Wednesday, 9 May 2018

How to help students stay focussed


The school counsellor and I recently ran a workshop for parents entitled 'weapons of mass distraction'. The theme was of course how to help students to reduce distractions when working on digital devices.

While we didn't have a huge turnout, we had some really positive discussions and the parents shared stories about how they are helping their kids avoid digital distractions. We also got the parents to reflect on their own digital distractions and how their distractions might effect how their kids see responsible and appropriate use.


One of the underling themes was parent frustration with students easily getting distracted while on computers and mobile devices. There was also a feeling that the parents were helpless and there was nothing they could do.

While we might feel this is true, especially after learning how smart phones are designed to get us addicted.

It is not all doom and gloom.

We spoke about a few specific strategies, but the point of the conversation was cooperating and mentoring our students. We spoke about working with the students rather than enforcing strict rules or guidelines.

If we enforce rules on our kids that they don't agree to or buy into they wont own them or use them and will find ways around them.

Our main piece of advice was to work with our kids,  help them to understand that there is no such thing as multi tasking or that auto play and infinite scrolling are designed to keep us on screen and suck us into the wormhole that the internet can be.

If our kids understand this and understand that there are apps and techniques to help them stay focussed they will be more likely to own their distractions, make an effort to stay on task and they will be the ones who choose to use the apps, extensions and websites that help avoid distractions.

When we combine this with good old fashioned parenting, i.e. consequences that we follow through with when guidelines or rules are ignored, we can help our kids to keep on task and be less distracted.

I recommend sharing some of these apps and settings with your teenage kids and letting them choose (with your guidance and cajoling) which to use and when to use them.

Set up these tool WITH your kids NOT FOR your kids


1. Parent controls on a Mac


These can be pretty restrictive, but do allow parents to set time limits, bed times (when the computer wont work) track internet activity and block particular apps and websites. For many this is seen as the nuclear option or option of last resort

how to set up parent controls
parent controls for iPhone, iPad or iPod

2. Self Control

SelfControl is a free and open-source application for macOS that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. Just set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click "Start." Until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites—even if you restart your computer or delete the application.
https://selfcontrolapp.com/

3. Stay Focussed

A Chrome extension that increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.

Stay Focussed

4. Strict Workflow

A google Chrome extension that enforces a 25min/5min workflow: 25 minutes of distraction-free work, followed by 5 minutes of break. Repeat as necessary. This uses the pomodoro technique to increase productivity

Strict Workflow

5. Take a five


Another Chrome extension that  allows you to take a break without falling into the internet rabbit hole. You select a time and then where you want to take your break. At the end of the time, the tab will automatically close and you will be prompted to get back to work. 


What I like about #4 and #5 is that is programs breaks into working time, this still gives students the opportunity to check Youtube, snapchat etc and then get back to work. It takes into account kids needs and wants to get distracted while offering incentives and reminders to get back to work.


Here are some other articles and advice on how to help students minimise their online distractions



Here is the slideshow from the presentation.



Once again I can iterate enough that we should be helping kids to self impose / use these tools, they need to be responsible for their own acceptable / productive / distraction free use of technology. We want to give them skills for avoiding distraction for life, not just when we are around to enforce our rules on them.

Good luck and keep on fighting the good fight.

Feel free to add any comments or extra ideas below

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

New Gmail my first thoughts



Gmail has just undergone a major redesign and like most of these upgrades you get the chance to try before you buy. So that is exactly what I did.


At my first look I thought YUCK, it looks horrible, babyish, it is the same but different. After a couple of minutes my mind and eyes adjusted and I started playing with it. 

Once I got used to it, the clean simple display was warming to me, some of the changes that I like include

1. In default view attachments were clearly visible and looked good.


I have now switched back to the comfortable view just to get more on my screen, but I can see that some might like the default view.

2. Calendar, keep, tasks and add ons can be accessed directly from the right hand side of Gmail.

I use Calendar and keep all the time, so it is mega useful to have it right there, I also appreciate being able to easily access Gmail add ons

3. Smart reply is super useful, 

I use smart reply on my phone via the gmail app, now that it is available on the web version I seem to be replying much faster and it is making me more efficient. It does mean that Google is watching all my emails, but I new that already. It is also useful to start a message with the smart reply and then add a personal touch or some extra information.

4. Quick tasks 

When you mouse over an email, you get a series of quick task options on the right of the email. 

This makes it really easy to archive, bin, mark as unread or snooze the email

5. Snooze, you can now snooze an email so that it returns at a predetermined time just like using the boomerang add on.


This could be really useful if your inbox is getting a bit chaotic or you are in the middle of class, often I will see an email, read it, think I need to do that later but then forget about it or can't find it.

There is supposed to be another AI powered feature called nudging  which reminds you when you haven't replied to an email in a couple of days. I haven't seen it in action yet but look forward to using it.

After a couple of days of using it, I am really starting to like it and it has already made me more productive and given me more time to do the really useful things at school like teaching and talking to people.




Thursday, 8 March 2018

Innovation in Education - what is it?

I am lucky enough to be chosen to do a short TED style talk at the upcoming IB Heads of Schools World Conference in Singapore. I am presenting on innovation and how IGBIS is implementing an Innovators Mindset.

Before I started writing (or talking) I wanted to get a good working definition of what is "Innovation in Education"

I started by re-reading George Couros' excellent book "The Innovators Mindset" reading it again has reminded me of some of the excellent ideas I have forgotten and some things I have missed the first time round.

I love George's definition that innovation is a mindset, a way of thinking and that innovation has to be better, it is not good enough to just have or do new things, these new things have to make education better.

To broaden my perspective I asked my PLN (Personal learning network) via twitter how do they define innovation, I got some excellent responses.



 I love that most of the replies I received included the concept that innovation in education is more than something new, it is more than the technology; it is creativity, change and taking into account the learners needs.

Next I asked the staff with a quick one question Google Form. I got 12 responses but reading through those responses, they were pretty good.

Once again the topics of creativity, change to benefit the learners, improvement and because we are an IB school "Risk Taking".

AT IGBIS we are lucky to have educators with this innovators mindset, it is not about all the cool toys, gadgets, computers, iPads, subscriptions and resources. It is about what we are doing with them.


Sure it is cool to have VR headsets, students can participate in virtual field trips using Google Expeditions or visit landmarks using Google Street view, but we don't want to fall into the trap of doing the same old things in new ways. That is why we are exploring student creation of AR and VR experiences, taking these cool new tools and toys to the next level.

We have students in kindergarten using Panoform to draw their own VR scenes, older students are using the same app smashed together with Quicktime to create 360 movies of scenes they have drawn.

We have students creating AR experiences using Metaverse for other students to revise mathematics or to provide younger students a fun interactive way to check their comprehension.

We are also using roundme.com so that students can create virtual school tours or virtual art galleries where students work, reflections and and creation videos are shared in a 360 environment.

The best thing is that because of our innovators mindset, this is only the tip of the iceberg (so to speak) we will have lots of new and improved learning opportunities for our students constatntly being trialled and developed.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Round ME - create your own VR Tours

Google has just launched its Expeditions creator BETA program that allows students and teachers to create their own Google Expeditions.

According to Google
"One of the top requests we’ve heard from teachers and students is the ability to create their own Expeditions. Today, we are excited to announce a beta program that allows schools and educators to do just that. Classrooms will be able to create immersive tours of the world around them -- their classrooms, their schools, their communities."

I have signed up for the BETA program, I can't wait and I hope we get to test it out. Until then though we will continue creating our own Google Expeditions via the website roundme.com

Make your own Google Expeditions or even better get your students creating VR tours



roundme is really cool and very easy to use, it has heaps of possibilities for moving students from consumption to creation (one of my favourite things to do and right at the top of Blooms revised Taxonomy)


Creation of VR tours is a very simple process

Anyone can upload 360 degree images by dragging and dropping the image on to the browser window, with the free version of roundme, you can upload up to 15 images a week (which is plenty)


To get 360 degree images / photospheres you can use a 360 camera, the Streeview app on a phone or download Streetview images from the website istreetview.comSee here for detailed instructions. 

Sometimes when you download Google Streetview images the image is too large, Roundme has a photo limit of 10000 X 5000 pixels. To change the size of the image on my Mac I used ColorSync Utility which allows you to set the pixel size of an image to the exact proportions you want while keeping the scale the same. I am sure there are equivalent programs on Windows or Chrome.

Once the photospheres are uploaded you can then add content to the 360 photos including Youtube videos, images, text and links to other 360 images thus creating a tour.

Press a button to publish it and share the link.

There you have it, the teacher or even better the students created Google Expedition / VR tour.

Here is an example of the roundme that one of our grade 5 teachers created so his class could check out their camp location before they went on camp.


How can I use this in my class?

We have been exploring using student created VR tours in the following ways.


  • Art students create a virtual art gallery of their creations, this could include videos, images and a reflection on each piece.
  • Science students can create virtual tours of inside the human body, explaining different parts and their jobs.
  • PE students use a 360 image of a Soccer field and then annotate it to explain who is in position and what each player should do next.
  • Social Studies students create virtual tours of modern buildings, ancient ruins or geographical features with their own embedded explanations including videos.
  • Host Nation students explain the cultural significance of buildings and areas around Kuala Lumpur.
  • English students retell a story or trace a journey using different 360 images to create a tour of literary novels they have been reading. 
  • Elementary students can retell a fairy tale or make a 3D tour version of their own stories
  • Maths students create a virtual problem wall, a 360 image filled with problems, they then add hotspots with links to the solutions (videos, written or images).
  • Design students have been creating VR and AR resources for teachers in the school, they had to pick a teachers and ask them what type of resource they wanted and then create it for them.
  • English students can create VR versions of their stories, with each location being a different 360 image 

We have only just started this process and I feel like we have only scraped the top of the iceberg, so to speak. Maybe next I will make a VR tour of all the different VR experiences our students have created.




Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The really easy way to make your own 360 videos

If you (or even better your students) want to create their own 360 degree videos with nothing more than a computer check this out.

Some of our students are using this to
- create virtual tours of important buildings in Malaysia
- display their poetry in a 360 world - students choose the location and read the poetry
- explain the different things they see in an ecosystem or different parts of a structure
- reflect on an excursion or field trip
- share their understanding of a geographical feature
- create a "where am I puzzle" for their classmates (great for ESOL learners)

The really easy cheats way to make your own 360 videos with nothing more than a computer

1. download a Google Streetview photosphere (360 image)

The first thing you want to do is find and download a 360 degree image, To do this we used Street View Panorama downloader. (Software here) This nifty little program allows you to download Google Streetview panoramas.

Searching on streetview downloader isn't great (nor very accurate), so I find it better to find the location on Google Maps and then load the panorama into the downloader.

To download the panorama you copy the Panorama ID into the downloader program, select the download location and name and hitting the download button.
make sure you label the panorama as from Google Street View and give the correct image credit.

2. Import the image into iMovie.

(or any other movie editing software)
Once the panorama is in iMovie make sure you change the cropping to fit, so that it doesn't cut off any of the 360 image.

You can then add titles and a voice over, you can even have multiple panoramas so that it acts more like a tour.

Adding the voice over is the big win for us, we want students describing features in the panorama or explaining what is happening while someone watches the 360 video. Students can also create virtual tours with themselves as the guides.

We then export the movie, making sure to keep the aspect ratio in tact, so that when youtube detects it as a 360 video everything is there.

3. Add 360 video metadata to your video

To ensure your video is turned into a 360 video on youtube, I find it is best to follow these instructions to add the 360 metadata (video information) to your video.

You download a small piece of software (spacial media metadata injector) which adds the information to your video
It is a simple as opening the video and pressing the inject metadata button. (it is also very quick)

Once you have the video with the injected metadata, you can .....

4 Upload it to Youtube

Once you upload the video, youtube should detect it as a 360 video. It can now be viewed like any other 360 video on a computer, tablet or with Google cardboard.



This is also a handy way to add music and titles to student created 360 videos. It would also be cool to use green screen and have a avatar (you could use gabsee or snapchat) talking as people scroll around the 360 video.




Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Merge Cube - AR in your hand

Late last year, I was reading someones Christmas wish list and it included a Merge Cube. This was from a thread about AR on twitter. My interest piqued, I did a quick search for Merge Cube. It was brand new, Augmented Reality and looked like a lot of fun.

Quickly searching all the online retailers in Malaysia and I couldn't find any, a quick check of Amazon found a seller that was willing to ship to KL (it was about 3 times the price you can get them in the US). I figured it was still worth having a look at. To my extreme pleasure the Merge cube arrived in less than a week.

The Merge Cube is a foam cube about 7cm by 7cm it acts like an AR projector screen. Using any of the Merge Cube apps, you can project a 3D image on to the cube, as you move the cube the image moves.


The kids and I got straight into it, we started downloading some apps and started playing. Some of the apps were not available on the Australian or Malaysian App store, but we still managed to find a few.

One of the first apps we played with was Anatomy AR+

It was pretty cool to be able to hold a beating heart in your hands or to turn a skull around to see it from every angle. The cube is very responsive and tracks the image very quickly.

We then downloaded Things for Merge Cube this is basically a set of 16 demos and game, you select the demo by turn the cube and selecting the game you want to play. My son loves the fireworks demo and my daughter loves being able to see the moving people and cars in the city
We downloaded a few other apps Mr Body and Defused, but the above two are my kids favourite.

My son who is in early years (3 and 4 year olds) wanted to take the Merge Cube to class to show his teacher because they were learning about bones. Once we showed the teacher she got excited and asked me to bring it back so the whole class could experience holding a skull when their grade 6 buddies came to visit.

We used an iPad air in a stand so that the kids didn't need to hold the iPad and the cube, sometimes they found it a bit tricky to see the image and hold the cube, but they got there in the end.

The kids had a blast, holding different body parts, turning them around and experiencing first hand what a heart, brain and skull look like. The next best thing to actually holding these things (not that any of us want to hold an actual beating heart)

It was just good timing that the Early Years class were learning about the human body when the Merge cube arrived.

My next challenge is to try and find a way to get reasonably priced cubes here in Malaysia and explore other apps that could be used in other classes and subject. It would also be very cool to use a Merge cube in a breakout.edu and maybe even get a merge cube VR headset.

Sidenote - I just started playing with defused and it is excellent, great problem solving - this is one app I want to use in class.


Thursday, 4 January 2018

Emoji Stories


My kids love their Rory's Story Cubes, there is even an app (I haven't purchased it yet as I prefer them rolling real dice and telling stories to each other in real life). Story Cubes are fun, creative and improve literacy. Story tellers roll a set number (usually 6) of dice and then you attempt to tell a story using all the images on the dice.

The cubes are not cheap, but they are lots of fun and are a great classroom activity. I have seen teachers make their own paper story starters using random images and distribute these to their class.

This got me thinking, could this be automated using Google Docs, Sheets and some add ons?


I started playing and created my own Emoji story workflow. Users (students) fill in a form with their email address and they are sent a Google doc with six emojis they use to write a story.

For the story writer it is as simple as that, enter your email address and get a set of emojis.

Because it is a Google Doc, the writer can either type directly into the Doc or use the voice typing option to dictate their story. As the teacher I am the original owner of the doc so I can see what my students are writing.

Try it here

How I created this awesomeness

The basic workflow is Google Form to Google Sheet, then copy down a formula to randomly select an emoji from another sheet. These emojis are then inserted into a Google Doc using Autocrat and the Google Doc is shared and emailed to the email address entered in the form.

1. Google Form

I created a Google Form with two questions

  • Do you want an emoji story?
  • Email address

(I probably don't need the first question at all)

That is the easy part

2. Template

I then created my Google Doc template, this template composed of a simple title with a six column table, in each column I put the merge tag

3. Emoji list

In my Google form responses sheet I created a new sheet called emojis, this is where my library of emojis is stored. Basically it is six columns of emoji, these are the emojis (images) that are randomly selected for each box in my Google Doc. One Emoji is selected from each column.

To find and insert the Emoji into a Google Sheet I created another Google Doc and used the Insert Special characters tool
Then searched for Emoji that I wanted to be available for the Emoji Stories
I could then copy and paste from the Google Doc into each column of the Google Sheet. Here you can add different Emoji and set it up the way you like. You might want to have 2 columns of characters and two columns of objects, or just use three emoji picked at random or one column of 100 emoji picked six times. 

In my version there are 16 emoji in six different columns, that gives a possible 16777216 different story combinations.

4. Random selection of emoji

In my Google sheet, I added 6 extra columns numberd 1-6 (these match the Merge tags in the template doc)

In each cell I used the following formula to randomly select an emoji from the emoji sheet. 

=index(Emojis!$A$2:$A$17, randbetween(1,counta(Emojis!$A$2:$A$17) ) )

index returns the contents of the cell selected from the range A2-A17 on the emoji sheet. 
randbetween randomly select a number for the second part of the index formula.
counta counts the number of cells from cell A2 to A17 (I could have just put the number 16 in here)


As you add the formula to each column, make sure you change the reference (where the formula will be searching) to reflect each column in the emoji sheet. i.e. change is from A - B - C

5 Copy Down

Once you have created your formulas, you need to set up the copy down add on. This add on copies the formulas to the next row once a new Google Form response has been added. This is important because Google Forms doesn't add the data to the next row, it inserts a new row with the data. Copying the formula all the way down your sheet will not work. (You could use an array formula on another sheet to do this, but copy down works well)

Copy down is pretty easy to set up and there are plenty of tutorials and help online.

6 Autocrat

Autocrat is a Google sheet add on that allows you to run merge jobs on a Google sheet that does a variety of tasks.

I use it to create a Google Doc from the Merge doc and then share the doc with the email address shared. It also sends an email saying that you now have an Emoji story ready to write.



That is about it, pretty simplish and it can be used as it or make your own from all the resources here.

If you create your own you get to set it up the way you like and you become the owner of the Google Docs that are created, that way you can easily view and give feedback on the stories they create.

A few classes here at IGBIS have been using it and the kids love it, as long as they put in their correct email address.

Have fun and play and please share any thoughts or your own version of Emoji Stories.