All posts by rwhite3787

Using Google Slides to Organize Your Resources

One of my biggest concerns about utilizing our LMS more and more was the amount of text that pages would carry. We use Blackbaud, and if you’re unfamiliar with it….. well, let’s not make this a tirade against Blackbaud. Let’s just leave it at “I’m not a fan”.

Fortunately, the ISTE summer academy in which I participated proved to be a great resource. So instead of including a whole bunch of text with ugly links that are hard to distinguish, I do this:

Now, I’m able to group things in a way that is more visually appealing and easier to understand.

Oh, and I made it on Google Slides!

Wait, What? How’d You Do That?

Well, I’m glad you asked!

The first step is to make all the slides just like you would normally. Whenever I want a block of text to link to another slide, just right-click and select “Link”. It actually defaults to selecting another slide, so you just pick which slide you want to go to. If you want to link to an outside resource, just paste in the site address (maybe using a pasting tool?).

It does take a little time to copy and paste all those boxes, but once you’ve created one set of slides, you shouldn’t have a hard time using them as a template for future slide sets. Plus, I think it will save you time later when you’re having to explain which link is the right one over and over again in the future.

Time to Go Live

Once you’re ready to share your slides, you’ve got to do a little work to get them web ready. First, select “Publish to the web” from the File… menu.

Click on the ‘Embed’ tab, and click that you’re ready to publish to the web. You should get a little box that looks like this…

Copy that big ugly embed code. That’s what you need to bring your site to life on another page!

The Final Steps

The next steps will vary depending on where you want to put your slides. Basically, you need to find a button that says “embed” or “insert HTML code”. You’ll just paste that big huge code into the box that is provided, and you should be good to go!

Now for me, I occasionally have to do a little “trimming” of my box to make it fit a little better. Sometimes it will hang off, or occasionally it’s just too big vertically. I actually had to do it for this blog post!

If that’s the case for you, you can follow my same procedure. You see that fourth line in the image above, where it gives numerical values for width and height? Well, if you go into the code and edit those numbers, you can change how big your slides will appear. It’s not always an exact science, so you’ll likely have to play around with it. But with a little effort, you can make it look much better. And don’t worry about aspect ratios – your slides adjust pretty well by themselves, so you won’t be too stretched out or anything.

So there you go! A quick way to create a more visually appealing – and more user friendly – list of resources for your students. Tell me what you think! Have any questions? Any ideas on how to make it better? Let me know in the comments!

A Simple Tool for Teachers: CopyClip

*Update* Since posting, I have now started to use the program “CopyLess 2”. It addresses the concern I’ve listed below, though it’s a bit harder to access what I copied previously. You may want to check it out while also looking at CopyClip*

So I’ve been debating about whether or not to share some of the steps I’ve taken to move much of my content to a digital platform. While I’ve put in a ton of work and I’m excited about many of my ideas, I feel like talking about them now wouldn’t be appropriate. I don’t know how well they work! I don’t know if the kids like them! So give me a few weeks to try them out and I’ll get back to you.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about a simple tool that I’ve found. But let’s do it infomercial style.

Has this ever happened to you?!?

If you’re like me, you’re constantly moving stuff around on your computer. An email you draft in Google Docs over to Gmail. The layout of a class assignment from my college prep course to the honors level of the course. My Zoom address OVER AND OVER AND OVER. And I’ve really grown tired of having to go back and find where an original source of content was that I may have already closed but need to copy from again.

Well, worry no more! Introducing Copy Clip!

Copy Clip is an app I downloaded for my Mac that allows me to manage my computer’s clipboard.

Copy Clip gives me a little icon on my status bar at the top of the screen. And, of course, it looks like a paper clip.

When you click on it, a drop down menu appears that shows you a history of the things that you have copied – URLs, text, everything! By clicking on them, they become your ‘active’ copy, and you can now paste whatever content it is to your heart’s delight.

You can adjust how much history that the program keeps and how many different items it shows when you click the menu, which I think is a nice feature. Keep it clutter free, or show the everything you’ve ever done!

While it is such a simple tool, that has been such a time saver for me. I think I end up copying and pasting my Zoom link at least once a day. Previously, I would have to go to Google Drive, find the document where the link is kept, copy it, and then paste it where I wanted it to go. It could take me a minute to do all that. Now, it’s 5 seconds. While that might not feel like much, it’s definitely paying off over time.

I know there are other clipboard managers, so maybe there are some tools that are better. The one thing I wish it had was a “save” feature, so that I could ensure that things like my Zoom address would always be present in the list. Maybe it’s there and I’m just not finding it? I don’t know.

Anyway, I think it’s a super helpful tool, and maybe something that will save some teachers out there a little time. Until next time, enjoy yourself, and have fun with your teaching! (Am I trying to make a catchphrase?)

My Struggles with Distance Learning & The Hope I’ve Found for Improvement

It’s no secret that this past school year was rough. Classes moved from their familiar and comfortable spaces to the impersonal rooms of Zoom. Events like graduation and prom were relegated to online celebrations that just weren’t the same. Everyone was struggling to adapt to this new normal, and it didn’t work out for everyone.

Personally, I had a lot of frustrations when we moved to distance learning for many reasons. Some of them were logistical. My wife was continuing to work a 40-hour job, and with all the daycares closed, I was tasked with teaching online classes while also taking care of my 8 month-old daughter. The mic on my work computer is broken, so I had to wear headphones whenever I was teaching, and it turns out my daughter just loves to yank headphones out and put them in her mouth. We lost several sets in the past few months…

But most concerning was the impact that distance learning has had on my teaching style. I have always found great success in relying on my sense of humor, my quick thinking, and my detailed knowledge of the content in order to help my students find success. I often move around the room with high energy, crack jokes to help students feel more comfortable when they’re struggling with a concept, and talk one-on-one with students to help boost their confidence and reassure them that I have their back.

Cut to a distance learning environment, and many of my strengths have turned into weaknesses. My “on the fly” planning usually allows me to be highly responsive to the needs of my students. Now, I’m just that teacher that’s sitting there without any slides or anything, looking as if he has no plan. My contagious energy that brings life and joy to my classroom doesn’t really work as well in a Zoom call, where I’m confined to a small frame and often have to hold a baby while I’m talking.

I became very frustrated with distance learning, and I spent most of the last few weeks of school counting down the days until it was over. I really started to question whether or not I still found joy in teaching and whether I could stomach another year of distance learning.

But that was May and June. It’s July now. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that things can change very quickly.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working through several different professional development courses that seek to enable teachers to find more success in a hybrid or distance learning environment. One, developed by One Schoolhouse, seeks to bring the online learning platform to a wider audience, helping teachers to see the effective tools and strategies that organization has used for years. The other, from ISTE, has brought in professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds so that teachers can create distance learning environments that welcome in every student.

Now, I’m happy. I’m energized. I feel like I’ve been “reborn” as a teacher. I’m excited to apply everything I’ve learned to some good PBL and confidence building activities that I’ve done in the past. I’m currently still in the development phase for all of this, but I’m excited to see the outcome.

I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks some details about what I’ve learned and how I’m hoping to apply those ideas in my classroom. Some of these ideas will not be fully tested, so take them with a grain of salt. Others will be modifications that just make sense in the grand scheme of things. While it could be that no one ever reads these posts, I’ve learned from these courses the importance of reflecting on what I’ve learned so that I can better remember all of it. So hey, enjoy my self-indulgence.

Next year is going to be crazy, and no one can be fully prepared for what’s coming. However, I know that I now at least have a headstart. I know that my students will have a much better experience in my room on a daily basis compared to what they had last year. I am confident that I can be the successful, engaging teacher that I’ve been for over a decade.

And that is certainly a better spot to be in.

I’m Back! Returning to the World of Educational Blogging

Well, it’s been more than 5 years since I’ve added to this blog! That’s crazy! While I was more than content to let this blog retire to some sunny corner of the Internet, I’ve been doing several things to prepare for the upcoming school year that I thought I would like to write down. So, I’m back!

And it’s crazy to see the impact that this blog has continued to have in my absence. Since 2017, the site has had more than 8500 visits – that’s pretty substantial for not ever being updated! I’m happy that people are finding so much usefulness in some of my ideas (particularly my communism + chocolate lesson plan). It’s such a joy to think that some students out there may have had a better educational experience because of my ramblings here.

So in the past 5 years, I’ve done a few things. I have moved to a different job – I now work at the Atlanta Girls’ School, where I have served as the math department chair and varsity soccer coach (among other things). I earned my masters degree in Independent School Leadership from Vanderbilt University in 2016. I moved to Clarkston, GA, and my wife and I welcomed our daughter Phoebe into the world last August.

With regards to education, I’ve continued to work diligently in the land of project-based learning. Given that I have been working at a girls’ school, I’ve also done a lot of research into what works best in mathematics education for girls. We also do some great work on diversity and equity at my current school, and so I’ve worked to find ways to include that into our curriculum, as well.

I’ve spent a lot of time directly working with new teachers in my department, so it’s been interesting to move into that support role in a direct way. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I think I’ve learned so much more about my practice as I have served in that capacity.

A major reason for my returning to blogging is the madness in which we currently find ourselves. I will be the first to admit that the end of the 2019-2020 school year was rough for me. My teaching style does not translate well at all to a virtual learning environment. I’ve always been a very improvisational, spontaneous teacher whose personality, sense of humor, and deep content knowledge carry me from day to day.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to work anymore, so I’m essentially starting over and trying to learn how to be a great teacher. I’ve taken some great summer courses, and I’m hoping that it all pays off for the students.

So, next time I would love to throw in some reflections about how I’m hoping to approach hybrid learning, and I would love to get some feedback from you. Until then… go sleep! The summer’s almost over! Enjoy it while you can!

Reflecting on Reflections

Yes, it has been forever since I have posted.  Yes, I am still alive.  And yes, I missed you, too.

This summer, I have begun a master’s program at Vanderbilt University in Independent School Leadership.  This marks the second week of our 6-week summer program, and already I have learned so much.  We are about to finish up our first “theme” of the summer, which discusses leadership, teachers, and curriculum.

Today, we completed a discussion on the importance of evaluating teachers.  Now, when most teachers hear the word “evaluation”, they run for cover.  They generally picture their principal sitting awkwardly at a desk, furiously taking notes while the teacher tries not to say or do anything ridiculous.  Afterwards, the teacher sits down with the principal and listens to all the things they do right and the things they do wrong.  Then, the teacher signs the paper, and everyone moves on.

As we talked about the process of observations and reflections, I could help but notice all of the similarities between teacher evaluation and student evaluation.  As a teacher, I perform assessments and evaluations of my students all the time.  I check their math problems.  I look to see if their homework is done.  I read over their essays.  Throughout their careers, teachers are doing all sorts of evaluations, and we tell students that it’s so they can get better.  We try to make the situation as low pressure as possible, ensuring kids with test anxiety or fear of failure that “everything’s going to be all right.”

If that’s the case, then why do we carry such tension when we go into evaluations?  Often, instead of viewing this as a time to learn and a time to get better, we only think of negative consequences.  Much of this fear could be due to the culture that our school or our previous schools have established.  If evaluations only lead to non-conversations if you’re doing well and long conversations if you’re not, then you may start to dread that time of the year.

Evaluations are an essential part of the process of education.  We must be sure that our teachers are top notch!  And in order for this to happen, leaders MUST create an environment where evaluations aren’t such a horrible thing.  Get the teachers in on it – ask them to do a self-reflection, and then you and the teacher sit down and compare your results.  You’ll be surprised how much you have in common in those evaluations.  Also, let the teachers make the tool.  Why do just the principals and the heads get to decide what makes a good teacher?  We should include the people that are actually in the classroom every day.  And in that process of determining what makes a good teacher, those teachers will be self-evaluating and reflecting.  Always good things.

I’m not an administrator, and I don’t get to create a big, giant evaluation tool for our school.  However, I do know that in the future, I’m going to work to change my view of the evaluation process.  I’m going to make sure I approach it with open arms and encourage my administration and colleagues to do the same.  As the culture begins to change around evaluations, our teachers can only get better.