Ten Minutes to a Safe and Purposeful Chromebook

Recently I visited a school where the headteacher was worried about their Chromebooks. A device that was merely a window to that internet? Full of all those unedifying images and distracting videos? How could that help her primary school children?

I countered that some of the children at my school take school Chromebooks home with them and that I believe (quite confidently) that when they do so, the Chromebooks are the safest device in their home. What’s more, they are purposeful too.

It transpired that the school in question hadn’t purchased the management licenses for the Chromebooks, which is the single hidden cost I wrote about yesterday. So a week later, when the school had purchased said management licenses from the reputable Google Apps re-seller, Cloud technology Solutions (although in the interest of fairness, and because they also do a brilliant job, I always recommend C-Learning as an alternative), I returned and gave a quick ten minute guide to get them started. Here’s how it went:

  1. Help the children stay safe on Chromebooks by enabling safe browsing, blocking malicious sites and blocking geolocation.
    Enforce Safe Browsing, Block Malicious sites and geolocation
    Enforce Safe Browsing, Block Malicious sites and geolocation

     

  2. Make sure you can track what children do on their Chromebook by blocking incognito mode and saving the history.
    Disallow incognito mode and save browser history
    Disallow incognito mode and save browser history

     

  3. Encourage access to safe content by forcing safe search on both Google and Youtube searches.
    Force Safesearch for both Google and Youtube
    Force Safesearch for both Google and Youtube

     

  4. Make sure those popular and sometimes inappropriate search suggests don’t appear.
    Block Search Suggest
    Block Search Suggest

     

  5. Block those ‘bonus’ bookmark bars that often promote adware.
    Block bookmarks
    Block bookmarks

     

  6. Load some pages on start-up that the children and teachers will find useful.
    The pages that my Year 4 class have loaded at start-up
    The pages that my Year 4 class have loaded at start-up.

     

Ten minutes later, the school I was working with had Chromebooks with both a safe and purposeful user-experience. Obviously a lot more fine tuning can follow, but it seems to me that getting technology out to children that is both safe and purposeful in only ten minutes saves an awful lot of time that can be better spent on teaching.

Why am I saying this now? Time to declare an interest: I’m presenting at the free, online Google Education on Air Conference this Saturday with the title “Chromebooks, the easy classroom companion.” I’ll be telling some of my school’s story with using Chromebooks over the last 4 years and explaining more of why Chromebooks are the ideal device for the classroom. Come along, join in and share your view…

Trialling Google Classroom

Google Classroom: a streamlined easy experience
Google Classroom: a streamlined, easy experience

I mentioned early on in my Mathemateers posts that I would be using Google Classroom to help me ‘deliver content’. So a few words about Google Classroom.

It’s easy. Really easy.

As the teacher, I choose my students from the Google Apps for Education users (we have Years 2-6 set up as individual users). The children receive an email to ‘accept’ the invite, or they can enter a code to join the new class that has set up. From there I can do one of two things:

  1. Make an announcement.
  2. Set an assignment.

The only difference in functionality between the two is that the children don’t have to respond to announcements. With assignments I write a title, write a sentence or two of description, set a due date and then I can attach ‘content’ in various ways:

  • as an uploaded attachment,
  • as a Google Drive file (docs, slides, sheets or drawings),
  • as a Youtube video,
  • as a URL.
The assignment screen on Google Classroom
The assignment screen on Google Classroom

It’s over to the students then. Each of my students has a touchscreen Chromebook – this may seem extravagant, but at less than £170 per device I think it is well worth the investment.

I’ve added Google Classroom to the screen of their Chromebooks via the Google Apps admin console, so it’s right there whenever they log on to their device. They can open it and quickly see which assignments they have done, or are yet to do, or (occasionally) are late at handing in.

Like the teacher, they can attach work to their ‘turn in’ comment. So far this has range from Google Drawings to screenshots of other work they have done online. This takes a bit of training, but once they’ve been through the routine a couple of times they soon have the hang of what to do when they have finished their assignment.

So far I’ve mainly used it for homework – it’s so satisfying to know that students are doing meaningful work without sending them home with polypockets full of photocopied worksheets.

It’s early days so far – I’ve only been using it with children for four weeks, but I can’t wait to get it going with the whole school. It may just revolutionise the way we do homework…

Why you should apply for the Google Teacher Academy #gtauk

The Google Teacher Academy is coming up in London this October. I was lucky enough to be part of the first one in 2010. If you’re a teacher this is why I think you should apply for it:

  1. It’s amazing. No. It really is. I learned more in the first half hour on the Google Teacher Academy that at any other full day CPD event I have ever been to. And that was just the first half an hour on Google Search. When you add that to Drive, Classroom, Apps for Education and all the other stuff, you will come away with a huge list of amazing things to do in your classroom or school.
  2. The presenters are fantastic. You can learn loads about how to use Google tools (that are usually free*). You’ll learn stuff that you can take back and put into your classroom practice immediately and you’l feel inspired to do so.
  3. You’ll meet brilliant teachers. The other teachers there are as FAB as you – and you get to meet them and continue networks with them that will continue to inspire your practice for years to come. Some of the best things that have happened in my school have happened because other Google Certified Teachers helped me make them happen.
  4. You’ll meet Googlers. That’s the name for people who work for Google. It’s no accident that Google are one of the most successful companies in existence – their recruiters are the top guys on the planet and it means the people they bring in have brains the size of small moons. I know not everyone gets inspired by meeting really clever people, but if you do, the GTA is for you!
  5. You get a badge. You can put the badge virtually on your website or wear it at conferences. I find that really useful because it stops salespeople talking to me.
  6. It’s awesome. Yes – there will be some Americans there, and ‘awesome’ is their word. Get used to it. It’s OK – in fact it’s better than OK – its awesome. But apart from that, you’ll get a taste of what Google is like to work for – even that can inspire you to make changes in your classroom and school. If things get really good, you might even hear someone say, “just raw awesome”.

If you to apply, the application is here. You have until the end of next Monday (22nd September).

(* by ‘free’ I mean cost no money)

Developing Digital Literacies. #4: have a safe place to experiment.

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

4. Have a safe area to experiment.

Schools are safe places to make mistakes. As the behaviour co-ordinator, I have several incidents throughout the year were children make mistakes and then I try to teach them ways to avoid the making that mistake again. Examples include: using an angry tone of voice; responding violently or aggressively to a stressful incident; using inappropriate language. If an eight year old can be taught to respond to stress without using violence, then that will help them immensely when they are older – the violence a 14 year old or a twenty year old could perpetrate is potentially a lot more harmful than that of an eight year old.

Surely the same is true of online communication.

When children at my school email each other insults, it gives me a chance to talk to them about losing their temper online. We use Google Apps at my school and the system is set so that children can only contact other members of the school – any mistakes are kept within the school online environment, just as mistakes on the playground are kept within the school. This means I can educate children about the dangers of losing their temper when their fingers are near a keyboard; or taking a playground grudge online – such things are recorded. I would far rather children make these mistakes using Google Drive and Gmail within the protection my school’s domain than when they’re older on Facebook and Twitter, or indeed on a public Google Drive or Gmail account.

There are many other alternative safe places to Google Apps that schools can use – Edmodo, Frog and J2E are just some examples that I have flirted with in the past.

“I’d prefer to use the Chromebooks”

It’s taken a good year, but my staff now use Chromebooks with their children as a first preference. Given the choice they put Chromebooks ahead of our other devices.

We have 30 chromebooks in a Lapsafe charging trolley and 30 Windows PCs in an ICT suite. The teachers know the PCs – they’re what we’ve used for years – they’re comfortable with them. But the Chromebooks are now more convenient.

The 8 second start up means very little lesson time is lost at start up. Even if the odd device does not connect to the wifi first time, a restart takes 10 seconds – and now we have an open Meraki network around the school, devices connect 99% of the time.

The portability of the Chromebook means that they work really well in normal classrooms. Teachers can use them in the room where they are most comfortable.

Google Apps makes a big difference too. Being able to produce work in Google Docs, share ideas in Google Groups and output best work to Blogger means the Chromebooks are really versatile, productive devices.

But what summed it up for me was last week when a teaching assistant was acting as a cover supervisor for a teacher who was absent. This particular lady is not the most confident with technology, saw the plan the teacher had left for her and I gave her the choice – ICT suite or Chromebooks.

I’d prefer to use the Chromebooks,” she said.

How do you move a Primary School to #BYOD

First of all you’ve got to have a purpose for mobile technology. As I previously stated, my purpose is threefold: use, danger and expense. But behind all that is the belief that the the ideal device for mobile learning is the brain and the best thing to educate the brain of a child is a learned adult.

So with that as a given, how have we gone about it? Well, in five steps:

  1. You need some technology that works. Something that the children can access on any device and use productively. We chose Google Apps and used it for a year before looking into any mobile devices. We have also used Education City and are looking at changing our MIS system to an entirely cloud-based one called Aspen.
  2. You need to try some mobile devices. It’s no good allowing this to happen if the staff haven’t used them at all. We got some Chromebooks into school and have recently been trialling some iPads courtesy of XMA.
  3. You need to send some devices home. I called this SOOD – Send Our Own Devices. It’s a bit different from BYOD because it involves us as a school sending some devices home. I think this is an important step because it shows families that you trust them and allows you to try out a small test group of children and see what happens when they have a device with them 24/7. If we could afford it, I’d love to go SOOD for our whole school, but we don’t have the budget.
  4. You need to beef up your wifi. We got a system called Meraki which is cloud-based and allows me to monitor what happens on the network. I’ve setup a free open network for students using this. Ideally this would not have a proxy filter system as changing a proxy on a device can be a bit of a fiddle, but I don’t have that luxury at the moment – I still have to teach the children how to input for a proxy in school and a direct internet connection at home.
  5. You need to make it easy for your families to buy devices. There are various schemes out there, but we’re about to go for a system called All Learn by XMA – they setup a monthly payment portal for parents, insure the devices against breakage and insure the school against non-payment – it’s a win-win!


Now, I’m not going to lie here. We’ve only got to step 4 in my school. The rubber is going to really hit the road with Step 5 over the next six months – I’ll let you know how it goes…

Using Google Calendars to organise my school

One of the things that I found a real bind when I became a deputy headteacher was organising the school’s rotas and timetables. No school can operate in chaos – several spaces have to be shared (despite my negativity towards shared spaces) – and so timetables have to exist to make sure that we don’t get two classes turning up to the same hall all togged up in their PE kits, and then one class having to turn back.

For a couple of years now I’ve been using Google Calendars to help me organise the school. It look like this.

The main calendars for our school – PPA, Main Hall, Small Hall, PPA, Visits and Vistors

Now that might look like a big mess, but what is important is that none of the colours overlap. That means no two classes are in the same place at the same time. There: chaos averted.

It starts by me sharing a Google Doc with all the staff to ask them when they want to use their various spaces. I then place their classes on the various calendars to give them their best wishes as much as possible. Where classes occur, I normally talk to the teacher to find a second best option. Once all that’s done, the calendars are ready to be checked – no overlaps means perfection – no clashes.

I’m aware that computer screens are not everyone’s first choice for reading information, so I then print out the calendars (how dreadfully old-fashioned!). Despite the advances in recent iterations of Google Docs, I still prefer Microsoft Word for the print medium…

The “Main Hall” Calendar

…so I use Jing to cut and paste each calendar into a Microsoft Word document. I can then display the calendars on a noticeboard in the staffroom.

But it is not over there. Oh No. As you’ll notice from the “Main Hall” calendar, there are many times during the week when the Main Hall is used. And it just might be that some teacher wants to use the Main Hall for an additional session. Can they do this without asking me directly? Yes! Because I have setup each of these calendars as a ‘resource calendar’. This means that when you add an event to your own calendar, you see a list of ‘rooms’ that you can do that event in. If the room is already booked then it won’t appear on the list – so teachers when planning their week know instantly if they can use the room they want to or if they have to make other arrangements.