Technology Blog

Story Speaker - Part 1

On Google Teacher Tribe Podcast last week, I heard about a Google Docs Add-On called Story Speaker. In the description on the show and on the Add-On page, it was said to be for making choose-your-own-adventure style stories that connect with Google Assistant to be read aloud and choices made through voice. I remember the Goosebumps Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books from my childhood, so I was instantly excited.

I love story telling (see NaNoWriMo, my book, my podcast...), so while that feature in of itself seems cool, I started thinking about ways to implement it in classrooms. Today, I spent a lot of time playing with Story Speaker (and by "a lot of time" I mean my entire work day).

Overall: IT IS AMAZING!!

First of all, there is absolutely no coding required. The system is entirely based on levels of indent. If you indent a level, it knows that the previous level is looking for a response. How you phrase the bolded text on the next line is what it is looking for.

Story Speaker provides templates as well (see the green and purple buttons on the right side of screenshot above), so all you have to do is change out the text to make your own story.

Once you're done, you have a few different output options. One of them lets you run a demo version on the same window. All you do is click "Play Your Story" and click "Play Story." And that's it.

You can also click another button to throw it to your own Google Home or play on your mobile device as well with Google Assistant.

But telling stories isn't the goal. The real goal is to use it in the classroom. The way I'm doing that now is making a test using the tool. My students are student tech support, so I am building out a test in which they respond verbally to a read scenario that occurs regularly. See the example below.

This is something that my students deal with regularly, but I think they forget basics too, so it's important that they're reminded.

I can also imagine this being used for something like a lab. You can build out the program so that it gives the directions step by step, and they have to reply with the current result before it will provide the next step. It is really easy to make it a text-based chat, which would be better in that case. You can click this link here to see what I'm talking about. Type anything in the box to start it.


I will be playing with this a lot more in the next week to build some more features into it. I feel like this tool has a LOT of power, and I will share out as I do more.

Thank you so much Kasey and Matt for this info! It has me really excited!

My Time on APlusEdTech Podcast

A couple months ago (yes, I'm behind big time), I was interviewed for the APlusEdTech Podcast. This podcast is hosted by Ashley McBride, who I was lucky enough to just sit down at a table with during ISTE.

Ashley asked to talk with me because she wanted to learn more, and share with her audience, my creation of my Student Tech Support Squad (what my students lovingly call "Shreff Tech").

One of the cool things I was reminded of while recording this is that my class is now an official internship. The course is actually called Guided Workplace Learning and is in the course description as internship. What makes that cool is that it can go on their resumes as such, building true work experience. Hats off to my school district for making that a reality.

One thing that I didn't feel like I went into much was the additional projects I throw at my students. I have the advantage of having students attached to me, which not many instructional coaches are lucky enough to have. I asked for that, because I need to be connected to kids.

Since my class is kind of informal, I get the chance to do whatever I want with them during the year, and like I said in the podcast, that gives me 7 periods a day of guinea pigs to experiment on. I try a lot of random projects, but often incompletely, incorrectly, or at the very least, inaccurately. For example, last year, I tried to do a 20-Time kind of assignment, pushing my students to explore their own passions and set meaningful goals for the year. It was a total bust, mainly because I didn't follow through with the kids and give them enough structure to work in.

So, this year, I am focusing my students' attention in shorter bursts. I'm doing this through a project system called Independent Study Points (or ISPs, and yes, my kids get a kick out of the acronym).

The way ISPs work is there is a long list of project options. Some of the ones I've included are Portfolio Blog, Podcast Reflection, Book Presentation, Current Event Presentation, and Teach Shreff Something. In addition, students have the option to suggest their own project types, and I approve them (I say yes 90% of the time).

Each of these projects are worth various points, typically 10 to 20 points, mostly depending on the time commitment to make them possible. Each 9-week quarter, students have to earn 100 points in whatever combination of projects they want.

What's nice about this system is that they still get to focus their attention on things that interest them, or their passionate about, but it isn't a 6 month long project where a lack of focus has long-term detriment. It is also a lot easier for me to track their completion and discuss with them, especially since presentations make up a lot of the options.

I have to point out that this isn't my idea. The framework of ISPs came from a presentation I saw with Beth Scanlon and one of her peers a couple years ago.

Anyways, if you'd like to hear more about my Shreff Tech program and my kids, or just want to listen to Ashley and I chat back and forth, then click play below. Also, don't forget that you can listen to more of Ashley and I when she was a guest on my show, Episode 18.

Automated Google Appointment Calendar Follow-Up Emails

Do you use Google Appointment Slots and wish you could have an automated thank you message with a survey link included each day? Well, you can!

A couple years ago at #ISTE, one of the EdTech Coaches mentioned using the Google Appointment Calendar feature in Google Apps for Ed. It's really easy to setup and gives you some decent customization options. You create the time-periods and then the appointment length. If you want more details on this, checkout the Google Product Forum for it. This system has worked great for me as a coach. My teachers can click a link, book me when they want me to be there, and I come to them for whatever they need.

I wanted to get a good way to track the effectiveness of these meetings, so I created a Google Form that asked my teachers to rate their satisfaction with the support they received. I sat down each day at the end of the day and sent the emails one at a time. Tedious and frustrating.

After searching for what seemed like an obvious option (automated follow-up emails), I found nothing that accomplished this goal, so I set about creating my own.

Using a combination of Google Sheets and VBS Scripts, I made a solution that works, and now, I am sharing it with you.

Following the steps below will create an automated email sent each day to anyone who booked an appointment with you. It will also check the submitted responses of the feedback form, and if they don't complete the survey within 3 days, sends them a reminder.

  1. Make a copy of this Google Sheet (will prompt to make a copy automatically): - Calendar Emailer
  2. Create a Google Form that asks the questions you want to ask. If you want an example of what I'm using, checkout this one. Also, make sure this form is set to collect email responses.
  3. Create the responses Google Sheet by clicking the green square in the top right corner from Google Forms Responses tab.
  4. In the - Calendar Emailer Sheet, paste the link for the Google Form (the send link you would give for someone to take the form) in cells B9 and B15.
  5. Paste the URL for the Responses sheet for the form in cell B17
  6. Adjust the other fields of this first page so that the email includes your name, the message you want sent, etc. DO NOT merge cells, add cells, delete cells, or move any cells around!!
  7. Go to the "Form Responses" sheet and click on cell A1, then click "Authorize"
  8. Click on Tools -> Script Editor
  9. Click the "Triggers" icon 
  10. Create a trigger for "import_calendar" as Daily and roughly at the end of your workday.
  11. Create a trigger for "sendEmails" as Daily and an hour after the previous trigger.
  12. Should look like this when it is setup:
  13. Authorize the app for the requested permissions.

If you have any issues at all with this, please let me know!! Also, if these steps are too cut and dry for you, feel free to use this video walkthrough I made.

Future of EdTech Coaches

Last night I participated in the #EdTechChat on Twitter, in which the topic was Ed Tech Coaches. As a full-time Digital Instructional Coach, the topic obviously intrigued me.

Given the content of the chats, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it a little on here. Huge thanks to Susan Bearden for moderating and asking the questions.

My role has changed significantly in the last two years of this process. When I started out, it was entirely about running in a thousand directions at once, trying to get a one-to-one program off the ground. In any given day, I was fixing dead access points, troubleshooting student account issues, explaining where the power button was, training students to do tech support, handing out 4000 laptops, one-on-one training with teachers, training teacher groups, recording voice-over presentations to send out, sending and answering hundreds of emails a day on any or all of these. And then the next day I would do it again. This made perfect sense, because it was essential to be everywhere and make sure my staff got whatever support it was they needed.

This year though, as we are finishing year two, my model has completely changed. I now work on an appointment basis, where teachers request for me to come to them for whatever they need. I can then spend an entire period walking them through their issues and what they need. It personalizes the experience for all our teachers, and makes my day significantly more predictable.

My first response to this was that twitter chats like #edtechchat and #edchat are a great way to interact and build a PLN. Last night was my first time participating in #edtechchat, and I was surprised by how many people were Instructional Technology Coaches or Technology Integration Coaches, etc. (we really need a more universal title, but then again, this is education, so why would we do that?).

I, of course, also felt compelled to include that podcasts are a great way to build ideas. I recommended @mrnesi House of #EdTech to the group. As a heads up, episode 3 of my podcast will also be very EdTech centric.

Overwhelmingly, the answer to this question seemed to be trust. I said basically that we need admin to get out of our way as tech coaches and let us do our thing. Sometimes I am amazed that they put us in these positions, presumably because we are experts in technology instruction, and then we are questioned at every step. Give us the space and trust it took to hire us to actually let us do our job.

The other thing I suggested is that it would be nice if administrators had a little more teeth in enforcing expectations, especially with heavy resistors. I will say, this could easily be a double-edged sword, but it would be nice if those who completely, and stubbornly, refuse to even try technology integration had some kind of administrative follow-up.

This is one space where I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job. I have created a Google Appointment Calendar, with available slots by period. All my teachers have to do is go to the link, and click the period they want me. They add their room number and what they want to talk to me about and I come to them at that time. I then built a Google Sheet and VBScript combo that imports the calendar each day, and after each appointment, emails them a follow-up email to say "Thanks, please take this survey and tell me how I did." It even goes further, and since the feedback survey is a Google Form, it imports those results and checks those against those that have been sent the survey. If they haven't filled out the survey in 4 days, it sends a follow-up email reminding them. In the future, I will probably share a tutorial on how to make this happen for yourself too.

As change agents. I like to believe that having an Ed Tech coach gives teachers the confidence to try something new, knowing they have the support to make it work. I'm not 100% sure I accomplish this goal every time, but a boy can dream, no?

This one has been on my mind for a while. What I honestly believe is that we should be actively working ourselves out of a job. Early on, we can make it possible to try new things and teach tech. As a one-to-one initiative reaches maturity though, we need to stop focusing on tools, and instead focus on instruction. For me, this means transitioning into a CRT role, in which instructional support and PD always assumes everyone is using and knows how to use technology. In order to fully immerse our students, this is the essential next step.

ISTE2016 Summary - Problem-Based Learning Extravaganza!

ISTE2016 is finally here, and I couldn't be more excited! In the beautiful city of Denver, some of the worlds greatest teachers have come together to talk pedagogy and technology. It doesn't get any more mind blowing than this.

Ok, geek out session over (for now). The following are my impressions and some paraphrased quotes (probably not word-for-word, but the point of the quote hasn't changed).

My first session of the show is Problem-Based Learning Extravaganza!, a panel presentation on PBL. The panel is moderated by Adam Bellow and consists of Kelly Hines, Katrina Keene, and Nicholas Provenzano (The Nerdy Teacher). If I'm being honest, I'm mostly here to listen to Nicholas speak, because I've followed him for years on twitter, listened to his podcast, and find his knowledge and presentation of it eye opening.

The session opened with a discussion of what PBL is, and ultimately their description was that it is a way of pushing students to solve problems, and build something, to show their understanding of concepts. Provenzano pointed out that it takes time to build the trust with your students to make this possible, adding that it isn't just that you have to trust the students, but the students have to trust you that you know what you're doing.

After Provenzano explained his first attempt at PBL and how he got 30 of the same project back from kids and he was so excited, he said that now he looks back and is so sad by his own excitement, to the point that he "felt like I needed to write apology letters to all those kids." Adam Bellow brought up a quote from a book (didn't catch the author), he said "If you give a project and get 30 of the same thing back, you didn't give a project, you gave a recipe." The idea is that you need to give open possibilities for kids to actually solve problems, not give them a step-by-step guide. All students think differently, and won't all solve problems the same way.

Katrina Keene spoke about her passion for connected toys and coding in her class. She was an early adopter with Sphero and used them as a long-term project with the robotic balls and having students learn to code them to make their way through obstacles. One of the things I really liked about her discussion was that she essentially showed them the toys and said "These are robots that you can control with coding, but I'm not going to tell you about that, go out and research it." From there, she would build on the concepts one at a time. Once she felt they understood the coding, she said go find things to run the Sphero through, and figure out how to do it. Then she added additional tasks to build upon complexity over time.

Kelly Hines: "We often talk about how engagement leads to achievement, but I'm a firm believer that engagement leads to attendance, which is what leads to achievement. You should be that class that the last day, after awards when they really don't need to be there, but you still have 18 of your 20 students there."

Nicholas Provenzano, in response to a question from someone about to try PBL for the first time, and how she should start: "The biggest thing for me is to tell your students 'I've never done this before, and I'm probably going to screw this up.' That admission that you're not perfect will excite your kids. They aren't used to that from their teachers."

Kelly Hines: "Project Based doesn't have to mean Production Based. It doesn't have to be over weeks or months or require a trip to Lowes. It's about that subtle shift that can just mean student choice or learning through trying. That can be done in weeks or in one day."

Katrina Keene, in response to question about whether students create the project rubric as a class or each individually. "This year in my class, I did everything. Sometimes I would have them do it as a whole group, other times I would have them each do it individually. Using Google Classroom ,or whatever LMS you use, I just group them up and it allows me to let them work individually."

Nicholas Provenzano, in response to a question from someone about teachers within a PLC having difficulty trying PBL because others in the PLC aren't on board. "What I would suggest is a little magic word called 'pilot', or if we want to get techy, 'beta.' You can go to admin and say 'I really want to try to pilot a more project based curriculum with this course.' Admin loves pilots, they like to brag about 'I have a teacher piloting this, or that.' And, because of that other word that we all love 'data' we need lots of it. So you can run a pilot for 3 years to collect data, and with mobility of administration in most places, by the time the three years is up, new admin are there and you can just say 'Oh this is the way we do it here. It's just what we do.' I've been running a pilot in my class for like 6 years now."

Thank you so much to all the presenters. This was an AMAZING session to start my week at #ISTE with! I'm so pumped to be here now.

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