Cardboard VR in the Classroom

Last Friday we rolled out our new set of Google “Cardboard” VR viewers.  The first experience was with grade 8.  I led them through the Google Expedition depicting the life of two Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.  Monday, Ryan Maney (@rmaney17), our amazing elementary STEM Teacher used them to take grade 4 students on a virtual field trip to a wind farm as an introduction to their science unit on energy.  (NGSS 4-PS3 Definition of Energy and Energy Transfer).

In both cases the power of the experience was realized by the excitement of the students.  One fourth grader was overheard saying, “I would have never guessed that teachers would use VR in a classroom.”

Our grade 8 Humanities teacher Tweeted…


What did we learn from these experiences?

  1. VR Experiences need to be short or have frequent breaks.  The main reason for this is to prevent kids from getting a headache or queasy when using the viewers.  It doesn’t happen to everyone, but we did have a few children who needed to put the viewer down after a few minutes.
  2. You don’t need a full class set.  We only have 10 viewers.  As our STEM Teacher so masterfully modeled, pausing frequently is an opportunity for students to stop, reflect, and record observations.  Think of it as “close reading” with VR.  Students would view a scene, then pass the viewer to their partner as they wrote down observations, details, and questions.  Then their partner then does the same while they view the next scene.
  3. Make sure your viewers have a button.  Many of the cheap viewers I’ve seen at Walmart or other places don’t have the button that mimics a screen tap.  This is necessary for many of the Google Cardboard apps, Google Earth, YouTube, CoSpaces, etc.  It allows the students to select items, move, or pause playback while in VR.  We went the the Homido Grab headsets (pictured below) and Huawei Honor 5 inch phones (no SIM Card).


Ozobot Trick or Treat

For those of you working with coding, making, or just having fun with robotics here is a fun lesson you can use with your primary grade students and Ozobots.  Recently OzobotEDU sent out a Halloween Activity, but when I played with it I found it a little too complicated for our younger students.  I designed this activity for grade 1.

PART 1:  Ozobot Trick or Treat

Your Ozobot is going trick or treating.  See how many houses it can visit in 30 seconds.  Be careful to avoid the bat!

Print the following template below in color.  Start the Ozobot at the the space marked “Start” (Thank you Captain Obvious!)  Every time the Ozobot passes a house you get one point.  For added fun put a little token or candy on each house.  When the Ozobot passes it, the student picks it up.  After 30 seconds the Ozobot will stop and it’s time for the next student to take their turn.  If the Ozobot runs into the bat it will spin out and the game ends.  When Ozobots come to an intersection they randomly choose a direction, this way each game is a little different.

NOTE: Click on the pictures to access a PDF version of each page.


What do those color codes do?

From the START,

  • The first code (Red-Black-BlueGreen) starts a 30 second timer.
  • The second (Blue-Black-Blue) sets the speed to FAST.
  • The codes at the end of the lines (BlueRed) tell the Ozobot to turn around and go the other way.
  • So does the third code after the START should the Ozobot try to turn back down toward the start again.
  • The (GreenRed) code by the bat makes the Ozobot do a little dance and ends the game early.

If you want to know more about Ozobot Codes go to:

Students may notice a little frustration when the Ozobot doesn’t turn the direction they want it to go.

PART 2: Program the Ozobot with Color

Print the template below in color.  This time, the object is to help the Ozobot find it’s way home.  To do that students must color in the correct codes to tell the Ozobot to turn left, right, or go straight.  When the Ozobot reaches it’s home it will do a little dance.

To color the dots you can use the pens that came with the Ozobots, but I’ve found that Crayola Watercolor Pencils work well too. You only need Green, Red, Black, and Dark Blue.


I’ve also learned that it is easier for younger children to color in the circles, rather than the squares included on many of the teacher templates provided by Ozobot.  From what I’ve experienced, the circles work just as well as the squares do.

If you are curious, here is a link to the OzobotEDU Activity that inspired this simpler version:

So Let It Be Spoken, So Let It Be Typed

When I first started working with technology in schools, speech recognition software was quite expensive and not very good.  Now it’s built in to phones, tablets, and computers and available for anyone to use.  While I don’t want to get into an argument about the necessity of teaching keyboarding in 2016, I do want to let you know that there are other options to quickly and efficiently get student words on a document.

How to Turn Speech Into Text



Did you ever notice the little microphone next to the spacebar on your iPad or iPhone keyboard?  Tap it and say something.  It lets you speak your text in just about any app that lets you type.

BONUS FEATURE:  Word Prediction

Notice a little white line above the T and Y keys?  Swipe up on it to reveal the built in word prediction feature.  As you start typing something, it will try to predict what you are typing.  Once you see the word you want, tap it.


Google Docs

In any Google Doc, go to TOOLS and select “Voice Typing”.


Mac OS

Turn on Dictation

Go to your SYSTEM PREFERENCES and select Dictation and Speech.




Using Dictation

If you would like to dictate text, open an app. (The example below uses Microsoft Word.)

Click in the document where you would like to start typing and press the fn key twice.

NOTE: If this is the first time you are using dictation, and you selected Enhanced Dictation, you will need to wait for the language file to download.



As you speak you can add punctuation by saying “period”, “comma”, or “question mark”.  You can also say “new line” to start a new paragraph.

Text to Speech on Mac OS

Having your text read back to you after typing is a good way for students to proofread their work.  To enable Text to Speech go to the SYSTEM PREFERENCES and select “Dictation & Speech”.



The Power of Presence

Networking. Connecting. Communicating. Collaborating. Learning.  Close your eyes and create a image in your head for each of these words.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

If you have anything to do with education in 2016, I’m willing to bet that at least three or more of those mental images contained a glowing screen from a computer or mobile device.  It’s okay.  I’m not trying to make you feel guilty or anything.  I love technology.  I depend on it to help me stay connected with amazing educators across the globe.  I regularly check Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, Google Plus, and several others to see what amazing things my teacher friends are doing and what they are learning.  I use these tools to ask and answer questions, share what I’ve learned, and offer encouragement and support.  Most importantly, I use them to maintain relationships.

In my office, I am fortunate to work beside Chris Carter.  Chris is an amazing teacher and tech coach.  Together we produce a weekly podcast in which we both have fun exploring various topics regarding teaching, learning, technology, and life in general. (  If you’ve ever listened to it, you know our one recurring theme: “Learning is all about relationships”.  Students – and teachers – don’t care what you know until they know that you care.  Or put another way,  “You’ve got to take care of Maslow, before you can start working on Bloom.”**

Establishing relationships is first and foremost on our agenda at the start of every school year.  Those eyes are watching are watching us.  They are observing us and testing us.  

“Does this person care about me?”

“Are they all talk and no follow through?”

“Is he/she real or fake?”

“Does he/she know my name?”

Making sure students and teachers feel safe and have a sense of acceptance and belonging – this is vital to the work we do.  Whether we are in the classroom teaching students, or supporting teachers as an instructional coach, establishing and maintaining that relationship is key.

Online tools can be useful in supporting these relationships but they can only do so much. A tweet, a direct message, a Google Hangout; these cannot replace a handshake, a high-five, a hug.  I can’t read your body language in an e-mail, or tell if your eyes betray you on a conference call.  There’s a level of trust, belonging and acceptance that can only be reached face to face.

When I think about the strongest personal and professional relationships I have, they all have one thing in common.  These are people I have met and spent time with face to face. We have shared the same physical space, shared thoughts and ideas, shared coffee and meals. These face to face interactions do more for establishing and strengthening a relationship than what can be achieved electronically.  I feel much more a part of your life, when I know the real face behind the avatar.  When I read your tweets I can hear your voice.  It strips away the anonymity of online communication.

If you’re taking my online class, it’s very easy to not take it seriously if you’ve never met me in person. There’s just a level of accountability and responsibility that’s not present when I’m not present.  

It’s true in coaching as well. Email exchanges can often get emotionally charged – especially when teachers are struggling with technology.  If at all possible, in those situations I find it works so much better to diffuse the situation if I just stop by the room. Being physically present sends the message that I care and that you are important. (Remember Maslow?)  

Consider your interactions with Facebook friends.  Compare the updates and comments you share with those you have seen recently to those “friends” you haven’t seen for one, two, or more years.  If electronic connection is all you have, my experience has taught me those relationships tend to fade and become more distant.

In June I finished my first year as a technology coach in China.  This summer it was important to give my personal and professional learning network connections an energy boost by purposefully making time for face to face connections.  I travelled to the ISTE conference in Denver with just this agenda in mind.  For me, attending ISTE was not about the conference sessions as much as it was about re-connecting personally with colleagues, mentors, and friends.

Seeing those friends in person – even for just a few minutes – strengthened those relationships and added life and energy to our online communication. That energy boost will sustain those relationships for the coming year now that I’m back in China.  

Online presence is important, but for building and establishing relationships, face to face…

  • networking
  • connecting
  • communicating
  • collaborating 
  • and learning

…have a power that cannot be matched – at least until we invent a working holodeck.


**By the way, if you happen to know who originally penned the Maslow before Bloom phrase please let me know.  I’d love to give credit where credit is due.

For the Dearly Departed

One of the realities of working at an international school is the yearly transition of teachers moving on to new schools at the end of the year.  Already there are boxes of stuff filling rooms and hallways from those who are moving.  But what about all your digital stuff?  How do you take it with you?  What happens to files you’ve created after you leave?  Here are a few things to take care of before you go…

Google Apps

You should make a backup of any files you’ve created on your school’s Google Apps account.  If you’ve created any documents as part of a team or department, you will want to transfer ownership of those documents so they do not disappear after your account is deleted.  Here’s a video I created explaining what to do:



Since you will probably be losing your school e-mail address, there are 3 things you need to remember to do here.

email_tasksFORWARD – Any e-mail and attachments you are going to need to a personal e-mail account.  This could be anything from awesome lesson ideas you received, important documents and attachments, and login/account info for anything you may have signed up for using your school e-mail account.

FORWARD – Any important information that people at your school are going to need after you leave.  This could be important invoices, receipts, inventory lists, or account information for online tools that will be needed for the next school year.  You’d want your predecessor to do the same for you, right?

UPDATE – Your default e-mail for any online accounts you created using your school email address.   While you will likely no longer have access to any subscription services that were provided and managed by your school or district, you probably also used your school e-mail to create accounts for a variety of different online tools or services.    Better login, go to account settings, and change the default e-mail.  Once you no longer have access to your school e-mail, you will no longer be able to recover any account information, or reset a forgotten password.

Update Your CV or Resumé

This transition time is also a good time to update your CV or resumé with your new school, e-mail, and contact info.  You probably also want to update your profile info on Social Media too.  It saves you from having to explain to people, “Oh, yeah. That’s my old school. I’m not there anymore.”

So, if you are one of those joining the ranks of the “Dearly Departed”, congratulations! Blessings and best wishes on your new adventure.


Image Capture: Best Little App That Nobody Knows About

There is beauty in simplicity.  I appreciate those little tools that do one thing, do it well, and don’t try to be anything else.  Did you know that hidden in your Apps folder on your Mac is a little app called Image Capture?

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.47.54 AM

What does it do? It takes pictures or videos from a device (camera, iPad, iPhone) and lets you import them to your Mac and save them wherever you want.

That’s it.

When do I use it?  When I want to take a few images or video that I shot on my school iPad and copy them to my desktop or a folder on my Mac.  I DO NOT want to add these images or videos to my photo library.  I DO NOT want to sync the iPad or back it up.  I DO NOT want to copy everything.  I just want the pictures and videos I want, where I want them.  Image capture does just that.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.02.16 AM


A New Normal

Call it what you will. A desperate need for change. A longing for new adventure.  A mid-life crisis. I’m calling it an opportunity that only God could provide. I know for a fact that this time last August as I sat at my desk in Orange, California exporting and importing student rosters from our SIS to various online services, while patiently waiting for a cartload of classroom iPads to sync, I would never have guessed that a year later I would be sitting in a 6th floor apartment in Jinqiao, Shanghai, China writing a blog post about my “new normal”. Yet here I am, feeling – at least for now – that this is where I am supposed to be, ready to embrace a new challenge and see how best I can use my gifts to serve the community here at Concordia International School.


So what are some of my new “normals”?

Walking to work. Okay so walking to work isn’t REALLY anything new for me. I did that almost daily in Orange, but there I always had the option to drive.  Here I do not own a car. Until I buy a bike or a scooter, my Reeboks are the vehicle of choice.  Oh, and here in Shanghai pedestrians do not have the right of way.  Vehicles do not have to stop to turn right on red, and the hundreds of electric scooters see red lights as just a suggestion.  Seriously, they’re everywhere jetting silently in and around traffic like mini stealth fighters . Want to cross a street?  Look both ways.  Twice.

Speaking of not having a car, here is something else worth noting.  As I sat at LAX on Saturday, August 1 waiting for my 15 hour flight to Shanghai, I realized for the first time in over 40 years – I had NO KEYS.  No house key. No work keys, No car key. Nothing. Sure, it felt strange, but in a way it was also a little exhilarating.


Mandarin. Guess what they speak in China? This is going to be a challenge. Not just speaking, but reading. It’s everywhere – signs, labels, text messages from my mobile provider.  Many of my fellow teachers are doing a wonderful job picking it up.  I’m trying, but listening and mastering the correct tones for speaking is challenging.  Thankfully people here in Jinqiao speak English and are quite patient with me.    I can order a grande latte at Starbucks – there are two close by –  and they know exactly what I mean.  Still, I need to be intentional about learning Mandarin.  This little bubble of Shanghai is populated by so many ex-pats that it is quite possible to live here and never learn any of the language.  I hope that will not be the case for me.  I did hear a joke that hit a little close to home.  What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.  What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.


The best Internet is at school.  You’ve no doubt heard of the “Great Firewall of China”.  Basically sites like YouTube,  Facebook, Google, Twitter, and many others are blocked. Residential service, at least where I live, is much slower that it is back in the states.  At school, however, they have what our IT director calls “International” or “White-listed” Internet.  Basically this means that students and teachers who want to check social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, or watch YouTube, I need to do it at school.  It also means that while we can access and use Google Apps at school, for students to work with Google Apps at home requires setting up a VPN.  A little bit backwards compared to what we have back in the states, right?

Dependancy.  Back home I considered myself to be mostly self-sufficient, and I was very comfortable with that. Moving here is a big step out of my comfort zone. It means giving up a big chunk of that self reliance to be dependent on  the help of others. It’s a matter of survival, but it’s a good thing. The community here at Concordia is amazing. They are welcoming, helpful, caring, and have gone above and beyond to make sure newbies like myself don’t fall through the cracks.  As a result in just three weeks time I have developed some amazing friendships.  We work together, learn together, and play together.  In many respects, it is similar to the type of connections I’ve made at Discovery Summer Institutes.  I’ve been told by several “old timers” that this is a community unlike other international schools and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

I am quickly learning that you can’t teach at Concordia and not be a “lifelong learner”.  The passion these people have for learning and teaching was evident from day one.  Here you have a group of teachers at the top of their game, doing what they love, for the benefit of the students and the school community.  In some respects, as a newbie here it’s a little intimidating.  Am I up to the challenge?  Can I live up to the expectations?  At dinner last night with several other new teachers, I was able to hear one of my colleagues express the same feelings.  What a relief it was to hear that!   I am not alone. What a comfort it is to realize that in spite if any doubts we might have, that this is where we are meant to be.  This time, in this place. It is all part of the plan. A plan that is bigger than just me.

Sharing Digital Kits

As many of you know, Digital Storytelling (or rather, Storytelling with Digital Tools) is one of my passions and is a great way for students to reflect on their learning.  Getting the photos you want in the hands of students can be a challenge.


Don’t send students to Google and tell them to find pictures.


Provide your students with collections of images to use for their project.  These are often referred to as Digital Kits.


Our third grade students took a field trip to the museum.  During the trip, teachers, students, and chaperones took photos.  When the class returned, the photos were collected and the best ones were uploaded to a folder in the teacher’s Dropbox account.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 11.41.41 AM

Here’s where the magic happens.  From Dropbox, you can right-click and get a link to that folder containing all your images.  THEN you can turn that link into a QR Code using a simple tool like  Print that QR Code and let students scan it with their iPads.  They now have access to all the images in that folder.

Students were then told to find and save 6 images that they wanted to use to tell their story about their trip to the museum.  Once those images were saved to the camera roll on the iPad, they could use iMovie, 30 Hands, or other storytelling tools to create their story.


Second grade teachers took photos of a science experiment performed in class.  They captured the setup, the experiment itself, and the end results.  Those photos were put in a Dropbox folder and shared with students using a QR Code.

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Students then scanned the code, saved the pictures to the camera roll, and then used those pictures to create a story of their experiment using the 30 Hands app.   They needed to arrange the photos in sequence and record their voice explaining how they set up the experiment, what happened, and what they learned as a result.  Listening to these “video lab reports” teachers were able to get a clear indication of student understanding.


Don’t use dropbox?  You can use, Google Drive, or another app.  The key is to use something that lets you upload a collection of photos and share them with a link that can be turned into a QR Code.

We also found that many QR Code scanner apps for the iPad use their own built in browsers to open web links.  I found it helpful to go to the settings on these apps and change the default so it automatically opens links in Safari.  This makes it easier for students to save images by just tapping and holding on an image until the “SAVE IMAGE” option pops up.



Make a Google Slide Resource Page

For my primary students, rather than let them search the Internet themselves, I like to provide resource links for them when they research online.  Tomorrow, grade 1 will be coming to the computer lab to research whales.  In the past, I’ve created a simple page with hyperlinks leading them to online resources and videos that their teacher and I have already viewed and approved.  This time I thought I would try something a little different and more visually interesting using Google Slides.

After a little playing around, here is what I came up with. (Click the image below)

Whales - Google Slides

The trick here is to make the page appear full screen so the students see just the slide.   To do this, I created a new slide presentation with one slide.  Added images and hyperlinks to my resources,  then clicked PRESENT to get a URL for just that one slide.

Next I made one minor tweak to the URL, changing edit# to present?  So the new URL looks like this.

The result is a hyperlink that automatically opens as a full screen slide with active links. Sure this is a little more work, but don’t you think it is more interesting than just a list of hyperlinks?

Thanks to Lisa Highfill and her amazing “HyperDocs”  presentation for inspiring this idea.

Be Active, Not Passive

Last month I overheard a conversation between two teachers looking through the DVD’s in the school library. Allow me to paraphrase the conversation.

“What do you think of this one?”

“Hmm. I think that’s okay. I might have used it last year.”

“Is it age appropriate for my kids?”

“It’s from <publisher name> so you should be okay.”

“Great. I need something to show this afternoon. This’ll work.”

I find it difficult to accept that in 2014, with all the media available to us, that many teachers still do not preview videos before showing them to their students.  I know that teacher time is a valuable thing, but so is face to face lesson time with students. Why would anyone want to squander that time by with a video that may not even meet your content standards? Or worse yet, use a video as “filler”?

Going through my old files yesterday, I came across this classic Hall Davidson handout. I don’t know if it is even available online anymore, but I hope he won’t mind me sharing it.


Most of us have moved beyond VHS tapes, but consider the wealth of video resources we have available through YouTube, SchoolTube, TeacherTube, and subscription services like Discovery Education.  There are so many options to create powerful learning experiences for our students.  But as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Let me point out some strategies for ACTIVE video watching that are still quite relevant today.

  • Preview the video before you show it. This seems obvious but it’s easy to skip this important step. Even if another teacher has recommended a video WATCH IT YOURSELF first. You don’t want to be surprised by content. PLUS knowing the content ahead of time will help you plan activities that will help your students learn the most from the video.
  • Use short segments rather than full videos.  If the concept you want to teach can be demonstrated in a 90 second video clip, you don’t need to use up valuable face to face time with students showing a full 20-30 minute video.
  • Use the PAUSE button. Want to make sure your students got that important concept? Pause. Ask questions.  And if you need to, back up the video and show that part again.  It’s just like re-reading an important passage of text. Besides, the fact that YOU are actively watching and making sure THEY are paying attention sends a message to the students that “This IS important.”  You send the opposite message if you just let them passively watch while you sit at your desk and grade papers.
  • Have a plan! Know what you want your students to know after watching a video clip.  Have a pre-video activity (something that prepares them to watch) and a post video activity  (something that you can use to assess whether or not they learned the concept).
Stuck for ideas?  Check out the many SOS Strategies for actively using Video and Media in your classroom.  Here are just a few ideas to make watching videos more meaningful:
These are just a small sample of the many SOS ideas. Click the link below for a list of all the SOS Strategies: