Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Using the iPad to Enhance Creative Writing in a Junior Preparatory Classroom

In a junior preparatory classroom, a great deal of our time goes to teaching children how to write in lines, form letters, write neatly, space their work correctly and introduce the concept of using grammar rules, amongst many other things. These are important skills that they need to develop. However, they can often be to the detriment of their creative writing. When introducing creative writing pieces, we then tell them to forget everything we have been teaching them and to just write, to let their creative juices flow, to not worry about the use of grammar and spelling. Children at this age see black and white, right and wrong. Therefore, for many of them they struggle to be able to do this completely.

Some children will spend so much time worrying about what lines they are writing in. Or if writing on blank paper, “are my letters formed correctly” or “where does the full stop go.” They often are not able to get their ideas onto the paper. When introduced to a creative writing topic, the children often initially respond with great enthusiasm. Their ideas are creative and their imaginations go wild. They are truly excited to write about their topic. They start by planning their work, focusing on the different aspects and laying out the key areas that they need to remember. By the end of this task, they often do not see the point of continuing, or they are tired and do not want to carry on. How can we blame them? That short period of concentration, just planning, requires a great deal of mental stimulation for a small child. Especially a child who is struggling to put their imagination onto paper with the many other things they need to be thinking about, like “Am I holding my pencil correctly?” “How do I write that letter?” “How do I spell this word?” Must I go on to the next line?” “Is this supposed to get a capital letter?” Just to name a few.

What if we could harness that excitement that they show when they are initially introduced to the topic. What if we can help them to relive that excitement over and over. Then their stories not only make it onto paper where their true imagination becomes evident, they are also better able to extend their stories and their sentence structure.

I have the privilege of working at a phenomenal school: Parklands College in Cape Town, South Africa; a Google Apps for Education and Apple Distinguished School where I am a Grade Two Educator and EdTech Innovation Leader for the Junior Preparatory. Each learner in my class has an iPad which has allowed them to transform their learning experience. Through the use of the iPad in creative writing, my learners have been able to harness their excitement in creative writing and improve their writing abilities.

Before beginning with the introduction of our creative writing lesson, I have my learners open a pre-made book from either Google Classroom or from a shared folder in Google Drive that was created using Book Creator. This process could be changed slightly where the ‘pre-made’ book could also be made as a whole class, acting as a form of modeled writing and planning. Upon completion, it to can be uploaded into Google Classroom or Google Drive where they are then able to open it into Book Creator on their own iPads. Below are two examples of pre-made books of creative writing pieces we have done recently titled, “The Old Lamp” and “The Day I Shrunk.”

When introducing a creative writing topic, we spend a great deal of time dramatising the story. We think up all possible connections, we imagine the worst, we imagine the best, we discuss vocabulary, we do sentence structures and we talk about the elements of story writing and bringing the story to life in our classroom. At the end of this introduction, they have all been given a space where their freedom of thought and ideas have been valued and encouraged. The energy levels are high!

The learners then take their iPads and find a spot where they can record themselves telling their stories, following a guideline. The great thing about using Book Creator for this task is the “Read to Me” function that has come with the new update. This update allows for those weaker readers to recap what it is they are needing to say for each section without having to ask me to come and read it for them, therefore, giving them greater independence and less frustrations where they can take the learning into their own hands.

The learners will then record each section of the story. During this recording process, you will often see their faces light up as they tell their story. They have so many expressions and their excitement is clear. They often feed off of hearing their peers telling their story which motivates them even more. Once completed they have to go back and listen to what they have said to make sure that they can hear what they are saying and that makes sense.

Once this activity has been completed, their stories are ready to be put on to paper. We will then return to the classroom where all they have is a blank page or their creative writing books, depending on the learner’s abilities, and they begin writing their story following the structure they have recorded. Their iPads are on their desks and they listen to what they have said in each section. Some learners choose to use earphones to listen to their planned story, where others happily listen to it without earphones. They love hearing each other’s stories. This allows them to be constantly reminded and motivated to put down what they have said.

I have found that from allowing the learners to plan their stories in this way I am receiving far more advanced creative writing pieces. Due to the fact that they are constantly listening to themselves retelling the story, they are naturally editing their own work. They are adding in grammar rules more effectively as they are able to hear it through their vocal intonation, pronunciation, modulation and emphasis. They are using an extended vocabulary and their sentence structures in their writing has improved. For those learners who are slower in their writing, they are still able to begin their stories and, if the writing is in incomplete, they are able to turn in their book from Book Creator. This allows me to see what their true capabilities are when responding to a topic in more than just writing.

This activity takes a very short time for them to complete, shorter than trying to record it onto paper. However, having said that, recording on o paper is still a crucial skill to learn, and we do both planning on paper for some lessons through mind maps and keywords, as well as adding the iPad element. The combination of the two has allowed my learners to become more comfortable and confident in their own writing ability and to trust their imaginations.

Through using this combination of apps and the iPad, my learners feel empowered. This is an activity is something that is definitely worth giving a chance. If you do, I would love to hear how it went in the comments section.

Barbara Brand
Grade Two Educator
Ed Tech Innovation Leader:
Junior Preparatory
GEG Leader for the
West Coast, South Africa
Google Certified Educator

Interested in learning more about iPad the classroom? Check out our Apple Professional Learning community here!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Keeping it Together with Google Keep

From the community:

Find out more about Google Keep here with my tutorial:

Behind the Community w/ Hollie:

My love for reading and my passion for encouraging others to become lifelong users of information and resources is what inspires me. I began my education career in 2001 as an Interrelated Special Education teacher, mainly serving as a resource and collaborative English/Language Arts teacher. My philosophy was important! lt was my goal to teach my students never to use their disability as an excuse. My priority was to educate them how to use the available resources so they could accomplish the classwork just like their peers.

Five years later, I started serving as a high school Media Specialist and learned that my philosophy did not really change even though my job title did. I was still teaching students how to use the available resources that the library media center had to offer, but then I discovered I was also teaching various professional learning topics to colleagues. Sometimes they can be the most challenging learner because some are just resistant to change. However, if I can educate them how to integrate technology in an effective and engaging way in their classroom, then they are modeling how to take advantage of those available resources too. Also, they no longer using their fear of change or technology as an excuse, but putting best practices into action. I am amazed to see how my training has ignited change from one hesitant teacher to many enthusiastic educators.

15 years later, my mission is to encourage and empower users of information and technology with the latest digital resources. I am passionate and eager about hopefully serving as a Google Certified Trainer, because I want to offer validation for these educators as I share these tips and tricks. I am grateful I was introduced to the EdTechTeam this year. Building my PLN is what keeps me a life-long learner and a continued ambassador for Google.

Hollie G. Sisk
Media Specialist
Google Certified Educator
Portal Middle High School
Follow me on Twitter @hgsisk
Google+ hgsisk
Webpage Stache & Stacks

Want to learn more from our EdTechTeam Global Community?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tippy Text. Bigger, Badder Borders.

The Google Sheets team made a lot of people very happy recently. There were exclamations of joy, “Yasss!”, “Finally…” and “I thought this day would never come.” All of this kerfuffle was because The-Powers-That-Can on the Google Sheets team gave us a gift...the gift...of Tippy Text. The hands down winners in that age old “Ya-but-it-can’t-do ______” argument against Sheets were that Excel has better borders and it can turn text on its side. Tipping it at an angle...even straight up and down sideways! Who knew that this little feature would have such a major impact and be so wanted by #sheetsgeeks globally. Those arguments against Sheets are no longer valid with three new features that have been added.

Accounting and financial number formats

Move the dollar sign to the the left. This makes values easier to read. Unfortunately, it only seems to work for DOLLARS, and not all of us use $ for our currencies. It does put (braces, brackets, or parentheses) around negative numbers. I think it’s kind of like giving a hug to the negatives out there. They could use a good cuddle.

Big. Bad. Borders.

Thin, Thick, Medium, Dotted, Dashed or Doubled. Any color you can imagine. It’s like Waffle House for #sheetsgeeks. Customize your borders so that they are just right and visually communicate what you want them to.

You have more choice now. Please use these carefully and purposefully. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

A tip of your text

Reading left to right can be boring. Sometimes it’s fun to tilt your head to the left a bit and read text as it’s going uphill. It sounds quite useless and cumbersome to some. But the space savers among us hate it when the header of a column is too long and you can’t squeeze it down to the size of the data...lots of wasted space. If you could just tilt it all would be right with the unit again. Now column headers can be tilt anywhere from 90º to -90º. Save some room and tilt that text. There are some added cool features, like fill colors and some strange behaviours, like left-right text alignment or top-bottom of cells. Have a play to get a feel. Set your text to 48º, because you can.

Now go ahead and get creative in this template. Maybe even use Sheets to display your poetry about riding bikes up and down hills.

Jay Atwood
Regional Director
India, Middle East, Africa & Asia
Google Certified Innovator &
Sydney, Australia

Want to get to know more about Sheets?
Check out our ONLINE courses!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Peru Impact Lab

Late last year, EdTechTeam launched a new program in emerging markets across Latin America - Impact Labs featuring Google for Education. The goal is to provide professional development opportunities to passionate educators that are looking to change their educational landscape in order to provide better learning experiences for their students. To date, we have launched six Impact Labs including one in Peru, Brazil, and Chile, and three in Bolivia.

On February 16 - 17, our team (Jim Sill, Dominique Dynes, Rushton Hurley, and me- Monica Martinez) met with the Peru cohort in Lima at Newton College, which consisted of educators from around the country. We're proud to report that all 25 regions of Peru (Amazonas, Arequipa, Ancash, Apurimac, Ayacucho, Cajamarca, Callao, Cusco, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Ica, Junin, La Libertad, Lambayeque, Lima, Loreto, Madre de Dios, Moquegua, Pasco, Piura, Puno, San Martín, Tacna, Tumbes, and Ucayali ) are being represented in this program. Educators from international, private and public schools are participating.

“In my school, I used some Google apps without knowing it. When I started the event, I realized how important they are to generate learning in students and how easy they are to use. So I already have many ideas on how to use them in my classes.” -Maria Castillo

Through our partner the Embajada de Estados Unidos en Perú, 18 public school teachers were able to participate and can now take back their learning to so many other teachers around the country.

“I liked the themes, the presenters, the place and the welcome from the sponsors. I'm very grateful to the United States Embassy for this opportunity.” -Violeta Guevara, US Embassy Scholarship Recipient

Photo Credit: Maria Ines Guillen  

Our work is far from over, as this is a year long program. Participants benefit from 12 online Google Apps focused courses, a 2-day face-to-face event, 2 Google Educator Certifications (Level 1 and Level 2), professional development tasks, and impact projects.

Not only are these educators looking to level up by seeking out their Google Educator Certifications, but they're willing and eager to launch their impact projects which include programs like starting a girls coding program, working on digital citizenship programs for both kids and parents, helping train other teachers and so many more.

Networking outside of classroom/school walls is a big part of helping these educators broaden their reach and share their stories. Breakout EDU, Chris Craft Hand Challenge, NextVista and #ImpactoEDU programs were featured as impact projects that attendees can participate in at a global scale.

Special thanks to our sponsors Texthelp and WeVideo who have further empowered our teachers by providing free access to their amazing resources. All Impact Lab attendees will receive premium access to these resources for a full year.

Participants of the Peru Cohort also received a copy of the newly released EdTechTeam Press book "Making Your School Something Special" by Rushton Hurley. This book ties directly with the mission of Impact Labs--to impact your educational community and share your story.

“Getting to work with so many teachers dedicated to making great things happen for their schools was wonderful. Foster and share your successes, and at your school, gather these to share with the community. In other words, let the successes inspire more successes!” - Rushton Hurley, Next Vista

Learn more about Hurley’s book at and get your copy here.

Thanks to our friends Jack Fermon from Google, James Sanders CEO Breakout EDU, Chris Craft from EdTechTeam, Martin Niebuhr, and Alberto Grados Mitteenn for sharing their stories and for participating. To Rushton Hurley thanks for your vision and inspiration to make schools something special.

Shout out and thanks to Mr. Andy Cino and Victor Torres from Newton College in Peru for their support, facility, and leadership in helping us bring this program to Peru. Learn more about Newton College and the amazing things they’re doing for their students on their website

The Brazil Impact Lab is up next. Find out more about this program and all the others at

There will be more to report as these amazing folks unfold their impact projects, but meanwhile I leave you with more pictures from the event.

Thanks to Google For Education for the amazing learning platform and tools as well as their participation in Impact Labs. EdTechTeam is an official Google for Education Professional Development Partner.

Regional Director
Austin, Texas

Thursday, March 16, 2017

EdTechTeam Leadership Symposium Ohio

On March 10, 2017, at Avon Lake High School in Avon Lake, OH nearly 100 educational leaders gathered for a day of learning, discovery, exploration, reflection and energy. With a leadership conference for leaders with and by leaders, the excitement and anticipation was palpable. I had the honor of presenting three times, two one hour break-out sessions and the keynote presentation. Together with some rock star edu-leaders, I was able to carry out the high calling of inspiring and empowering leaders!

From EdTechTeam: “The EdTechTeam Leadership Symposium is designed with the leader in mind. Our one-day event will energize, encourage, and inspire you as you confront the unique challenges of guiding a school or district into tomorrow.”

As a member of the presenter team I had the good fortune and honor of helping set the tone and the pace for discovery, discussion, dialogue and discourse with respect to provocative and replicable leadership tips, tricks, and ideas. The sharing of real stories impacting real educators and educational leaders across the nation helps to inspire change and those charged with leading change. I was affirmed by the comments, questions, interests, and post-session commentary. The keynote experience was pretty cool because I got a chance to highlight the great work of my teammates and Board and students and teachers. The opportunity to teach others, for an educational leader, is pretty awesome because it brings us back to our roots so to speak.

The EdTechTeam Leadership Symposia are going to become part of the leadership landscape all across the USA and the world. The EdTechTeam is celebrating ten years of inspiring and empowering teaching and leading in the ed tech landscape; I’m thrilled they are taking their successful progressive approaches into the leaders world too. Leaders who get the chance to be focused on their own growth for an action packed day of learning are better leaders.

Leaders who get the chance to select in what workshops and breakout sessions they can engage are leaders who experience personalized professional learning first hand - these are leaders who can replicate the experiences for their teachers and staff! The EdTechTeam is a “pay it forward” organization in which I am honored, privileged, and humbled to be a part of! I cannot wait for the next symposium. Please visit for more information!

Information about me for your review, information, etc.

Michael Lubelfeld Ed.D. has served as a public school superintendent in suburban Chicago, Illinois since 2010. On July 1, 2013, he became the superintendent of schools in Deerfield, IL (DPS 109). His 25-year educational career has included serving as an assistant superintendent, a principal, and middle school teacher. In addition, he has worked as an adjunct professor, advisor, and supervisor at Chicago-area Universities in the Department of Educational Leadership. Earning his doctorate in education in curriculum and instruction allowed Lubelfeld to test theories of learning in action. He was named one of the top 5 Bammy Superintendent Finalists in 2015, he is an advocate for Illinois Vision 20/20, he was honored as one of three finalists for the 2015 NASS (National Association of School Superintendents) superintendent of the year award. Mike is an advocate for integrating educational technology throughout instruction. He is the co-moderator of the Twitter chat #suptchat with Nick Polyak, and he and Polyak co-authored the book The Unlearning Leader: Leading for Tomorrow’s Schools Today (Rowman-Littlefield Publishers 2017).

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Journey Back to a Summit: An Inspirational Story

On October 26th, 2016, my urologist told me that I would need to undergo emergency surgery to remove a concerning mass on my left testicle*. After asking logistical questions about when and where the surgery would be, we turned to discussing what would happen afterwards. He said the recovery would take at least a week, if not longer. My follow up question - “Will I be able to attend and present at a technology conference on November 5th?”

I was slated to present a few sessions at the EdTechTeam Northern Virginia Summit about a week and a half after surgery. I always look forward to sharing my Google knowledge, connecting with other teachers from across the state, learning new tips and tricks, and being inspired by the keynotes.Because I hadn’t been to a Summit since July, finding out whether I would be able to attend the NoVa Summit was a priority.

With an incredulous look, my urologist told me that I would be lucky if I could get up and down stairs by that point. Presenting hour long sessions was far out of the realm of possibilities. Begrudgingly, I admitted that I probably shouldn’t go and emailed the Summit Lead, Mark Hammons, to let him know I couldn’t make it.

Instead, I followed the conference via the hashtag from my bed while recovering and received quite a few tweets about my missing appearance. At that point, I was keeping my medical problems to myself, so I played off the reasons for my absence as minor.

However, what was going on with my health was far from minor. One day after the conference ended, I had a follow-up meeting with my urologist. The mass had been biopsied - it was cancer. Not only that, but the disease had spread to my lymph nodes and would require chemotherapy to eradicate.

I would begin twelve weeks of intensive chemotherapy the Monday after Thanksgiving and finish in late January. One of my concerns? Missing the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) conference in December. I hesitantly asked my oncologist if I would be able to attend. With an even more incredulous look than the urologist, he said I would most likely be confined to bed the week of the conference due to the side effects of chemotherapy. Great. Now cancer had caused me to miss two of my favorite in-state conferences.

By the time the VSTE conference rolled around, I had gone public with my disease in an effort to spread awareness through my blog. Although my sessions were given to another presenter, I was able to maintain a virtual presence on Twitter at the conference. It helped me feel connected to the other edtech enthusiasts in my home state, and the support I received from the community through Tweets, emails and messages lifted my spirits.

Fast forward to March 2017. I had finished chemotherapy and was back at work. I was told on March 2nd that my cancer was in remission. Earlier, in February, I had proposed three sessions for the EdTechTeam Virginia Summit, but at the time, I wasn’t sure where I would be in my recovery process by the date of the Summit. Still, I wanted the option to attend the Summit if I was feeling up for it. Making plans for the future was a way of being optimistic about my treatment's success.

A week before, I was still feeling off: general fatigue, slight persistent nausea, and a cold that just wouldn’t quit. Even though all three of my sessions had been accepted, I wasn’t sure if I would feel well enough to go to it. I wanted to attend and present, but I wondered if I could physically handle it.

Two days before the Summit, I decided I would definitely go since I was feeling measurably better. The nausea was rapidly subsiding and I could make it through a whole school day without getting too winded. I booked my hotel and geared up for a weekend of learning and inspiration. Remarkably, once the decision was made, I felt re-energized and more like myself. Any lingering worries about my health faded away once I thought about getting back to normal

I awoke early on the first day of the Summit and drove to Charlottesville High School. Since it was a cold morning, I pulled on a knit hat to help keep my head warm, as my hair had not completely grown in yet. As I walked in, I met up with some friends who I hadn’t seen since before my diagnosis. Based on their enthusiasm, I could tell the weekend would be a great welcome back to the world of edtech.

Following the keynote, I presented my first session about using Google Draw for Technology Enhanced Items in assessments. I decided to break the ice by stating that my fuzzy haircut was due to chemotherapy and not a bold, new fashion statement. This news, especially when paired with the fact that I’m in remission, was met with with a warm and comforting round of applause. As the session concluded, many participants came up to me to thank me for the session and to wish me continued good health.

I ended up presenting one more time that day and once the following morning. Throughout, I reconnected with new and old friends and other presenters from previous Summits. Our conversations touched on my cancer journey, and all were thrilled to see me again and hear my news of remission.

I ended up leaving the Summit early on Sunday. Despite being mentally invigorated by being around so many passionate educators, I was physically tired. I knew the wise move was to listen to my body. I still have a ways to go to get back to 100% health, but being able to do something I love after being bedridden for a few months has meant a lot to me. I

It’s been a long journey back to EdTechTeam Summits. There’s a special kind of camaraderie between attendees that just can’t be replicated elsewhere. There’s another Summit in Virginia in August. You can bet I’ll be there, and this time I’ll stay the whole time (and with a full head of hair). *As a side note, I discovered the lump through a routine self-check. Guys, please do self-checks regularly, and ladies, remind the important men in your life to do them. It saved my life and it could save theirs.

Justin Birckbichler
Fourth Grade Teacher
Fredericksburg, VA

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

7 Reasons to Attend the EdTechTeam California Summit

Who’s already thinking about Summer Vacation? Only a few short months and some very long days before you’ll be sleeping in, reading books for fun and heading to the EdTechTeam California Summit in Mountain View!

We know most people think teachers “take the summer off” but in reality it is the time of the year where YOU get to be the learner! You get to stretch your mind, dig into something new and learn about all the amazing ways that technology can transform learning.

We hope that these 7 reasons to attend the EdTechTeam Summit in July are enough to get you to CLICK HERE and register for the Summit! We’re already planning an amazing two weeks of Summits and fantastic workshops the week between.

Want 4 more bonus reasons to attend?

The Keynote speakers are worth the price of admission alone!

Weekend 1 Keynotes
Jennie Magiera
Rafranz Davis

Weekend 2 Keynotes
Ken Shelton
Rushton Hurley

We can’t wait to see you in July!

Can’t make it to the CA Summit in July - there’s a Summit near you coming soon! Find an event near you!


Molly Bennett
Executive Director of Summits
Google Certified Innovator
& Trainer
Edina, Minnesota