Technology Blog

Disconnected Day

Anyone who know me, knows I'm a technophile. I'm an instructional technology coach, a constant Twitter user, and podcaster. I Snapchat most of my life, text friends, have multiple active Voxer groups, and take tons of pictures of my son. My phone is in my hand constantly.

Last week, I popped into my friend's office and started playing with these fortune card things. You shuffle the deck of cards and pick on that speaks to you. They're really silly and sarcastic. I got this one:

Now, I hate baths, so all that stuff is garbage. But the idea of going somewhere and getting "unplugged" for a bit sounded like fun, especially since I already had plans to go to the beach for the weekend with my fiance and a couple friends of ours. I reached out to them and suggested that we make Saturday a Disconnected Day, turning our phones off when we woke up in the morning and not touching them until the next day when we wake up.

I thought it would be a struggle, that I would go through withdraw symptoms of sorts, but I didn't. Sure, for the first hour or so I kept instinctively reaching for my pocket as if I would find my phone there, but after that it was wonderful.

I found that without my phone, I was more present in the day. We had to talk to each other, and actually pay attention. We talked about topics without immediately jumping to our phones to find the exact details and "prove" things. We played card games instead of video games. We read physical books instead of Reddit posts. We sat on the beach and enjoyed the waves and sand instead of framing the perfect picture.

Those were all the things I expected. What I didn't expect was how clear it made my mind. Normally, my mind runs a thousand miles a minute in 4 or 5 directions. I'm always thinking about the next thing, or some project I need to finish. Rarely do I find that my mind is quiet. That's productive for me, it works. I thought that given a day without the outside distractions of my phone, I would solve problems that had been plaguing me or have creative inspirations and new ideas.

Throughout the day on Saturday though, I regularly found myself not thinking. I was just experiencing the moment, enjoying the company, and being content.

I highly recommend the experience to everyone. We are so constantly bombarded by signals and information, and while I advocate for that level of connection the majority of the time, the value of getting away from it from time-to-time shouldn't be dismissed.

I, for one, am going to start doing disconnected days once a month. I will be announcing it on twitter the day before each time and encouraging people to join me. Or, pick your own disconnected day.

To help, I've made a quick document to give you the rules and agreement. You can use it with a group of friends and spend the day enjoying each other's company and the world around you.

Google Drive Disconnected Day Contract
PDF Disconnected Day Contract

Google Add-On: Class Folder Creator

As a teacher at a one-to-one school who uses G Suite and Canvas as an Learning Management System (LMS), few things are more annoying than the "You must request permission" screen.

This happens a lot for my teachers and I. You give an assignment description on Canvas, the student creates their work in a Google Doc or Slides presentation, they turn it in on Canvas, but they only share the local version from their computer, which is really just a fancy link.

Or, the student just gives you a share link, so you can see it, but only by loading the link in a new tab and not in the Spred Grader window. Annoying!

Google Classroom gets around this issue by creating a new folder for the assignment and putting all the created Docs there. It's great because you can see the work in progress, letter-by-letter as the student works. This isn't perfect either though, because Google Classroom is very limited in functionality compared to a full-featured LMS.

Often over the last few years I have said that eventually Google will spin-off that shared folder ability from Classroom so that you can use it elsewhere. Then, a few weeks ago, I got impatient and decided to stop waiting for Google and just make it myself.

And, Class Folder Creator was created as a Google Sheets Add-On. Now, simply by creating a by period list of student names and email addresses, you can create a folder for each of your students that they will create all their work in, and you will have access to all of it.

Here's how it works

  1. Click here to install Class Folder Creator (free).
  2. Click Setup Sheet from the Class Folder Creator Menu.
  3. Put your class name and largest class size.
  4. Input the list of student names and email addresses into the associated columns.
  5. Click "Create Folders" in the Class Folder Creator Menu .
  6. Magic!

Now, each of your students had a folder shared with them on Google Drive with Their Name - Class Name - Period #. You will have a folder for each period, and within that, each of that period's student folders.

When Johnny raises his hand in class and says they need help, you can go straight to his folder and pull up the document he is working on to start providing feedback and support.

When Johnny finishes his work, you will have access to it no matter which way he turns it in.

This was a labor of love, and like all Google Add-Ons is completely free. It is my first Google Add-On, so if you have any thoughts for improvement or comments, let me know!

You can find more details about the add-on at the add-on site.

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.

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