Social Emotional Well-Being During Online Teaching and Learning

The world is a bit nutty right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are switching to online learning and parents are working from home. This is not a normal state for most people. There's some underlying false assumptions which get made by parents, teachers and students which can affect social emotional well-being.
We've heard of and witnessed epidemics but there really hasn't been a pandemic of a contagion like this for a century. We're much more international now as a society. We see what others are experiencing in various parts of the world and are recognizing that we may be next. This creates anxiety and uncertainty among students and educators. We need to consider how we can support all involved socially and emotionally as we navigate uncertain times.
Online learning doesn't mean students and teachers are on devices for the entire length of a school day. This just is not healthy. Breaks need to be built in and special attention paid to student and educator well-being. Keep Maslow in mind because they need that before they can Bloom. Here's some tips which may help you, your students or others.

  • Create Online spaces just as your school building would have. Schools are not just institutes of knowledge. They provide access to people resources. Students connect and socialize on a daily basis. Some of them a touch too much. During and emergency like this with a potential for quarantine students need to continue to engage with each other in a safe space.
    • Make virtual spaces students are familiar where students can interact and socialize. Online Cafeteria, Auditorium, or Mr. Smith's Study Hall. 
      • Have an adult present if there is a concern of online behavior to monitor and support student needs. 
    • Put a procedure in place for students to connect with Guidance Counselors. This can be a simple signup form or appointments to be booked on a calendar. 
      • Students need to know they still have that support and especially when the world feels unstable. 
    • Build spaces and rooms for others staff. Secretaries and school aids also have relationships with students. They can be made a part of other virtual spaces but give them a virtual space for a time so students can have some sense of normalcy and continue to keep the social interactions they are familiar with.
  • Incorporate student experiences into lessons. There's a wealth of options to give students an outlet. 
    • History classes could look at first person accounts of previous epidemics and discuss the similarities and differences from their own experiences. 
    • Science classes can discuss Antibodies and the human immune system. 
    • Math classes can look at case data and extrapolate what they think will happen next. 
    • English classes can explore relatable literature or have students write about their experiences. 
  • Force yourself and students to carry out physical activities. Doing physical activities provides a grounding experience and gets the blood flowing. 
    • Take a walk. 
    • Move around. 
    • Do some yoga. 
    • Avoid sitting in one place for hour after hour. 
    • Physical Education teachers can send videos to parents and students of physical games to play.
  • Create a virtual space for adults. Schools have staff rooms people gather in. Create a virtual one for your own school. People need a place to where they can get support and potentially be felt heard. 
    • Agree to connect at least weekly at particular times all together but keep the space available should anyone choose to drop in.
    • Educators should connect virtually in smaller groups just as they do in a school building. 
    • Hold routine meetings even if it's a social check in. 
  • Spend quality time and connect with those around you. 
    • If you can avoid being quarantined alone do so. It may seem great for a few days but after a few weeks it may be a bit much. Humans need to have human interactions. 
    • Reach out to family and friends and make time to connect and discuss how each other are holding up. Sometimes we just need to be heard.
    • If you have kids make time for them. It will be stressful for everyone. You are unique and special to them and they need you the most.
  • Set boundaries and limits. It's very easy for educators to keep interacting and working online. We need to identify what is healthy for us. 
    • Turn the notifications off on mobile devices for learning management apps. You're working on your computer a lot of the time you don't also need your phone notifying you of assignments turn is when you are trying to turn off. 
    • Make it known when you are available and when you are not and sick to it barring an emergency. 
Remember the humanity of the situation. Yes there needs to be a continuity of education but there also needs to be a realistic accounting of the stress everyone, including parents, may be under. Educators may have their own children at home to manage as they are working to support their students. This can become especially tough on your children who may not be able to understand why their parent is spending so much time with other children. Be realistic about your own situation and what you can handle. 
Wash your hands, cough into your elbow and don't touch things. We'll all get through this and education will look very different when we are through. 

Interpreter Mode - Foreign Language Class Collaborations

Interpreter Mode was recently released on December 12, 2019 for the Google Assistant. Just in time for my annual vacation. This year I was enroute to South Korea and Japan. I have never had the opportunity to learn Korean or Japanese. I've had an affinity for the cultures and was excited to explore. This recent release of interpreter mode allowed me to have a more loose conversation in these countries. 

I've used Google translate for conversations. This is more of a turn-taking experience. You press the mic icon, speak, press the mic icon, it translates, the other person presses the mic, speaks and so on. While not a horrible experience it does take rigid turn taking and remembering to press the mic. That small act often interrupts the conversation flow for me. Great for getting around but what about those times traveling when you just want to get to know someone casually? Translate will do it but the conversation flow just isn't the same. 
Welcome interpreter mode for the Google Assistant with 44 languages to interpret to. If you are on an Android you can start by saying "OK Google, Interpreter mode" or "Ok google, be my interpreter" a card will appear to confirm the language. While in another country the dominant language is determined from the geolocation. In my case while in Japan it offered Japanese; South Korea, Korean. Handy so I don't have to go searching for a language. 

Once started the Assistant does something Google Translate doesn't do. It detects which language the speaker is speaking and translates to the opposite selection. I first explored this with my brother-in-law who speaks Korean. His Korean is not that of a native so has an american accent to it. The assistant did a decent job of translating with a few odd words thrown in. My 9 year old niece who likes to speak with the native accent threw some basic phrases out and was rewarded with more accurate translations. Once I arrived in Japan the struggle was real not having family to depend on for translation. My first opportunity for solo use came at the JR Railway ticket counter. Many Japanese do not speak English therefore translation tools are a requirement. The ticket agent and I did not seem to be on the same page so I opened the Assistant in interpreter mode. It worked flawlessly for us to clarify some things. The ticket agent noticeably relaxed when I was able to discuss the topic of time vs price in Japanese. This interaction got me thinking of how we can use this technology in an educational environment. 
I took spanish in High School. French was also offered but my mother wanted me to take a language she was familiar with. Something I noticed in my own high school education was we never interacted with the French classes. Thinking on it I wonder what that kind of collaboration would have or could have looked like? I now know there are a lot of similarities in languages and having been to France I can get by from knowing what I do of Spanish. Those basic language skills I learned taking Spanish in high school have allowed me to get by in other countries speaking various languages. It's also helps me to shift and learn new computer programming languages. I came to the recognition of language similarities much later in life. I'm not fluent in any language other than English but I understand enough of the basic principles of conjugation to learn more of another language. 
What would it look like for me to have had the opportunity to collaborate with the French class down the hall? Would I have gained a greater understanding of language as a whole? When I think about the non-tech interaction between the classes it doesn't feel too successful in my head. I'm sure teachers have explored this approach with classes and had varying results. But what about using technology to support the interaction? 
I picture Interpretation mode being used with language classes to help gain a deeper understanding to the basics of language. Picture a small conversation between a french class and a spanish class interacting in the languages being learned. Interpreter supports the interaction while also providing students with discussion points on how each language is functioning and being used. Using the mode with two non-native languages creates a learning experience for both parties. While each may be working to learn their own assigned language they can work to bridge communication through newly acquired vocabulary. 
Interpreter mode may give a way for language classes to interact. It also provides those students acquiring skills in English a way to participate. The detection of language and use for conversation gives students opportunities to interact culturally with classmates. Google Translate can also help if you remember to capture what is said by clicking the microphone. Google Assistant listens for the language and translates. It provides a greater ease of use more inline with an interpretation experience. Just imagine how it can help for parent teacher conferences when we often use the student as the interpreter... 
Parent Teacher conference with student at a table.

Tech & Learning Leadership Conference

Tech & Learning Leadership Conference

tech and learning attendees
Maria Tucker, Lisa Nielsen, Clay Smith

When do you get a chance to sit down and meet a bunch of strangers doing similar work? How often have you had a real conversation with a vendor that isn't a sales pitch? Have you been in a room with a variety of school district leadership representing various demographics along with vendors and had a meaningful conversation on the future of education? 

The Tech & Learning Leadership Summit gave me just the opportunity. Educational Leaders from various US districts gathered in New Orleans, LA the December 2019 to discuss current trends in education and share how each of us have been working to solve some critical problems. Vendors joined us to throw in their own thoughts. My fear was of getting a sales pitch for the two days of this conference. Instead I've gotten meaningful engagements from humans representing parents, educators, and citizens. Okay, there's a sales pitch but it's been more a shared conversation than being talked at. 
This unique conference provides a space to talk openly of some major topics in education. Some of us have ideas for solutions, some of us are seeking guidance, none of us have a magic wand. 
We began with an exploration of the National WWII National Museum here in New Orleans. My initial reaction to this idea? "Great an awesome museum I cannot reasonably bring NYC Students to on a field trip." But wait! The organizers knew what they were doing when they put this opening act together. The Museum has a fantastic distance learning program. Virtual live interactive field trips are a real thing brought to classrooms by a knowledgeable staff. I expected a show-and-tell curriculum but was pleasantly surprised when I learned it was problem based. 
"How would you get troops on a beach when there's a big coral reef in the way?" "If you were Eisenhower or Churchill and had the information they had what decisions would you make?" The mind is sparked by this content and the museum does wonderful work of bring it to life and into the classroom from an amazing onsite studio. 
green screen video production studio

While I didn't expect the twist to the opening of the summit it certainly set the stage for the conversations to come. We all shared an experience we could talk about. We are from various rural, suburban, urban and mixed districts. The opening "field trip" gave us a common field to meet and interact on. 
We began the next full day of the summit by entering various conversation groups. I began with Digital Citizenship. It was a round table discussion with no one person the expert in the room but everyone the expert in the room. When you put together all the experience and education in attendance it's just a vast pool of a resource. Why can't/shouldn't we guide and carry our own conversation. Every workshop was in this manner giving us equal playing field to talk about passionate topics. The result? Engaging actionable ideas with personal resources and contacts we can take back to our own district. 

The big takeaways from what I attended were:

Digital Citizenship

  • Parents need to partner with districts. 
  • Teachers need to be educated for their own sake.
  • Digital Citizenship is just Citizenship.
  • Parents are the models for usage. 
  • “I’m sending you into a world where no one will filter you, I need to know you can handle it” - Ellen McDonnell, Assistant Superintendent- Curriculum, Instruction, & Tech Tuckahoe UFSD Eastchester, NY
  • Our Children are Watching...What are They Seeing - Matthew Murphy, Ed. D. Superintendent of Ramsey Public Schools regarding the role models our student's parents represent.
  • Require students to complete an online course in digital citizenship if they violate policies.

Emerging Technology

  • AR and VR are being used to expose students to cultural experiences they may not have the means to on their own. 
  • Technology such as robots for tele-classroom experiences provides more Social Emotional learning than what we may have expected. 
  • eSports is growing and also means competition between districts on what is offered. 
  • Local Military are interested in recruiting eSports players to support drone operations.
  • Voice activated devices are a concern in regards to student privacy.
  • District owned fiber optics or even owned at the state level can provide more resources among schools systems. 
  • Data privacy is a concern around what we can do with data and ultimately need to do in order to help our students. 

Digital Equity

  • E-Rate is changing and can be calculated system wide as of 2021 providing greater equity where needed. 
  • Equipment transfer rules as of 2021 are eliminated
  • E-rate will be reset for category 2 usage. 
  • 1:1 device programs work best when there is an ownership of the device and they are sent home. 
  • There's no reason to collect devices over the summer, provide an appointment based repair system in off months. 
  • The loss and theft of devices even in transient populations is less than the damage caused when there is a lack of ownership. 
  • Access to the internet is an ongoing problem. Libraries can help but schools may be better to start a loaner hotspot service. Libraries require parents schools can have them checked out like books. 
  • Teachers need to be better educated on technology integration and classroom management on devices. Don't just lock it down. 
  • There are major equity gaps of race and gender still needing to be addressed in the education workforce.
Overall this summit has provided a space for educators to speak openly and passionately on topics. The best phrase uttered again and again was "Oh, I like that idea". By the end we have gotten to have meaningful conversations which we'll take back to our districts. I'll be connecting further with some in attendance regarding their lessons learned in various implementation efforts to support technology and our students in schools. 
The vendors provided further resources to help us in making effective change. No one was pushy and everyone wanted to help and have a real conversation. I'm not leaving with any contracts or promises from vendors. But I do know what they offer should the need arise and I'll remember that we had a meaningful conversation together about equity, digital citizenship, and about being a human supporting our students. 
Ultimately I'm very appreciative of everyone at Tech & Learning for organizing a space for these conversations and providing the framework for us to have these discussions. I've been inspired by so many and have ideas on what I want to work toward next in my district. Thanks Tech & Learning. I'm looking forward to the next one. 

Google Earth: Choose Your Own Adventure

Many of us have seen the Google Slides: Choose Your Own Adventure activity as documented by Eric Curts Blog or Alice Keeler in 2016. With the release of the new Google Earth we can now build our own “choose you your own adventure” story in Google Earth
Google Earth was updated to allow users to create their own points of interest, add photos, and content. In the coming months we’ll see classrooms engaging in storytelling connected to our own globe. Think of this as the next evolution of Tour Builder. You are immersed in the rich content of Google Earth adding your own customized content and information. The Google Earth projects you create live in your Google Drive. Like many things Google you can also share your creations with others. We don’t have to only see your vacation slideshow any more. You can embed that content in a Google Earth Project and we can relive it with you.
Classrooms can especially take these new features on providing a new way to express information learned. History reports can come to life with enriched location marker tags and links to further resources. Novels set in the world can be geolocation with photos and commentary. Collaboration in the world takes on a completely different meaning.
The richest feature I find is the ability to use HTML in the creation process. Inside the content you create there is ability to link to external content or project features. This internal feature linking makes the choose your own adventure possible. Here are the steps to start exploring:

Google Earth Launch page

  1. Launch Google Earth in Chrome
  2. Create a new project with the project button on the left side bar
    Google Earth Project button

    Google Earth New Project button
  3. Use the "New feature"  button to Search and add places to your project
    Google Earth Feather choices
  4. Use the "Add to project" button to add the location to your project.
    Card with Add to projects button
  5. Use the Edit pencil to make changes to the view and displayed card
    Edit feature button
  6. Replace the information provided by Google
    Replace information button
  7. You can now add a photo and text of your choosing to the card
    Place Card information editor
  8.  In your text you can link words to other features you have created in the project using the Add link button. Create another feature and come back to the previous feature to see it as a linking option. 
    Add link button above text description box
    Link to feature section
  9. When you have Google Earth: Choose Your Own Adventure story ready share it for others to explore. 
    Share button

I took some time to build an Elementary example. While it’s incomplete you get the idea.

Another use is the ability to open a Google earth project for collaborative editing. Not only can students share projects for collaboration but we can use them in our own professional developments. Why not open your PD asking members where they are coming from and marking on a collaborative Google Earth project? Curate particular location resources your participants love; best field trips, places to study, great sightseeing areas. The collaboration in Google Earth is powerful. Let's take advantage here. I’m opening up my own Google Earth Project hoping you’ll leaving me/us some information on where you might be reading from and tell me/us about yourself.

How do you make a Gif Accessible?

How do you make a Gif Accessible? The question came up after I sent off a Gif of some teenage Caucasian boys flashing gang signs in a wannabe fashion. I am always amazed at the world’s Gif library and do wonder what later generations will think of it and us. But I had to ask myself how would I make a Gif accessible? 

I was recently introduced to Haben Girma’s newly released book; Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. I’ve been supporting the NYC DOE with the accessibility mandates to comply with the Civil Rights Office Agreement Case Number 02-16-1175. This has provoked me to start asking questions about accessibility and changing my habits. I’ve admittedly found the official rules a bit difficult to decipher. And if you ask one person involved with accessibility another person will have a different answer. Thankfully there’s a plan to untangle some of these rules and questions about them. We currently use the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We will be moving toward Silver Standards, “not a bullet but a level”. Silver is aimed to standardize things much more succinctly so we can all be on the same page. 

For me questions still come up. Admittedly earlier in the week I had to google how to make an emoji accessible. I wanted to write 😉 which is semi-colon parentheses, ;). I wondered if a screen reader would read it as “winky face”. It was a hit and miss depending on what screen reader and how the emoji was created. So I googled how to make it more accessible. For one thing we describe emoji’s when we are trying to be accessible. So the pink heart is “pink heart”. And smiley face is “smiley face”. And poop is “chocolate ice cream”. Okay. Fine. It’s “poop”. But we can add these details through a particular accessibility comment in the HTML called Aria aria-label=“poop” in the tag of the emoji would make the screen reader say “poop”. If you have a screen reader installed here’s your chance to make your computer say “poop” 💩

But back to the Gifs. How do we make something so culturally relevant accessible? Videos have closed captioning and images have alt text. A Gif is somewhere between. (I’m going to also need to test if the screen reader says “jif” or “gif”) but just like images they need descriptions. Alt text will allow you to provide a description. Well that was a simple answer to a curious question. 

But wait! Gifs are not inherently accessible!

Gifs loop and have a frame rate which could create a blink in the range of less that 3 times a second which is known to produce seizures. They can be distracting because they go on forever and auto start. You can't stop them since they have no controls. So how do you correct this? The easiest way is to make it a movie. I groaned when I read this. Because I include Gifs in my training slides frequently because they just repeat without the user having to press play. I do want to rebel here but I recognize I would just be disenfranchising millions of people from accessing my materials. If it’s between aesthetics to avoid the cultural shift of clicking play and keeping knowledge from many who need and want it…? Let’s shift our culture. I can’t promise I’ll never use another Gif (and there are ways to make them loop no more that 5 times) but I’ll aim to provide videos with controls stating there is no audio and users should click play along with providing alt text. 

Google App Maker

Andrew Stillman of AmplifiedIT took some time to run through an overview of Google's App Maker. If your are looking to dig in here's Developer documentation.

Andrew Stillman bearded speaking in to a mic held by a hand as he types on a laptop.
First lets go over what it's not:
  • A replacement for the Forms to Sheets workflow. App Maker works with a login on the domain. So a public facing App is not a thing here. A Form would be a better choice to collect things like Parent Emails. 
  • A Mobile App maker. My instinct when I hear App is a mobile solution. This is geared to Web app workflows.
  • A no code solution. As slick as it is with drag and drop, autocomplete and GUI it does require knowledge of coding. Specifically HTML, CSS, Javascript and by extension Google Apps Script. 
  • App Maker is similar in ways to Access, or FileMaker Pro. You can work with related data tables and events. 
  • The data can be organized and displayed by user type in some really slick looking Googley ways. 
  • It's a Low code environment so can be worked with by anyone with some computational skills. 
  • Integrates with the G-Suite system through coding including the directory to provide a level of security to the data being worked with. 

But what it is an can be makes it powerful for any environment with a lot of data flow and systems management.

App Maker allows the creation of some really great workflows and automations. SignUps, Permission Slips, Admissions, Book Reports and more become a customizable operation. These things can be developed or even better reach out to AmplifiedIT to develop it for you or just walk you through the process.

Andrew said it best, "Sheets and Forms have gotten us this far but App Maker is the next step." We all have those systems we are trying to improve, simplify or automate. App Maker makes this a real possibility without having to shell out the funds for software. It's collaborative and relatively inexpensive. $15 gets you started on the low end for a GoogleCloud account and gives you a change to play. From there your creations can scale up for various environments. I'm excited to explore more and create some better workflows.

Check out the
App Maker Bootcamp

Slide Object Order: a new Add-on for Slides

Demonstration of object layer ordering in Google Slides using the Add-on Slide Object Order

In today’s point and click, touch or voice activated world we often disregard the importance of tab order. Tab order allows us to use the keyboard to move from screen element to screen element. It’s most frequently used in data entry positions where speed is a factor. But what if you had to rely on tab order for daily access to content? Some folks with various impairments do. 

Often when we think of accessibility we relate it to society members who have grown up with some impairment. While this is an area of accessibility needs it’s not every case. If you struggle to put a user of this technology in mind I suggest thinking of someone aging in your life who may be hard of hearing or struggling with sight. Users of accessibility tools don’t need to have been born with an impairment. In fact if we were to make everything accessible we’d all benefit. Those wheelchair ramps help us also push strollers and carts easier. 

Some Accessibility features rely on the tab order for navigation. If you use a screen reader you would tab through elements to hear them read. Switches use the same sort of feature tabbing until the item you want to access is highlighted and then accepting the highlight. Technology makes many things which were out of reach to some accessible. But we can still do better. 

While working in a Google Slide deck regarding accessibility, myself and Earnest Poole, @eapoole identified that we could not easily change the tab order of elements. First, the tab order on a slide is attached to the layers of objects, z-index, the further back the earlier the tabbing experience. The z-index is an integer determining the back-to-front layers of digital items. We always have a first or back image. The furthest back image is always a z-index of 0. As we add elements the z-index increases. We theoretically can add an infinite amount of objects but will always have a starting point of 0. 

How does this play out when creating a slide deck? Well most of us use z-index to layer images on top of each other. It’s a visual effect which can create appealing slides. We have four choices when working with objects in a slide. 
Arrange Order Menu from Google Slides

  1. Move an object to the furthest front area or z-index of ∞; “Send to front”
  2. Move an object forward one z-index; “Bring forward”
  3. Move an object back one z-index; “Send backward”
  4. Move an object to the furthest back area or z-index of 0; “Send to back”

What we don’t see is the order position each element is currently in. If we move them so they are overlapping we can get a sense of the order. We could also see it by tabbing through them. But there’s no way to see the order for a laid out slide. Until now… 

As Ernest and I were talking about the order of elements on a slide it became obvious we needed an Add-on to help us with what we were doing. We are building a number of slide decks around accessibility and want to be able to walk-the-walk. We needed a tool to not just show us the layers but also allow us to more easily manipulate them. For this I’ve created the Add-on Slide Object Order.
Slide Object Order icon

This sidebar Add-on will display the objects on a slide as an abstract with each object stacked on top of each other. The bottom of the stack would be the first of the tab order. Order numbers are listed to the left to better identify the tab order. Each listing can be dragged to reorder the layer and tabbing on the slide. The change in order on the sidebar automatically updates the slide. 

While exploring this issue and creating a solution we identified a need for the tab order not linked to the z-index arrangement of elements. It’s currently not an option because it would be a fully different integrated system to what is already in place. It would require programmers to build a new layer of things to the Slides platform. It’s a real need if we are going to make things truly accessible to all. Why break up the z-index and the tab order? Let’s say you create a shape an put it on your slide, maybe a rectangle. And then you put your photo on top of the rectangle. The first element tabbed to will be the rectangle you created and then your photo. To get your photo as the first thing tabbed to you would have to change to z-index to less than the rectangle putting your photo behind the shape. The more effective but lesser known trick would be to group the photo and the shape. This would then link them together with the same tabbing/z-index. 

We need tools for creating proper accessibility. No one wants to be left out. When I think about accessibility in the classroom I’m not just thinking about my students but also about the people that care for them. That primary care giver who is a grandparent with cataracts and needs a screen reader to tab through and hear the material they are supporting their student's understanding of. We all benefit when things are accessible. And if we can make accessibility tools more accessible we need to do so. 

Social Emotional Well-Being During Online Teaching and Learning

The world is a bit nutty right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are switching to online learning and parents are working from...