Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Improved Google Sites Headings Using Slides

Recently I saw a teacher ask online about better font options in Google Sites. Actually I have always appreciated the limited fonts in sites, so students don't get "lost in fontland" looking for the perfect one among hundreds.

However, if you do want to spice up your headings, the video below shows one way to do it.

The short explanation is:

  • Design your headings using simple, attractive features in Google Slides. For example, Word Art, fill colors and drop shadows can really make your headings pop.
  • Copy the image from Slides and paste it into your Site. Copying the image from Slides will be different depending on the computer you're using. I put some information below about both those cases.

Snipping an image from the screen using different computers.
  • Windows Computer - As shown in my video, I recommend the Snipping Tool program.
  • Mac - you can snip part of the screen by holding shift+command and then pressing 4. That will allow you to draw a box around it as I show in the video. It saves automatically to the desktop of your Mac. Since it saves instead of copying, you need to upload it to your Site instead of just pasting it in, just like you would any other image.
  • Chromebook - The 6th key from the left in the top row of a Chromebook is needed for this shortcut. It's called the "show all windows" key. So if you press ctrl-shift-"show all windows", it will allow you to capture part of the screen much like what's shown in the video. You'll see a preview of the image appear in the lower right of the screen. Click the option to copy the image. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Sharing your virtual classrooms with students

A couple months ago posts like this one helped make virtual classrooms all the rage. Teachers in my district discovered these, loved them, but have also asked for ways to share the final result with students. I'll share my suggestions below.

If you're unfamiliar with virtual classrooms, they're basically a slide (Google Slides works great) that lets you direct students to different links. This tutorial is the one that a teacher pointed out to me first and it's very well done. The article I linked to above has more information and several examples too.

So once you've made a virtual classroom, what's the best way to get it to students? Personally I prefer to publish the slide. Here's an example of how that might look. I prefer this to downloading a PDF or linking to the presentation because:

  • This will open faster for students using Chromebooks. If you've ever checked a lot of Google Slides presentations on a Chromebook, you know it can be tedious loading each one. Using this method avoids that problem.
  • A single published slide will open much more quickly for students and links open in a new tab with just a single click. (PDFs are similar, but the links don't open in a new tab.)
  • Once published, you can easily link to the slide from Google Classroom or any other learning management system you use. You also can embed it on your website. 

I made this short video showing how to publish a slide and get the link.

This video shows how to use the embed code to embed it on a Google Site. It's similar for other website creation tools.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Updated Interactive Stories

I did a lot of work with interactive stories over the period when school closed in the spring. It was a good challenge keeping students engaged at that time. I learned a few things that worked and some that didn’t.

I’ve been writing about these stories in one way or another for about three years now. At the core, they are stories told a bit at a time and they allow readers to provide feedback after each section is presented. You can read more about my favorite way to run these in class in this post.

This most recent experiment (called The Visitors) can be found on this Google Site. Here are some unique things I tried this time.

  • This story was written exclusively by me and two other educators. I wanted to make sure quality and regular posting was not affecting engagement, so this time I kept the pace of production on track.
  • I tried to do some related tech activities on the website to engage students. This started off well, but frankly I was swamped during the shutdown and I couldn’t keep up with that part. I only created some for the first few chapters.
  • I provided some illustrations for Chapter 2 and students seemed to like them. Again, I didn’t have time to keep that up. I think it would be great to integrate this project with an Art class so students could contribute illustrations. This could be done by the readers or students working with the writers.
  • I enlisted the help of guest authors. It was fun working with other teachers on the story and it helped generate some interest.
  • I started asking a question on the survey that would allow students to enter parent contact information. That way I could send an email when the next part of the story was posted. I only had a couple students do this, but by that time of the school year we were seeing low engagement in almost all classes. Developing an email list was encouraging enough for me to at least continue it for future stories.

I’m pleased with how the story turned out overall. It reads like a first draft and the tone changes from a silly first chapter to a more serious tone in the last few. That’s the nature of these, I think.

The best thing for me was to see a couple students who faithfully followed the story and consistently gave positive feedback on each chapter. One student mentioned she also wrote a story for her family and used a feedback survey to collect opinions. Contagious creativity is a good sign we are on to something good!

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Back-to-School Classroom Game - Say Whaaat?!

I created this updated classroom version of my party game, Say Whaaat?!, using Google Slides. It's "the game of What matters most?" It allows one student (or the teacher) to draw five random words and the class tries to guess how he or she would rank those things in order of importance.

I and other teachers have used it for a fun icebreaker or to kick off lessons about goals and decision making. We've used it in meetings with adults too. There are many ways to play, including using it in online teaching situations (live or otherwise).

First, click here to get your copy of the Google Slides presentation for the game. Full Disclosure:  Please enjoy this version for free, but be aware it is a bit of a promotional tool. I put a link on the second slide to Amazon where you can order copies of the actual game. I license the game to a publisher and will receive royalties from actual sales.

This video shows the basic idea, but read below for all details, including suggestions for use in online teaching.

I'll explain other ways to play below, but here's the general idea.
  • Don't actually click the Present button when you display the game slide (Slide 1) to the class. You have to be able to drag words around, so it can't be in Presentation Mode.
  • Choose one student to be the Judge. Or you can be the Judge the first time if you like. The rest of your class or group will be trying to guess the Judge's priorities.
  • The Judge draws five words from behind the Say What?! logo on the first slide. You can choose a word by grabbing one of the red "tabs" on the right of the logo. Each tab has a word (or words) connected to it. 
  • After drawing out a word, the Judge drags it to a blank card space. At this time, order doesn't matter. Just start with the A card and repeat until all five cards have a word. See the example below of how this might look. Note: The Judge should not say anything about the words during this time.
  • Now the rest of the students in the class will try to predict how the Judge will rank those five items from most to least important. They can just write their guesses on paper. For example, use the five words shown below. If you thought the player would rank Water as most important, you'd write C first. If you thought the second most important item would be Mail, you'd write B next. And so on. You might choose to have the Judge write his or her rankings as well at this time.
  • When everyone has made their guesses, have the Judge explain how he or she would rank the words. It's fun if the Judges explain a little of the thinking that went into his or her rankings. 
  • Players can keep score if they want, but it's just for fun and it's on their honor. They can count one point for every item they had in the same position as the Judge.
  • To play a new round, delete the five words from the card spaces and then pick someone else to be the next Judge. Play as many rounds as you like.

Other Ways to Play

  • The game can be played all at once or one round per day or week, etc. You can even assign the ranking portion as an assignment outside of class. Just have the Judge draw the five random words near the end of class. Have everyone write their rankings or guesses outside of class, possibly with a written rationale. They can come to class the next day ready to turn them in or discuss them.
  • You can duplicate the first slide as many times as you like and pre-select the words in advance. For some lessons, it might be best to actually just type the words that best raise the discussion you want for the lesson. To type your own words, just draw out any word, then double click on the text box portion. It should highlight the word and allow you to type a new word in its place.
  • You could use an online polling tool to have students submit their rankings. For example, I've done this with Google Forms. Each tool uses slightly different ways to set it up or different ways to enter their answers.The advantage is these tools allow you to show everyone how the class guessed.
  • If you're working in a distance learning situation, you can combine a few of these ideas. You will probably want to select the words ahead of time as described above. Set up a as many slides with five words as you think you'll need. You could play live in a Zoom or Google Meet. Or you could download the slide as a JPEG image and just post it in Google Classroom. Students could submit their votes to you in a variety of ways or (if playing live) just record them on paper for fun.

A Note About Drawing Out the Words

There are a lot of words under that logo! If you keep using an unedited version of the Google Slide that I made, you might find you're always getting the same words in the initial rounds. That's because the words are in layers and you're always just pulling the words from the top layer. To solve this problem, draw several words out before you play and just delete them. That will ensure you're getting to the lower words in the stack. If you play multiple rounds and delete the words as they're used, this won't be such an issue.

Interested in Learning More?

I wrote a Designer Diary a couple years ago about the long history of this game. You can find it here on the Boardgame Geek website

Thursday, June 4, 2020

3 Tips for Getting Started With Game Design

These videos were already shared in previous posts from my game design club series, but I wanted to get them in them one place. (I compiled some related interviews in this post.)

My goal with these videos was to concisely state three tips that would help students start making game. I use them to make board and card games, but they will help with digital games too. In fact, they form the basis of design thinking in any area.

Tip 1:  Learn and play many games. But don't play mindlessly!

Tip 2:  Keep a design notebook. Besides writing down ideas, use it to flesh your ideas out too.

Tip 3:  Start playing right away. This includes some tips for making rough prototypes.