Google Certified Educator Level 2

Over the last few months I’ve been working through Google’s Certified Educator training materials. Having achieved my Level 1 certification over 2 years ago, time was pressing on to pass Level 2 before my L1 expired.

The Google exams are covered by an NDA so I can’t cover specific content; but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by how easy I found the exam. I spent next to no time “studying” for the exam; almost everything that came up in the scenarios I’ve covered during my day-to-day use of the G Suite applications. There was a couple of the more obscure features which I had to look up during the exam, but even doing that I still had over an hour and a half of the 3 hours allocated remaining!

Next stop, Certified Trainer!

How’d I do?

So it’s 13th August and I start back work tomorrow morning. So the question is…how did I get on with my Summer Projects list?

Honest answer – not as well as I’d hoped, but better than I expected! You can read about the 3 big tasks in other posts. As for my other goals, I managed 3 of the 5 which I reckon was good going.

I completed the Higher Web Design slides and tasks for the pupils coming back (and mostly finished a series of BGE lessons on using the BBC Micro:bits). This was a hufftae. I wouldn’t have been able to teach that part of the Higher course without writing the materials, and there’s no chance I’m going to get time during the inset days to complete these.

I surpassed my goal of 2 books! Okay, I took the easy route out. I re-read the first 3 Harry Potter books during a week’s holiday in Morocco and listened to the audiobook of “Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda”, the book that inspired the movie “Love, Simon”.

My something new turned out to be a realllllllyyyy easy one. I took part in a couple of the activities put on by the entertainment team at our hotel in Marrakech. I know you’re probably thinking “that’s not something new” but trust me, it is. When I was younger I used to stay indoors and read rather than go to the kids club, and now I spent every precious second lying on a sun lounger. The staff done well to get me to join in!

As for the targets I missed. Go a week without Social Media…like that was ever going to happen! Though I am pretty disappointed in myself that I never got around to doing my Google Certified Educator Level 2 exam during my time off. I put it down to the Scottish weather being significantly nicer than usual and not wanting to take my laptop outside with me. I’m still planning on completing it, hopefully before the October holidays as Google are offering Certified Trainer coaching in Scotland in November and GCE Level 2 is a requirement to attend. Fingers crossed!

Migrating our Photo Library

The next task from my Summer Projects list was easy to set up, but pretty time consuming to implement; moving our photo library from the local network into Sharepoint.

At whole school events, on trips and throughout the day to day running of the school, we take a tremendous number of photos to evidence class work, share on our website, twitter feed and in our newsletters etc. We also make use of them in a Leavers Collage video at the end of each school year. These photos take up a huge amount of space on the server but get accessed fairly infrequently so I decided to move them online.

Through O365 and Glow, we’ve got a School Site that can be accessed by staff and pupils, and a subsite that can only be accessed by staff. I know that there’s a nominal limit on the storage capacity of these sites, but I’m confident it’s large enough for it not to cause us any issues.

First I collated all photos from our Staff and Pupil shared areas and grouped them into folders based on academic school years; actually finding all of the photos was probably the most time consuming job…I’m not convinced that I’ve actually found them all to be honest! Next I set up a location in the Staff Sharepoint Site with subfolders for each academic year and put a tile on the Sharepoint Site so that staff could find it easily. After that was finished it was a case dragging and dropping each folder into Glow and leaving them to upload. Thankfully there’s not a lot happening on Education networks over the summer holidays!

New Room Booking System

Task 2 from my Summer Projects list was a bit more interesting…

With our exchange servers’ impending doom I needed to look at a new method for staff to book ICT facilities. I installed a new system called Booked Scheduler running on an Mac Mini on our local network but it’s pushing 7 years old and I was concerned that it might fail mid-term. I decided to move it onto a web host for greater resilience and to allow staff to book rooms out with normal school hours.

Initially I guessed it would be an easy task. Set up a subdomain on the school webspace, install booked scheduler and transfer the database…didn’t quite out like that. Turns out that creating a subdomain on our school webspace required a WAN change which is chargeable though not overly expensive (in the region of £50-£100).

Securing the funds so close to the end of term would have been cutting it close, so I decided to investigate hosting on the server that hosts mrcasey.org. I’m able to add on additional domains for minimal cost…so I purchased schoolrooms.org.uk and setup a subdomain there for our school; the fee also includes unlimited subdomains so I can set up accounts for other schools for no additional cost. They offer the bonus of free SSL certificates on all domains and subdomains to ensure data transfer is secure.

The setup on my web host was fairly simple; but I wanted to make sure that moving the system onto an external server I had a robust backup system in place. While my host performs daily backups, I’m always reluctant to rely on systems that I haven’t setup myself. Booked stores everything in a MySQL database so I’m confident that provided I can backup the database then I have a backup of the full setup. A quick Google led me to this page which contains a PHP script I can trigger with a cron job. It was a bit out of date and required digging through the comments/making a few changes to make it to do what I wanted. I’ve adapted the script/cron job to backup twice per day and keep each backup on the server for 7 days (14 backups in total). My version of the full backup script is available here. The final pice of the puzzle was to check the physical location of the server before we start using it. My web hosts were able to confirm that the data was all held within the EU, in Romania, but offered be the option of migrating to a datacenter in Roubaix, Northern France. The French datacenter has a marginally better uptime record at 99.999%(!!) vs 99.995% so I requested the transfer; they completed this process for free in around 12 hours!

If you’re interesting in seeing a working version of my setup, you can find out more here.

New S1 Accounts

Task 1 from my Summer Projects list. This was an easy one!

Our managed service provider automatically transfers user accounts from our associated primary schools without any intervention. The downside is that we have a significant number of placing requests each year (in this case 37%!).

The first task was going through incoming class lists to identify pupils from non associated primary schools – a fairly easy task thanks to our office staff – and sending it off to the managed service provider. This year they were on the ball and I received the user account list 3 days before the end of term (this usually comes mid summer).

Next I had to go through the list of user accounts they’d sent through and match each account to a pupil that we’re actually expecting in August. This year there’s 65 pupils from associated primary schools who’ve either put in a placing to another secondary, or who have move between primary schools and have multiple imported accounts…those accounts will need to be deleted at some point.

Next onto the Room Booking System setup.

Summer Projects

Image by Dafne Cholet

Every year I set myself a few targets of things to achieve over the summer break, after all I’ve got 6 and half weeks off! Most years I don’t managed to tick off everything on the list, mainly down to procrastination, so this year I’ve decided to list them and chart my progress. Some are necessary tasks in my ICT co-ordinator role others are professional development and some are just a bit of fun…so here goes:

Education Meets Industry

Due to the fact I wear several ‘hats’ in school, my remits often get to cross paths, this is one of those occasions, and probably one of the more exciting!

Along with another few schools in the authority we’re piloting Google Apps for Education. I was keen to be part of the trial following my Google Hangout with the St Louis International School of Milan in late 2015 as I think there’s huge potential for a positive impact in Education, particularly at the top end of the school.

My idea, and I say mine despite the fact I’m pretty certain it’s been done all over the world before, is to ask industry experts to give up 20-30 minutes of their time to have a Google Hangout (or Skype call) with senior classes to empart their knowledge. I’m thinking specifically of Higher and Advanced Higher classes, where those in industry have their fingers very much more ‘on the pulse’ that those in education. The big advantage for us in education being that we get the latest information straight from the horses mouth; is what I learned in my Computer Science degree in 2010 still relevant? Do employers still look for graduates with skills in PHP, MySQL & the normalisation process or are they looking for candidates who have a wealth of App Development experience?! By using video conferencing technology, we can ensure this information reaches multiple schools with minimal impact on the busy life of our willing presenter.
As for the guest speaker? Well surely the feeling of giving something back is enough…I jest! Given the press recently about the push to get more students interested in Computer Science (evident in the changes in GCSE offerings coupled with the BBC Micro:bit initiative) surely an inspirational, external speaker will do more to spur young people into a career in Computing more than their teacher who is 5+ years out of university! Investing a little bit of time in todays students may mean you see the return in a promising apprentice this time next year, or an enthusiastic graduate in 4 years time.

So what’s my point?!

I’m looking for experts, specifically those with a background in software development or analysis to give up a some time to discuss the Software Development Process with Higher & Advanced Higher candidates in my local authority. Someone with experience of Project Mandates or Project Specifications would be great but it’s not a requirement, I’m just looking for someone who can talk about how they decide if a project is worth pursuing and a very very brief overview of the process you follow.

Think you can help? Amazing! Drop me an e-mail paul AT mrcasey.org

BETT 2016

I was fortunate enough to be released from school for 1 day this year to attend BETT on Friday and Saturday. Following my invitation to the Apple Education Leadership Summit in 2014 I was excited to get back to a large scale Education event to see what developments there has been in #EdTech.

Given that this was my first visit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I purposely didn’t go with a specific focus or plan of attack(despite everything online telling me that this was the way to go!), instead I decided to use this year as an opportunity to get a feel for the show and who/what was there; it both fell short of & surpassed all expectations at the same time.

The Good

24026555193_7c4d4b5091_kThere was a lot of cool, geeky tech on show, and not just expensive kit like 3D Printers or C-Touch Interactive Touchscreens(I’ve got 3 and I LOVE them…more to come on that topic in another post), but also lots of affordable kit such as the BBC micro:bit (free to all S1s/Year 7s), a large number of cool projects to extend the micro:bit such as this robot kit, crane kits and the pi-top which allows you to create a Desktop or Laptop computer using the RaspberryPi!

There was also this cool animated wall created using around 1000 micro:bits which I couldn’t help snapping a short video of!

 

24653347975_1e80c476d6_oOther highlights included the Microsoft and Google stands which showed the benefits of using Office 365 and Google Apps respectively in the classroom. I’ve previously expressed my interest in Office 365 to encourage a collaborative classroom and am about to embark on a pilot project using Google Apps for Education and specifically Classroom & Hangouts to assess their impact on my classes.

The Bad

Many of the stands, I personally felt, had no specific education focus, but instead were high cost corporate products being pitched at the education market and sadly exhibitors who were clearly fed up or too exhausted to care by Friday afternoon(read – the majority of the Website/App development stands along with the multiple Green screen/video editing solutions that I passed).

One stand that I’d been very keen to visit, but was sadly disappointed with was Show My Homework. I’ve long been a fan of a paperless approach to things like homework. I realised very quickly after I started teaching that the majority of my students bin their homework diaries after 3 or 4 weeks of school, but carry their mobile phones and iPods with them at all times, so now ask my class to take a photo of the homework assignment or add it to their reminders app.

I was impressed with their web based system, push notifications to student’s phones and the fact it ties in with many SIMs systems, they also apparently have a SEEMiS tie in on their roadmap for 2016. Personally I found them too pushy on the sales front; I know that they have sales targets to hit, however I made it clear when I first spoke to them that I was only scoping out products to suggest to our SLT and didn’t have the authority to make a large scale IT purchase, I was asked several times “What can I do get you to agree to take our product today?” and “What would you say if I offered you a 3 year deal to match your current homework diary pricing?”. They also had no clear pricing structure, seemed to guess what prices they would offer based on my answers to their questions and had absolutely no pricing on paper that I could bring back to my senior leadership team.

Summary

BETT 2016 was a fantastic experience and I came away with lots of ideas for developing our whole school ICT strategy as well as my own classroom, however having experienced it in person I would plan my next visit more rigorously and collaborate with colleagues in our Local Authority IT team to ensure that I had a clear focus for my visit and didn’t spend as much time visiting stands that had no benefit to my school or others in the area.

The ever changing face of Apple Education

APLEveryone who knows me knows that I’ve got a bit of an obsession with all things Apple but one thing that does slightly irritate me about the iOS ecosystem so that it can change drastically with a new update and very little notice.

I have sole responsibility for managing iOS devices in our school, with the numbers currently sitting at 73 iPads, 4 iPods and 3 Apple TVs, which I managed with a combination of Apple Configurator and Meraki MDM. We’re not currently enrolled in the Apple VPP program which give us some challenges not faced by other schools but we’ve managed to overcome them so far.

The release of iOS 9.1 brought the ability to roll out free apps through Meraki without touching the devices which led me to collect the iPads from staff and begin to update the software and settings on them (some of which are still running iOS 6.1!!!)

The latest Apple announcement is that iOS 9.3 will give Education even more control over the devices, allowing students to personalise their device by logging in with their AD credentials. I’m not sure how this will work in practice, e.g. will it require AD synchronisation or is that feature optional, will the students require their own school issued Apple IDs? There’s a lot of questions that will need to be answered before I decide to collect all of the devices in and upgrade them again.

I know that Apple have a pretty strict NDA in place with their staff and developers, however it would be really useful if there was a process in place to allow Education IT Managers prior knowledge of updates to allow for more effective ICT planning.

What’s the point in [insert lesson topic here]?

“Here sir, what’s the point in learning this?” is a question that I’m sure many teachers have fielded from pupils at one point or another; I remember asking it quite a lot in Maths & Physics when I was at school. As a classroom teacher looking back now I can see the progression from the skills learned and topics covered in S1-S3 through to National and Higher courses but many pupils in S2 learning to program must be sitting thinking “When will I ever use this?”.

I’m fortunate enough to have kept in contact with many of the people that I went to university with, who are now working in industry in Glasgow, London and beyond, and I quite often refer to the work they’re doing when introducing new units to the pupils. But I keep thinking surely this introduction would be better coming directly from them rather than via me?

Following my #HourOfCode meetup with the St Louis School of Milan, I started to think about curricular uses of video conferencing, Google Hangouts in this case. The most obvious links I could think of had nothing to do with Computing; connect to an international classroom and let our students practice Spanish/French, connect to an author and allow the pupils to ask them questions about the text they’ve been studying. Then I started to think about my own faculty; would app developers be will be to chat about how they go about developing a new app – showing the pupils that in the ‘real world’ the software development cycle is actually used, what about a systems analyst or tester describing their role in the process?

I think that schools are missing a fantastic (and importantly free!) opportunity to show our pupils that the skills they’re learning in classes can be directly transfered into the real world. The biggest difficulty that I can see beyond the technical requirements is finding the right contacts. I recently read about #MysterySkype, a guessing game that uses Skype to link international classrooms allowing the pupils to guess where the other class are. The pupils develop their teamwork, communication and internet research skills while talking to other pupils around the world. This lead me to register for the Microsoft Education Community which tries to link speakers with classrooms.

Whether through the use of Skype or Google Hangouts, I’m hoping to begin to introduce video conferencing to my pupils as soon as possible.

If you’d be willing/able to help out please feel free to get in touch!