Friday, September 27, 2013

Running Digital Signage through Google Apps EDU - UPDATE

In the world of technology everything changes and changes quickly. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. And in our case, what worked for our digital signage last school year doesn't work any longer this school year or so we thought.

Originally, we had been using Auto Refresh Plus to automatically refresh our Chrome browser at set intervals. Then Google changed the way Google Presentation operates and each slide became its own URL which reset Auto Refresh Plus every time the slide changed!

After a bit of aggravation and brainstorming, we figured out a new solution. My band teacher and fellow tech enthusiast came across the following blog,, that had the same issues we were having. Their solution was to embed the presentation in a website and using the script provided it would update the frame at set intervals.

We thought this would work for us as well UNTIL we realized that our school website does not allow us to remove the header or column. Therefore, we had had to figure out a Plan B.

After some brainstorming, the idea hit us. Why not write the code in Notepad, save the file as a HTML file, upload it to the district website as the HTML file, and then create a GOTO link to the file. It'll automatically open it in full screen through kiosk mode and read the file like an HTML page. The code will allow us to embed the Google Presentation and run the reload script.

It sounds way more complicated than it actually was and it works as good as ever. I now have my clerical staff in the office updating the Google Presentation for me throughout the day and the script refreshes the presentation every 10 minutes.

So after several days of confusion and frustration, everything is right with the world again and our digital signage is working like a pro.

The next step is to get another setup installed in our cafeteria!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Running Digital Signage through Google Apps EDU

A few months ago, I had a goal in mind and set off to figure out how to harness Google's capabilities to create low budget, easy to use digital signage for my high school. Ultimately, I wanted to run daily announcements including upcoming events, sports scores, photos of class projects, reminders, lunch menus, etc. etc. etc. on a flat screen TV in our main lobby.

At first, the trick was getting everyone else to understand and support my goal. I spoke to several colleagues in neighboring districts and all had purchased fairly expensive presentation software to run their signage off of networked Mac Minis. That was too much for us. I wanted something simple, something cheap, and something repurposed.

This week, I got one step closer to my goal. We purchased a flat screen TV that was versatile enough to meet my needs and well as future needs down the road. We were able to repurpose a computer tower that could be used for my greeter as well as the TV. The next step was setting up Google Apps to run the presentation.

It took most of the day with a little investigative Googling, brainstorming with interested staff, and a few attempts and reattempts, but it is coming together.

That being said, here are a few tips/tricks I learned along the way.

Going Wide Screen! 
If you are going to run Google Presentation on a wide screen TV, you'll want your presentation to match. To get started, create the first few slides in Microsoft PowerPoint. If you go to Design followed by Page Setup and then On Screen Show 16:9 and you'll be able to change the aspect ration from 4:3 to 16:9. Once you have this set up, upload your PowerPoint to Google Drive. Once in Drive, simply duplicate each slide to create matching slides.

Go to your Home!
Originally we embedded the Google Presentation on the high school website, set the slide transition time, and set the presentation to loop. It worked, but we came up with an even better idea. Rather than embedding the presentation, we created a "Go To" link from the website that would automatically link directly to the presentation link.

At first, we were concerned that we would be able to manually adjust the slide transition timing. However, by adjusting the number in bold above we could easily adjust the timing (6500 = 6.5 second per slide). Just make sure you make this adjustment in the link that you post on your website.

Automatic Updates
The next task is actually two-fold. Google Apps is great in the fact that changes are automatically saved to your "living" document. However, a Google Presentation will not automatically refresh while playing forcing the user to manually refresh the browser to load updates, or so we thought. This is where a little brainstorming and Google driven investigation/research came into play. First we had to figure out how to get the browser to automatically refresh. A quick Google search lead us to Auto Refresh Plus, which is a Chrome Extension found in the Chrome Web Store. It's a quick and easy install that can be done without administrator rights (bonus!). Auto Refresh Plus allows you to set the refresh rate for the Chrome Browser; it also allows you to set a designated amount of time and start whenever a particular URL is loaded. Make sure you make the appropriate adjustments in the Options Settings or the following setup won't work!

We set our system to run whenever the browser went to presentation link, which would refresh every 15 minutes. We could still manually refresh if we wanted, but we figured 15 minutes was sufficient for our needs.

Keep in mind, the presentation will jump back to the beginning whenever the browser refreshes regardless of where it is in the presentation. Based on our setup, this will happen once every 15 minutes and we doubt anyone will notice anyway.

Auto Refresh in Full Screen?!
This next step (part II of our two-fold problem) is what threw us off a bit. We discovered that Auto Refresh Plus kept kicking our presentation out of full screen. This wouldn't do. This wouldn't do at all. We could have left the presentation in regular mode with the address bar sticking out like a sore thumb, but we knew there had to be a better way.

Enter Kiosk Mode. Did you even know that there is a Kiosk Mode? I didn't either - until today! Let's see if I can explain this as simply as possible:

  1. Copy the Chrome Browser Icon on your Desktop and Paste it back to the Desktop. 
  2. Rename the second Icon to whatever you want. 
  3. Right Click the Icon and go to Properties
  4. In Target you will find the code extension to run Chrome. At the end of that code write --Kiosk followed by the link to your presentation 
C:\Users\Liquidsnowman\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe --Kiosk>present/d/1-u8vVnBPy1yxggcCuU6TTZkY83gmpYnBtfxw2BqkW-w/pub?start=true&loop=true&delayms=6500#slide=id.p16

Doing this will allow the user to launch the link in Kiosk Mode, which means the presentation will be in full screen mode and all buttons will be hidden from sight. This is great if you want to run a presentation on a device without granting other users access to options such as searching, home, bookmarks, etc.

This will also allow the full screen presentation to automatically refresh using Auto Refresh Plus without dropping out of full screen!

In Summation
This may seem like a lot of work, but the above tips and tricks will save you a day of wrestling with the system. In all actuality, it took us under an hour to figure out everything I mentioned above. As any school day, that hour happened to be stretched out across most of the day.

Tomorrow, we'll swap out the greeter's computer tower, set the system up for dual screens, and launch the application. I'm hoping that we can add the Kiosk Icon to the startup menu so that it will launch automatically without the greeter having to manually click on the icon.

In total, this system cost us a TV. We repurposed a computer and obviously Google is free.

Now I just need to train my front office on how to use Google Presentation and we'll be all set!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ending the Radio Silence

It's been nearly a year since I've gone anywhere near this blog. Admittedly, work had worn me out and I wasn't nearly as driven as I had once been. We've all been there at one point or another and we all know what impact that can have on everything around us.

Nevertheless, I made a rather profound career change in December. I left the world of tech integration, professional development, and classroom teaching to take on a position as an Assistant Principal in a nearby high school. And although my role did not explicitly involved tech integration, I have quickly found myself back in the forefront.

Prior to arriving, the district lacked any and all wireless access points in either of its two buildings. Nearly every teacher had an interactive whiteboard in the classroom with two full computer labs in the high school as well as two additional labs in the tech ed. classroom as well as the art room. Unfortunately, the district also had a rather strict network filter, which hindered teachers from accessing countless resources.

After getting a feel for the building and my new surroundings, I started laying the ground work for a few initiatives that I had in mind.

Laying the Foundation | Edmodo 
You always have to start with some sort of foundation and Edmodo was going to be our foundation. After introducing the concept during a staff meeting, I had several teachers who were interested in testing out its capabilities. In the first few weeks, I had a handful of teachers rolling out Edmodo with one or two class periods as they got acclimated to the process. Within a month, I started to see more and more growth. Nearly three months in, we've had over 3,500 hits; half the building (staff and students) currently have active accounts. In the past three days alone, students have visited their courses 250 times which is over 83 times a day. Imagine what September will look like when teachers are able to start the school year off with Edmodo in hand?!

I have teachers using Edmodo with their classes. I have coaches using Edmodo with their teams. I have committees setting up Edmodo to share resources. I even have district administrators collaborating through Edmodo!

One recommendation that I have always told other districts - set up a district-specific sub-domain through Edmodo. IT IS FREE! Each building in your district will be provided with an unique pass code to ensure the safety and security of your internal professional learning community. It also allows the system administrator to track usage, change forgotten passwords, and send out district/building wide messages directly through Edmodo. It's definitely worth it and highly, highly, highly recommended.

Filling in the Gaps
Once I had a foundation in place, I needed content. I needed STUFF! Having come from a professional development background, I had a plethora of resources sitting in my back pocket. Lucky for me, New York State Computers and Technology in Education (NYSCATE) had a regional conference coming up. It was time to advertise! Of course, being on the planning committee and facilitating a workshop at the conference had absolutely nothing to do with the push to build attendance. Never. Who would do such a thing.

Nearly a dozen of my staff, including the building principal attending the conference on a Saturday nevertheless. Every single one of them will tell you that it was well worth it. The conference was broken down into a series of one-hour workshops that were facilitated by local tech minded educators, leaders, and in some cases, students. Participants got to see what people were using in their classrooms, how they were using them, and why they were using them. My faculty all walked away with a number of ideas and resources that they could bring back to their classrooms.

I was thoroughly impressed in the weeks that followed the conference when I stopped by various classes to see the teachers incorporating what they learned with their classes. I was even more impressed when I found my teachers turn-keying what they learned and sharing that knowledge with their colleagues.

Making Strides
My building has made some serious headway in just a few short months. Nevertheless, we still have a ways to go. Just this week, we made some drastic changes to the district's filtering settings and removed a number of restrictions that had been hindering classroom teachers.

We will be installing a wireless network system this summer providing full coverage for our two buildings.

We have a BYOD draft policy sitting in the wings.

We are reviewing Google Apps for Education as a possible district-wide solution.

We're rolling out a STEM Academy starting with next year's incoming freshman class.

Teaching in a wired world has taken on a whole new meaning. In actuality, it's taken on it's true meaning. For so many years I always spoke of integrating district and/or building wide initiatives; now I actually get to facilitate real initiatives and develop these programs alongside my staff and students. We've done quite a bit in just a few months; I can't wait to see where the next school year takes us!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer

I have received notification from Google that I have qualified to become a Certified Google Apps for Education Trainer.

"This program is designed for organizations and individuals who provide professional training and support to schools using Google Apps for Education. The Google Apps for Education Certification is an official “stamp of approval” from Google, and gives you access to additional marketing support, training opportunities, and business visibility in the Google Apps marketplace. Meanwhile, your customers can be assured that your expertise and learning materials meet high quality standards set by the Google Apps team."

Last summer, I had taken it upon myself to complete the Google Apps for Education courses and corresponding exams. Six tests and many weeks later I became a Google Certified Teacher. Shortly thereafter, I began putting together my application packet to become a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer. I had to include various workshops samples, background information, and two videos among other things.

I received an email four months ago stating that I did not qualify at that time and that I could reapply in six months. However, unbeknownst to me Google re-evaluated my application and I was granted certification.

Regardless, I am stoked. I enjoy using Google and I am proud to say that I am now a Certified Trainer!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Difficulties Teaching in a Wired World

As I was taking a look at Katherine Brindley's article, Teacher Texting Students: Should Schools Ban or Encourage, which had been published in the Huffington Post (article:, I made the mistake of reading the reader comments at the end of the article. I've generally trained myself to avoid reader comments as a general rule. However, my curiosity and interest in the topic lead me to go against my better judgement. Note to self - do not read the reader comments! 

Regardless of the reader comments, Katherine Brindley raises a number of interesting and valid points in her article. The topic of student-teacher communication via text, email, and/or social networking has been an hot topic as of late. School districts and state education departments alike are reviewing various policies seeking to ban student-teacher electronic communication. Some have gained traction; others have been overturned and abandoned after legal intervention. 

Should we have blanket policies banning student-teacher communication outside the school day? Absolutely not. I believe we should encourage and support blended learning environments and collaboration through educationally sound social mediums such as Edmodo, Google Apps for Education, and others. I believe we need to adapt our teaching styles to meet the demands of our students' learning styles and infuse technology to foster communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, I found myself reading reading through the reader comments. One user's comment in particular made me cringe. This individual who's username is FunctionOfTheCrisp, wrote:

"When I was in school (the ancient 1990s) students didn't call their teachers. Business was handled during the class period and resumed the next class period. The ability of a teacher to accomplish that was standard leadership and classroom management. This was true for standard academic classes. Extracurriculars were a little different because of the logistics, mostly. It was considered reasonable that students would call their band directors, coaches, etc. if necessary. 

Am I to understand that this is no longer the way things are? I can tell you that if I ever became a K-12 teacher, I would continue the policy of my youth. There would be no texting, e-mails or phone calls with me unless it was an emergency." 

As a former student of the 1990s and now a teacher of today, I take offense to the last part of this comment. "If I ever became a K-12 teacher, I would continue the policy of my youth." Really? You graduated public school so that apparently makes you an expert of K-12 education? 

Having graduated in 1997 and now teaching in 2012, I can attest that things have changed drastically. In 1997, cell phones were practically non-existent. Dial-up internet was the status quo. Forget about wireless access points or 3G access. It was Netscape all the way! Google, Facebook, Twitter were not household names and would not be so for some time. 

Unfortunately, these sort of comments tend to highlight the difficulties of teaching in a wired world. These comments are not uncommon - hence the reason I avoid most reader comments. These same comments pop up in the districts I work with as well. 

Technology has changed how we do things. What has worked for the past 10 or 20 years won't necessarily work for the next 10 or 20 years. We need to change. We need drastic change. 

As an educator and a technology specialist, I know the value in integration technology in the classroom. I have seen how communication and collaboration have improved the learning environment. There is value in technology and we need to harness it, foster it, and support it. We should stand up against these blanket policies and redirect our energy on digital citizenship and properly use of technology rather than sheltering our students from it. We need to instill change in our teachers; we need to instill change in our students. 

We need to get beyond the mindset of what worked for me then will work for them now. You didn't have what we have today. Yeah you got by and did well. Imagine how much better our students will do when you present them with the opportunities that you didn't have!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Education Reform from the eyes of a 14-year-old.

This afternoon, I came across the guest post, Teen Who Left School Explains It's Flaws,
written by Line Dalile on the blog, The Innovative Educator

Here was a 14-year-old student with a much clearer perception of education and its flaws. It was impressive to say the least; even more so seeing that it was coming from such a young individual.  

Line affirms that she doesn't "claim to be an expert in education, I am still a student and I speak for myself. I believe that students should have a voice in the education system today, because mainly they are the ones who are being educated. Education is falling in the wrong hands. 

I’m not writing about the flaws of education; everyone wrote about them years ago and claimed to start a “real” learning revolution. Years have passed, students have graduated. Our education system is a dictator that’s not willing to step down and give its [throne] away yet."

After sharing this post through my social networks followed by a sudden surge in debate and discussion. One individual stated "Poor work is poor work and techniques exist for a reason. Everyone loves to cite the true geniuses as examples of how people don't "get" creativity without realizing just how rare those examples truly are. For every Einstein out there who was thought of as "slow", there are THOUSANDS of kids who truly are slow and no amount of "creative freedom" will change that." 

I agree in the fact that we cannot and should not assume that those dreamers would have grown up to be Einsteins and Edisons. However, I think motivation and creativity are interchangeable in this example as well as many others in recent educational literature. That being said, we are literally sucking the motivation out of our students. We have becoming a test bubble factory. We expect that our students will sit through these tests and do their absolute best and for what? Do these tests impact their GPA? No. Do these tests impact their ability to graduate? No. Will they win a pizza party or ice cream party? No. So what's the point of the test factories? To rate teachers, principals, and districts while tossing more money in the vendor coffers.

Thanks to programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, we have now added mandatory ELA (English Language Arts) and Math Assessments to all grades 3-8 plus the regents testing for all students 9-12 (where applicable). To top that off, we also need to conduct "localized growth assessments" K-12 in order to assess our teachers as part of their new APPR/Observations. The local growth assessments must be conducted at the beginning and end of the year to determine student growth. So that's 2 localized tests, the ELA test, the math test, regents where they apply, and let's not forget all the practice tests as well. There is no longer a regents tract vs. non-regents tract either. The assessments for the 3-8 students are not reflective on their GPA. They get what they get - it's an assessment of their ability. However, they are still moved on even if they fail with some remedial assistance if offered by the district. Yes - you still need to pass the regents to graduate in 9-12. That being said, we test the snot out of kids throughout elementary and middle school, but we don't hold them accountable. Therefore there is no motivation to do as well as they should. At the same time, we are so focused on ELA and Math assessments that everything else is put to the side in the name of test prep.

Home schooling is not necessarily the answer either. This kid is apparently intelligent and has quite the portfolio even at 14. The kid has already published 2 books, speaks 4 languages, and is obviously ahead of most. A traditional public school program would not make sense for her whatsoever. No doubt, her parents are well educated, supportive, and able to provide those opportunities for their kids as well. Home schooling is only as successful and enriching as the parents involved. I have three degrees in education, one in history, and another in environmental studies plus numerous certificates and other nonsense. However, I do not feel that I could or should home school my kids. There are services, experiences, and other programs that I cannot offer my kids nor would I pretend I could. Therefore, my kids will attend public school. By all means, I will be involved in every facet and will advocate for my kids as any parent should because we as parents should be and need to be involved in our kids learning.

In my opinion, we need to go back to a system where we can redirect those who are college ready vs. those who are career ready. The percentage of those graduating and going to college should not be our ultimate goal. Those who graduate and are sustainable should be though. Not every kid is going to grow up, go to college, and graduate. Some just aren't made for that. Maybe they will grow up, graduate, and become a master tradesman. Why not give them the option?


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sharing my Thoughts on the Khan Academy

I had been sitting back, watching the discussion and ultimate backlash against the Khan Academy following the 60 Minutes Episode with little opinion one way or the other.

For those that haven't seen the episode, you can watch it on their website (Khan Academy: The Future of Education?) Not for nothing, I can see both sides of the argument. Does applications like the Khan Academy provide students with additional resources to help them get through difficult content? Yeah - it does. Will applications like the Khan Academy revolutionize education as a whole? No - not really.

Therefore, I sat back and watched the backlash go one direction and then the other without much thought until I came across Stephanie Sandifer's post Khan Academy, TED-Ed and the new leaders in education reform - REALLY?! ( For the record, it was not Stephanie Sandifer's post that made me cringe, but the quote from The Washington Post that she shared regarding Khan Academy and the need for educational reform (Jena McGregor - The Washington Post: Khan Academy, TED-Ed, and the new leaders in education reform).

In the final paragraphs of the article, Jena McGregor stated:

The large public-school education system, although not quite a big, slow company, is not really that different. Teachers are at the center of a system that has long relied on lecturing in classrooms and homework at home. No matter how good their intentions might be, it is hard for them to think about their own jobs differently, much less step outside the predominant teaching methods that have been used for hundreds of years. You can’t exactly study methods that haven’t been invented yet, and as difficult as it can be to get companies to experiment, doing the same on school children is even harder.
Who knows how much Khan’s video-based, “flipped-classroom” approach will truly change what ails American (and global) public schools. But whether it is Khan or someone else, my guess is that the most revolutionary—and potentially, most effective—educational reform will come from leaders outside the system.
What the...! Seriously? You truly believe that the educational reform will most likely come from leaders outside the system? Have you not seen what those leaders have already done to the system. You think those that penned No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top really know what they are doing? Do you honestly think that Michelle Rhee has the answers? Obviously, you have no idea what is going on in education much less the classrooms of those that should be considered leaders in educational reform!

I stand behind Stephanie Sandifier on this one. Those that are leading the change are those in the classroom; they are the ones working, building, developing, and educating day in and day out. They are not looking to sell their model to the highest bidder or the next district over. They are helping students grow; they are helping students learn.

Change needs to come from the inside. We need to find those leaders from within the system who understand what needs to be done, is willing to make that change, and is willing to model that change. There are a lot of teachers out there doing great things, but they being overshadowed by the current political witch hunt in education.

Does the Khan Academy hold merit in education? Absolutely - don't get me wrong this is not an attack on the Khan Academy. I don't think it's the answer, but I definitely think it can be part of the solution. Nevertheless, we cannot allow outsiders like Jena McGregor to think that they have the answer because they watched a 13-minute segment on television on a random Sunday evening. We cannot continue to allow Washington or state education departments to reign down upon education with this one-size-fits-all, pre-packaged programs thinking they have the answers either.

Maybe 60 Minutes should run a segment on teachers making a difference and highlight those that are doing more with less and who are bringing change to the classroom. Maybe then we'd get a bit more attention.