Sometimes It Is Just About The Technology

slide2We hear educators say it all the time: technology is just a tool or it’s not just about the technology, it’s about how a teacher uses it. While I fundamentally agree with these types of statements, I’ve noticed something in the Innovation Lab that has me pushing back a bit: sometimes it is just about the technology.

When we were rethinking the Innovation Lab at Fair Haven this summer and applying lessons learned from our beta year, one thing we knew we needed to address was our stuff. We didn’t have the right technology nor tools to do what we wanted to do. The tech and tools were a bottleneck for us. We had old laptops that couldn’t do things like edit videos, make games, or produce 3D renderings. Recording digital arts was harder than it had to be because we were using older camcorders with SD cards and didn’t have microphones for podcasting. Kids were forced to animate with a mouse instead of drawing tablet. We didn’t have the right tools to deconstruct iPads and other electronics and turn them into works of art. You get the idea.

As we targeted the technology we needed in the Innovation Lab for students to learn the skills we wanted them to, we started to realize that we were targeting some serious stuff. We grew hes2016-11-04-13-12-57itant. Could 5th and 6th graders handle the stuff we wanted to put in the Lab? Would they respect the tech and tools we were going to buy? One of the rules I try to live by as an educator is to make my decisions based on my best kids. Of course I could think of some incidents where I was unhappy with the respect kids were showing toward our stuff in the Lab last year, but I also thought of our kids who would flourish with better technology and tools. We pulled the trigger and bought the good stuff; we would manage the exceptions instead of making them the rule.

We made the right decision. The difference in the way our students treat the technology in the Innovation Lab this year compared to last year is night and day. Not once this year, have we had to talk to a student about how they were treating the technology. For example, through our partnership with Dell, we got top-of-the-line laptops. Our Innovators hold these laptops with two hands and walk them to their workstations. They know they share the laptops with other students throughout the week, so kids do their best to make sure the laptop is in good shape for their peers. They don’t tap to hard on the touchscreen and they shut down the computers the right way, rather than just hitting the power button. Get this: at the end of Innovation Lab students put the laptops back into the correct, numbered slots in the cart and most of the time – most of the time – they plug them in!

I also see their respect in the way students regard our stuff as well. A student accidentally broke off a piece of a laptop. This was more of a design flaw than him being careless, but to his credit he came right over, told us about it, and apologized. We thanked him for his honesty and discussed the design flaw with him.

2016-11-04-13-10-32They’re careful, too. We added a workstation where students can cut, drill, glue, or solder pieces of old technology which they then turn into pieces of art. Students have been great in making sure they get me or Ms. Smith before they start. They always follow the safety procedures and wear their safety gear. We use a heat gun, which contrary to many students’ beliefs is not a hair dryer, to lift glass off of iStuff. Students have been very careful with this, too. We were hesitant to add the heat gun, but since we did, we have had students successfully remove broken iGlass for the first time. This wasn’t possible last year. If we had given into our fears when buying our stuff, learning experiences like this would have never happened. We have a Glowforge coming and hope to do some serious soldering soon. Once upon a time, we were nervous about this. Now, we’re excited by it.

Students attitudes are different, too. More than once I’ve had students tell me or overheard them say to each other how serious the technology in the Lab is and how that must mean this is a serious program or how they are taking their making “extra serious” because of the equipment they have access to. I even see our kids self-policing. They remind each other how they should be treating the stuff in the Innovation Lab.

There was a time over the summer where we debated only putting Chromebooks in the Innovation Lab. We even made a list of the not-as-good browser versions of design tools we could use with them, but we decided we didn’t want to our kids to only have access to Tinkercad. We wanted them to be able to use Fusion360, too. We didn’t want them to just use Scratch to make a game. We wanted them to be able to build in Unity like the professionals if they wanted to. That’s what this is about, not putting a ceiling on possibilities. 

2016-11-03-12-46-58Don’t get me wrong, stuff still ends up on the floor. Kids still need to be reminded it’s a screw driver and not a pry bar sometimes. Tools don’t always get put away in the right drawer, but they are getting put back in the right tool chest now! Our kids are working harder, completing more projects, and taking their learning more seriously just because we bought them the good stuff. What we’ve affirmed comes down to this: make decisions based on your best kids and don’t be afraid to buy them the good stuff. The good stuff has had a profound effect on students’ attitudes and productivity compared to last year. If we had given into our fears or fretted about their age, our students wouldn’t be half as productive as they have been this year and would have been exposed to even less.

At times we want to underestimate our students and what they are capable of. Don’t. They can do it. They deserve the good stuff.

Cultivating Accountability and Motivation in the Makerspace

cropped-slide2-1.pngIn the Innovation Lab, our fifth and sixth grade blended learning makerspace, we see students once a week for the entire school year. During the school year we “grade” students based on their use of our design thinking process rather than grading students solely on their final products. Because we’ve blended the Innovation Lab and focus more on the process than the product, students can take as long as they like to finish a project; they can work on something, fail forward, until they are happy with the results. While we think its the best way to run the Innovation Lab, at least until we move away from the weekly format, these factors can make holding students accountable and motivating them to complete a project difficult. With lessons learned from last year, we’ve developed a few tricks to get the most out of our students. Here is how we hold students accountable and motivate them in the Innovation Lab.

Lanyards. Our Innovators physically wear lanyards during Innovation Lab. The lanyards have proven to be the best method for holding kids accountable that we’ve ever come up with. Part 1: when students enter the Lab, they grab their lanyard and an index card. On the front of the index card, students write their challenge statement. The challenge statement, part of the (re)define stage of our design thinking process, is a one sentence declaration of what students are designing, for who, and why. For example, “I’m designing a grocery reminder app for my mom because she always forgets something at the store,” would be an example of a good challenge statement. Once they’ve written their challenge statement on the index card at the beginning of class, they put their lanyard on and get to work.

This is great for students because they have a constant reminder hanging around their neck of what they should be designing. If they decide to change their project, which they have the freedom to do, they must let us know and rewrite a new challenge statement. Writing the challenge statement on the lanyard is great for us because we can review them before students come in. We like to spend a few minutes talking to each student about their project each class and thanks to the lanyards we don’t have to waste time asking students what they are working on, we already know. Instead, we can start the conversation by discussing what phase of our design thinking process they’re on. This saves a precious few seconds per student that adds up by the end of the day.

Part 2: during the last five minutes of class, students take the index card out of their lanyard. On the back, students are expected to write their goal for next week and one thing they learned during Innovation Lab. When students come in the next week, we have them start by reading the goal they wrote last week and (re)defining their challenge statement again. This cycle continues each week. The lanyards help everyone stay focused, organized, and encourages students to work through our design thinking process. This lanyard system is the back bone of accountability in the Innovation Lab.

Digital Portfolios and Digital Evidence. Our students are expected to write an entry in their digital portfolios every three weeks. In each entry, students give a big picture overview, complete with digital evidence, on what they have been doing and learning in the Innovation Lab. The digital evidence piece is important because it requires kids to take pictures and videos of their design thinking process, which makes them more mindful of how they spend their time in class. For example, while a student might want to play Survival rather than design in Minecraft, if they know that screenshots that capture the process of their build are expected in their portfolio soon, they are less likely to lose focus. Digital evidence helps students stay present and focused as they work through a design. The portfolio entries are then used as a jumping-off point for a more focused, interview-style conversation the following week. During the interview, students are asked to make direct connections to the design thinking process as they walk us through their portfolios. All of this adds a layer of urgency to what they are doing.

Time, Date, and Preparedness Limitations. We have a recording studio in the Innovation Lab. As you can imagine, it is a popular destination for many students. To keep things orderly, and to help students move forward in a design, we use limitations on when, where, and how students can use the recording studio. Whether making a podcast or a video, students can’t enter the recording studio without having a script or storyboard. Once they talk us through what they are recording, they have up to twenty minutes in the studio, then the next group goes in. Additionally, whatever they are recording can’t be longer than five minutes. If they have previous recordings that haven’t been edited into a final product, they can’t use the studio. Finally, students can signup for the studio a week in advance. By limiting how long a product can be, how long they can use the studio for, and asking them to have a plan before they can use the Studio, we have been able to get a much better workflow and more finished products than we had last year. By requiring students to have any previous recordings finished before making a new one, and allowing students to sign up a week in advance for the studio, we have added an additional layer of incentives for students to be prepared to make. We use these tactics in places other than the recording studio.

Competition. We were lucky to have Hot Wheels send us a Speedometry Kit and bunch of great video game companies like Paradox Interactive and Mohawk Games gift us some great learning AAA games. Ms. Smith and I make posters to hang on the wall that track some of the design challenges students can tackle in the Lab. Challenges like highest population, happiest population, lowest pollution, longest jump, most loops made, allow competition between classes which have many of our kids running to class to see if they still hold the record. I love gamification, so I try to use these types of game mechanics where I can to motivate students to keep them moving forward.

Entrepreneurship and Narratives. More motivating than competition, narratives are great to insert into the Makerspace. Our narrative invokes pride in ownership and all the lessons and learning that comes with running a business because we’ve brought entrepreneurship to the Innovation Lab. In the Innovation Lab, students can sell their creations on FH Gizmos, our student-run school store. I made the store not only to expose students to entrepreneurship, but to also motivate them to finish more designs. When we talk about FH Gizmos with students, we talk about it as if we are part of a startup. Students who open a store on FH Gizmos are given a stock certificate which entitles them to vote at the share holders meeting; the meeting where we decide how we get to spend the profit we’ve made. Students also earn “commission” on what they sell. They can use the commission to buy things from FH Gizmos. By trying to make the experience of running their FH Gizmos store as authentic as possible, we’ve wrapped the experience in a narrative where students feel like they are part of a real business. Anytime you can add a story, or even better, an authentic narrative to the works students are doing, they’ll be more motivated to participate.

Pushing to a Larger Audience. Pushing student work to a larger audience was something I started doing as an English teacher. My students hated writing essays, but when we started blogging instead, they loved it. Part of the appeal was being able to count likes and views. Students will never work harder than if they know the whole world might see their creations. This is why social media is great in the classroom. I love social media as a tool to build relationships with students. We use social media in the Lab to capture the great things students are making. Students are generally excited to see their efforts pop-up on the Instagram feed. We also push student work to a larger audience through our digital galleries. We show off student work on the Innovation Stations, where anyone can see and hear the great things our kids have made. Students love to know how many views they have, and often start to design, create, and speak to their audience. When I told one of our podcast teams that their podcast had 500+ views, they actually started to talk to their listeners during the podcast and thank them. They even started to call their listeners Squiggly Monsters, taking a page from many celebrities who nickname their fan base. A larger audience through social media and digital galleries have been great for increasing motivation.

Hopefully you found something here you can start using in your class tomorrow!

Until Next Time,




Google Classroom and Trouble Shooting Guardian Summaries


Google Classroom and Guardian Summaries

The world of edtech is abuzz as many districts are starting to experiment with Google Classroom’s new Guardian Summaries feature. My district is all in on the Guardian Summaries, but, like anything new, there is a learning curve. Between the trouble shooting I’m doing in my district, and what I’m seeing, hearing, and being asked about on the inter-webs, I thought it might be helpful to throw something up about some of the Guardian Summaries issues I’ve encountered and their potential fixes. I say potential because some of these don’t work 100% of the time. I’ll update this post as I learn more. Make sure you read to the end for the big issue fix!


Guardian Summaries:

  • are a way to keep guardians informed on the goings on in a student’s Google Classroom.
  • Guardian Summaries look like this.
  • are generated and emailed to guardians automatically.
  • do not appear in the Classroom app. The app is for teachers and students, not parents.
  • go out Friday at 3pm if you select weekly summary.
  • go out daily at 3pm if you select daily summary.

What do Guardian Summaries Show:

Summaries show what has been posted the week before in Google Classroom and an overview of what is coming up in the next week in Google Classroom. Anything over a week old, or over a week away (think due dates) will not show up.

Guardians will be notified of:

Missing work—Work that’s late at the time the email was sent
Upcoming work—Work that’s due today and tomorrow (for daily summaries) or work that’s due in the upcoming week (for weekly summaries)
Class activity—Announcements, assignments, and questions recently posted by teachers. This means anything you post in the Stream will be seen by guardians, not just students.

With Guardians Summaries, you can’t see specific student information, work, or grades. Guardian Summaries is the starting point for conversations between teacher, guardian, and student.

Fun fact: Any attachments added to a class activity posting – question, announcement, assignment – will not show up in a guardian’s summary; things like videos, links, and attachments will not be added to a Guardian Summary. However, if you put a complete website address in the body of an announcement it will show up and be clickable to a guardian. I don’t know if this goes for assignments as well. I haven’t tried, but it probably does.

Trouble Shooting Issues

There have been a few issues/bugs/errors with Guardian Summaries. As far as I can tell though, they are all user error. That doesn’t mean our friends at Google have made this easy on us. Here’s how to (probably) fix a lot of the issues your district may be encountering:

Invalid Invitation – A guardian will receive an Invalid Invitation error when attempting to accept an invitation if:

  1. They already have accepted an invitation from another teacher their child has.
  2. They already have accepted an invitation for another one of their children. Meaning, if a guardian has two children and both of their teachers enter their guardian email, the guardian only needs to accept one invitation from one child to be linked to both kids.

Guardians should check with their teacher to make sure they are showing properly, which would be their first and last name without the word invited next to it, in the teachers Student Section in Classroom. Guardians can check their status by checking the settings page, too. I’ll write out the url, too. It can be hard to find:

Unknown User – Instead of a guardian’s proper name appearing in Classroom, unknown user appears. This means the guardian failed to fill out identifying information when creating their Google account. They can go back into their account and add this information. The teacher may have to remove/add the guardian again for this to take effect. unknown-user

Wrong Guardian is Guardian – Sometimes someone like a brother or sister are listed as guardian for a student. This is caused by having multiple Google accounts signed in at the same time. For instance, if a student is signed in on the Chrome Browser and then a guardian goes to gmail, signs in, and accepts the invitation, the student will be linked to the account because, technically, they are the ones signed in, not the parent who was only signed in to gmail.

Here are the basic steps to signing someone out of Google/Chrome.

The Big Issue -Guardians Not Getting an Invitation

The hardest problem to solve has been when guardians do not receive an invitation at all. No matter how many times we add/removed Guardian to get the invite to resend, it was never actually sent. I asked one of our wonderful Fair Haven parents to come in for testing and here is what we figured out.

A guardian with a non-gmail email (Yahoo, Hotmail, Etc.) who has not received an invitation is not getting them for one of two reasons.

1) They have, at one point, had a gmail. The guardian that came in had a gmail that she no longer used. When we recovered her gmail, the invitation was waiting for us in her inbox.

Understand though, the email the teacher was sending to was a Rocket Mail account, but the invitation was going to a totally separate gmail account that she never uses, nor was entered into Google Classroom. The closest I could come to figuring out why this was happening was that the guardian had used the Rocket Mail account as recovery email for her gmail.

If your guardians have a non-gmail email, and are not receiving invitations, ask them if they have ever made a gmail. If they have, the invitation might be there. Even if the teacher didn’t enter it into Google Classroom.

2) The most likely reason why the guardian is not getting invitations is because they have not signed up for a Google Account. Guardians using Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. must signup for a Google Account to receive Guardian Summaries at a non-gmail email. Here are the steps to helping guardians signup for a Google Account.

  1. Have teacher remove Guardian from Classroom if they’ve sent an invitation already.
  2. Double check that a guardian has not already created a Google Account with their preferred email by following directions here. If they have, this will recover their Google Account. Once they recover their Google Account, go to #4. If the link says they do not have a Google Account for their preferred email go to #3.
  3. Have guardian signup for a Google Account without gmail using the email they want to receive the Summaries on, then login.
  4. Have teacher re-add guardian in Classroom.
  5. Have guardian login to their non-gmail email account. The invitation should be there waiting.

Remember: a gmail account and a Google Account are not the same thing. A gmail account is a Google Account, but a Google Account is not a gmail account… finally, a use for that philosophy class I took in college! This link may also prove helpful in troubleshooting this issue.

Resources to checkout:

Google for Education Help Forum

Help Center

Help Center In-depth Article

Google Classroom Google Community

Until next time,


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