28 September 2011

Virtual Road Trip

One of my favourite parts of each day is sitting down and working through the posts in my Google Reader account. Like many of you, I subscribe to a number of blogs, news, and websites. An aggregator, like Google Reader, can be a real timesaver---it collects the information.

What I don't like about Reader is the sterile environment. You get content, but you don't get to see the actual sites. You miss the bigger experience---the colours, format, changes, and additions. I don't see what's on the blogroll or the comments others leave to discuss a post.

So, every once in awhile, I like to take a little road trip. I work through the blogs on my sidebar and perhaps a few others from my Reader. Here's what I found on my most recent trip:
  • I like how many of you are using the pages options in Blogger and Wordpress. This looks like a great way to showcase other parts of your (working) life. Most of us are little multimedia moguls these days. We contribute to more than one site, may be active on Twitter, and have a voice in the real world beyond our classroom. Using pages allows the blog to act more like a website and host a variety of content. I'm definitely going to steal this idea.
  • There continues to be a very healthy variety of templates. Sure, a lot of bloggers use default options, but I see a lot of mixing and matching of plugins and backgrounds. Nearly everyone has moved over to the standard idea of content on the left and navigation on the right. I have set up my new blog that way, but this blog is set up with a special template. It's old school...and I kinda like it that way. We'll see if I feel like catching the next wave of web design. The most unusual among the blogs I frequent is Chalkdust 101. Patrick's three-column template with the post tags on top invites you to spend a little time looking around.
  • I try to keep my blogroll stocked with people who post regularly. I know, I know, I'm one to talk after taking some time off this summer---I didn't kick anyone off who's posted at least once in the last three months. But I'm looking for some new stuff, too. Frank, over at Action-Reaction, has a fantastic collection of standards-based grading blogs, as well as science blogs. Jason, at Always Formative, has a nice category of Deserves More Traffic. What a great idea for getting new bloggers some attention and notice. In the early blogging days, there weren't very many of us. It was a lot easier to get attention before Google smart search, Twitter, Facebook, and everybody-has-a-blog. And now there is (thankfully) a lot of diversity in the blogosphere. It makes me smile every time I think of the range of voices out there---ones that didn't have an audience at all a few years ago. The nice thing about the web is that there is room for everyone. However, we still have to work at building community. Suggestions in my Google Reader help, but seeing what you all suss out to add to your blogroll is vital, too.
  • Nearly all of you are using full feeds for your RSS. Thank you! I expect short feeds for sites like Education Week, which just offer headlines. But, I'm not someone who "clicks through" on blogs with this type of feed. So, if you're hiding content, I hope you'll reconsider. Unless you have a good reason for needing a level of control over who accesses your blog or are counting on ad revenue from click-throughs to feed your family (and most of your readers are probably using an ad blocker, anyway), you might be losing a lot of readers/commenters. Put your content out there!
  • Blogs written by men seem to get more attention than ones written by women. I don't know that I have anything empirical to point to. I just find it interesting to see which ones get the most follows/reads/mentions. For example, I've seen any number of retweets from Solution Tree about a book a man wrote or a workshop provided by a man...and not a single one related to ideas from a woman. And for another example---reread this post and see who I mentioned. Apparently, I'm just as guilty as anyone else. I'm not complaining. Good ideas should stand on their own merit, regardless of gender. And I won't say that women deserve special consideration or treatment. When it comes to schools, women far outnumber men (especially at the elementary levels). Perhaps the voices of men are more important in this space because they have less representation. Whatever the reason, I notice an imbalance more now than when I first started writing. Either it was always there and I didn't see it...or it's not there and I'm just imagining it. Or, maybe it doesn't matter at all. Feel free to tell me I've gone around the bend.
 Do you blog or have a website? When was the last time you clicked through your blogroll or other links to see what's happening (or find ideas to steal)? What have you noticed in the edusphere?

Have you visited Excel for Educators lately? If not, come on over to my other blog to read...
Come over and learn with us!

25 September 2011

Cogitating on Metacognition

In my last post, I mentioned that I'm trying to reinvent the 1-hour conference presentation so that it elevates the ideas for the bulk of the session and then rolls around in the mud at the end. I don't know that I can do this for all of my presentations. Sometimes, you just have to get down and dirty with information. The new hotness of a presentation is focusing on the edtech standards related to information literacy. There are four, and they more or less mimic a basic research/inquiry process: asking questions/planning for research, searching for and organizing information, selecting valid information and following copyright, and then sharing/reflecting on the product.

At first, I was thinking about using the transition from analog to digital methods/tools as the backbone of the discussion. We've gone from card catalogs, encyclopedias, and notecards to Google Scholar, Wikipedia, and OneNote. My hunch is that many of us (adults) don't do our work in an either/or state. Sure, I use the computer for many tasks and products, but I am a huge fan of paper and my Palamino Blackwing pencils. I have tried several apps and software options, but I haven't found a replacement for my paper planner (yet). However, I am certainly not ready to turn Luddite and give up my laptop and smartphone.

The more I pondered the language in the standards, the more I started to wonder if the "hidden" goal is really building metacognition. Don't get me wrong, learning to ask a good question is a fine skill to engender. But how you know it's a good question? Now you're getting somewhere. Now you can start to build your bullshit detector for the world at large. Add on the other components in the information literacy part of the standards and you start to wonder if a populace which has a healthy dose of skepticism is possible.

This train of thought has me building a very different presentation. It's not that I don't think the analog/digital discussion isn't important in its own way. This is a wrenching transition we're making. And as much as I might shake my head now when a school tech person tells me a story of having to teach someone that they could change the font in a Word document, I remember when I was at that point in the learning curve, too. I'm not someone who buys the whole "digital native" thing. Heck, I was born into a world with tools, too, but that doesn't make me a finish carpenter or engineer. Thinking about our own pathways and helping others would make for a fabulous discussion with the librarians I'll be presenting to.

But I want to go farther. I think there are ideas lurking even deeper...the things we really want to talk about. Can I do that in a one-hour session? Probably not, but it's a start. I've been looking through my old files to see if I have any additional resources to offer. I have two old handouts (authors unknown) that might fit the bill. The first one has 12 Learning to Learn Skills. The other is about Teaching Students to Think about Their Thinking. Both are intended for a teacher audience. They include considerations for building metacognitive skills in students. They are not, however, "how to" guides. And looking around, there really isn't much out there which resembles such a thing. While I don't expect a magic recipe for metacognition, we also can't expect students to develop their abilities in this area unless we can provide some support and feedback. Maybe the best I can do for now is use my presentation to help us discover and communicate our own strategies.

Do you have methods for supporting metacognition in the classroom or with your peers? What do they look like?

23 September 2011

Deep Dive

I present at a lot of conferences---more now because educational technology has tentacles in every subject area. And while I believe that a single shot of PD will in no way lead to sustainable classroom change, conferences still have a role to play. Much of that is at a relationship level, whether it's getting to hang out with like-minded people or meet someone for a conversation. Sure, there's learning happening, but I think the larger purpose is more along the lines of inspiration and reflection.

Some of my presentations are of the stand and deliver variety. An hour with an audience who is just hearing about something for the first time doesn't leave a lot of room for a constructivist approach. I don't have time (and neither do they) to "discover" the information. What's more, I find I get a large number of walk-outs if I try to have participants do some activities---right or wrong, a lot of them want the sit-and-get approach in a conference session. So, I need to get things into their hands, the most important points into their heads, and then cross my fingers that they'll take the initiative to do more---although the research suggests that 99% of them won't. Why bother, then? Again, I'm not looking for sustainable change as an outcome. I'm looking for building personal connections with others who have similar interests.

However, I'm rarely content with the status quo. I like finding the edge and exploring. Maybe an hour at a conference won't change the world, but it doesn't mean that we can't take a deep dive into thoughts and ideas. So, there will be a new addition to my portfolio this year---a presentation for educators which looks at standards through a more adult lens and focuses on bigger ideas. A way to reflect on the knowledge/skills you practice today, along with where and how those developed, as a basis for talking about how we support students in reaching these same ends.

My goal here is to reverse, or at least reorder, the sequence of events. A traditional session delivers the nuts-and-bolts, all the while hoping that participants are making a personal connection to the content. This time, I want the message to be personal, only reaching the obvious link to the nuts and bolts at the very end. Will it work? I dunno. Do people want to choose a conference session that focuses on ideas rather than concrete take-aways? Beats me. But I'll take a chance and see what happens.

I'll share more specifics at another time, but so far, the presentation involves four clips from Desk Set, a variety of tweets from #phdchat, some work around the analog to digital shift in research, musings on metacognition, and oh---of course, the ed tech standards and assessments. Slide designs include dot matrix paper, chalkboards, and other ephemera to help us take a walk into the past in order to talk about the present. I think it will be good, but if nothing else, it will be different.

17 September 2011

Neither Here Nor There

In my last post, I asked you to think about the purpose of technology in the classroom. Maybe it is not necessary to get students to 21C skills---like critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration. (Heresy, I know...) So, if technology isn't for all the reasons we give school boards, voters, and teachers...what's it for?

Looking back to my start as a beginning teacher (21 years ago...), I would describe myself as eager, but not great in the classroom. That is, I really wanted to do a good job---I was very enthusiastic about working with kids and sharing my love of science---but I was inexperienced (only had 1 pre-service teaching semester) and ill-prepared (very little of my coursework applied to teaching in a high-poverty junior high). I don't remember having students with IEPs, but I'm sure they were in my classes---how could they not be? And yet, I'm sure I didn't pay them much attention. Ditto for ELL students, who spent most of the class time being pulled out. I won't claim that for the first year or two that I did much in the way of encouraging critical thinking in students. Sure, we did lots of labs and activities, but I lacked the skill to help kids pull the deeper meaning from these learning experiences.

What saved me from a career as That Teacher was just a drive to do better. I sought out NSTA conferences and moved into more specialized graduate studies. Technology? Not an option at school. I think there might have been 10 computers in the whole place (school had 1600 8th and 9th graders)---all of them for administrators, counselors, and secretaries. The computers were for student records, not productivity or creation. But to say that my students never engaged in any creative output for their learning or flexed their critical thinking muscles would be a lie. I still have some of their products. I won't claim that I asked them to dig deep into content every day or that I reached every single kid---but I can say that it is possible to provide high-quality learning experiences for students without using technology.

However, I can say with certainty that not every kid had access to the content at a level that they needed or in ways that best supported their learning needs. And to me, this is the role that technology can have in the classroom. This is what tech can do better than I can. I don't have to rely on a single set of instructional materials and media. I can find content that connects a student's learning needs with the standards. If a student needs to access the lesson from home or just needs to see/hear things again, that can happen. Students who need resources in languages other than English or delivered in ways that account for learning disabilities can have them. Sure, the output can be varied, too, but I won't claim that you need the technology to write, draw, collaborate, communicate, or produce. I can get content to students in a diversity of ways. But that's all. I can't make them learn it. And I am still the teacher---I am responsible for instruction, for using assessment data wisely, and for building relationships with students. I think I would have been a much better teacher at the beginning of my career if I could have focused on those things and not had to spend so much energy just tracking down content.

As for the second question I asked, I would have to rely on more qualitative measures. Observations of students and (informal) interviews with them along the journey to check for learning. Sure, it's great if they come to school more often or do better on summative assessments. But if the role of technology is to support the journey, then I need to see evidence along the way. I need to be able to connect the fact that an English Language Learner used a YouTube video that explained a concept in their native language with what they are able to show me in a lab or how they add to a discussion or help another student.

I realize this isn't a very sexy answer. I know some of you believe there is something more to what technology (and only technology) can do. It's not my goal to deprogram the fervent believers, but I do want to start restructuring the conversation.

14 September 2011

What If There is No "There" There?

I love this tweet:

In my head, I can hear the collective gasp of the Hardcore EdTechers. I can hear their claims that we're living in a digital world, dammit...and 21st century collaboration just isn't possible without a computer. An iPad in every pot!

Pshaw, I say.

Other than a classroom, can you tell me of a "real world" workplace where everyone uses tablet computers all day, interactive whiteboards are the focus of the office, and colleagues share their work using document cameras and projectors? If not, why are we insisting on spending millions of dollars each year to outfit classrooms?

Let me make a slightly radical suggestion: Maybe the 21st Century classroom is a myth. If you want to tell me that the tools themselves aren't the outcome, I can buy that. I've said for a long time that it's not about the stuff. However, don't tell me that you have to have the stuff to in order to teach critical thinking skills, innovation, collaboration, etc. All of those skills that you draw from to work with other teachers these days, cooperate with family members, or all of those "real world" functions didn't come from a computer.

So, if it's not about how much silicon and bandwidth you have in a learning space...if you can get to your "21C skills" without 21C tech...what is the purpose of the shiny touchscreens, apps, and LED bulbs? What if technology literacy (learning to use the computer and basic programs) was just a goal in and of itself, with no expectations for anything further? Let's face it, most of what we know about "good instruction" was learned over the years before anything smelling like a 1:1 initiative was on the scene. Does completing a Venn diagram on a computer automatically make it better than one on paper---or do we care more about whether or not a student understands how to compare/contrast as the goal?

A lot has been made recently from Matt Richtel's recent NYT article In the Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores. I would completely agree that the goal of getting computers into classrooms should not be to raise test scores---but tech supporters have no one but themselves to blame for this view. How many school boards have been convinced to put their money into whiteboards and document cameras because they've been told it will increase test scores? Isn't that how we get attention for things these days? If you want to say (as Karen Cator did) that the goal of integrating tech isn't to raise scores, that's fine, but you need to point to at least some sort of value-added. As a taxpayer, how will I know that all these shiny tools actually do something for student learning (not achievement)? ISTE dropped the ball with its (barely) two paragraph rebuttal, refusing to address the bigger issues of the NYT article. Big mistake.

Look, edtech, I'm on your side. I work for you. But the longer I look, the less I like what I see. If you can't answer Garr's tweet in a serious manner...if the head of your organization can't put together a well-reasoned response...how long do you think it will be before the public at large notices that your emperor is running around in the nude? I would ask you to think deeply about the following:
  • What do you need technology to do in your classroom that you could not do using analog methods? Sure, I know that technology can automate some things and increase productivity with other tasks. But that's just basic tech literacy---and still represents items that could be done without a computer. Would your students not learn to read? Write? Draw? Think? Engage with content? Play? Collaborate and communicate? We don't have to go back to the slate and chalk era---old ways aren't always the most efficient or effective. But I do think we need to have better justification than "It's new!"
  • What is the value added that technology brings to the classroom? In other words, for those skills/learning that you think technology is critical for, how do you know? What do you see? It doesn't have to be test scores. But if I asked you to prove its worth---what data (qualitative or quantitative) would you think is appropriate to collect?

12 September 2011

Gradebook in the Cloud

Cross-posted from Excel for Educators

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a "Roll Your Own Gradebook" series for beginners. The advanced version will be available soon, but in the meantime, some of you might be interested in the GoogleDocs version of the gradebook.

I like GoogleDocs for a variety of reasons. "Cloud-based" documents are accessible from anywhere I have an internet connection, collaboration is simple, and sharing information is a snap. Mind you, these are exactly the same attributes which can be deadly for student grades. In the U.S., the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) outlines the responsibility institutions have when it comes to student data. So, even though you can keep your gradebook on the web, please think carefully about whether or not you should.

The spreadsheet feature of GoogleDocs is really not ready for primetime, but it does afford some functionality. You have very few colours to choose from (and no way to adjust RGB values), limited formulas, and no way to pretty up your charts and graphs (even though you have some types unavailable in Excel). However, if you just need a down and dirty way to look at scores, it's good enough.

Here is a link to the unadulterated version of the gradebook. You can copy this to your own Google account and play with it to your heart's content. You can follow (nearly) all of the same steps as I posted for the Excel version (see Part I, Part IIa, and Part IIb). Or, create a new beast.

I have also developed a final version of the gradebook and reporting tool, with all of the steps applied, if you just want to skip ahead to the ending. This, too, can be copied to your own Google account for hours of amusement.

Ow! My eyes!

Keep in mind that many people have created gradebook templates in GoogleDocs and have posted them to share. Look around and see how you can improve on what's there.

11 September 2011

IFRD 2011

It's International Rock-Flipping Day (IFRD)! Get out there and see what's sharing your space. This morning, I was joined by Tomato and Celery, the neighbour's hens. Each morning, they dutifully hike up the ravine (a climb I refuse to even attempt) in order to partake in the bounty of my lawn.

I have to say that while the lawn contains more invertebrates than you can shake a hen at, there aren't a lot of rocks. In fact, I didn't find anything satisfactory and had to resort to a man-made rock (read: concrete). I tried some scattered pavers and the stack of cinderblocks by the garage. Nothing was wriggling beneath. I was starting to feel inadequate when I remembered one more option: the birdbath.

Score! On the bottom of the birdbath was some sort of egg sac. I'm guessing it was placed there by a spider, but I'm really not sure. I've been looking at a variety of online images to see if I can find a match---no luck yet. Anyone know what this belongs to?

But the star of the show was this little millipede. It was about 3 cm in length. (Head is at the right.)

Again, I'm not sure of the classification of this little being. I think it might be some sort of Tylobolus. I found a similar picture here, but the identification for that picture doesn't really seem to fit (there's no way this is a black and yellow spotted millipede). Anyway, it was a very cute little animal. I squeed for good reasons.

I put the birdbath back in the place, refilled the water, and hoped the millipede was able to get back to sleep. Did you find something interesting today? Don't forget to post and share. If you need more information on International Rock-Flipping Day, you can get more background here. See you next year!

Update: You can see the full list of posts over at Wanderin' Weeta's, including one from Jen (of Elementary My Dear, Or Far From It Fame).

10 September 2011

Move It On Over

While my raison d'ĂȘtre for my current position is somewhat moot---the big Legislative deadline was in June---the simple fact is that there is still a lot of work to do. We met our directive to develop assessments (you can see them here...the very first statewide assessment system for educational technology/21st century learning goals), but some need to finish the field testing process. And all of them need some supporting tools and resources for implementation.

There's not any money to do this, mind you. So, I've been pursuing some alternative/tech-based options to develop and provide what I can. There will be a Moodle site containing a self-guided professional development course---as well as materials that others can use more widely (e.g. in-district staff development opportunities). We can do webinars and go on the conference circuit.

The nagging question in the back of my mind is whether or not anyone will use these forms of support. I can build a Moodle site, but will anyone come? Would I, if I were in the classroom this year? I've participated in a variety of online learning opportunities. And I have to admit that I would rather have a face-to-face experience. I much prefer a real-time collaborative session. I like the immediacy and spontaneity of the discussion and presentation. All of that---and I'm more comfortable being online than a lot of teachers out there.

Therefore, it's been a real challenge for me to think differently about delivering PD in an all online format. How do I make the components inviting and accessible...and not make the environment seem sterile and the learning experience lonely? How do I provide enough options so that the time teachers have to spend on professional growth is honored---and yet allow a deep enough experience so that teachers are ready to implement the assessments on their own? The fact is, the online environment is a lot more "sit and get," another issue to try and overcome. How do I "road test" a few of the offline ideas so that school or district personnel can use them with confidence?

Have you had to take your course materials from the real world into the virtual one? What did you learn along the way?

Don't forget about my new blog: Excel for Educators. It will eventually include much more than Excel in terms of applying data visualization techniques to your classroom, school, or district. Come over and check out the latest posts:
I will also be looking for guest posts for this blog. Have a tip or tool to share? Let me know.

05 September 2011

IRFD 2011: Are You Ready?

It's late summer...and you know what that means. International Rock-Flipping Day (IFRD) is coming. There's nothing you can do to stop it. You just have to jump in and grab that flippin' rock with both hands and be prepared to document what lies beneath. Citizen science/naturalism never felt so good.

It's the fifth year for the celebration. Wanderin' Weeta is once again taking on  hosting duties. Here are her instructions for participants:

  • On or about September 11th, find your rock or rocks and flip it/them over.
  • Record what you find. "Any and all forms of documentation are welcome: still photos, video, sketches, prose, or poetry."
  • Replace the rock as you found it: It's someone's home.
  • Post on your blog, or load your photos to the Flickr group. (Even if you don't have a blog, you can join.)
  • Send me a link. Or you can add a comment to any IRFD post.
  • I will collect the links, e-mail participants the list, and post it for any and all to copy to your own blogs. (If you're on Twitter, Tweet it, too; the hashtag is #rockflip.)
  • There is a handy badge available for your blog, here.
Get your family and/or students ready to flip out. Spend the week finding just the right rock and making predictions about what's waiting for you below. I'm looking forward to seeing what you share on Sunday!

04 September 2011

Roll Your Own Gradebook: Adding Sparklines

It's now time for the big finish for our beginning gradebook: using Excel's built-in chart functions to create sparkline graphs for our student reports. (Just a reminder that you can download the workbook and play along at home.)

To do this, you'll need to create a table in the gradebook for some dynamic data. You could actually put this table anywhere in the workbook that you like. I put it below the student scores because it makes it much easier to associate the numbers with their labels.

Use your INDEX/MATCH combo function from yesterday's post to get things kicked off:

Be sure to make the cell on the "Report" sheet that contains the list of names an absolute reference. Otherwise, when you use the fill option to create the data points for the other cells, Excel will also change the location it references on the report. Not good. All you have to do is click on the "C4" in your formula and then hit the F4 key. This will lock the cell for your formula. Then, add a row of "3" underneath the student data. This will represent the number for "at standard" performance and be useful for the charts.

Now, you're ready to make a line chart using the student scores for an individual standard, and a bar chart (A/K/A "column chart" in Excel) to show growth. You'll need to clean up the starting graphs that Excel barfs up, then lock the cell size and shrink it down to fit in a cell on the gradebook. When you're done, you'll have something like this:

The charts will auto-update anytime you change the student name. They will also update if you add scores to the gradebook. Just set them up once and let 'er rip.

Here's the "how to" video:

This concludes the beginner series of "Roll Your Own Gradebook," but we have certainly not exhausted the options. Some of you are going to want to pull multiple classes, subject areas, or other data sets into a single dashboard. You're going to need a couple more formulas to make this dream come true. But I'll help.

If you've watched the videos and are still feeling lost, you can download a copy of the finished workbook to adapt and use. Don't be afraid to click and play.

I'll get back to my usual rambling here soon. But if data viz and Excel is your thing, be sure to check out my new blog: Excel for Educators. This most recent series of posts is already there, and soon there will be lots more lessons about Excel, Google tools, and other data options with a classroom application. Hope to see you over there!

03 September 2011

Roll Your Own Gradebook: Using INDEX and MATCH to Set Up a Dashboard

Once you have your data all in their places with bright shiny faces in your spreadsheet, you're going to want to have a clean way to extract it. This is where a Dashboard is handy. A Dashboard is a type of reporting tool which pulls together different kinds of data.

In our model, we'll have space for a student's name, a rundown of current scores, an overview of total performance and a space to show progress/growth. There are other things you might want to report---such as attendance or qualitative information. Do what you need to do.

In order to get individual pieces of data from the sheet with the scores to the dashboard, you are going to need two things:

  1. A data validation list in a designated cell. I pick the cell beside "Last Name" for this. In creating this list, you will have a dropdown menu to select any student and the cell will become the "key" that will be used to extract the right data for the student and plug it into the empty spaces in the dashboard. 
  2. A formula that uses both "INDEX" and "MATCH" functions. The INDEX function will tell Excel which column/table of data to draw from and MATCH will tell it which name the data goes with. Your formula will look like this: =INDEX(Column with Data for a Cell,MATCH(Cell on Dashboard with Last Name,Column with Last Names,0))    Why is there a zero at the end? It's part of the MATCH formula---it tells Excel that the match must be exact...no room for error. 
Want to see it in action? Watch the tutorial below. Tomorrow, we'll do the final piece: the sparkline graphs for the dashboard. Remember that you can download the workbook and follow along with the steps.

Update 3/2012: Please visit my page on the Excel for Educators blog for the most recent versions of gradebook and reporting tools. Most have sample workbooks to download and instructional videos.

02 September 2011

Roll Your Own Gradebook: Setting Up

Welcome back to Ye Olde Blog. The welcome is for me, by the way. I wish I had some sort of exotic story to tell you about what I've been doing during this very long interim between posts, but all I can say is that sometimes, managing my personal life doesn't leave any headspace to think out loud here. Blogging is its own variety of habit or muscle memory. And while I may have let things gone to seed over the last few weeks, it's time to get back on the wagon. No more "real world" benders for me. I've learned my lesson. :)

I've been working on a couple of little project recently with people who don't know jack about Excel. This is not a personal fault. I still like them, even though they look askance at the program like it will get their dog pregnant or steal their souls while they sleep. There are plenty of data tools out there. Not everyone has to get to know Excel, but it is very difficult in education these days if you don't even understand the difference between "data" and "information" as a first step. Data literacy is becoming a must-have skill.

As I've been beefing up my Excel know-how over the last few weeks, I've been thinking about how to share that information here. If you're not into the whole gradebook idea, I'd encourage you to keep reading, anyway. The tips and formulas would be just as useful for whatever data set(s) you are managing. Are you an elementary teacher who DIBELs? In a school with MAP testing? A district with various benchmark or interim assessments where you want to look at performance by classroom or school? If you've got a list of students/teachers/schools that has data next to it, then, these ideas are for you, too.

One of the most frustrating things (for me) as I try to do new things with Excel is the lack of non-business examples. Most websites and YouTube videos assume that you are (a) always working with numerical data and (b) interested in some sort of angle about profit margin or losses. We really do need a bank of "how to's" that models for education. If you have seen some, please do share in the comments.

I've had a lot of you contact me over the summer asking about my Excel gradebook and any updates. I have been promising to post those...and now your wait is over. The video below will show you how to get set up. I also have a sample workbook you can download and use with the video. (But if you want to use your own data sources, that's cool, too.)

As you will see, the workbook has two worksheets: Scores and Report. This allows me to keep the raw data separate from the dashboard reporting too. Depending upon what you're working with, additional sheets can come in very handy. Perhaps you want them for qualitative data you collect, attendance, discipline, or other notes. If not, and you're anal-retentive about how your spreadsheet looks, then an extra sheet is very handy for stashing your formulas and ranges: It will keep your raw data looking fresh and clean. If you're hellbent on making things look pretty, stay tuned for later videos. You'll have the Miss America of dashboards when I'm done.

I populated the Scores worksheet with some names, assignments, and data. Even though the default color themes in Excel are awful, I'll demo them so you can see some basics about applying colour. I like to separate grading periods and different types of standards using colour. This makes it much quicker to find information. But I also apply conditional formatting to the spreadsheet so that I can more easily visualize what is happening with the scores.

Finally, I use a simple formula to determine the median and help summarize the scores. This is as far as Lesson 1 will take you. But I'll be back in a day or two to show you how to pull the data in to a dashboard reporting tool.

Update 5/2012: Please visit my page on the Excel for Educators blog for the most recent versions of gradebook and reporting tools. Most have sample workbooks to download and instructional videos.