Google Forms Really Mature


I’ve been a user of Google Forms forever, it seems.  They’re a great way to collect opinions, quick testing, gathering observations, going paperless, …  Entries come in with a timestamp and you can ask for identifying information or just keep it random.  Things are done at the user keyboard and I think that, properly done, it’s one of the better electronic activities that you can use right in your classroom.

There are a couple of really neat features that you can use to make your work look and act even more professionally.  Google continues to work at their offerings to make them mature and just add additional functionality.

Themes

Of course, there’s nothing better than a great looking form.  But, don’t stick to the boring default – choose a cool theme.  Select “Change Theme” from the menu bar and select from some looks that range from fun to professional looking.

Even the best theme can sometimes use a little tweak!

Within each theme (or the blank default), select the “Customise” option and change to your hearts content!

Once you have the perfect customised theme, you may not want to use it just once.  In fact, you may have a theme that you’d like to use consistently throughout that class or that subject area.  

Copy and apply that perfect theme to your new form!  With a background or header image, you can have a consistent display (or even class messages) that appear every time you use that theme.  Lots of ideas can be incorporated.

Mix It Up (but not too much)

Now, I don’t want to say that I went to school with a bunch of cheaters, but I can remember paper tests that were labelled “Test A” and “Test B” and even duplicated on different coloured paper.  They were distributed such that even if you decided to take a peek at the person beside you the questions, while the same, were in a different order.  That functionality is available for your Google Form.  Of course, you could create two separate forms – but that’s old school!  This is 2014.

Just click the “Shuffle question order” and each visitor to the form will have their questions shuffled.  You’ve got to like that.

While you’re at it – there may be people trying to “game” your form by submitting multiple copies of it.  Supposed you’re doing a little quiz and you don’t want to take the best results for an individual making multiples in the hopes of getting one that’s right!  If they have and are logged into a Google account, check “Only allow one response per person”.

If you’re a Google Forms user, check out these features.  Your forms will look, and work, awesomely.

You’ll look like the professional you are with these features.

A Great RPN Calculator


We were having company for supper last night. 

To make it special for the little ones, we decided to serve Kentucky Friend Chicken.  Now, there hasn’t been a store in Amherstburg in years so guess who got to drive into Windsor to get it?

As I stared at the menus, I remembered the good old days when they served chicken and cole slaw.  Things really have changed.  The menus are huge.  So, I’m standing there doing a little, actually a lot, of mental math to try to determine what the best value would be.  I selected and ordered.  There would be a fifteen minute wait while they cooked the chicken!  I looked at the clock – it wasn’t anywhere near one o’clock, the traditional end of the lunch hour!  How could they be out?  <grin>

Well, we wanted to do it so I decided to order and wait.  To kill some time, I pulled out my phone and started doing some math with the pricing on the menus.  It wasn’t a horrific task; there were math questions all over the place.  What’s the best value?  Is the price of a bowl of cole slaw the same with every order?  What’s the best value for pop that’s available in three sizes? As my kids would point out, these are the reasons I sit alone in public places.

There were so many things to calculate, I soon find that I’m doing the math on the standard calculator that comes on my Android and realize that it wasn’t efficient use of my time.  Then, I clued in.  I was using an algebraic calculator.  I could be much more efficient with an RPN Calculator.  You may recall that I’ve blogged about this before and before.  I thank my university statistics professor for recommending my original HP21 calculator. 

Chicken isn’t cooked so I’m off to the Google Play store to look for an RPN Calculator to download.

It turns out there were a LOT of them.  One in particular caught my eye because it was the spitting image of the HP products that I was so fond of.

 

 

I became really engrossed with this program.  It’s such a nice and faithful copy of the original – even to the LED display that couldn’t be read in bright sunlight!

Other than just using the calculator, the whole experience brought back a few problems from my computer science classroom.  First, you have to teach students just what RPN is and then have them write the code.  The HP 21 had a nice rolling stack of 4 which led right into another sort of topic that you’ll only find in a computer science classroom.  And, the nice thing about writing your own calculator program is that you can add feature after feature, including printing graphs.  Function keys extend the function of any of the buttons.  It’s just a shame that we had to use a mouse to press the buttons at the time.

Sir, your chicken is ready.

Well, the moment has passed but I’ve been inspired to get the application and play with it.  Who says mathematics can’t be fun?

Open Source Whiteboard Software


Recently, I downloaded the Open-Sankore software.  I needed a piece of software to do some drawing and got way, way more than I expected. 

I think that I went well over the top when I read that the software was the same and worked the same on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux.  You don’t see that range of support often.

Upon installation on Linux, I immediately was curious as to support for my Wacom Bamboo tablet.  I wasn’t disappointed. Everything worked as you would expect.  No configuration or extra drivers to install.  It just worked. I wish that I had other equipment to try it on and test their claims of compatibility.

The software is so intuitive.  If you’ve ever used any other type of whiteboard software, you’ll pick this up immediately.

I was impressed trying the application on different computers.  It goes full screen and you wouldn’t know what computer platform you’re working on.  To me, that’s the sort of transparency that we can appreciate.

The tools and tool sets are really obvious.  Pick a tool, pick a colour, and go to it.  Speaking of tools, the toolbar can be moved to the top or bottom of the screen.  They recommend the bottom for whiteboards.

Projects can have multiple pages.  Add a place and title it in the left panel. 

The installation comes with a big collection of resources for creating your multi-media document.

Nothing is proprietary to the software.  If your computer can play it, Open-Sankore can play it.  So, include audio, movies, or graphic images with easy.  Can’t find it in their collection – facility is there to search for it on the internet.

Objects are dragged onto the workspace where resizing, rotating, etc. are all well defined in the frame around the object.

Selection of language was a bit inconsistent. 

The software has its roots based in the French language.  Even though I was able to change the language and restart in English, there were still a few elements that remained in French.  But, I’ll be honest.  The iconage and the display was so graphically intuitive, I didn’t really notice until I started to write this post and give it a thorough test.

I’ve worked with a number of whiteboard software in the past and so there was really no big learning curve digging into this one.  In any classroom, this will be a welcome addition.  It will be really welcomed to a classroom where students bring their own laptops and you’re looking for software like this for presentation, displays, and just plain creativity fun.

A New Start with Education


I had lunch yesterday with Charlie Wright (@cerwright on Twitter).  Charlie is the deputy mayor of Leamington.  Leamington certainly has been in the news in the recent past with the announcement that the 100 year old Heinz facility was being closed.  Reports are that 740 jobs in that industry would be lost.

The recent good news is that the plant will be assumed by Highbury Canco and that it would require 250 people for its operations.

As could be imagined, such a big hit to any community the size of Leamington (~30 000) would have a huge impact on the community.  Not only is the impact felt by those who worked in the plant, a Leamington institution for as long as I can remember, but for the farming community and the retailers throughout the town.

If those jobs are gone, what can you as a community do?

You would hope that education might provide an answer.

Another problem is that Leamington isn’t easily accessible to Windsor or Chatham, the two closest places with educational opportunities with St. Clair College and/or the University of Windsor.  It’s about a 45 minute drive to either location.

You might that a distance education solution would be appropriate but, in this case, it’s not viable.  So, if you can’t get to the mountain, bring the mountain there.

In partnership with St. Clair College, the town has made an educational arrangement that could be very helpful.

St. Clair College will be physically coming to town and offering a diploma program in Business Computing Applications.  The program, composed of 10 courses will be offered in the evenings from 6-9:30 over the course of the year.  Topics include accounting, computing applications, and more.  The logic is to provide a program of marketable skills for a movement into other industries.

Apparently, there is also an interest from existing businesses to upgrade the skills of other employees.

If you check Charlie’s Twitter timeline, you’ll see that he’s been busy going from door to door promoting this offering.

This provides a unique opportunity for those affected to take control over their careers and their learning at this difficult time.

I hope that enough of the residents see this as a solution and take advantage of it.

Data Spoils a Good Walk


I know, not original, Doug.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.- Mark Twain

But, it’s still an appropriate spinoff.

Today’s the day for Apple’s latest, big event.  The internet is alive with stories and speculations about what might be announced.  I’ve been watching, with amusement, the content from the big Apple fanboys and girls.  It goes even so far as to making indications about what they’re going to buy – even before it’s announced???

Anyway, one of the speculated new devices is the iWatch.  So, it just seems appropriate that today is the day to write a blog post about my birthday present.

My daughter demanded that I blog about it so here goes…  For you, Weaze.

Four years ago, we adopted the world’s best pet.  Ever since Jaimie came home, my walking patterns have changed dramatically.  I’ve gone from a nice stroll down the block to three power walks a day.

“I always crash after a good walk”

A while ago, my friend @sadone told me about an app that I could install on my phone that would count the number of steps I take in a day.  So, Noom Walk was installed and, at the end of the day, it was with curiosity that I would check the number of steps made.  I double the count and that’s Jaimie’s score for the day.  Doug’s advice to me was that I should take 10 000 (20 000 dog steps) a day.  It was always a bonus when that happened.

Mid-August was my birthday and the kids all chipped in to buy me a Fitbit Flex.  Essentially, it’s this rubber device that you wear on your wrist and it counts steps and, if you configure it properly, you can have it monitor your sleeping patterns.  There’s no digital display – it has five LEDs that let you know your progress towards your daily goal of steps.  I configured it for 10 000 steps and so each LED lights up at 2 000.  The band syncs with a computer or smartphone via bluetooth.  I started syncing to my laptop but switched to the phone which seems somehow more convenient.

A green one?  Of course.  You were expecting some other colour?

I’m coming up to about a month of wearing it and here are some of my observations…

  • It’s easier to hit 10 000 than on the phone.  I put the Fitbit on in the morning and just leave it on.  The phone is only counting when it’s actually in my pocket and I’m (we’re) moving.
  • I haven’t worn a watch in years.  Even before I had a smartphone, there were clocks everywhere and so never had the need.  Now, all computers and smartphones have easily visible time devices.  And yet, even though it’s been years, I must look at my wrist a dozen times a day to see what time it is.  There’s got to be a long lost brain synapse connection somewhere.  It amuses my wife who is constantly asking what time it is just to see me look at my arm.  Grrr.
  • I don’t monitor my sleep.  When I first got the device, I tried it and just found it annoying.  I know that I’m a light sleeper as it is, but this seems to make my sleep habit worse.  It was concerning to note that I was restless 30 times at night.  I now take the device off for bed.
  • I find it interesting to take my phone and the Fitbit for a morning walk when they both start at zero.  At the end of the walk, they never report the same number of steps.  Weird.
  • It’s 4 200 (8 400) steps to the firehall and back.  It’s 2 100 (4 200) steps around the Navy Yard in town.  It’s 3 200 (6 400) steps if I extend the Navy Yard walk to include going up to Sandwich Street by the Tim Horton’s.  I’m now becoming a fountain of even more useless trivia.
  • You can game it by taking longer or shorter steps. I can now confirm that not all steps are equal.  You knew that.  I have quantitative data.
  • The best episode on Pawn Stars was the step counting one where Corey attached his device to a paint can shaker…
  • My interest in walking data has changed.  With Noom Walk, at the end of the day, I’d check in and see how far I walked.  Now, I’m forever tapping to light up the LEDs to see how close to my goal I am.  I’m not sure I like that – it’s ruining a good walk!  But it does help set a goal.  There is a nice feeling to sync and get the congratulatory message that you’ve achieved your goal.

So there you go, Weaze.  Unlike the tie that hangs in the closet, this present has become part of my life and has made some changes to the way I do things.

Interesting Learning with a Couple of Google Tools


Google Maps Gallery was a new resource for me.  It’s a place for organizations to make their maps public.  Why?  Read the reasons why here.

That sounds so good.  I decided to dig into the maps in the gallery just to see what people were posting.  One really caught my interest.  Most of the maps in the collection were in English which intuitively made sense to this English speaker.  But this one didn’t.

Quite clearly, it’s a map of Japan with markers all over it.  But, the description is in another language – presumably Japanese.  (nothing gets by me…)  Mousing over the descriptor reveals a link, I check the link to make sure it’s OK – it points to another Google Map so I click it.  I’m presented with a gallery of three – I check one of the links to dig deeper.

Interesting, but I’m really no closer to understanding the map.

Ah!  Time to Translate. 

I open a new tab, and head to Google Translate.

Back to this tab where I select the text above, copy it, and then over to the new tab with the translation utility open and paste the text into the left pane.

Google Translate immediately confirms that the text is indeed Japanese and then does its best to translate the text and make it appear in the right pane. 

I do listen to the original text by clicking on the speaker icon.  It’s a reminder of what a beautiful language Japanese is even though I didn’t understand anything.

I look to the right pane and read the text.  It’s a reminder that online translations are not entirely perfect but I’m able to read enough to understand the point of the map. 

Stepping back, it never serves to be humbling that I’m able to do all of that on my laptop while sitting in a reclining chair.  No matter your age, think back to an activity in school similar to this.  The best I could remember was working with a piece of French text.  The process was painful.  I can’t help but marvel that today’s students will have these sorts of tools at their fingertips.

In my day, in addition to snowing more, true research and exploration was done in English and limited by the collection in my school’s library or, if I was ambitious and walked downtown, in the public library.  If I really needed another resource and the library had it in a collection elsewhere, I could place an order and it would arrive within a week.  Today, speedy delivery is only limited by bandwidth!

Are these sort of research activities used in your class?  Shouldn’t it be if we want students to be global citizens in the best sense of the words?

Back to the original exploration of the Gallery.  This appears to be a new Google endeavour.  At the time of writing, only a limited number of collections are included.  (The numbering system confuses me.)  But, the collections are of really interesting content.  This will be worth monitoring to see it grow.

Thoughts?

That’s Why I Do It


So, folks survived the first day of school.  Around here, we had a steady all-day rain which certainly meant that a long day was even longer with inside breaks.  Yet, the day’s events didn’t stop people from getting home, online, and continuing the sharing.  There were quite a few discussions about getting colleagues on Twitter for all of the benefits that we know can fall from being connected.

Lots of buzz about PLN, social learning, being connected, not being connected – and then there was a good question.  How do we show that there are tangible benefits to being connected and not just being another voice in the wilderness?  I think that people who have been connected for a while know that the learning may take some time.  But it comes.

Then, there are the naysayers who make the comment “I don’t want to know what you had for breakfast”.  It’s funny how one bad experience or a one liner from a late night comedy host lingers.  But, we know that it’s much more serious than that.

Recently, Twitter enabled a feature that will definitely help the cause.  If you haven’t, log in to Twitter through the web and then check out Twitter analytics on your account.  There’s enough analytics there to choke the proverbial horse.  The opening screen will have you poking around wondering what an “impression” or an “engagement rate” is.  I’m still scratching my head over that one myself! 

Instead, take a look at the second choice – Followers.  Now, it gets immediately interesting.

Where in the world are they coming from?

Location

(I think the MI is in the wrong place…)

What’s more telling is the interests that you share with your connections.

As I say in the title of this post – this is the real reason why I want to connect and stay connected.  The unique interests looks like this.

Unique

The top interests of those I connect with in general look like this.

Interests

It just begs the question – where can you have these types of conversations regularly and ongoing – on your terms, your own professional learning?  Like anything worthwhile doing, making the right connections makes it all worth while.

That’s a pretty difficult question to answer, methinks.