Thursday, April 13, 2017

Creative Gmail Signatures for Students


Remember that time in January that I had to do a Demo Slam at the Winter Google Summit? One of the slams that really stuck with me was one called Your Email Signature Sucks by Jeremy McBrayer. He showed us a super simple trick for setting up an email signature in Google Docs, and then using copy/paste to your GMail settings to give you a spiffy-looking signature that features both an image and some text (usually, your name and contact info) right next to each other.

I used his trick immediately after returning from the Summit, and I've even used it for my non-professional accounts because I love how the formatting makes my emails look so nice!

My current email signature

I began to think about how this trick could be useful in other applications, and then it clicked: my students need to create signatures for their email accounts, too! Perhaps you're aware of the phenomenon that is students who never remember to put their name on anything... well, it happens with emails, too. And even though Gmail might give me a student's name as part of the address info, it's always lacking a few key components, like grade level or homeroom teacher, should I need to follow up on an issue.

I teach all three grade levels - 6, 7, and 8 - so keeping grade levels straight is often difficult (and gets more and more difficult the older I get!), and my students switch every six weeks... by the end of the year, I've taught 700+ students! So, it's a HUGE advantage if I had a photo to help me match names to faces. Which is why this Gmail signature seemed like an awesome opportunity to teach students a neat tech trick that is also super useful and helpful! I like to encourage them to be creative with both their photo and text info.

Here's what we do:
* Open a new Google Doc. Insert a 2x1 table. 
* In the left-hand cell, insert a photo (preferably of yourself, that's kind of the point?).
Yep, that's my middle school photo. It wasn't originally black and white, it's just scanned that way. Color photography WAS already invented when I was younger...! 
* Adjust the size by clicking and dragging on a corner. You don't want to have a ridiculously huge photo at the bottom of all of your emails. 
* Now, shift the vertical border on the right side of your image's cell to fit your image. That will help keep your text aligned next to your image without an awkwardly huge gap of space in-between. 
* In the right-hand cell, enter your text:
  • Your first & last name
  • Your grade level
  • Your homeroom teacher's name
  • A favorite quote, motto, or fun fact about yourself! (I encouraged students to have fun with this part!) 
* Once all of your information is entered, you will select the table and turn the borders to white, so that they "disappear."

Now, you can select and copy your entire table from Google Docs, and paste it into your Gmail email signature settings, and do any minor adjustments to fonts, sizes, etc. - Don't forget to save!


Once students have created their spiffy new email signatures, I have them send me an email to test it out! I promise to reply to each of them with a Mrs Leban Bitmoji, which is usually pretty motivating. I figure that once I do this with each group of students, by the end of the school year, every student in the building will have an email signature with all of the info a teacher might need right there!


I love that this activity helps motivate students to check and actually USE their school email accounts! And it's just a nifty trick to impress students with, too.


How about you? What's currently your favorite tech trick to show students?

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Innovation Stations: A Middle School Creative Technology Unit


I know I've referenced my 8th grade culminating curricular unit before, which we lovingly call the Innovation Stations, but I thought I'd take a moment to explain how it all gets laid out and run within our classroom!

From a classroom management standpoint, I have students work in pairs during Innovation Stations. I find that groups of two allow for adequate assistance (students have a friend that they can ask for help), but also allows for students to easily take turns controlling the actual tools. No one just sits and observes, or claims to have "nothing to do."

I have three stations that I need to arrange to have all of the students move through: Makey Makey, littleBits, and Sphero. Grouping and time frames are basically dependent upon which tool I have the smallest number of, which at present, is Sphero. I have four of them (and if I'm lucky, they're all working!). That means that up to eight students can be working at the Sphero station. If I have a class of 24, it works out perfectly to have eight students at each station, with four groups each. Of course, this is an IDEAL situation, and I do often have to make adjustments accordingly.

Each tech tool station has a task list of directions for getting acquainted with the tool, and challenges for the students to complete. Last year, these task lists were printed off on paper and I had to manually "check off" tasks for students after they performed them for me, but this year I've begun making these checklists paperless (as hyperdocs!), and having students photograph and document task completion by inserting the images into the doc as proof.

Depending on how much time we have left in the quarter, I will have students spend 2-3 days at each station, and charge them with getting as far as they can on the task lists during that time. The task list is where you'll find fun challenges, like our Sphero maze.

I'm fortunate to have all sorts of tech gadgets to use in my curriculum, and it's currently structured for students to experience technology at my school like this:
  • 6th Grade - Dot and Dash robots
  • 7th Grade - Ozobots
  • 8th Grade - Makey Makey, Sphero, and littleBits

It works out pretty well, because each grade level gets to experience a new tech tool each year. But the Ozobots and Dot/Dash robots are actually new to us THIS year, so my current 8th graders never got the chance to use them. Therefore, I decided to try something new for 3rd quarter and add two more stations to the rotation of tools: the Ozobots and Dot and Dash robots!

I took my longer Ozobot and Dot and Dash unit materials and shrunk them down into (what I hope are) manageable 2-3 day task lists, like the ones I created for the other three 8th grade stations, and now I had FIVE Innovation Stations for students to rotate through! I'm not gonna lie, it's a lot of device management and attention to things like charging/cables/outlets, but it's a fun type of chaos to see all of the students so engaged in the activities.

One of the things that I ended up doing in order to help make these stations run more smoothly was to create short "How-To" type videos for the most common issues that students would encounter when working with the devices. For example, I often found myself spending chunks of the class period troubleshooting our Sphero connections. The solution? Help yourself! See here:


And despite having very specific and clear instructions on how to properly connect a Makey Makey, sometimes it's just more helpful to watch someone else do it: 


The other station that seemed to need a little more one-on-one assistance was the Ozobots, mostly because there's a difference between using them on paper vs using them on a Chromebook and loading them with programs. So I made these:


I found these short videos extremely helpful for running my Innovation Stations unit, as it freed me up to observe and assist in other areas, as needed. I wasn't feeling so much like a broken record, answering the same questions over and over! 

This is one of those instances where teaching a class repeatedly, like in 9-week terms, has its advantages because I can run a unit for students, reflect, and make adjustments like this. It's pretty rewarding to be able to observe how things improve after tweaking a lesson or unit!

Have you used any of these tech tools before? What new tech tools or toys would you suggest adding to our offerings in the future?

- Mrs. L.
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