Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Google Docs Solutions

This past week, my sixth through eighth grade students explored Google Docs for the first time. I learned a lot working with the students. Early in the week, I noticed a lot of confusion with the editing. There were some problems with work being overwritten. There was also confusion about signing on to the system because I had two different types of email - some at and some at I think I had found some great solutions by Friday's class.

Too Many Editors Spoil the Soup
I had eleven questions and up to eighteen editors. When everyone tried to answer question one, a bit of chaos ensued. By Friday, I set up the document a little differently. Instead of a list of questions with blank spaces between the questions, I typed the mailbox ids.

For example:

1) What did you do with the tablets this year?
Social Studies
mailbox1: We wrote reports on different places in the world.
mailbox2: reasearch

mailbox3:Looking up stuff
mailbox4: geography
mailbox5: researched
mailbox6: we used them to type our where in the world and where in the U.S.a are you
mailbox7: We use them to do "Where in the World?" (geography).
mailbox9: printing a little paragraph
mailbox10: we did the where in the world am i?
sms200702: where in the world report

sms200703: 5 themes of geography

How Did This Help?
Everyone knew which id they used to sign on to Google Docs. They simply typed next to their id. There was no problem with work getting deleted or overwritten. Earlier in the week, I heard a lot of frustrated voices. On Friday, everyone just worked!

Multiple Mailbox Solution
I am really excited about the solution I now have for multiple email mailboxes. In my last post, Vicky left a comment about how she was planning on working around the ids. This morning, I opened up my doteasy account to see how mailboxes could be handled. One of their options is setting up email aliases.

Under the email section, I selected Manage/ Create Email Accounts. There, I found a Domain Settings link for Email Aliases. When I chose Add Alias, I was given a screen to set a new email id and a pointer to a destination email. I had been able to set up mailbox1 through mailbox10 [at] I added mailbox11 and pointed it at my main mailbox at

Next, I went to Google Apps and created a new account for mailbox11. Once the account was created, I received a message that I needed to sign on to my email and follow a link to confirm the account. There, in my main email account, was the email for mailbox11! Now with aliases, I believe I can set up the full 21 accounts I need. In truth, I can probably set up an account for each student! I'll have to see if there are limits to aliases.

Now, I'll have one way for everyone to sign on and we'll really be able to explore Google Apps next year. I'm so glad I gave it a test run because I have all I need to begin planning new lessons for the 2009-2010 school year!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Google Docs Test with Students

I've been using Google Docs since September 2007. I find it invaluable for distance work with other teachers. Whether it is creating a script for the Monsters Bloom in Our Wiki K12 Online Conference or collaborating with Tom Barrett and his cohort of teachers around the globe on various presentations, Google Docs rock!

Weekend Preparations
I've wanted to use Google Docs with students for over a year, but the logistics kept holding me back. I have not wanted to create a bunch of email ids in Google and I'm not sure if the gmail trick works with Google Docs. I am especially intrigued by the possibility of Google Apps for Education, but have to figure out how to get a large quantity of school email addresses. I'm not sure if it's even an option.

In the meanwhile, I do host a website at and it gives me the ability to create up to ten email ids. This past July, I signed up for a Google Apps account with my email id. It was easy to do, but I never took the time to use the account any further.

I've also been setting up a few gmail accounts here and there to give students access to Google Reader while working on the Middle School 1001 Flat Tales project. When all was said and done, I had enough accounts for everyone to work.

The Plan for the Class
I wanted to introduce the concept of Google Docs and collaborative editing. All the students have experience editing a wiki. I started a discussion with the students. We talked about:
  • how they would describe a wiki to someone who hadn't heard of them before
  • how they would describe Microsoft Word
  • how they could work on the same document with a school partner from home
  • the limitations and problems associated with sending a document as an email attachment
The students did a great job explaining that a wiki is an editable web page. They felt they would send the document as an email attachment. The problems included the possibility of sending a virus through the attachment, not having a personal email id and needing the help of a parent, and multiple versions of the same document.

We viewed Commoncraft's Google Docs in Plain English. Afterward, I handed out a sheet to each student with the user name and password for their session on the computer. The students navigated to the document by following a link from the school's delicious account.

The Student's Reaction
Overall, it was a bit overwhelming having between eleven and eighteen students answering the same twelve questions at the same time. They got a bit frustrated having work overwritten at times. The questions were related to the tablet pcs we have on the second floor this year. I asked them to talk about the types of projects they did this year, what caused trouble as they worked on the tablets, how Open Office Impress and Writer worked as compared to Microsoft Office, projects they'd like to do in their subject classes next year (with the tablets), and things they would like to learn in computer class next year.

The last question asked about their experience using Google Docs today. The responses were more positive than negative and included:

I thought it was pretty and, easy, and was was's like instant messaging your friends what you are editing...I like it. It's fun because you can see other people's thoughts...I liked it. I had fun working on it...It was good. I didn't have a problem with was was was funnnnn and was very easy, honestly, not that was confusing so I changed my color...I didn't like it...people kept deleting stuff and changing was ok.

For the Future
I will definitely use Google Docs next year. I will not have such a massive, simultaneous edit, though. I can especially see using the spreadsheet in class. It will be a time saver in populating a spreadsheet with a lot of individual data. I used to question the students around the room and each student would type each answer into the spreadsheet. Now I can set up all the names and titles in the spreadsheet and the students can fill in their individual row or column. Afterward, the students can save the file as an Excel document on their local drive. We will be able to open it and then they can manipulate the files individually.

I will certainly use the Google presentation with the eighth grade. I have had the students create a Time Travel agency PowerPoint in groups, but it leave a lot of students sitting while one student does the bulk of the work. This year, I had each student create their own Time Travel PowerPoint, but the number of slides and research really took longer than I wanted when the students worked alone.

The overall experience was good. I now have concrete experience with the students that I can build on over the summer as I prepare for the 2009-2010 school year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can Ewe See My Steaks?

My students are used to using Microsoft Word and Open Office Writer in school. Both programs include visual cues to spelling and grammar errors. We discuss the reason for the red and green squiggles from the time the students start typing in Kindergarten. This year, I found a great new way to introduce the concept.

Spell Checker Poems
Over on the Elementary Tech Teacher's ning, Vicky Sedgwick posted a nice lesson on the spelling checker that she was planning on using with her sixth grade. She wanted to work with them on the concept of not relying too heavily on the spell checker in reviewing your work.

I was able to adapt the lesson to my third through fifth grade students this past week. She has three poems. I only used the first poem with third grade. We used two poems in fourth and fifth. Some of the quicker students also worked on the third poem.

Introducing the Lesson
Since we have an Activboard in the computer lab, I decided to extend the lesson a bit. First, I brought up the smallest poem titled The Spell Checker Poem by Mark Eckman. Word found three errors: Eckman, the word it on the second line of the poem, and the homonym your.

I was happy that all grades understand that Eckman is not in the dictionary, it is a person's last name, and is really not a spelling error. All three grades had a student point out that the grammar checker thought a period was missing in the first line of the poem. We had a short discussion on poetry and punctuation. Finally, the students realized your should have been written you're. We were doing a great job.

Using the Activboard
I opened up Activstudio, copied, then pasted the text of the poem into a text block on a flip chart page. I used the same methodology that I used with the Activboard Adjectives lesson. I demonstrated how the paint bucket could either paint the page or a word on the page.

We went around the room and the students took turns coming up to the board to identify words that really were spelled incorrectly. They had fun choosing the paint bucket color and coloring in the word. If a student chose incorrectly, I used the keyboard shortcut to Edit - Undo and the pen continued to be passed around the room.

Once all the words were identified, I had the students use the pen to write the correct spelling of the word.

It was a great lesson.

Extending the Work
The third grade students had been working on typing a document called The ABCs of Me in the previous class. It was leading up to my standard spell check lesson for the third grade. They opened their completed Word document and used the spell checker to check their work. They used their eyes and knowledge of the English language to finish proofreading before they printed.

The fourth and fifth grade learned to use the highlighter tool in Word. They opened the three poems from Vicky's lesson from the file server. They spent the remaining fifteen or twenty minutes to find all they mistakes they could.

Closing the Lesson
Next week, I will have the students open their highlighted file. I will bring up the corrected poem and they will check their own work. I was really happy with this lesson. I look forward to returning to the lesson next year with the third and fourth grade as a recurring lesson.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Software Testing

One of the jobs a student can have when they grow up is that of a software tester. This past week we tested a different version of Kid Pix.

Problems with the Current Version
We currently use Kid Pix 4 for Schools. I changed from Kid Pix Deluxe 3 when the Intel Macs had to be purchased for the classroom. Version three only worked for Power PC machines.

Version four tends to freeze at times on the Intel Macs. Once the program freezes, I can use a keyboard shortcut to save the work, restart the program, and reload the file.

This past week, I received a trial version of HyperStudio and with it came Kid Pix Deluxe 3X.

Software Tester's Job
It would be impossible to give the software a real workout by myself. I have been introducing the job of a software tester to the students. I explain that every piece of software has to be tested before it is sold. In a company, the software tester tries all the different options and tries to find out what might make it break.

The students are enjoying finding the differences between the two versions of the product. They like the new water hose that erases pictures. It has not frozen on the Intel Macs once.

It did loose the arrow to select colors on one Power PC machine and the program shut down consistently with one wacky brush.

We will continue to test the program this week. I will have to take a look at the two PowerPC machines and see if they have less memory than the other PowerPCs in the room. If so, Kid Pix Deluxe 3X might be just what is needed in the computer lab.