Monday, September 15, 2014

My 7 Favorite Google Secrets

My teachers often ask me: where do you learn all of your Google things and how do you have time?

And, I think that highlights a major point of need: the ability to know where to find information and make sense of it. It's an oldie, but a goody. Unfortunately, it hasn't transferred as well to digital information because we now have access to information quicker and easier than in the past. Though that can make searching greater, it can also be overwhelming to many.

When I think back to my students, it was the same way - the ones that seemed to be in the know were, in reality, just good at searching and finding. And, that's why I can't reiterate enough how important being an effective searcher and seeker of information is today.

So, where do I find my information? Outside of the usual Google + and Twitter (follow me @christyfenne to see who I follow), I read a lot of Google's literature -  not every day, but I bookmark it and I save items to read later.

Check out these personal favorites (and you can subscribe via email so you can read once a day or however often you like).

1. Official Google Blog

2. Google Chrome Blog

You can subscribe by email or through any other reader:

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Giving girls the code to success

Last year, my high school librarians and I conducted a week long hack-athon/code-athon called Warrior Code. Though the event did not garner as many students as we hoped, it did make a lasting impact.

One student, our only girl participant, stopped us afterward and asked if we would sponsor her in starting a Westwood chapter of Girls Who Code. At the time, we had little vision of what it would turn out to be, but we gladly said yes.

Over four months later, we are about to host our first meeting with the Westwood Girls Who Code. Our one girl entrepreneur found three other girls as passionate as she was and, together, they found four volunteer instructors, and one more sponsor. They also took initiative and contacted the main chapter of Girls Who Code.

Last Friday, the girls took to the Fish Bowl, our high school's freshmen club orientation. After the short orientation, they already had over 50 freshmen girls signed up to become part of this inaugural program of girls.

Next week, we will begin with no other goals besides learning, growing, and sharing. Stay tuned for our progress with the club...and the progress in creating a new generation of girl leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, and helpers.

You can find the girls and their journey on their twitter account @westwoodgwcr

Other organizations to follow include:

  • Girl Develop It
  • Texas Girls Collaborative Project
  • So She Did
  • UT - WEP
  • Girl Start
  • Made With Code
  • Girls Pushing Girls to Code
  • Girls Who Code - National
  • Black Girls Code
  • Coder Dojo
And, follow up your reading with an article from the New York Times on one woman's personal journey to get more girls into coding. 

Why do you think it is or isn't essential to get girls into coding?

For me, it's not a matter of coding, but a matter of innovating and leadership. Coding is not just an area that is underrepresented by females, but it's a way of thought - one of trial and error - that is essential to all students, not just girls. However, (here's where girls are even more needed) the pool of CS and other coding-related careers is missing a whole line of thought. Watching my girl and boy students interact, I know that their decision-making and what they bring to a group is very unique. But, when I think about a whole field devoid of any substantial "girl thought," I know it is essential. As with any career, a balance of thought and group think is necessary.

What do you think?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Giving the school year a Google Kick!

We are starting the final stages of year two of the Google Ninja Academy. However, as we progress further, we notice that we need more teacher and student voice. So, if you would like to present in-person or virtually at our second annual Google Ninja Academy, we highly encourage you to apply! We want to spotlight student groups and bring back PD to the hands of educators and students - so tell us what you want to explore!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Re-thinking High School

I'll be the first to admit that I was the epitome of the overachieving student. My senior year of high school consisted of eight Advanced Placement classes and one test after the next. In fact, my high school career was a blur of tests, grades, tests, and grades. Success was defined to me as making the grades, making the highest standardized test scores, and getting into the best schools.

But hindsight is 20-20. Now that I am 12 years removed from high school, I feel I was misled. I went to a top-ranked high school and our counselors steered everyone - including my brother whose interest centered around auto-mechanics - to four-year universities. I never thought to question the advice I was given. So, I spent my high school and undergraduate years working on the grade.

I was fortunate enough to have teachers and parents that instilled a love of learning in me. However, others were not as lucky as me. I was steered down a path to a four-year university and I don't regret going to the school. But, I also did not have to "foot the bill" for my B.A. Degree. It was not until I hit graduate school that I realized how astronomic the cost of secondary education was to students.

At high schools, we continue to steer students down the four-year college path, but are we setting them up for failure? My brother - fortunately our parents did not take the counselor's advice for a four-year college - spent one year in a junior college and decided to move onto trade school. Now, he is a manager of his own autoshop. Is he successful? Yes. If he had gone to a four-year university, would he have been as successful? I don't know. When you take into consideration the astronomical cost of attending school, the loans, and the lack of money some careers generate, you are forced to decide: is a four-year school worth my time?

So, I ask you: how can we change this? Why do high schools continue to assume four-year colleges are the best choice for students? Are we setting them up for financial failure? Many of my friends - who are all ten years removed from college - are still paying for college. So, financially - has college  been worthwhile? Sadly, the answer is no. With online courses, certifications, and a global society, why do four-year colleges have to be the most accepted form of education? How can we change this?

I'm now back working at a high school similar to the one I graduated from and I see the same students and the same pressures placed on students. How can we change this? The focus needs to be removed from getting into that school - which, thereby places the importance of learning on grades - and rather how to find that thing that makes you innovative. Do we want students with high grades or students who innovate? I'm finding the terms to not always be one-in-the-same.

As I prepare for this year with grade-focused students, I have decided to create a tech program that puts students in the teachers' seats and teachers' in the students' chairs. Let students drive education. We say that, but do we actually do that? Aren't we dictating what success is? How can we change our definition of success in schools?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rethinking a school year

For the first time in several years, I will not be entirely working on one campus. It's bittersweet in that I'm saying goodbye to one and giving another my full attention. With that full attention comes decisions on what to do.

During a training I was giving this week, a teacher  mentioned her frustrations after attending a training of another instructor who was "too excited." I asked her to elaborate and she explained that, because the instructor was so excited about the subject, it led to a training that was not linear or had no guiding line. In other words, the training was scattered. I'm certainly one to get "too excited."

So, in thinking about the teacher's comments, I'm also thinking of ways to contain excitement as I think about this school year and all of the changes I want to make. How do I facilitate change in a way that is clear and defined? How can I channel my excitement into a rational plan?

I'm ready to create student tech program where high school students mentor middle school and elementary kids, help fix help tickets, and provide training across the district. I'm ready to sponsor girls' coding clubs. I'm ready to implement extensive PD. And, I'm ready to take the campus by storm. But, is my campus ready? Am I ready to have a clear plan for my campus?

So, unlike my previous years, I am planning out ways to make my plans an integral part of me - to show them as not something extra or something new I'm just wanting to try, but something I'm confident in and something I'm comfortable with.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Building your e-Portfolio with Google Maps? Yes!

It was during a session at the Google Geo Teachers Institute where Sean Askey, creator of Google's Tour Builder, where I had an epiphany. We were tasked with creating a practice tour with Google Tour Builder. At the time, I thought I'd make one about my road to Googleness.

But, as I was creating my tour - chronicling my road from a high school English teacher at Hallsville High School to a tech director to an instructional technologist, I thought: why does this just have to be my journey? Both literally and figuratively, the Google Tour Builder is a map of a story, a map of a particular location's historical changes, and even a map of a person's life. In other words it is a tour of where they have have been, what they have done, and where they are going.

Typically, I see ePortfolios as Websites. I am still a big supporter of Websites, but do ePortfolios all have to be the same? For those students who are spacial thinkers or who have been on that journey, a Google Tour may be the perfect solution.

To access Tour Builder, students only need a Google account (this is not part of the Google Apps for Edu suite). From there, they can build tours. At each location, they can add links (think about links to audio using Vocaroo, or links to Google docs & other Google products, links to videos, and more!). They can also easily browse for images and videos to upload. They can turn on historical imagery, overlay Google Earth files, and more.

So, are you ready to get started on your tour?!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Best Reading: The Official Google Blog

If I were to  pick one reading source for newcomers to Google, I'd pick the Official Google Blog.Some of the best reading I get each day comes from the Official Google Blog that I get via my email. I filter the blogs into a Google Blog label in my Gmail and return to it during my lunchtime reads.

Where do you find the Official Google Blog?
Go to each day or....

Add it to your email feed for daily reading.

Click on the Feed button:

Then, sign up with your email:

What can you learn?
I frequently share the "Ninja Secrets of Google's Projects" to educators around the world. And, often, they are blown away by the depth of resources available from Google Dev Art to Building with Chrome. However, I attribute my knowledge of all of those resources to the Official Google Blog. Additionally, the information shared daily is great discussion material for students. For instance, check out this article on popular searches related to the World Cup.

My recommendation:
Send it to your email, filter it into a folder and read it when you get a chance. You will be up-to-date on the latest Googleness and you'll have plenty of info to fuel classroom discussions for your entire school year.