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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Zoom in your screen on a Chromebook

One of the things I missed the most when using a Chromebook as a primary device was the ability the zoom in when presenting. I used this all the time on my Mac to focus on a specific area of the screen.

But it turns out there IS an easy accessibility feature enable that on a Chromebook. Just follow these simple steps to make it work:
 Go to Chrome OS Settings, and click on "Show advanced settings"
Scroll down a little...
Check the box to enable screen magnifier

That's it! Now you can press Ctrl + Alt + Brightness up or Brightness down, or (my preferred method) use Ctrl + Alt + two fingers scrolling up or down on the trackpad to magnify the screen. It even works when you are sharing your screen during a Hangout, which is pretty cool.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Embed a mobile-friendly Picasa/Google+ photo slideshow to Google Sites

It is very easy to embed a Picasa/Google+ photo album on a Google Site:

The problem is that the slideshow is not mobile friendly, so it can only be viewed on a desktop browser.

So, how do you embed a mobile-friendly Picasa/Google+ photo slideshow to Google Sites? Here is a step-by-step tutorial using an RSS feed:

1. On your Google Site, click on Insert and then More gadgets.
2. Search for "image slideshow rss", and select the first gadget called "Image Slideshow"

3. Go to the "old" Picasa Web Albums and choose your album (does not work if you go to Google+ Photos)
4. Make sure your album is public on the web or shared with anyone with the link. Then, right-click on the RSS feed link and copy the link location.
5. Go back to your gadget and set up the settings like so:

And there you go! 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hangouts on Air in the New Google Plus Layout

Are you having trouble finding out how to enable Hangouts on Air since Google updated to their new Google+ interface? If that's the case, keep on reading.

First, you now MUST go to Google Plus. You cannot start a HOA from your email chat or Hangouts Chrome Extension.

Then, hover your mouse over "Home" or click on the arrow next to it to open a menu.

From the menu, choose "Hangouts on Air".

Click on "Start a Hangout on Air"

Name your HOA, and invite your guests. Your video will automatically be uploaded to your YouTube account. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

SoundGecko for Education

Wouldn't be awesome for our students to be able to listen to any online article or website on their device? Well, it is possible with SoundGecko! SoundGecko is a free tool that works seamlessly between your Chrome browser (or Chromebook) and your mobile device. When you "Send to SoundGecko" it will create a readout of the article. The audio quality is very good, and the voice is quite natural.

Here is a quick video tutorial I created:

I believe it can be very helpful for:

  • Students struggling with reading, as they can practice with a readout
  • English as a second language learners, to practice their listening comprehension skills and vocabulary
  • Students creating notes for a test on a Google Site, and listening to them to study
  • Teachers listening to educational articles on their smartphone while driving
  • Teachers assigning articles to students, so they can listen to them and take notes
  • Memorizing poems, quotes and presentations
Can you think of any other educational uses?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Assessing the Iceberg

Learning is like an iceberg. How so?

Most of the learning that goes on in our classrooms is invisible. We can only make educated estimates on the knowledge and skills acquired by our students by looking at the "tip of the iceberg". So we measure learning based on that visible part using assessment instruments we know (a test, a writing assignment, a presentation...). But what about that other 90% we often don't see? Can and should we assess that?

Image licensed under CC - Attribution
Flickr user Osccarr
I my opinion: yes! Yes, because not all children deliver well under pressure when taking a test. Yes, because some students might not be able to express their learning in a 5-paragraph essay. And yes, because some students choke when presenting in front of an audience. I believe that, as often as possible, we should try to measure the learning happening underneath the surface.

Of course, now it's time to offer some tips on HOW to dig (or in this case, dive) deeper:
  1. As a teacher, reflect on the expected learning outcomes
  2. Offer formative self, peer and teacher assessment
  3. Ask for meaningful final products (and give choice)
  4. Use rubrics
1. Educators need to take some time for reflection before, during and after creating lessons and projects. We really need to stop and think, is the learning I'm expecting valuable? Am I promoting the use of high order thinking skills, or am I focusing on memorizing facts? 
Additionally, lets stop and ponder if the learning outcome I'm using to assess is reflecting the learning I want to happen. A lot of times, these two are not aligned.
2. Summative assessment is not the only kind of evaluation available. Students can get a lot out of formative evaluations, for it helps them guide their own learning path. Promoting reflection and meta-cognitive learning, self and peer assessments offer a way for the teacher to have a better insight of the learning process before the final product, and for learners to adjust their strategies throughout the assignment .
3. Educators should be creative when designing assignments, and should provide students choice in terms of how the final product will look like. If we are only giving them multiple-choice tests, then we are probably just measuring their memorization abilities. Let's ask for more meaningful outcomes that challenge their analytical and creative skills (a task where technology can truly help). And let's give them some wiggle room when deciding how to demonstrate what they learned. If we followed step 1, we should have no problem here.
4. I love rubrics. They are clear, unbiased, and they link the teacher's learning objectives with the visible outcomes. Let's create rubrics that purposely assess the process.

Are there other ways you are measuring what's underneath the surface?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finding the Right Level of Frustration

It is said that in order to innovate, one needs to be taken out of their comfort zone. I find this to be consistently true with my students, with the people around me, and with myself. But there is not much wiggle room between the realms of frustration and boredom. If the task is too difficult and it will create frustration. On the other hand, if it's too easy, then motivation level drops significantly. So how can teachers find the right challenge level for their students? How to find that exact point where students are taken outside their comfort zone, yet making them feel like the outcome is rewarding and achievable? And more importantly: how to do this without having to write a completely different lesson plan for each student?

Where creativity blooms
Now, before I set any false expectations, I'd like to say that I don't have the answer to these questions. BUT I do have an example of a final project I gave my students where creativity IS blooming, so it might serve as a guideline for others. I believe that the following helped for it to happen:

  1. I set clear expectations using a rubric
  2. If they met expectations, they got 90% credit
  3. I encourage a healthy bit of competition
  4. There was a good balance between what they knew and what they had to figure out
  5. Planning of the final project
  6. There was also a good balance between the project limitations and its potential for innovation

Allow me to explain the previous points. First of all, setting clear expectations helped my students know what I was looking for. This might sound simple, but ambiguity can make them lose their focus and cause frustration. I also went through the rubric with them, clarifying any doubts they might have had.
The second point has to do with grades. Let me first confess that I don't care much about grades. I care about their learning, and that is often hard to measure and label with a number or letter. Nevertheless, most students DO care about grades because they have a direct impact on their higher education future. So I think that my students perceive a 90 (A-) as a good grade to get if they meet the expectations. And meeting expectations reflects that they learned what I intended them to. Going beyond would earn them an even higher grade.
Another strategy I use is encouraging what I consider to be a healthy bit of competition. Whenever I see somebody raise the bar, I casually (but publicly) recognize that person. Though this can be a double-edged sword, if used effectively it will motivate others to try harder and raise the bar themselves.
The fourth point is just good constructivism practice. Build on previous knowledge and guide students into discovering what they need to learn and do in order to complete the task. It gives them some security realizing that they can get started because they have the knowledge and skills necessary, even though they might not have all the pieces right away. And whatever else they need to figure out should sound reachable. Plus, I promote that they share their findings.
My final point is about having a balance between limitations and the potential for innovation. Students needed to respect certain parameters in the project (i.e. dimensions, covering all classrooms, environmentally friendly elements), but had plenty of room for playing with design, spaces and materials. I have noticed time and time again that students feel more secure if working within a certain structure. Not limits, but structure.

Please enjoy the following video made by one of my students:

Below you will find a short blurb of what the project is about.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Visualiza Información con Hojas de Cálculo de Google

En mi segundo Google Edu on Air, presenté sobre gráficos que se pueden generar dentro de las Hojas de Cálculo de Google. Hablé sobre cómo fácilmente hacer gráficos interactivos, y en qué tipo de proyectos se pueden usar dentro del salón de clases. Abajo podrán ver el video y la presentación. Muchas gracias a todos los que participaron en vivo.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crea un Portafolio Electrónico en Google Sites

Hoy presenté el primer Google Edu Hangout on Air en español. Platiqué sobre la importancia de crear portafolios electrónicos dentro de la enseñanza, además de un pequeño tutorial sobre cómo crear una plantilla en Google Sites. Abajo pueden encontrar el video y la presentación. Me encantó el hecho de que pudimos conectar 3 países latinoamericanos en el Hangout: México, Ecuador y Venezuela. ¡Ojalá que la encuentren útil!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Edu on Air - Visualize Google Sheets

Yesterday I had a great time presenting my fist solo Google Edu on Air Hangout on Visualizing Google Sheets. If you missed it, you can watch the video and presentation below!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thinking Critically About Media

Yesterday, my Master's students did an assignment that turned out to be quite fun. Based on TED Ed's The Key to Media's Hidden Codes lesson, they looked for 2 print ads in Google Images, 2 TV ads in YouTube, and 2 movie title sequences in Art of the Title.

After that, they had to identify and analize the codes they found in the different kinds of media. (click on the codes to see them change color)

Based on their subject and grade level, they wrote a lesson plan to teach their students to be critical media viewers. Here are some examples: (in Spanish)

Information, visual, and media literacies often don't have a specific subject area where they are covered. I believe it is important for educators to find "teachable moments" and help students acquire those crucial skills. In this case, to become critical media thinkers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tips for Walkthrough Observations

As an administrator, I have to do formal and informal observations. But a third way of gathering information of what is happening in classrooms is through walkthrough observations. These quick, unannounced visits usually last from 5 to 15 minutes. But watching is not enough; there are certain specific indicators you should be looking for:

  • Students attitude towards the learning. Look for student engagement, their attention and their behavior. Analyze the interaction between teacher and students, and amongst students.
  • Curriculum connection. Review if the lesson is following objective and standards previously established.
  • Instructional method. Evaluate the teaching repertoire.
  • Evidence of previous work. Look for student work hanging on the walls and bulletin boards.
  • Safety and health. Examine if the teaching and learning environment is a secure place for students.
  • Areas of learning opportunity. Think of a time during the lesson where the teacher missed a learning moment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Targeted Professional Development for Teachers

There have been studies that show there is very little correlation between educational degrees and teacher effectiveness in the classroom. To me, part of the problem is teachers pursuing generic training or graduate degrees. Nevertheless, I believe there is a way that performance evaluation, with the help of self, peer and supervisor evaluation can achieve targeted professional development that could improve key skills in the teacher.
For example, if a peer observes your class and sees many students off-task because of behavior, he/she can suggest class-management books, courses, articles or webinars. In terms of a self evaluation, a teacher might realize that his/her technology skills are not on par to what the students requiere. At this point, the teacher might recognize the importance of those skills and decide to take some graduate courses on educational technology.
There is some controversy if administrators should be both coaches and policemen. When a supervisor coaches a teacher, he/she needs to be careful and analyze if the teacher should be "coached up" or "coached out". When a teacher is clearly unhappy, unmotivated and struggling beyond what professional development can help with, then the administrator should coach them out. In most cases though, administrators should positively give advice on what resources or classes a teacher should take a look at. There is a thin line between what a teacher could consider genuine positive advice, and threatening criticism.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adapting School Accreditation Methods to Teacher Evaluations?

Today, I was reviewing different accreditation organizations during my master's class on Measurement and Evaluation: SACS, WACS, CIS, NEASC, NWCCU and others. Though they have some differences, most agree on certain core premises. I found a few that could be translated to teacher evaluations to make those a more personal and effective process: self-study, mission alignment and a continuos improvement plan.
In my experience, most teacher evaluations consist of one or several visits by the evaluating administrator taking notes on what he/she perceives in a lesson. The evaluator looks for specific indicators and marks findings in rating scales.
An obvious flaw with this method is the lack of input from the teacher. The evaluation is completely generic for every teacher, and he/she is not identified with it. That is why I believe that bringing some aspects of evaluation from school accreditation agencies to teacher evaluations could be very valuable. First of all, the self-study undergoes a series of reflective exercises from the teacher to identify strengths and opportunities for growth. The points the teacher decides to target should be aligned to the school's mission or overarching goals. Finally, a plan for continuos improvement will set a process cycle of identifying the teacher's goals, putting them into place, reviewing their effectiveness and adjusting accordingly. With the use of peer evaluations and administrator feedback, teacher evaluations can be a more friendly and effective way of improving the quality of teaching.

Who is the Client in Education?

There is no definite answer everybody agrees as to who is the client in education. All these could be considered clients: students, parents and society. But I believe that our main client should be the student.
Maybe it comes from my marketing undergraduate degree, but the client to me means "the target". If we are targeting the student, we are on the right track. 
Targeting the parents is not always a good idea. Their interests could be focused on their children's grades, schedules, money, and other aspects that don't necessarily have to to with student learning. It is also very different if we are dealing with a public or a priviate school. That is why I think understanding the student as the client is the silver bullet.
My main goal is to make students better learners. Life-long, responsible, critical-thinking, self-motivated learners. That is why it is it so important to teach competencies integrated in the curriculum, such as environmental and social responsibility. If I succeed, then students are going to give back to the community and create a ripple effect. So at the end, you are contributing to society as a whole. 

Position on Performance Evaluation

All institutions and organizations, no matter how small they may be, should be doing some kind of Performance Evaluation. To me, it's a reflection exercise that is based on real data in order to make changes that will benefit the organization. Of course, large corporations are the ones in the lead of this discipline. Educational institutions try to adopt best practices from the business world to evaluate students, teachers, administrators, and the school as a whole. In terms of performance evaluation in education, what I believe is:

  • There is no perfect "one size fits all" method. Institutions are better off looking at their current method and comparing it to others, making the necessary adjustments to their reality: size, culture, language, mission, budget, etc.
  • Performance Evaluation is an ongoing process. It shouldn't be looked as a project with a beginning and end, but as a continuos cycle with an improvement component.
  • Stakeholders should be aware of its value. Teachers, administrators, parents, and the community as a whole must be communicated of the process.
  • The message should answer what, why, how, and when. And I find especially important to communicate what that data is being used for.
Performance Evaluation provides organizations with information to make knowledgeable changes at different levels. It is not easy to come up with a system that works and is not too time-consuming, but having it in place will help institutions make informed decisions.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

BYOD + Google = BFF

I recently hosted a Google Edu on Air Hangout about using Google as the main pillar to support a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environment. It was truly a great experience, where I got to have my guest panel interact, and other people watching the live stream and asking questions. Below you can find the video and Google Presentation I did for the Hangout.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Google Teacher Academy UK 2012 - A Magical Experience

Team Biro
So... one week after the Google Teacher Academy in London, I can finally sit down and write about my experience. And what an experience it was!

I flew from Mexico a couple days before the Academy. I had severe jetlag. I had a cold. I slept about 8 hours in total between Sunday and Wednesday, the day of the Academy. But when I got to the Google offices, I suddenly started feeling a lot better. And as the day passed, I felt more and more energized.

All 50 participants were divided in different teams with strange names. I was part of Team Biro, lead by the incredible Zoe Ross. Our team was definitely diverse and international, with teachers from the UK, US, Ukraine and Mexico.

Google Canapés
We started with a fabulous breakfast. I have to mention the food because it was out of this world throughout the Academy. After that, we had a general welcome and overview. Then we had some required sessions and some optional ones. I have to say there was a very healthy balance of both, and all our time was well spent.

The general pace of the GTA was incredibly fast. But everyone was keeping up absorbing every bit of wisdom that was being shared. This showed me that this group of educators is really outstanding and they deserve to be Google Certified Teachers.

I have to recognize that the organization in this event was fantastic. Every person who was involved from CUE, EdTechTeam and Google did an incredible job creating a magical experience for the participants. All I heard were positive comments from all the teachers who attended. And I agree with all of them.

After the GTA, we all got back to our real life jobs. I think I can speak for every participant when I say that we came back energized, hyped and inspired. It was motivating to see so many passionate educators that are working to make a change in their school and their communities. I feel proud to be part of this group, and I look forward to collaborating with this new network of educators.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Thoughts on Going to the Google Teacher Academy UK

Well, it's official. I was selected to go to the Google Teacher Academy in London this April!

As the day of February 24, 2012 came closer, the expectation rose. I was feeling anxious, nervous, uneasy. I knew I was competing against outstanding educators from all over the world. Even though my chances were slim, I always felt I had a chance.

What does this mean? That I am teacher who's passionate about technology in education? Definitely. That I know a lot about Google Apps and other Google services? Probably. That I was really lucky? You bet!

I'm not even going to try to understand the criteria, both quantitative and qualitative, undergone in selecting the candidates. It must have been quite a tough endeavor.

OK, now that I'm going, I can think of two major questions.
  • What am I taking from the Academy?
  • How can I best represent my school and my country?
I hope I can come back and have a new network of educators I can collaborate with. That is probably the most important aspect I'm looking forward to. When I went to the first Mexico Apple Distinguished Educators Institute in 2011, that was definitely the most exciting part of it. Even in just a few days, I think the other Google Certified Teachers and I can create a bond that extends well beyond the GTA dates, and find ourselves collaborating in worldwide projects in years to come.

About representing my school and my country, I find that to be a little stressing. It looks like I'm the only educator from Mexico, and there is only one more from Latin America (Argentina). For me, it's important to portray that there are passionate and knowledgeable educators in The American School Foundation Mexico City (my school) and my region. Ideally, I would make some people think "hey, I didn't know there was such innovation and enthusiasm for educational technology in Mexico".

Anyways, I'm looking forward to this life-changing experience, and will keep you posted!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A handy Gmail tool: Sending scheduled emails

There is a free extension for Firefox and Chrome that lets you send emails at a specific time in Gmail: "Right Inbox".

I'm using it in Chrome with multiple Gmail accounts and it integrates seamlessly and smoothly. I can schedule to send an email in 1, 2, or 4 hours, or at a specific date and time. This is particularly helpful when sending reminders and newsletters.

Just go to the Chrome Web Store or to the Right Inbox website and install the extension. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Measuring informal learning

There are many ways you can learn. Some are considered formal, usually the ones related to being enrolled in a class. It is expected that these award you with some kind of certification that validates you have acquired certain knowledge or skills. Basically, these are the bullet points that go under "Education" in your resume.

Nevertheless, I have come to realize that I have learned so much more informally than formally in the past years. The reason: Personal Learning Networks (PLN). First, I belong to closed groups of incredibly talented educators, such as the Apple Distinguished Educators and Google Apps for Education Certified Trainers. They always have valuable discussions going on. With the use of Twitter, I see what thousands of people are doing in education. I find incredible technology integration projects going on all the time, all over the world. And the best of all: it's FREE!

Now, how to measure informal learning? How can you demonstrate what you have learned if you don't have a diploma for it? My suggestion: create content and share it. Videos, blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.

Smart employers will take a look at your contributions. They might even find out about you based on what you are sharing.

What you do you think? Do you have other suggestions on measuring informal learning?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Creating better videos

I recently presented at Greengates School in Mexico City on how to make better teacher and student-made videos. It all started with planning, then some tips, and do's and don'ts on video and audio. You can view the Google Site I created here:


Friday, June 10, 2011

21 st Century Collaborative Learning Using Social Networks Workshop at Anahuac University

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to offer, in collaboration with my co-worker Patty Zamora, the "21 st Century Collaborative Learning Using Social Networks" workshop at the School of Education, Anahuac University in Mexico City. The students left the workshop full of ideas on how to become better teachers and long life learners, using Twitter, Diigo and Google Docs.

Starting to blog to the world

Hello world,

I am really excited about blogging outside of my school walls. Everything I blogged or shared was limited to the school audience... but no more!

First of all, "allow myself to introduce... myself" (for all of you Austin Powers fans).

My name is Juan De Luca and I work as a Digital Literacy Coach in the American School Foundation in Mexico City. I have been involved in education for the past 11 years. The last few I have worked in Educational Technology, and I love it. I am (proudly) an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Google Apps for Education Qualified Individual, waiting for Trainer Certification at the moment.

I have two main roles in my job: technology integration in the classrooms and teacher training. In the first, I plan and execute projects with teachers from K-12, using technology to enhance the T&L process. Even though it is difficult going from a Kinder to a High School class, it's really satisfying and makes me stay updated.

Training teachers about new technologies is my second job. Trainings include everything from web browsing, iLife and iWork, MS Office and Google Apps.

Last but not least, I also do consultation and keynote speaking. If you are interested, don't hesitate to contact me: