Google Apps for educators

Last night, Brendan Madden and I facilitated a workshop on using a range of Google apps for teaching and learning for some of the nice folks from The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT). JALT has been hosting a learning series to help enable their members to develop their knowledge and use of technology. It was a fun evening with time for sharing, demos and practice. Several people received certificates from JALT in recognition of their commitment to attend five sessions. Some members are also preparing to take the Google Educator exams to gain further recognition for their learning.


JALT workshopRather than dictating the agenda for our session, we began the event with a Dotstorming activity. Participants voted, and we then rank ordered the apps we proposed to explore. Guided by participant choice, we spent time looking at Google Maps, Google Drawing, Google Photos, and finished off with Docs. The evening was a nice reminder for me, that not everyone uses or is familiar with some of the Google tools that I may now take for granted. My favorite part of gatherings like this is hearing and sharing ideas of how technology can be used in innovative ways.

Three ways 3D printing is a transformative technology

How transformative is 3-D printing? There’s a lot of energy going into putting 3D printers in classrooms–which I am all for! Yet I have been pondering how we keep the focus on the inspirational end of what 3-D printing can do. Here’s a few ideas we might share with students:

1. 3D Printing is democratizing invention
Once upon a time if you were an inventor you either had to be wealthy, or you had to convince someone who was, to pour a lot of money into to creating  a testable prototype. Wider access and affordability is how 3-d printing is transforming the protoyping process of ideas. 3-D printers are becoming affordable and ubiquitous; Fab Labs and Maker Spaces allow designer-creators to now produce fairly high resolution inexpensive prototypes to test their concepts.

2. 3D Printing supports nimble and responsive design solutions
The industrial production model was all about scale; how much and how many people will want your invention? You had to find the sweet spot between cost and market size which usually meant thousands of a single version.

A viable idea was only viable if you could produce it cheaply enough to market it to the masses. Without scale the product might be too expensive or too niche. 3-d printing supports and enables entrepreneurs to work at small scales and to keep innovating in response to feedback instead of being locked into large long term timelines.

The 3D Printed Titanium bike is an example of design that is nimble and responsive, and a design that meets the unique needs of an individual. Which leads to the final way 3D printing is transforming design and invention…

3. 3D Printing enables customization
To me this is the most transformative aspect of 3-D printing, as it marks a complete departure from the old industrial model.  I am completely blown away by some of the ways 3D printing technology is helping people craft solutions to address individuals needs.

From medical applications like the Bespoke Hip Replacement to 3D Printed Shoes, custom solutions will continue to appear across diverse fields enabled by 3D printing.

As we are plugging 3D printer into schools it would be great to keep in mind some of the ways this technology is truly transforming people lives and ideas. This technology has a lot more potential than printing out a duplicate copy of a Harry Potter wand downloaded from <a href=”“>Thingiverse</a> How might we point kids towards the revolutionary end of the spectrum?



Edcamp Tokyo

Edcamp Tokyo (held at YIS last Saturday) was a most rewarding day of conversation on inspirational topics proposed on the day but the 40+ teachers and administers who showed up. Having time, space and  interesting people who are open to sharing ideas, questions and resources made the event hit a sweet spot for me.

My favorite topics of discussions were ‘creativity’, ‘20% time’ and ‘interdisciplinary learning’ but the list of what groups talked about was broad ranging, and the notes we generated during each hour long session are evidence that they were each as equally engaging.

The day ended with a simple share out of technology tools and tips in the most relaxed demo slam I have seen; people just kept hopping up and offering more ideas. It was great! I’m already looking forward to another #edcamptokyo in the new school year.

Interdisciplinary learning Edcamp Tokyo - 3 Edcamp Tokyo - 2 Edcamp Tokyo - 1

Professional Development for a Global Audience

Global Education Conference

It was an honour to be a guest in Amy Hollinger‘s session on Professional Development for a Global Audience at the 2013 Global Education Conference. Amy is the Director of Professional Development for Global Online Academy and was my co-teacher in a recent online professional development course for teachers: Introduction to Online Learning Environments.

One of the things we talked about today was dealing with some of the challenges that get in the way of developing solid connections with people in online environments. It’s harder to do when you don’t have the cues provided by seeing faces and reading body language in a face-to-face situation.  Ideas that we discussed to personalize and humanize online connections included sharing personal details to learn more about each other’s context. This included simple things like sharing pictures of family, pets and where we live; showing on a map our geographic locations; and using icebreakers to uncover common interests and


Sharing online is not necessarily comfortable for everyone. Modeling what and how to share, and suggesting common areas of interest can make it a little easier. We set up a Google+ Community for our course to help build connections and foster a professional learning community for participants.  Themes that emerged in our class discussions flowed into categories for ongoing threads on Google+.

Learning how to learn in an online environment is experiential–sometimes you just need to experience it to understand it! I hope the participants in our course got a taste of some of what is possible.



Digital Citizenship Week–Remix & Mash Up

Our high school is celebrating Digital Citizenship week with a focus on content creation, copyright and remix culture.

For Students: Student Council are sponsoring a Mad Movie Mashup designed to promote the message for students to be proactive about building a positive digital footprint; to be creative and responsible content makers.

For Teachers: In our CreateIT  sessions for teachers over the next few weeks we will be focusing on remix culture and how it relates (or not) to copyright and fair use. We’re also encouraging people to sign up for some of the seminars that Commonsense Media are sponsoring. (I’m particularly keen on this one:)

Teaching Copyright and Fair Use to the Remix Generation
Wed, Nov. 13, 1-2 p.m. PDT
(Hosted on EdWeb)
Click here to register

In preparation for the sessions we’ll run at ASIJ I have been bookmarking some sites I’ve been finding or have been pointed to by other educators. Rab Paterson opened his session at the NYU Technology in Teaching Seminar by contrasting two quite different remix examples. One of the pieces Rab shared, by Kutiman (below), is an artful synthesis of content that Larry Lessig said, in a blog post, you could watch and it would basically encompass all he tried to impart in his book Remix. It certainly is a good example!

Defining Remix

The following collection of voices have helped me get my head around what Remix culture and theory looks and sounds like.

“Generally speaking, remix culture can be defined as a global activity consisting of the creative and efficient exchange of information made possible by digital technologies. ” Remix Theory by Eduardo Navas

Read more by Eduardo Navas including an overview of the history, and an in depth definition. Then there is Kirby Ferguson’s work which includes a four part video series building the case that Everything is a Remix. In Part 3 where he discusses The elements of creativity–an particular passion of mine. Of course, Larry Lessig has been long time passionate advocate and authority on remix culture. His TED talks are worth every minute.

Thinking about this topic from a creators point-of-view is worth some contemplation. The following Pogo (Nick Bertke) talks about finding his own voice in the act of creating remixes from cultural classics.

While these examples touch on music and film there are voices addressing how writing culture in the remix generation is being reshaped too. Tanya Sasser’s blog post Digital Writing As Handicraft is an enlightening read.

“As the limits on who can create and publish digital media have broken down, and as those media have become part of an open collective commons, the ability to create, use, hack, remix, and hybridize cultural products has made manifest William S. Burroughs’ redefinition of the work of creating as a “process that occurs in collaboration with others” (emphasis added). Blogs are not the only form of digital writing that makes such a process possible. Twitter, for example, mimics the kind of mechanically juxtaposed form of composition that Burroughs emphasizes in his cut-up method. Like the cut-up method,Twitter encourages a mixed-media style of writing, as authors integrate images, hyperlinks, hashtags, and the tweets of others into their 140-character compositions–sometimes randomly, sometimes strategically, but always, like Burroughs’ scissors, “render(ing) the process explicit.””

It’s a deep and engaging topic–most worthy of delving into during Digital Citizenship Week!

Passionate about Pages

Next week I’ll be sharing at the NYU Technology in Teaching Seminar about how I use Pages in my workflow. One of the things I really like about Pages it how easy it is to create slick looking documents and then having the option to export them in different formats for different contexts.

I personally like being able to preserve the formatting that I choose for a document so exporting something as a PDF is important to me. On the other hand I also like in providing people with an option to view things on an iPad so the fact that Pages lets me export as ePub is fabulous!

Here’s the PDF version Flair, Flow and Functionality with Pages. And to download the ePub version just click on this link from an iPad or iPhone. 

PDF from Pages   


ePub version

Essential skills: Image search

At this time of year a few teachers plan alternative final assessments instead of an exam. (I love that!) Some of the essential skills for projects involving multimedia include finding and appropriately citing content. Sometimes we take for granted that kids have these things in their ‘know-how’ tool kits. Below are a few tips we provide to emphasize quality and a culture of citation.

Learning about creative & intellectual property in a ‘share & remix culture’

Criteria for success

You can locate images that are licensed to share and reuse.
You can check sizes of images (pixel dimensions) so they are not fuzzy in your presentations.
You can cite the sources of images appropriately.

Your Work, Creative Commons & Copyright

Watch this 2.5 min video about for a quick overview.

Which search tools?

1. Creative Commons Search This is a good place to start:

Change the settings to look for something to Modify, adapt or build upon > Type in your search terms > then click which source you want to search. (I suggest you take a look in more than one! Try Wikimedia Commons, Google Images, and Flickr.)

Creative Commons Search








2. Google Image Search

Within Google’s Image Search there are some helpful tools well worth exploring that will help you narrow your search further to content suited to the project. Take a peek under each of the heading — Size, Color, Type & More.

Google Image Search

To refine your search terms you can also go to the Advanced Search > click the wheel on the right.

When does size matter?

No one enjoys looking at fuzzy images in a presentation. There are two things to consider; the ratio of the pictures you choose, and their pixel dimensions.

Most computer screens and TV monitors have a ratio of 16:9. (Also called High Aspect Ratio or HD – High Definition.) This diagram helps visualize this. (It is 16 units wide by 9 units high.)

  Pixel diagram

Pixel dimensions This tells you how big an image is. You will want to find images that have enough pixels per inch to completely fill the screen ratio.

Most cameras shoot 4:3 ratio which means images won’t fit neatly. As a guide, look for images that have dimensions that are between 2048  x 1536 , 1600 x 1200, or 1024 x 768.

(Images dimensions of 640 x 480 are borderline–they will look slightly soft not crisp and clear. Anything below this I would completely avoid!)

Look for landscape oriented images. (e.g. otherwise you will have to crop a portrait oriented image if you are going to fill the whole screen.)

my breadfast


Sizes smaller than these will mean you have to stretch pictures to fill your screen resulting in poor quality results that look fuzzy and pixely.

low pixel dimensions = fuzzy poor quality images


Digital Research – Essential Skills

I had two experiences this week that brought home the message strongly visualized in the excellent graphic below by

In one class I visited students were conducting some independent research to review a topic. They were using each other, their textbooks, class notes and their laptops to clarify any concepts and terms that still seemed fuzzy. Over and over again I am shocked by how students go about searching. I frequently ask students what strategies they use when I’m visiting classes. Despite our best efforts to teach search strategies across the curriculum it seems some students never move beyond the default: ‘I just type my question into the search box. ‘ Then, from the seven million or so hits they get they simply pick from the first page that comes up. How do we support students to move beyond this threshold?!

The other situation was a conversation with librarians from another school. We were meeting to share how we are tackling the challenge of Creating a Culture of Citation. It was a rich discussion and again it highlighted the need for students to become much more competent at digital research including developing effective search strategies, in evaluating and validating sources, and citing sources appropriately.

As points out:

the instant gratification of the modern search engine certainly may pose some unhealthy research habits

Digital research skills are essential to master for life in the digital age. If we are serious about preparing students for life, then these skills need to be taught and reinforced across every discipline.

Digital Research Infographic



Learning from Google

Google Post-it Installation

What can we learn from innovative organizations like Google? How might we adopt some of their cultural markers to inspire students? When we knew ASIJ would be the host venue for the first Tokyo Google Apps for Education Summit I wondered how we might use it as an opportunity to touch students and not just host a PD event for faculty.

What I envisioned was a week of ’20 percent time’ projects, cross divisional student activities and workshops, Scratch writing Slams & Play-offs, Dance Parties and maybe even a filming session for a Lipdub project that was underway. Needless to say thinking big doesn’t always mean you get to act big. Disruption is not always warmly welcomed, right? 🙂

While the scale of those ideas were not realized this time around, as I reflect post the Google Summit, the goal of getting students involved was achieved and the event did have an impact on some of our students.

The transformation of the high school lobby and library space into a Google style environment, intended to inspire idea sharing and collaboration, did create a buzz with students leading up to the event.

photo 3


Google colors

In the lead up to the event a group of students were a key part of a collaborative video project designed to give Google a decidedly Japanese flavor. They crafted the logo out of nori rolls and sushi – then ate it! Creative and delicious.


Google Sushi

Our middle school art teachers launched a ‘Google doodle’ extravaganza which resulted in hundreds of colorful logo designs being displayed around school.

Google doodles

A project that engaged many of the ASIJ Student Envoys during the event was the Google Post-It installation. Attendees were invited to help create a giant Google logo with Post-It messages about the conference under the direction of student helpers. They photographed each stage which we then turned into a stop-motion animation for screening on the Sunday afternoon. It was a fun, creative and collaborative effort by everyone. Grade 11 student, Kyoko emailed me about the experience; “It turned out beautiful! Thank you for integrating my moving arrow in the end of the video! I had a very inspiring day today!” I loved what she did – she had embraced the challenge to inject her own ideas into an open-ended project.

Maybe that’s it! Time for creativity, and challenges and opportunities to collaborate.