Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hipster Google - 21 Google Tools You Probably Never Heard Of

Google is well know for certain tools and services - Search, Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Maps, Chrome, and such. These are all powerful and useful tools that are transforming teaching and learning in schools around the world.

However, in addition to those tools, Google has also created a wide range of services, apps, extensions, features, and other tools that are not as well known. Even though these tools may not be as popular or as widely known, they are still very useful in school settings.

These are the "Hipster Google" tools.

In our culture, one of the defining characteristics of the hipster movement is to appreciate things that are not mainstream, to use services that are not well known, or to embrace something before it becomes popular among the masses. With that thought in mind, I have collected a list of tools from Google that the average person may not know about yet.

Of course with any such list, there will be some tools that you do know, but hopefully you will pick up a few new ideas and resources from the bunch. And of course simply by sharing this blog post I am potentially making these tools more well known.

Below you will find my 1-hour recorded webinar covering each of the tools, as well as the session slideshow, and a write-up for each tool with a description and related links. So, jump on them now while it is still cool to say you used these before they were popular!

Video Training (1 hour)

Session Slideshow

#1 - Ngram Viewer

Ngram Viewer is a Google search tool that lets you search for words and phrases in over 5 million books from the 500 years. The results are then displayed as line graphs to show the relative change in usage over time for the different terms.

This can be a powerful search tool for students to explore the popularity of different ideas and topics over time, as well as to see how our perceptions have changed. Students can cross reference changes in word usage with historical events, wars, politics, and more.

To use the tool, do the following:
  • Go to the Ngram Viewer site at books.google.com/ngrams
  • Type in the words and phrases you wish to search, separated by commas.
  • Set the beginning and ending years for the search if you wish to limit it to a certain period in history.
  • Click the search button.
  • You will not get a graph showing the change in usage of those words over time.

#2 - Google Scholar

Sometimes it is necessary to find scholarly peer-reviewed articles. This can be for a high school student writing a research paper, or for an educator completing graduate work. The content of scholarly articles can be challenging enough on its own, so thankfully Google makes the process a little easier with a tool called Google Scholar.

Google Scholar is a search tool that lets you look specifically for scholarly articles. Here;s how:

  • Go to scholar.google.com
  • Type in the terms you are searching for.
  • You will now get a list of matching scholarly articles.
  • If you need to narrow down the results, click on the little down arrow in the search box to open the advanced search options.
  • If you find an article you like, you can also click the "Related articles" link to find more that are similar.
  • If you want to keep a list of the articles you have found, click the "Save" link.
  • Finally, if you want the proper citation format for an article, click the "Cite" link and then pick the format you want (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.)

#3 - Instant Search Cards

We all know Google is a powerful search engine. However, in addition to simply providing search results for our queries, over time Google has been adding interactive "Search Cards" that give us much more than just links to websites.

For example, if you need a timer for a class activity, simply run a Google search for "Timer" or "10 second timer" or "stopwatch". This will give you a live, interactive countdown timer to use in class.

Or if you need to graph an equation, you can simply search for that equation, such as "y=2x-3" or "graph for x^2" and you will get an live, interactive graph of that equation.

There are way more instant search cards available through Google search. See my earlier blog post "20 Instant Google Searches your Students Need to Know" for many more examples that you and your students can us.

#4 - Reverse Image Search

Google's Image Search at images.google.com is a powerful tool to find pictures, including many helpful tools such as searching by color, size, usage rights, and much more. However, one of the lesser known special features is the ability to do a reverse image search.

Instead of looking for an image, what if you already have a picture and you are trying to find out information about it? Here's how you do it:
  • Go to Google Images as normal at images.google.com
  • Drag and drop an image onto the search box.
  • Or click the "Search by image" button to upload an image.
  • Google will now compare the image you provided to every image on the internet to try to find a match and provide you with more details.

This can be useful in many ways:
  • Learning more about a historical image.
  • Finding the location of where a photo was taken.
  • Determining what an unknown object is.
  • Fact checking a questionable image.

#5 - Google Trends

Google processes billions of searches every day. As valuable as the results are, there is also a lot we can learn from the searches themselves. Google Trends at trends.google.com is a tool that lets you see what people are searching for. You can even limit the data to certain categories (Business, Entertainment, Health, etc.) or by country.

One of the best parts of the Google Trends service is the Visualization page. This page gives you a grid with real-time top search terms. You can adjust the size of the grid as well as which country the searches come from. For example you can access a 5x5 grid of search topics from the United States at this link:

This can be a great tool for students to see what topics are currently trending in the news in their country, or in other countries around the world. Students can click on any of the search topics to open a Google search for that term to learn more about that topic and why it is in the news.

#6 - Google Alerts

Although Google's search engine is a powerful tool for finding information, what if you need that information more than just once? To help with that, Google provides a service called Google Alerts that will periodically run your search for you and email you any new results.

This can be useful for a student doing a research project to get the latest updates each day on any new articles or posts related to their topic. This can also be valuable for school administrators to see anytime their school district or school building gets mentioned in the news, so they can stay on top of public interest and concerns.

To create a Google Alert, do the following:
  • Go to the site at www.google.com/alerts
  • Type your search term or phrase in the search box just like you are making a normal Google search.
  • Note: Be sure to put quotes around your search phrase as usual if you want to make sure those words appear in that specific order, such as "Canton City Schools".
  • Click the "Show options" link if you want to tweak how often you get updates and which sources to search.
  • You will see a preview below showing you representative results.
  • When done, click "Create Alert".

You will now begin receiving emails with matching search results based on the settings you chose. You can always return to Google Alerts to edit or delete an alert.

#7 - Smarty Pins

Google Maps have a wide range of uses outside of simply finding directions. One extension of Maps is the game Smarty Pins. This is a fun activity for an individual student or the entire class to practice research skills and find locations on a map to match the clues given.

To use Smarty Pins, do the following:
  • Go to the website at: smartypins.withgoogle.com
  • Choose a category if you want to limit the questions to specific topics, or click "Start a new game" for a variety of questions.
  • The game will now begin and a clue will be given.
  • Students may already know the answer, or you can have them do some Google research to find the answer.
  • When ready, the user drags and drops the marker on what they believe is the correct map location.
  • The game then tells you how far off from the correct location your are, and subtracts those miles from your score.
  • When you run out of miles, the game ends.

#8 - Tour Builder

Google's Tour Builder let's you tell a story with maps! Built on Google Maps, this tool allows you to put together a sequence of locations from anywhere on Earth. For each location, you can add content including:
  • The address of the location.
  • The Google Maps view of the location (overhead, Street View, etc.)
  • A name for the location.
  • A slideshow of images and videos.
  • A start date and end date.
  • A detailed description (including links).
After all of the locations have been put in Tour Builder, you can share the final product with others who can "play the tour" to visit each location and view the content connected to each.

This can be a fun and different way to tell a story, explain events from history, explore geography, visit the sites from a book, and more.

Tour Builder can be accessed at: https://tourbuilder.withgoogle.com

#9 - Story Builder

Story Builder is a tool Google developed years ago to teach people about the collaborative nature of Google Docs and encourage people to create a Google account. However, the tool is quite open-ended, so it can easily be used for a school writing activity. Basically it is used to make an animated video of a typed discussion between multiple people.

This can be used by students to:
  • Retell an event from history.
  • Retell a portion of a story.
  • Explain how to solve a problem.
  • Debate a controversial issue.
  • Write their own creative story or poem.
  • And much more!

To use this tool, do the following:
  • Go to https://docsstorybuilder.appspot.com/
  • Click the "Get Started" button.
  • Create your characters by naming them.
  • Then take turns typing for each character. You can type in new text or can even delete or edit the existing text typed by other characters. 
  • When done, you can choose music to go along with your story if you want.
  • Story Builder then makes an animated video showing the entire story writing process.
  • You are even given a link to share your story with others so they can view it.

To see the completed story I created, click the link here:

#10 - Google Fonts

The font you choose for your text can add a lot to the feel of your words, whether that is professional, funny, adventurous, or spooky. Thankfully when using Google tools you have over 800 fonts to choose from to find the perfect match for your message. Also, since these are web fonts, your text will look that same no matter who views it or in what format.

You can access Google's Fonts in two main ways...

First, you can go to the Google Fonts website
  • Go to: https://fonts.google.com/
  • Here you can browse and filter through over 800 font families to find what you need.
  • You can even type in your own sample text to see better what the end result will look like.
  • The Google Font site also lets you download the fonts to your local computer if you with to use them in non-Google projects.

Second, you can access all of the fonts from inside of Google tools such as Docs, Slides, Drawings, and more.
  • From inside of a Google Doc, click the font choice menu in the top tool bar.
  • Choose "More fonts" from the drop down menu.
  • This will open up a "Fonts" window where you can browse, search, sort, and filter over 800 available fonts.
  • When you find a font you wish to use, click on it to add it to your "My fonts" list.
  • You will now be able to use that font in Docs, Slides, Drawings, Sheets, and such.

#11 - Quick Draw

Another fun game from Google is Quick Draw, This is an artificial intelligence game where you are given 20 seconds to  draw a simple item on the computer. While you are drawing, Google's artificial intelligence is trying to guess what you are drawing.

Each game lasts for six pictures. At the end of the game you can click on what you drew to learn more about how Google made its guesses, as well as how other people drew that item.

You can access and play the game at: quickdraw.withgoogle.com

Although the game can be played just for fun, it can open up some good discussions in different content areas:
  1. Art - What are the essential elements of design? What makes a thing a thing?
  2. Language - How do we communicate with others? How do our preconceived ideas and past experiences influence our communication.
  3. STEM - What is artificial intelligence? How is Google using this game to "teach" the AI? What applications could this have in our future?

#12 Toontastic

Toontastic is a fun 3D storytelling app for kids, This Google app runs on mobile devices so you can use it on Android or iOS phones and tablets, as well as Chromebooks that support Android apps.

With the Toontastic app you can:
  • Create 3D animated stories, reports, and more.
  • Choose from lots of pre-made characters.
  • Draw and insert your own characters.
  • Choose from several themed environments.
  • Add your own narration.
  • Save and export your final creation.
You can learn more about the program at toontastic.withgoogle.com and you can download the app for free for Android (and some Chromebooks) and for iOS.

#13 - Cardboard Camera

Everyone loves Google Expeditions. They are immersive virtual reality recordings that let students feel like they are at Versailles, swimming in a coral reef, or climbing a mountain. At the moment though, Expeditions are just for experiencing, not for creating.

Hopefully Google will eventually release an Expeditions Recorder so anyone can create and share their own Expeditions. In the meantime, Google has given us the next best thing with the mobile app Cardboard Camera (for Android and iOS).

With the app you can record a full 360-degree panoramic recording of any location you are. Additionally you can record your voice narrating the experience to go along with the visuals. When done, the VR recording can be shared with others as a link. People can then click the link on their phone, drop their phone into a Google Cardboard viewer, and move around in your 3D VR recording while listening to your narration.

This is a fantastic way for students to create VR reports for famous locations, cultural experiences, field trips, art performances, athletic events, science experiments, and so much more.

You can get the Cardboard Camera mobile app for Android or for iOS.

#14 - Canned Responses

This tool is a Gmail lab, which means it is something you have to choose to enable in your Gmail settings. The Canned Responses tool allows you to save commonly used blurbs of text, and then insert them easily into Gmail messages when composing or replying to an email.

I use this tool to save time whenever someone is traveling to my work office to meet with me. I have a Canned Response saved that gives them my address, where to park, which door to enter, and how to locate me in the building. Rather than type this use every time it is needed, I simply insert the pre-written text through Canned Responses.

To install this Google tool, do the following:
  • Go to your Gmail as normal.
  • Click the gear icon in the top right corner and choose "Settings".
  • On the "Settings" screen, choose the "Labs" tab.
  • Scroll down to locate the lab titled "Canned Responses".
  • Click the "Enable" option to turn it on.
  • Finally click "Save Changes".

Once installed, you can save and insert canned responses from the down arrow menu in the bottom right corner of your "New Message" window.

#15 - Google Translate Mobile App

Google offers translation options in many of its tools. You can translate a Google Doc into other languages. You can use the Google Search translate tool for quick translation of words or phrases. You can use the Google Translate website at translate.google.com to work on large portions of text or entire web pages.

However one of the most powerful tools is Google's Translate mobile app. It adds many additional features that aide in live, on-the-spot translation. Here's how it works:

  • First, download the Google Translate app for Android or iOS.
  • Next choose the language you speak and the language you wish to translate to and from.
  • You can now use the microphone icon to speak in your language and the app will then speak the translation.
  • Or you can use the doodle icon to hand write in your language and the app will translate and speak in the other language.
  • Or you can use the camera icon to point your device at any printed text (such as a sign) in one language and it will translate it live into your other chosen language.

#16 - Share to Classroom

If you use Google Classroom then you already know what a time saver it can be, and how it can increase communication and collaboration in your class. To take things one step further, Google created the "Share to Classroom" extension which makes it even easier to create assignments, announcements, and questions, as well as pushing websites out to your students.

Here's how it works:

  • Install the "Share to Classroom" extension: Chrome Web Store link
  • Once installed, go to the webpage you want to share with your students.
  • Next click the extension icon and choose the Google Classroom you want to work with.
  • Now choose how you want to share the website.
  • Create Assignment - Make an assignment for the class with the website link included.
  • Ask Question - Post a question to the class stream with the website link included.
  • Make Announcement - Post an announcement to the class with the website link included.
  • Push to Students - If the students also have the extension installed, you can make a new tab open up in their Chrome browser with the chosen website loaded for them. This can be an easy way to help all students get to the same spot for a class activity.

If the students have the extension installed, it also works the other direction. Students can share websites of interest with you. The sites will not automatically open on your computer, but instead will get collected in the extension in the section titled "Received from students".

#17 - Google Cast for Education

Another great way to increase collaboration and communication in your classroom is with the "Google Cast for Education" app. It is becoming increasingly common for students to have their own devices in school, whether from a 1:1 program, off of a shared cart, or BYOD. When this happens, a shift occurs in your classroom.

The front of the class is no longer the front of the class.

Students now have in their hands a portal to the collected knowledge of all humanity. That may be a lot more interesting that the dry erase board up front. So as students come across an interesting website, or create an informative slideshow, or find a great subject area video, they should be able to share that with the entire class.

The "Google Cast for Education" app makes it easy for students to display their computer screen on your computer screen, which is then displayed through the projector for the whole class to see. Here is how it works:

  • First, install the "Google Cast for Education" app  - Chrome Web Store link
  • Next run the app to enter the settings and sharing options.
  • For "Receiver name" you can enter the name you want your computer to be seen as, such as "Mr. Curts' Computer".
  • Next click the "Share" button to set up who can share their screen with you.
  • In the "Add people" box add the Google Classrooms or email addresses for your students.
  • Save your changes.

As long as you have the app running, students can request to share their screen with you as follows:

  • The student brings up the page the wish to share in Chrome.
  • Next they click the "three dots" menu button in the top right corner of Chrome.
  • Then they choose "Cast" from the drop-down menu.
  • They will now see a list of computers they are allowed to cast to.
  • Simply choose the device and a request will appear on the teacher computer.

#18 - Spell Up

Another fun Google tool is the educational game Spell Up. In this game students are given increasingly difficult words which they must spell by speaking them aloud into their microphone. If needed you can change the settings to allow keyboard input along with the microphone.

Each correct answer builds their tower higher. As the game goes on the student can unlock additional features such as coins, power-ups, definitions, translations, and more.

You can access and play Spell Up at: spellup.withgoogle.com

#19 - Google Keep

Keep has been around for several years, but still is not widely used by many people. Basically Keep is an online note-taking, list-making, organization tool. Besides keeping your grocery list in order (which is a good thing) Keep provides many awesome features for educators and students.

Here are some tips for making the most out of Keep:
  • You can access Keep on its website at: keep.google.com
  • You should also get the mobile Keep app for Android or iOS.
  • On the website or mobile apps you can can add notes, lists, images, or hand-made drawings.
  • On the mobile app you can also record voice notes which Keep will also translate into text for you.
  • If you add an image that has text, Keep can pull the text from the image so you have an editable copy of the text.
  • You can share any of your Keep notes with others for collaboration.

Google Keep also integrates with Google Docs. Anything you save in Keep, you can pull up and insert into Docs. This can be a fantastic ways to save banks of frequently used comments for grading, feedback, lesson plans, standards, or more. To use these notes in Docs:
  • Click "Tools" in the top menu bar.
  • Choose "Keep notepad" from the drop-down menu.
  • This will open a panel on the right side of the screen with all of your Google Keep notes.
For more details, see my blog post "Using Google Keep for Grading Comments in Docs".

#20 - Office Editing Extension

Although you are using Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets, you may still have to interact with some files that are saved in Microsoft format. These may be some of your old files that would not convert well into Google format, or perhaps they have been sent to you from someone else who needs you to add some info and then send them back.

Instead of having to convert such files into Google format, or having to use the full version of Microsoft Word on your computer, there is an in-between option. Google provides an extension for Chrome called "Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides". With this extension installed you can open Microsoft files in your Google Drive and do light editing on them while they are still in Microsoft format.

You won't have all the tools of Word, nor will you have all of the features of Google Docs, but you will be able to open the files, do some minor edits, and save them again, all the while leaving them in Microsoft format.

If you have a Chromebook this extension is already pre-installed. If not, you can install it from the Chrome Web Store using the link below:

Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides - Chrome Web Store link

For more details on managing Microsoft files in Google Drive, see my webinar: "Using MS Office in Google Drive"

#21 - Google Arts & Culture

Google Arts & Culture is a website from the Google Cultural Institute dedicated to collecting and sharing art, photographs, and primary source documents from all over the world and throughout history. Items are organized by themes, artists, mediums, movements, historical events, historical people, places around the world, stories of the day, and more.

With Google Arts & Culture students can get closer to works of art and historical artifacts than they ever could in a museum. The digital items were scanned or photographed by Google using an ultra-high resolution camera so you can see every brush stroke, letter, or detail. Some of the collections even feature 360-degree videos and photos to immerse you in the experience.

This is a fantastic site for students studying art, culture, history, geography, and more. The site can be accessed at: www.google.com/culturalinstitute


Although you may have known of some of these Google tools, hopefully a few will have been new to you, or you have been encouraged to dig a little deeper into some less used tools. If you have suggestions for other Google tools that I left of my list, please take a moment to share them in the comments below.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at twitter.com/ericcurts and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+EricCurts1


  1. Love this list! I always forget about a few of these, and of course, learned some new ones. Tour Builder is one of my absolute favorites.

    1. Glad you found it useful Katie. I agree, Tour Builder is awesome!

  2. Amazing and incredibly useful list Eric! You rock as always.

  3. Great list. There were plenty I'd never before heard of.

    1. Glad you found it helpful Jacqui!

  4. Thank you for taking the time to compile this! I always look forward to learning from your blog entries. By far my favorite tech. blog!

    1. Thanks Kelly! So glad you find the blog valuable!

  5. Awesome stuff! played with quick draw for a bit and it was fun!

  6. This is so helpful, I definitely didn't know about a lot of these. Thank you!

  7. Eric... I have a few more for you if you'd like to add them to your list! ;-) Let me know! Great stuff as usual buddy!

    1. Yes, please! I would love to see what tools you would add to the list.

  8. Bingo, Eric...another out-of-the-park homerun! I was surprised when Toontastic came over to Google, but it certainly makes it more "mainstream." Thanks for your enticing summary!

  9. I'm not a teacher but I'll be using several of these. This is an amazing post - thank you so much!

  10. Thanks for compiling this wonderful resource! I appreciate all of your efforts to pull together these hipster resources!

  11. This is a fantastic list and has helped so much. Thanks for producing it and informing us of it

  12. Thank you so much. I can't wait to share some of these with the instructors at my school. I publish a Weekly Tech Tip and will definitely use some of these.