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The Magic of Voice Typing in Google Docs

2015 October 13
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by SSedro

On most days, my students have the choice of writing by hand in their notebook or typing on their digital writing notebook during our writing workshop.  Now they have a third option, voice-to-text dictation.

Last week, instead of a writing mini-lesson, we had a tool mini-lesson. They all grabbed their earbuds and laptops so I could introduce the new Google Docs Voice Typing tool.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 3.23.26 PM

To use the tool, open a Google Doc. Position your cursor where you want to type. Then go to the Tools menu and select Voice Typing.



Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 3.23.41 PM

A microphone icon appears on the screen. Click it to start dictating. You may be prompted to enable dictation or to allow it to access your microphone the first time you try this.

After I modeled how to set up the Voice Typing Tool, my students opened a link to this guide to dictating with Siri. The commands work on a Mac or on an iPad/iPhone. We went over the common commands they needed such a period, comma, new paragraph, etc.  Some commands worked reliably. Others, such as quotes on or caps on were more challenging to use.

After a bit of practicing with the voice commands, students were ready to work. They spread out into quiet nooks and crannies around the room and started flash drafting another narrative.  After a bit of trial and error, most children were successful. They were able to resist correcting mistakes immediately. I encourage them to correct at the end of a paragraph since often, typos are auto-corrected when you keep speaking. They learned how quickly and clearly they needed to speak. A few students have trouble speaking clearly and coherently in general and their dictation reflected that.

As the work session progressed, excitement started to rise. For some students, their writing was finally able to keep up with their thoughts. Up until now, their volume was limited by the physical act of writing or typing.  Suddenly, instead of a paragraph, they were writing a page or more. Some wrote two pages in that time.  Soon students were eagerly waving me over, proud to show me how much they had accomplished.

All of that would have been enough, but there was more.  Moving into our school in fifth grade can be challenging if the child is not coming from a school which follows the Common Core and uses the CTC model of writing workshop.  In fifth grade, a good rule of thumb is that students should be writing around a page per session.  One of my new students was barely writing a paragraph each day.  In contrast, during this lesson, he drafted three pieces. None of them were long but all were longer than anything else he had written so far and together they filled a page and a half. He was elated, and so was I.  The next morning, the first words he said to me were, “When are we writing today? Can I dictate it?”   Even better, by this week, he is already transitioning to typing. His writer’s block is easing.

Do you have a digital component to your writing workshop?  Are any of your students using voice-to-text dictation? I’d love to hear what is and isn’t working for you.

First Weeks of School and Accountable Talk

2015 August 29
by SSedro

My first school year back in the classroom is well launched.  Week 1 was about getting to know each other and starting to feel safe together – they all knew they’d have a test during week two to prove they knew the first name of everyone in the class. It was also about supporting new students as they find their way around our large school and our many systems. It was starting to establish key elements of our classroom, such as morning meeting, circle up behavior, laptop and iPad launch. It was working on stamina when reading or writing or listening to a lesson.

Week 2 was deeper community building and scads of pre-assessments.  It was beginning of year math test, reading pre-assessment, on-demand writing, spelling inventory and spelling n0-excuse words. It was pre-testing in XtraMath and FrontRow.  Along with that came more work on routines and expectations. It was me seeing everything and celebrating as much as I could.  “I see we are only filling half of the hallway so that other classes can easily get by us.”  “I see everyone was almost seated correctly in the group area when the song ended.”  “I see you remembered to have a book for silent reading today.”

Week 3 wasn’t as fun.  It was time to pull up their behavior, communicating that they will look at the person who is talking during a group discussion. They will lower the laptop lids or flip their iPads when requested or live with the consequences of their decision.  They will start understanding what quality effort looks like. They were surprised and didn’t like the change, which tells me I need to do a bit of that earlier next year, and weave it in more joyfully.

Fortunately, one big success was the introduction of accountable talk.  One of my colleagues, Caitlyn Reighley, recently expanded her understanding of the accountable talk math practice by reading Classroom Discussions In Math: A Teacher’s Guide for Using Talk Moves to Support the Common Core and More, Grades K-6: A Multimedia Professional Learning Resource.  She boiled down her learning into a presentation she made to our team.  I adapted her presentation into one I could use with my own class. 

I also made an anchor chart but I’ve pictured hers here since it is much neater than mine.  monosnap-window title-3

First a reflection: next time I teach this lesson, I will model the talk moves better to eliminate the initial confusion students showed when I set them to work.

Once we were past that, I was encouraged by the progress they made. Only my top two math students were unsuccessful, believing their answers were so self-evident that there could be no discussion.  (When after the second round they still had not succeeded, they were shocked to have me calmly explained that they had failed the assignment and were not yet showing they were on the way to discussing math like  mathematicians. It felt harsh; hopefully it helps them grow.)

While I was pleased with how the lesson went, I didn’t realize its larger impact until later in the day and week.  That afternoon, during our closing circle they were sharing suggestions of what we could do to make a better transition from recess back to being ready to learn in the classroom.  To my surprise and delight, without being prompted they used their talk moves.  I was hearing, “Can you explain that more clearly?” and “I respectfully disagree with Bill because….” This instantly elevated our closing circle from sharing to genuine discussion as they challenged and extended each other’s ideas.

Earlier in the week I had launched our class Edmodo account. I wanted a place for asynchronous discussions so that we could have deeper thought and hear more from our quieter members. As you would expect, the first discussion we attempted was less than perfect.  Students were so eager to take part that they wrote without anything to say. There was barely contained chaos where they tested whether I really meant no chat language and that the conversation needed to be as respectful as our fac-to-face ones.  They also did not yet understand exactly where their replies should be so the effect was a bit like buckshot.

After our accountable talk math lesson we again used Edmodo. This time it was to create a fun, rain day plan in case our field trip was rained out.  The difference was dramatic. They had actual discourse, asking for clarification, building on each other’s ideas, and respectfully challenging others.  Most were using conventional grammar as well.

Throughout the week, the accountable talk seemed to weave itself effortlessly into our community.  With how this group loves to talk -and don’t all fifth grade classes love to talk-  accountable talk was a bit of low hanging fruit easily added to our learning toolbox.  I will definitely use this lesson again next year. I’ll will teach it earlier.

How do you teach accountable talk?  Please share what resources and methods do you use.


Zeroing in on a Collaborative To Do List

2015 August 28
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by SSedro

I am joyfully back in the classroom this year. Although re-entry is brutal, I’m loving it.

One lovely aspect of being a classroom teacher at this school is that I have a half time instructional assistant.  Since her schedule has her in and out of my room all day, I needed an efficient way to communicate my tasks for her.  Thus started my search for a collaborative to do list.

Ideally, this tool would be free, integrate with Google Drive, and not be too cumbersome for our needs. It should also have a free mobile app since my assistant finds it easier to keep on top of tasks on her phone.

monosnap-window title-10 My first try was Smart Sheet.  I was pretty happy with it. The Google Drive integration is smooth. Many different types of attachments are easily included with tasks. The interface worked fairly well for us.

Unfortunately, my school will no longer have a subscription to it. I was also not loving how wide and cluttered the interface was.  I couldn’t find a way to hide completed tasks.  If I needed to do so, I was willing to pay for it, but I decide to look at other options first.

monosnap-window title-9Next I tried Wunderlist. I’ve used it before, but always wandered away from it.  The same thing happened this time.  I couldn’t find a way to keep the details panel open. Assigning tasks to my assistant took more clicks than I wanted.  No Google Drive integration.  I did like the clean interface and that completed tasks where hidden but accessible.


monosnap-window title-11I looked at a bunch of others before landing on Manage It. We’ve only been using it for a day, but so far I am loving it.  It has single sign on with Google. I can easily add links to Google Drive files.  It’s not too many clicks to add notes, due dates or assign the task to someone.  Completed tasks are hidden but accessible.  Best of all, it is free for a single project, which is all we need.  There are a bunch of notification options, and the mobile app is free. Like Smart Sheet, it could easily be used for managing large, multi-person projects, but it is also working well for the two of us.

Do you use a collaborative to do list?  What do you use?

Pages: Making a Brochure on an iPad

2015 May 15
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by SSedro

One of my teachers wondered how his students could create a brochure on an iPad.  Turns out, Pages has two nice brochure templates.  These directions assume the children have already saved all needed photos to their photo roll, and have finished revising their text in Google Docs. You can view the original document here.

This was my first attempt at making a tutorial which displayed well on an iPad. If you end up using it that way, please let me know if you think this layout works well for that device.

Movenote on the iPad

2015 April 21
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by SSedro

Last year I had attempted to use Movenote with students. Actually I probably tried it the year before even. In any case the old windows laptops we had were not up to the task. I was surprised to see that there is an iPad app. I tested it out. If you click the link you can view it. Know that I did not record on all the slides because there were 11 in the presentation. I just did enough to test out the app.
The only tricky part of the entire process was figuring out how to get the presentation into Movenote from Google Drive. Here are the steps.
  1. Open Google Drive.
  2. Locate the presentation. Open it.
  3. In the top right corner of the screen, tap the More menu. It looks like 3 dots.
  4. Tap the Share & export menu.
  5. Select Send a copy.
  6. Choose PDF as the format and select OK.
  7. Swipe until you see Open in Movenote.
  8. Wait while the file opens in Movenote. When it is fully loaded, you can start recording.
  9. Swipe from right to left to advance to the next slide.

I am not certain how to use this app with students. The entire recording must be done straight through. That is a challenging task for anyone, especially a child. One use could be as a poetry performance.  They could record themselves performing the poem.

Another application could be for reflecting on their art.  In this case, students would take a photo of their art. Then they would start a new Movenote, import the photo, and then record their annotation.

A final idea I had was that we want students to use some degree of Presentation Zen instead of having all their speech on their presentation.  However, then there is less of a useful artifact to add to their digital portfolio. With Movenote we could see the slides and see/hear them give the presentation.

Best Paris iPhone Apps

2015 April 14
by SSedro

This post was originally published on August 19, 2012. Unfortunately, many of the apps listed below are no longer available.  I’ve marked those apps so you don’t go looking for them and added some replacements. 

This summer I took the trip of a lifetime with my family to Paris.  The trip was amazing – great weather, great museums, great food and great exercise.  Kent and I were the tour guides since we had been there before.  We found we were using a few iphone apps over and over again throughout the day.  I’m going to share them here in hopes of assisting other travelers to that amazing city.

First a few details.  The apartment we rented had wifi. We did not use cellular data at all. That meant in some cases that we needed to do our research before we left.  In other cases we used apps that did not require wifi.

Certain public parks now have wifi. I had to create a new account each time – sometimes multiple times within a single use but it was hanly. Read about the process here. Many cafés and restaurants also provide wifi. Ask your server for the code.

We used other apps on the trip, but the ones listed below were by far the ones we used the most.


MetrO appMetrO helps you find your way in the public transportation systems in more than 400 cities worldwide.  This free app requires an internet connection to download the city you want. Once downloaded the app works offline.  Since our apartment was near a Metro station, we used this app extensively.  It is well designed and full of useful features. For example, after using it to find a route we can expand any section of the route to see all the stops between our starting point and destination.  It knew both Metro and train routes so it was able to connect us between them.





Paris Museums and MonumentsParis Museums and Exhibitions is another free app we used extensively.  Updated monthly, this well-designed app makes it easy to check admission times and costs. It lets you know the days it is closed and when it is open late.  It lists whether or not the venue is covered by the Paris Museum Pass. It provides info on closet train and Metro stops. It has a favorites feature so you can quickly find the venues you plan to visit that day.It links to the venue’s website (internet connection required). Linking to the website monosnap 04-15 20-10allowed us to discover a special Berthe Morisot exhibition at the Musee Marmmotan. She’s my mother’s favorite impressionist painter.

– That app is no longer available. The Paris Museums and Monuments app cost $1.99. It gives basic info and then links you to the museum’s websites.



By the way, we flew from Minnesota to Paris on Delta. On arrival there was a  tourist information bureau very near to our baggage carousel. We were able to purchase our Paris Museum Passes and our first carnet of Metro tickets there which made for a smooth start to our vacation.  Although we didn’t end up saving any money using the Paris Museum Pass, being able to jump the admission lines made it worth the price.  Note that you cannot jump security screening, just admission and ticket purchase.  Many of the big museums have special entrances for pass holders.

We also found that purchasing ten packs of Metro tickets called carnets was much more cost effective than the Paris Visté pass.  Although we rode the Metro frequently, we walked as much as we could so the Visté would not have saved us money.


Tripadvisory Offline City Guides

Tripadvisor Offline City Guides is another free iphone app that served us well. Prior to our trip we used an internet connection to download the free Paris guide into the app.  After that the app works offline. It includes all the reviews for the city that are available on the TripAdvisor website.  When we were out sightseeing, we used it to find great restaurants that were nearby. It never steered us wrong in terms of directions or food.  The ability to search by district was very helpful, as were the accompanying maps.

Note: many restaurants in Paris are small making reservations a must. We walked to a number of restaurants whose menus looked mouth-wateringly good only to find that all 10 tables were book through next Tuesday.


Rick Steves Audio Europe is a free app which makes it easy to access Rick Steve’s podcasts and audio tours.  The app requires an internet connection to download the content you select into playlists. After that it works offline.  We listened to his Paris podcasts prior to our trip. They covered interesting topics such as the history of the Eiffel Tower, hidden gardens of Paris, Paris café culture, and lesser-known Paris museums.  When we were in Paris we used his audio tours of the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay. We also used one of his walking tours.





Talking French Phrasebook is a $0.99 app that we used a bit.  It is well laid out and the pronunciations were useful.  It works offline. We were fortunate that so many Parisians speak English, but we did make use of this a few times.




Although I used my digital camera for most of my photos, I found I used my iPhone camera often to capture information, restaurant operating hours, street names, etc. For example, we passed posters advertising classical music concerts being held in churches. I snapped photos of them. Later we pulled up the photos so we had date, time and location. We heard a great piano concert as a result. My iphone camera app of choice is Camera + ($3.99). – I no longer use this app because the camera is so good on my newer iPhone. However, it is still a great app.



My most useful food app is no longer available. It is Escargo  from Meeker Hollow Productions.  This food dictionary served us well as we tried to read menus written in French.




Since Escargo is unavailable my family members purchased The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. This $4.99 app works offline. We mostly purchased it for it’s food dictionary. It also has good restaurant reviews and a helpful map so you can locate reviews by arrondissement.



monosnap 04-15 19-48For navigation we also used the free Paris Travel Guide and Offline City Maps app. It works offline. Its maps were easier to pinch and squeeze than the ones in the MetrO app.  Still, reading maps on an iPhone is not easy. It would be worth it to have a really good paper map. When I had wifi I also used the Maps app that comes with the iPhone. ) This old version is optimized for iOS 6.  Ulmon Maps 2 Go is updated for iOS 7 and above and has a free and also a paid version which costs $4.99. Both allow unlimited downloads of maps but the free version has ads. I was able to get the paid version when it went free for a few days.  


Thankfully, we didn’t use the mPassport Paris (free now, usually $0.99) but I was glad to have it on hand.  It would have made it easy for us to locate doctors, dentists, pharmaciess and hospitals if we had needed them. It includes reviews. Info on languages spoken. – This app is now free but it appears to be tied to an insurance company. You must login to use it. 


Before and during the trip I made use of Rick Steve’s Paris 2012 guidebook in Kindle format ($9.99). Navigation leaves a bit to be desired. However, it is a useful guidebook. I was able to highlight portions so I could find them easily on the road.  I used his tours when we were in museums.  In general, it is a good guidebook and having it always with me was useful. I recommend reading it first on a computer or iPad and then transferring it to the iPhone for the trip. – 2015 version is available here for $9.46.




For most of my travels I make use of Packing (+ todo!) ($0.99 + in app purchases). This is a robust packing app. I save different packing lists for different types of travel (business vs. pleasure) and different climates (Southeast Asia versus Minnesota). I used an in app purchase to allow it to sync between my iphone and ipad. That way in the lead up to the trip, I can add items that I think of while I’m in the taxi, shopping, etc.


Finally, not related to apps, but we made use of the Vacation Rental by Owner website to book an apartment. That was a great experience. The apartment worked out really well. The size, amenities and location really made a difference in our vacation. We stayed here: We would stay there again in a heartbeat. We were a group of two couples and one single adult. Besides having the St. Paul metro station very nearby, we had ATMs, grocery store, Mono Prix, 2 bakeries, 2 chocolate shops, a cheese shop, coffee shops (including Starbucks) and restaurants. The apartment manager was a great communicator. The concierge made our stay much more pleasurable.

Safe travels! Have a pan au chocolate, a chocolate crepe and a macaroon for me!