Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Educators Need to Look for Alternatives to Google Drive/Docs

How Google+ Is Destroying Education


People tend to say that you shouldn't write when you're angry, but that is my favorite time to write. After over 2 hours on the phone with Google Apps support and several days of research, I want to make it clear that educators around the world need to start shopping for an alternative to Google Drive. That's a bold statement, but let me explain why I am making it, especially as a user of Blogger, Drive, Gmail, and tons of other Google features:

1. Many educational sites that I use, review, and train educators on for classroom use are no longer possible to integrate with Google Drive because Google+ wants to hype its social media platform, despite adverse consequences to students and teachers.
When I try to make it so that I can connect Google Drive documents and spreadsheets to educational sites that I use with my classroom of 5th graders (who have no business having Google+ accounts), I get errors saying that this user must have a Google+ account in order to upload Google Drive documents to this educational website. I'm shocked that more educators and bloggers aren't raising a fuss about this because if Facebook did something this incompetent, even Congress would agree that something needed to be done. Notice the keyword there, "agree."

2. Google's stubborn resolve to hype its failed social platform (Google+) is not going to change.
Just Google (or Bing it, in case by the time you read this post, Google has forced you to have a Google+ account in order to use its basic search site) this phrase: Google+ forced integration. You will see posts, sites, videos, and petitions about how Google has destroyed YouTube by forcing users to have a Google+ account to make comments on YouTube videos. This is just the beginning, folks. Sites that you know and love all over the web will begin prompting you to sign up for Google+ just to do the things you used to do all the time.

3. Google has killed off many failed components in the past, but somehow, Google+ has survived.

4. Within Google Apps for Education, you cannot enable Google+ while also disabling features that should never be used by kids under 13. 
Google did not think this one through, or perhaps they did, and the $$$ signs outweighed the cost to teachers and students. I fear that many educators, for lack of knowledge about the dangers of using Google+ with children under 13, will simply enable this integration so that they can make their educational websites functional and, well, EDUCATIONAL, but they will be inadvertently enabling kids to create social media profiles, which is risky business.


I don't anticipate any of this changing anytime soon, so as an educator, I have already started looking into alternatives to Google Drive. I suggest other educators do the same. Even if Google changes this one serious flaw, it is just a sign that the company is heading in the wrong direction and is so laser-focused on profits that it does not anticipate or care about casualties to business and educational users.

Shame on you, Google.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Test Does Not Define You | Video

Whenever I ask elementary school students to tell me what they really think about standardized tests and to tell me what they think will happen if they don't do well on the test, their responses are so shocking that I often have a hard time figuring out which misconceptions to address first. Kids tell me that if they fail the test, their school will be shut down, their teachers will be fired, and it will go on their permanent record. No matter how much I try to correct these misconceptions, my voice is no match for the constant misinformation being fed to children, especially third-graders taking the high-stakes tests for the first time.

I decided to create a short video that corrected several misconceptions about standardized tests, taking the theme of "This Test Does Not Define You." The script for the video, written as a poem, originally hit me like a pile of bricks a few months ago. It practically wrote itself. It was originally a 10-minute slam poem that I revised and edited down to about 6 minutes.  I used a variety of software and video editing applications to bring the words to life on a very low budget since I used personal funds to make it. 

The video does not take a stance either for or against testing. Instead, it simply aims to remind students that as much as they need to pour their hearts into these tests and do their best, the tests don't define who they are. Taking a page from my own personal struggles with standardized testing in the fourth grade, I remind students that one's test scores don't stay with them for life, despite what some teachers and administrators threaten about permanent records.  I also describe a simple writing exercise that kids can do to reduce test anxiety. The activity is research-based and more information can be found in this earlier blog post.

It was my hope to release this video in April, but I kept doing minor tweaks to it and it was delayed.  If the test has already been administered in your school or district, I believe the video is still very relevant because kids still have some very real fears about testing and the message is one they need to carry with them throughout their schooling.  It is important to break the video down at times and discuss the lessons (after playing it through once uninterrupted). For this reason, I have included captions. The video can be viewed at 1080p HD in full screen, looks great on a projector, and is completely ad-free so you don't get annoying car commercials popping up all over your screen when showing the video to young children.

I really hope you enjoy it, and if you have any thoughts or have used it in your classrooms or with your own children, please take a moment to comment on it, either here or under the YouTube video itself. Please click the thumbs up on the video if you enjoy it and share it widely. 

Yours,
Kumar R. Sathy


Monday, April 1, 2013

An Animated Reading Comprehension Activity that Boosts Comprehension and Curbs Bullying



Bullying isn't just the stereotypical lunch money theft.
Over 13 million kids will be bullied this year. With our culture's overemphasis on positive thinking (ie., "Don't worry, it'll get better,") and such notions as "boys will be boys," or "the kids will work it out on their own," many students don't feel like the adults in their lives are able to stand up for them. Bullying has prevented millions of kids from feeling safe at school and in too many cases, it has ended lives. A variety of parental and nonprofit groups have brought the issue of bullying to center stage, but one governmental initiative stands out as an overlooked and underrated resource for addressing the issue.

StopBullying.gov is a website so full of tips, resources, graphics, and videos that it would take hours, perhaps days, to get through all of it. The site is also available in Spanish and it stands out as an engaging resource with research-based suggestions for kids, parents, and teachers.

This isn't just a site that dishes out common sense advice or tells kids to ignore the problem.


For Teachers & Parents

The links and sections for teachers and parents have tons of tips and suggestions for dealing with bullying, including:
Common mistakes adults make in response to bullying
Tips to help kids be more than bystanders when bullying occurs
Risk factors, warning signs, effects of bullying, and considerations for special groups

Not a teacher, parent, or student? There are suggestions for community members, too, including a section on how all of us can facilitate conversations about bullying.

For Kids

The site's kids section has facts, videos, games, and addresses what kids can do about bullying
 
Aimed at elementary school students, the kid videos are mini webisodes with comprehension questions about bullying. The videos are short and engaging. I was surprised to see that they didn't take a lecturing or condescending tone. They also don't suggest dealing with a serious issue by just looking on the bright side or telling kids they are special or that it will all get better with time. They offer real suggestions and focus on empathy, not just telling kids that bullying is bad.

Turning it into a Reading Activity:
* Click here to watch one of the videos (I suggest watching it alone first, to get a sense of when to pause and what to discuss with students)
* Hit the CC button (on the bottom of the video frame, toward the center) to turn on the captions
* Click the [  ] symbol on the bottom (far right) of the video frame to make it full screen
* The first time you watch it with students, turn off the volume so that kids are reading, not just watching.
* Then watch again with the captions and audio on
* If students are okay with it, watch it one more time, this time without the audio (but leave captions on)
* Work on the comprehension questions together. As I've mentioned before, doing reading comprehension activities using videos is a great way to level the playing field and make a reading activity meaningful and engaging. Doing comprehension questions away from books is a great way to assess understanding without damaging a child's love for reading.


Kumar R. Sathy is the author of the award-winning Chicken Nugget Man Series of Educational Children's Fiction books and blogger for BeyondTestPrep.com, a nonprofit resource with tips, strategies, and resources for making learning fun. Feel free to comment on this article below and follow @KumarSathy on twitter to read more tips from the author or to ask questions about elementary instruction.