Student Device Initiative Update

The 2018-2019 school year will mark the fifth year of our district’s student device initiative.  In 2014, we established a five-year goal to supply all students in grades 1-12 with a device for learning, and we will complete that goal during the 2018-2019 school year.  As we look forward to a new school year, here is a summary of what we have accomplished thus far.

In the summer of 2014, we supplied over 600 iPads for students at Northside Intermediate School along with a management cart for each classroom.  At that time, we had no way to manage the devices remotely, so all of the iPads had to be connected via USB cable to a single MacBook.  We used carts, the MacBook, and a program called Apple Configurator to push settings and apps to the iPads.  It was a massive job, but, in the end, our students and teachers had the apps that they needed.  Our Northside iPads are now easier to manage thanks to our JAMF mobile device management solution, and these devices have served the Northside campus well over the past four years.

Our new middle school opened in the fall of 2015, and, in addition to a new building, we provided our sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students with new Dell Chromebooks.  Students were and are still allowed to use the laptops both at school and at home.  Our middle school teachers use Google Classroom, G Suite, and a wealth of other applications with students.  Teachers also use the technology for more efficient formative and summative assessment.

In 2016, we purchased iPads and carts for our students and teachers in grades 1-3 at Wylie Elementary School.  We were able to supply an iPad for all teachers and for all students in grade 3.  We purchased 11 iPads for each of our first and second grade classrooms and these classrooms share a cart.  By working together, teachers of students in grades 1 and 2 can have a full set of iPads for their classrooms when they need it.

In 2017, we provided Asus Chromebooks for students in grades 9-11.  Like middle school students, high school students keep their devices with them wherever they go so that they have access to their digital textbooks, their documents and files, and to their online coursework.  Students use their devices for assessments, for collaborating with other students and with their teachers, for creating presentations for their classes, and a wide variety of other tasks and needs.

During the 2018-2019 school year, our returning high school students will continue to use the devices that were assigned to them in 2017 as they promote to the next grade levels, and our incoming freshmen will be provided new Chromebooks for their learning needs.  This will mean that each high school student will have the opportunity to have his/her own laptop.  We will also continue to allow students to bring their own technology to use at school, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

As you can see, members of our technology department have been busy over the past few years ensuring that all students and teachers have the technology tools they need to be successful in the classroom.  This is especially true of our campus technology specialists who serve the needs of students at schools on a daily basis.

As our technology team prepares for a new school year, it is important for us not to lose sight of our mission, which is to do our part in producing students who are

  • given opportunities to use technology across all curricula
  • highly engaged in meaningful, real-world activities
  • tech literate and responsible
  • critical thinkers and problem solvers
  • collaborative
  • confident using a wide variety of tools for learning and discovery
  • given opportunities to utilize 21st Century Skills in all disciplines

The New Gmail

Google has released a new version of Gmail, and the changes are not drastic.  In fact, I was a little disappointed by how little has changed.

If you want to try the new Gmail, simply click the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner and click “Try the new Henderson ISD Mail.”  You can always go back to the old look by clicking Settings and choosing “Go back to the classic Henderson ISD Mail.”  You should also be able to do this with a personal Gmail account.

Let’s start with design.  Compare the look of the old on the left and the new on the right in the images below.  Unless you look closely (click on the images to see larger versions), it is hard to tell the differences.  The buttons and icons have a more rounded appearance, and you can collapse the main menu on the left.


If I have a favorite thing about the new Gmail, it’s the new column to the right that contains add-ons like Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Tasks.  It’s convenient to have all of these apps quickly at hand to the right, but it’s not a huge game changer, especially if you don’t use those apps very often.

Another interesting feature is the ability to choose from automatically generated replies that Google recommends based on the content of your message.  This use of artificial intelligence is a little creepy, but I have found the replies to be accurate and useful.

As of the posting of this blog entry, some of the new features are not yet available in our school Gmail but are available in a personal Gmail account.  These include the ability to “snooze” an email message, which just means that you can make the message disappear from your inbox and then reappear on a particular date and time.

Another new feature is confidential mode.  When this is enabled during composition of an email, the recipient cannot forward, copy/paste content, download, or print the email. You can also enable an expiration date/time, which makes the message impossible to retrieve.

When the recipient receives notice of a confidential email, it looks like this

Once the recipient clicks on the link to view the email, he/she must click on another link to trigger a passcode to be sent via email.

Once the recipient receives the passcode, he/she enters it

Here is an example of a confidential message once it is received.  A person can still take a screen shot of the message, so I am not sure how confidential and private these messages really are.  Per Google’s support team, these messages are also archived and can be retrieved in Google Vault, so they don’t really go away.

Other features will soon be available in the new Gmail for our school district.  To see an overview, watch Lexy Savvides’s video.


5 Great Reasons to Use Google Classroom to Assign Work to Students

Google Classroom makes sharing assignments and information with students very easy.  The power of allowing your students access to your coursework at any time via their school or personal devices solves several challenges:

1. Students who are absent from your class don’t miss out.  Because your information is available 24/7 in your Google Classroom, it’s always there for them.

2. Parents can understand your expectations for their children much easier if they also have access to the course information.  As of the date of this publication, this requires parents to log in to Google Classroom as their child, so encourage them to know and use their child’s school Google account credentials to keep a watch on things.

3. Students who aren’t great with following verbal directions have a way to review instructions if necessary.  This is also great for students who have modifications that require written instructions or additional help understanding directions.  This is also great for you as the teacher because you can ask them to check Classroom for the instructions instead of explaining this over and over.

4. Assignments in Google Classroom share information directly with Google Calendar, so your students will always know when activities are due.

5. You can easily provide video instructions to accompany an assignment for your students with the Google Classroom mobile app.  Here is how:

  • Download and install the Google Classroom app on your iOS or Android device if you haven’t already.
  • Open a course in Google Classroom and create an assignment.  Click the paper clip icon in the upper right-hand corner and allow the app to access your device’s camera if you haven’t already.
  • Now give Google Classroom access to your microphone and then record a short video providing instructions, special information, or any other message that you would like to share with students.  You can even provide a short mini lesson or show them how to get started with a special project, a lab, or activity.


An Introduction to Flipgrid

Put simply, Flipgrid is a video discussion platform.  This platform allows a teacher to create a grid, which is like a web-based classroom or a community.  Within this grid, teachers create topics, and within these topics, students respond with either short video recordings or by uploading images.

Getting students to these Flipgrids is very easy.  Students only need to know the grid or topic’s unique “flip code.”  Once the teacher shares this code, students then enter this into the Flipgrid app (on iOS and Android devices) or by simply navigating to on a computer and entering the code.

In addition to ease of use, another quality attribute of Flipgrid is that it is well designed.  It looks pretty, and the aesthetics will appeal to your students.  Flipgrid doesn’t look like schoolwork; it has the look of an attractive social media platform.

One concern that teachers have about allowing students to create and post videos is the possibility that students will post something that is inappropriate.  By turning on “Response Moderation,” teachers have full control of the videos that are shared to a topic.  By moderating a topic, teachers can ensure that a video is published only when he/she has viewed the content and has approved the post.

Another concern is privacy.  Teachers don’t want videos recorded by their students being seen by just anyone.  The only way a person can access a grid or topic is by having the unique code provided by the teacher.  Grids are private by default and they can be password protected if teachers want an additional level of privacy.

Another great reason to use Flipgrid is that it integrates directly with Google Classroom.  This means that you can create assignments and share them directly with students via any of your classes within Google Classroom.  When using this feature, be sure that you set a due date for the assignment.  If you don’t, students will not be able to submit from Flipgrid.

The free version of Flipgrid provides a teacher with a single grid with which to work.  To see a comparison between the free and paid versions, visit

Here is an overview of why the product has gained popularity among educators.  Flipgrid can be used in any subject and with any age group.

Apple’s Big Education Event

This past Tuesday, Apple tried to regain a foothold on selling its technology to schools.  Apple’s once significant share of the educational technology market has shrunk considerably over the past five years.

Understand that Apple is doing just fine without selling any products to schools.  The tech giant netted over 48 billion dollars in fiscal year 2017.  But all smart companies understand that children who use their products eventually become adults who buy their products.

( Chart courtesy of Futuresource Consulting)

Our district is a good example of the trend that has played itself out over the past five years.  In a nutshell, devices running Google’s Chrome operating system are cheap, fast, and very easy to manage for school technology departments.  Purchasing Chrome devices for lots of students is much cheaper than purchasing devices running iOS and MacOS.  Combine that with the fact that many educators have embraced Google’s free GSuite for Education tools like Docs, Slides, and Google Classroom, and Chromebooks have become the devices of choice for many districts.

So what’s Apple’s plan for re-gaining some of their former market in K-12 schools and universities?  That plan was unveiled on Tuesday at a special event hosted at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School.

  1. Lower the price of the base model iPad to $299 and give it the ability to work with a stylus.  The only previous iPad model that worked with a stylus is the iPad Pro.  Apple’s own stylus is called Apple Pencil and sells for $89 to education.
  2. Make products completed with Apple’s iWork productivity suite easier to mark up with electronic ink (with the Apple Pencil, of course).  This will allow teachers to add comments, corrections, and other annotations directly on documents, charts, and presentations.
  3. Provide learning management apps.  Those announced include Apple Schoolwork, which allows teachers to create and share assignments with students (ala Google Classroom and Microsoft Classroom).  Apple released the Apple Classroom app a few years ago, which allows teachers to monitor and control their students’ iPads.
  4. Provide resources for instructors and students that show them how to code and how to use Apple’s hardware and software to create art, video, music, and other digital products.  Swift Playgrounds for iPad is Apple’s high quality coding tutorial app, but it is not compatible with some of the older model iPads that cannot run iOS 10 and 11.

Create Shared Albums in Google Photos

If you use an iPad or iPhone, I highly encourage you to install and use the Google Photos app to automatically back up any photos or videos that you are capturing.  I even did a blog entry with instructions, which you will find at

Another great reason to use Google Photos is the ease of sharing.  When I take pictures that I want to share with others, I use a shared album.  Shared albums are great for classroom activities because a single device can be used to capture photos, which students can share with the teacher or with members of their team if the learning is collaborative.

First, capture photos or videos with the device.  Next, open the Google Photos app and, if you followed the instructions for setup and configuration (see link above), the photos should begin to automatically upload to your Google cloud account.

Once the backup is complete, go to and open Google Photos using the Apps Launcher in the upper right hand corner.

Next, click the Albums icon on the left side of the screen and then select New Album.  Choose some pictures to place in the album by checking them and the click CREATE. Name the album and click the check mark in the upper left-hand corner to save.

To share a photo album, click the three small dots in the upper right hand corner of the album and then select share.  Choose those with whom you would like to share by checking them or enter their email addresses in the To area.  You can also select whether they can add their own photos to the album, you can copy a link to the shared album, and you can choose to share directly to various social media.


Slides Carnival

If you are looking for some new design templates for PowerPoint or themes for Google Slides, check out Slides Carnival, which you will find at  This site offers some great looking designs, many which are free to use.

Once at the site, you can browse the wide variety of designs.  These designs are found on multiple pages, and you will find navigation links at the bottom of each page.

One you find a design you want to use, click the graphic and then select either the Google Slides theme or the PowerPoint template download option.  If you choose a Google Slides theme, you will be presented with the opportunity to make a copy of the theme.  If you choose the PowerPoint option, you will be presented with a dialogue to save the file to your computer, which you can then open and modify with PowerPoint.

The template is a collection of slides of varying types.  The second slide of each template provides a nice set of instructions for how to use the theme or template.  You also get a slide that provides information about the fonts that were used and a few slides that contain icons that you can use to make your own designs.