teachers face when students work on projects over several weeks or months.

First is the most obvious problem. Giving students pieces of paper they need to keep for a long time is always a dicey proposition. Even the most organized students can have a binder mishap and their papers scatter all over the parking lot. Having the handouts incorporated in the assignment document, in digital format, is the best way to hang on to them.

Since the Smart Copy document is automatically shared with the teacher, the teacher can use the Comments function to provide guidance and support before the assignment is due. I recommend having set dates when the teacher will be looking at the works-in-progress (homework grade?) to give students an opportunity to get feedback prior to the final due date. Some students might need more support than others, and this is a seamless way of giving them feedback without calling attention to them. Only the teacher and the student will know there were comments made on any particular document.

I hope this helps teachers thinking of getting started with Google Docs and Teacher Dashboard. We still have a couple of after-school sessions on the schedule to look at these tools in depth, and I’m always available to work one-on-one with teachers who can’t stay after school.


Civil, Polite, Informed

Should we teach our students to tweet? Is tweeting more important than cursive writing? I don’t know. Depends on who asks and when the question is asked. This was my response yesterday.

As I was typing that response to my friend Larry, I was getting ready for a virtual visit by Congressman Eric Cantor. His office contacted our schoola few weeks ago, and we welcomed the chance to offer our students this opportunity to engage in face-to-face conversation with the people they read about as part of their Government curriculum. I took care of the technology and Mrs. Yearout-Patton took care of the students’ participation. We had visitors from Central Office and the event went on without a hitch.

It is part of the Goochland County Public Schools culture that we highlight special events using our well-established online presence. We posted about the event on our GHS page. Dr. Gretz blogged about it. Mrs. Yearout-Patton, Dr. Lane, Dr. Gretz, and I tweeted about it.

We had many positive responses. Then, late last night, there was a tweet from @JoeBobLee about Congressman Cantor’s visit that denigrated our learning activity and insulted our school community. I thought I would just ignore it, but it is not in my nature.

As educators, we expose students to the full breadth of the political spectrum. It is our obligation regardless of our political leanings. In fact, as educators employed by taxpayers, we MUST maintain a neutral environment in our schools. We have hosted Senator Mark Warner, Delegate Lee Ware, and Governor Bob McDonnell over the past three years. I am unaware that we have turned down an offer for an onsite or virtual visit from any politician, Democrat, Republican or anything else.

As educators, we also encourage good digital citizenship. We teach students not to plagiarize. We combat cyber-bullying with special programs and events. We engage our students in collaboration and civil, polite, informed discourse through online tools such as Edmodo, Moodle, and Twitter.

Civil, polite, informed discourse. @JoeBobLee must have been absent the day that was taught at his school.



How Did You Guess?

This year we gave all our students in 3rd -12th grade Google accounts. We also made the decision to let all of them manage their own passwords. It was a conscious decision to help students learn very important lessons.

What should your password be? How long should it be? Should you write it down somewhere? Should anyone else know your password? Ask any student in Goochland, and they will give you very good answers.

If you are inclined to doubt them, take a look at this article about cracking passwords.


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