Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My Top 20 EdTech Posts of 2016

It was just one year ago that I launched the Control Alt Achieve blog. I have been involved in educational technology for over 20 years, and have had various websites, blogs, and podcasts over that time, but decided I needed to try something new.

So last December I started up Control Alt Achieve as a one-stop-shop for all of my resources, activities, help guides, training videos, and more.

And it has been a great first year!

During 2016 I shared 106 posts (not counting this one) and the site received a little over 1.3 million visits. However the most important statistic was the number of people who contacted me via email or Twitter or in the comments to share their awesome ideas, or to let me know how they used one of my resources in their class, or to share pictures of their students engaged in an activity I had posted.

Your comments and feedback mean so much! Over the years I have transitioned from being a classroom teacher to a tech integrationist at a district level to a tech integrationist at a regional level. It is so great to see that even though I am no longer in the classroom myself, the resources I share can still impact real students, helping them create, collaborate, write, learn, and explore.

Below are the top 20 posts from this year, based on the number of page views each received. I would encourage you to look through the list to see if there are some you missed the first time around, and consider sharing these resources with other educators you know who would benefit from them.

Finally there is a very short optional, anonymous feedback form at the bottom. Please feel free to provide some feedback to help me make 2017 even better!

Monday, December 19, 2016

What's New in Google - December 2016

Catch up on everything new in Google Apps over the last month, and see great ideas and resources!

Below is the recorded video from our December 2016 Google User Meeting, along with the meeting agenda and all the awesome resources and Google Apps updates from the last month.

The monthly meetings are hosted by the Google Educator Group of Ohio, but are open to anyone from any location. The purpose of these meetings is to:
  • Connect Google-using educators
  • Share the latest Google Apps news and features
  • Provide tutorials, demonstrations, and how-to’s
  • Share best practices of how Google Apps is being used within schools
  • Ask questions and get answers
The video from the meetings is recorded and available for later viewing for those who cannot attend or connect live. See below to view the recorded video, agenda, and all the resources from the December 2016 meeting:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Build a Snowman with Google Slides

Do you want to build a snowman?

Well now you can with this fun, and educational, Google Slides activity. This is a great way for students to be creative and to work on their writing skills by describing or writing about their snowman.

Here’s how:

  • Make a copy of the Google Slides “Build a Snowman” template, found further down in the blog post.
  • The template has a blank snowman and several slides full of items to add to your snowman including eyes, mouths, hats, arms, feet, hair, and more.
  • Copy and paste the items to build your snowman.
  • If you need different pictures, you can search for more.
  • When done building, write about your snowman or snowwoman in the textbox. You can describe them, tell a story about them, or explain who they are.
  • When all done you can download a picture of your snowman and writing to share with others.

See below to get your own copy of the template, as well as more detailed directions and a video tutorial on how to do the activity.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The All New Google Sites for Schools - Video Tutorial

Back in June, Google announced that Sites, its web design program, would be getting a long overdue update (see my post from then). Rather than just add some new features, Google chose to rewrite the entire program from the ground up.

As of November, the all new version of Google Sites is now available for everyone to use. So how does it stack up?

In short... Easy, Beautiful, but Basic

  • Easy - By far the new version of Google Sites is the easiest web design program I have ever used (and I even wrote my own web design program about 15 years ago... anyone remember POW-PAK?) Every time I have demonstrated the new sites to a group of teachers, everyone is blown away by how simple and intuitive it is to quickly create a functional website.
  • Beautiful - Although “easy” is important, it would be no good if the resulting site was unattractive. Thankfully the new Google Sites makes it difficult to make an ugly site. The options for themes and layouts keep everything clean, organized, modern, and attractive. The sites even adjust perfectly from desktop to tablet to phone view. Even if design is not your strength, you can make a beautiful site.
  • Basic - So what’s the drawback? At the moment, the biggest weakness with the new Sites is its lack of features. The program is still very new, so its tools and options are limited. If you are used to the Classic Sites, you will quickly notice some things missing such as commenting, a blog page, page-level permissions, revision history, and such. However, I am sure all of these features (and more) will be rolling out over the coming months as Google continues to develop the program. (For a thorough comparison chart of Classic versus New Sites, see this page from Steegle.) Even at its "Basic" level though, the new program can make an excellent site.

Although the new Google Sites is very easy to use, you may still benefit from a tutorial walkthrough of its features. See below for the recorded video of one-hour webinar I conducted where I go through all the steps of creating a classroom website using the new Sites.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wintertime Magnetic Poetry with Google Drawings

Magnetic poetry kits have been around since the early 90’s, providing children and adults with inspiration to create poems on refrigerators everywhere.

As fun as those magnetic kits are, they have some limitations. By using a technology option, such as Google Drawings, you get many benefits:

  • No limit on the quantity of words provided. Just copy and paste more of them as needed.
  • Ability to edit the words provided if needed.
  • Ability to add your own words.
  • Easy collaboration with others.
  • Easy to share or download your final creation.
  • No pieces to get lost.
  • It’s free!

As an example of this, I have create a Google Drawings template for wintertime poetry. This includes words related to Christmas, Hanukkah, snow, sledding, and much more. See below to get your free copy of the template to use with your students (or yourself) however you want, as well as directions on how to use it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

YouTube "Read Aloud" Book Videos for Kids

Over the years I have read my four children many, many books, most often at bedtime, and with as many funny voices for the characters as I could provide. As much as I enjoyed the time for family bonding and for helping the kids settle down for the night, research has shown that having stories read to children has many educational benefits as well.

Reading stories out loud to children:

  • Provides them with a model of fluent reading.
  • Allows them to consume content above their reading level (since they can listen at a higher level than they can read).
  • Shows them the connection between the written word and its meaning.
  • Teaches them the narrative structure of a story or book.
  • Helps develop a love of stories, books, and reading that can carry on into the rest of their lives.

Although there is no substitute for reading in person to a child, there are still many benefits from using technology to show videos of people reading stories. In addition to many of the perks mentioned above, videos of books can offer a few novel benefits as well (pun intended).

Video books:

  • Often include music or sound effects to help set the mood.
  • Often include animations, zooming, and panning to bring the book to life and help follow or focus in on the action.
  • Can provide a different take on the reading of the story with the narrator’s voices and inflections.
  • Can be watched independently by the child.
  • Can be sped up or slowed down, paused, and rewound as needed (see link).

See below for many suggestions of YouTube channels and playlists that provide videos of books being read aloud for children.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

3 Google Updates Announced at Education On Air 2016

Christmas came a little early for attendees of Google’s 2016 Education On Air virtual conference.

As part of the opening keynote presentations, Google added in a short section to reveal several new updates for G Suite for Education (formerly Google Apps for Education). These updates included:
  1. New ways for students to log into Chromebooks
  2. Parents no longer need Google accounts for Classroom email summaries
  3. Graduating students can move email and Drive files to personal accounts
Education On Air is a (somewhat) annual event where educators from around the world offer free professional development sessions as live video presentations through Google Hangouts. I have been fortunate to present at each EduOnAir since the first one. This year my session was on “Fantastic Feedback Tools for Google Doc” which you can find here: EduOnAir link

You can view all of the recorded sessions from this year at:

As for the three new G Suite for Education features, see below for all the details…

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure Stories with Google Docs

For a long time I have shared resources on how students can create “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories using Google Slides. However, these styles of stories can be created with a wide range of digital tools. Basically any tool that allows hyperlinks or some sort of branching can be used. This would include:

  • Google Slides - with hyperlinks to other slides in the presentation
  • Google Forms - with branching from multiple choice questions to different pages of the Form
  • Google Sites - with hyperlinks to different pages on the Site
  • YouTube videos - with Annotation links or End Screen link to other videos
  • Google Docs - with hyperlinks to headings on other pages

Each of these methods has its own benefits, challenges, and reasons why you would use one tool versus another. However, if you are looking for ease of use, in my opinion using Google Docs is one of the quickest and easiest ways to create a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. Some of the benefits of using Docs for this purpose include:

  • Most students are more familiar with Google Docs that any of the other tools.
  • Docs makes it easy to add text, images, and formatting.
  • Linking is easy using headings.
  • It looks and feels like a traditional book.

See the rest of the blog post below for a sample “Choose Your Own Adventure” story in Google Docs, as well as directions on how your students can use Google Docs to create their own.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Emoji Writing Prompt Generator with Google Sheets

In an earlier blog post, I shared a “Google Sheets Writing Prompt Generator” that randomly combined nouns and adjectives to give students inspiration for writing projects. In this post we are going to take a twist on that idea … with emojis!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is so, then emojis should be able to bring even more meaning and ideas and inspiration than just words alone. Giving students a random set of emojis could be a great way to help inspire their writing, as the student tries to find a way to work each image into their story or poem.

There are several great reasons for using emojis as writing prompts:

  • Since emojis are images, they can be used with students of any age, language, or reading ability.
  • Also since they are images, they can provide a wide range of ideas since each student will have their own interpretations of the pictures.
  • Emojis are very popular with students, so they will likely have familiarity with the images.
  • They are fun! And writing should be fun. And learning should be fun. And school should be fun!

To create an emoji writing prompt generator, I used Google Sheets. Even though we usually think of a spreadsheet containing numbers, Google Sheets actually supports images including all the standard emojis. See below for directions on how to get your own copy of the spreadsheet, how the tool works, and how your students can use this in their writing projects.

Note: Emojis appear differently on different operating systems. Because of this, the images may not look the same on every device. If you are using any modern computer or device (Chromebook, Android, iOS, Mac OS, Windows), the emojis should display well. However if you are using an older version of Windows earlier than Windows 8.1, the emojis do not appear in color and many may be missing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

10 Alternatives for the Readability Extension

Recently I had to say goodbye to two big comfy chairs. The first one was an actual chair that no longer had a spot in our house and had to get offered up as a “curb alert” on Craigslist. The second one was a digital comfy chair ... the wonderful Chrome web extension called Readability.

Readability is one of my favorite Chrome web extensions, and is always a "go to" I use when introducing teachers or students to the idea of extensions. Basically it is (was) a tool that cleans up a web page to make it easier to read, by removing ads, comments, and other unnecessary page elements, so all that is left is the content of the main article in an easy to read format. This is a powerful tool to help students of all ages with reading comprehension and focus. I have referenced Readability multiple times on this blog in previous posts (here, here, and here)

Back in September Readability announced that they would be shutting down their bookmarking services but “the vastly more popular Readability Parser API, which extracts article content from web pages, will continue to run and will improve." Unfortunately they seem to have changed their mind on that and have now edited their announcement to read “The Readability Parser API for developers will shut down December 10, 2016.” At the moment the extension is still working, but it sounds like that will stop in early December.

So if Readability is shutting down, what alternatives are available? Thankfully there are many other extensions that do the same task or some similar version of it. Below are 10 Chrome web extensions you may want to consider as options in place of Readability. I would encourage you to try these out to see which ones may be a good match for your students (and yourself) to help make the web more readable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

18 YouTube Channels for Elementary Math

A while back I shared a post with a list of 20 great YouTube channels for Social Studies that I curated for a teacher inservice I was leading. Recently I had the chance to do the same thing again for a group of elementary math teachers.

Once again I searched for great YouTube channels that these teachers could use with their students to teach new content, provide extra review, or explain math topics in a different and engaging way. Some of these channels and playlists are created by talented teachers sharing their classroom creations with the world, while others are made by companies, TV shows, and more.

Below are 18 of the channels I found that are worth checking out for your classroom if you teach elementary level math. For my training I was shooting for grades 3 through 5, but many of these cover lower elementary grades or extend up into middle school.

I am sure there are many more channels beyond what I have listed, so I would love to hear about others. Please use the comments section at the bottom to share links to your favorite YouTube channel or playlist for math.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Improve Reading Comprehension with Google Docs "Black Out"

Some key goals for literacy are reading comprehension, being able to identify main ideas, and summarization skills. There are many excellent practices that can help students develop these abilities.

Recently I came across a creative technique called “Text Reduction Strategy” (see the article here by Andrea Heick at TeachThought). I really liked the idea, but also felt it could be made even better with a Google Docs technology twist.

The original idea goes like this…

  • Students are given a magazine article and a black marker.
  • They are instructed to read the article and decide what text is critical to the main point of the article and what text is not.
  • Next they use the marker to black out any text that is not critical, leaving behind just the main ideas.

The benefit of this activity is that students do not have to come up with their own words to summarize the article. Instead all the words are already there, and they are just using their critical thinking skills to determine what is most important. This can be a helpful stepping stone to improving their reading comprehension while working toward better summarization skills.

As much as I love the idea, I thought it would be great to take it a step further and use technology rather that physical paper magazines and black markers. This activity works great in Google Docs, and even picks up a few added benefits by going digital. See below for full directions on how to do this.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Google Drawings Chess and Checkers for Students

Earlier this week I shared a post about Battlesheets, my Google Sheets version of the classic tabletop game Battleship. Building on that topic, I am sharing two more Google versions of classic games in this post. This time I have created online interactive versions of Chess and Checkers with Google Drawings.

As mentioned before, tabletop games, board games, card games, and such can have great educational value for students. One great way to learn more about the benefit of gaming in education is to listen to the podcast "Games in Schools and Libraries". The show is hosted by Donald Dennis who "works in the Georgetown County Library system where he is the Teen Technology and Games Librarian." Donald also helps host another favorite podcast "On Board Games" which covers tabletop gaming in general.

Although there are many modern games (which I love) Chess and Checkers are classics that are both accessible and educational for students. They both also happen to translate very well into digital format using Google Drawings. See below to get your own copies of my Chess and Checkers games, as well as some tips and tricks for playing them online.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


By now most everyone knows I am a Google Geek, and that I have been an educator for 25 years. But did you know that one of my other passions is tabletop board games?

That’s right. As much as I love technology, I also love holding physical cards in my hands, or rolling dice, or moving plastic meeples around aboard. Some of my favorite tabletop games (currently) are Sushi Go, Codenames, Forbidden Island, Dragonwood, Settlers of Catan, Snake Oil, and Hanabi.

Although gaming is fun, it can be more than just that. Tabletop games can be a powerful tool for learning, helping students to develop critical thinking, problem solving skills, collaboration, communication, and creativity.

Sometimes all three of my interests intersect… education, technology, and games. Such is the case with Battlesheets! A couple years ago I recognized the similarity between the classic game Battleship with the rows and columns in Google Sheets, and decided to create a playable version inside of Sheets. The end results was Battlesheets, a Google version of Battleship for your students to play, develop critical thinking skills, and learn about locating points in a coordinate system.

See below to get your own copy of Battlehseets, as well as detailed directions on how to play, and additional resources on the spreadsheet tricks used to make the game work.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

20 Chrome Extensions, Web Apps, and Add-ons for Math

As awesome as Google tools are for students, teachers, and schools, sometimes they can lack a feature or tool you need for your specific subject area. A common area for this concern is in mathematics. Math teachers may sometimes feel that their content and specialized symbols aren’t always so easy to transfer over from the convenience of paper and pencil to the uniqueness of a digital environment.

While no solution is even going to be perfect, the good news is that there are many digital tools that can be used in the Google Apps world on Chromebooks, PCs, and Macs, that help address the needs of math students and teachers. In this blog post we are going to highlight 21 such tools. They include Chrome Web Extensions, Chrome Web Apps, and Add-ons for Docs, Sheets, and Forms. In each case they add some extra functionality that is not normally available in the standard Google tools.

Hopefully these tools will help you and your students to learn and explore math more effectively in a digital world. Moreover, many of the extensions, apps, and add-ons will actually increase your students’ options for collaboration, critical thinking, inquiry, and exploration of mathematical concepts.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

8 Ambient Sound Websites to Help Students Focus

What helps you focus when reading, writing, or getting work done? Do you need a totally silent room, or does some amount of ambient noise help you? For some people, students included, having sound in the background can actually help them focus better. This could include music, nature sounds, or just white noise.

Although loud noise can be distracting, moderate-level sounds have been shown to help some people in several ways:

  • One study found that natural ambient sounds can help people concentrate on what they are working on and improve their mood.
  • Another study concluded that a moderate level of noise can help promote abstract thinking and higher creativity.
  • Ambient sounds can also help drown out potentially distracting noises (such as office conversations, phone calls, and other noises where I work). This is something that could be very helpful for students in a busy classroom setting.

Thankfully there are many free websites that allow users to listen to a wide variety of ambient sounds, as well as create their own custom mixes. These could be used for the class as a whole, or better yet, students who benefit from ambient sounds could listen to these on earbuds plugged into their Chromebooks or other laptop. This could provide a great way for those students to focus on their reading, writing, and studying, and decrease distractions whether in a busy classroom or an active home.

See below for eight websites that provide free ambient sounds for students, as well as a description of what each site offers.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Simple Search Lifesavers for Students

Recently one of my sons brought home a school assignment where he was supposed to visit five websites and then answer a few questions from each. Sounds pretty simple, right?

I thought the same until I noticed his attitude change from positive (well as positive as an attitude about homework can be) to confused to frustrated. I went over to investigate what the problem was and to see if I could help. What I found was a printed worksheet that asked him to visit the following five sites:

This was a paper worksheet with printed web addresses. Not a Google document, or a blog post, or a Google Classroom announcement, or any sort of digital format with clickable links.

As a 6th grade boy with a short attention span and basic keyboarding skills, he was trying to type in these URL’s … and failing miserably. Between the five sites that’s 353 characters to type in, without messing up any of the slashes and dashes.

Thankfully this was a great chance to turn a challenge into a learning opportunity. See below for two simple searching tricks I showed him that made the assignment a snap, and may help you and your students as well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Creating Punctuation Practice Activities with Google Docs

Capitalization and punctuation are skills addressed with students at every grade level in school. In fact the Common Core has a standard that spans all of K-12:

CC.K-12.L.R.2 Conventions of Standard English: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

There are many ways for students to learn, develop, and master these skills. One popular option is to provide students with a sample selection of text that is missing proper punctuation and capitalization, and then have the students make the needed corrections. With a quick search you could probably find quite a few worksheets with such activities already created for you.

However, what if you want to make your own practice activities for your students? Thankfully with Google Docs and two simple tricks you can easily convert any sample text into such an activity.

See below for detailed directions for how to make your own punctuation and capitalization practice activities quickly and easily with Google Docs.

Watch the Video from the October 2016 Google User Meeting

Catch up on everything new in Google Apps over the last month, and see great ideas and resources!

Below is the recorded video from our October 2016 Google User Meeting, along with the meeting agenda with links to all the resources and Google Apps updates from the last month.

The monthly meetings are hosted by the Google Educator Group of Ohio, but are open to anyone from any location. The purpose of these meetings is to:
  • Connect Google-using educators
  • Share the latest Google Apps news and features
  • Provide tutorials, demonstrations, and how-to’s
  • Share best practices of how Google Apps is being used within schools
  • Ask questions and get answers
For those who cannot attend in person, the meetings are broadcast live using a Google Hangout. Users can join the Google Hangout remotely to participate in the meeting, or can simply watch the live stream. The video from the meetings is recorded and available for later viewing for those who cannot attend or connect live.

See below to view the recorded video from the October 2016 meeting:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Grading Extended Response Questions with Google Forms Quiz Feature

For many years Google Forms has been a great tool for creating online assessments. This process became even easier when Google added the new Quiz feature to Forms, allowing the quiz to be auto-graded without the need for a third-party tool such as the Flubaroo add-on. Although the new Quiz feature was very easy to use, it did lack some of the more advanced options and flexibility provided by Flubaroo. For a detailed comparison of Flubaroo versus the Forms Quiz feature see this earlier blog post: New Google Forms Quiz Feature vs Flubaroo

Recently though Google has added some new options to the built-in Quiz feature, making it more powerful and beginning to close the gap with Flubaroo. One of the new options is the ability to hand-grade extended response questions. This is very helpful as it allows teachers to build assessments with higher-level questions that move beyond multiple choice. Open-ended, essay-type questions can provide a better picture of student understanding, assess higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, and reduce the potential for cheating on assessments.

See below for detailed directions on how to create and grade extended response questions using the built-in Quiz features in Google Forms.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Chrome Extensions for Struggling Students and Special Needs

Technology can be a powerful tool to assist students when learning, as it provides accessibility and accommodations to support everyone. In particular the Chrome web browser allows users to install a wide variety of web extensions that provide tools that can help all learners.

In this blog post we will take a look at dozens of Chrome web extensions and apps and other tools and features that can assist students in seven main categories:

🗣️ Text to Speech
🎙️ Speech to Text  
👓 Readability
📗 Reading Comprehension
🔊 Audio Support  
☑️ Behavior, Focus, and Organization
🧭 Navigation
Some of the tools fit into more than one topic, but each is only listed once. Certainly this list does not cover all of the useful web extensions and tools available for learners, but it is a great place to begin. 

In addition to the list of extensions and tools, I have also linked in the video from a webinar I did on "Google Tools to Support All Learners" along with my ever-growing resource document and slideshow from the session.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Improving Reading Skills with YouTube Closed Captions

Closed captions, or video subtitles, are an easy, free, and engaging way to help improve student reading abilities. Many times we may only think of closed captioning as an assistive technology tool for people with hearing impairments. However, much research has shown that using closed captions when viewing videos provides reading benefits to all students, regardless of hearing abilities or literacy levels.

Personally I have been using closed captions for every video I watch for over twenty years. It all began when I had my first child, and wanted to watch TV or movies at night without waking her up. It became such a habit that I continue to turn on subtitles to this day for everything I watch. Over time I have realized how much it helps me to pick up dialog I may have missed due to distractions, poor audio, or a noisy house.

The same thing is true, and even more so, for our students who are still learning to read or working to improve their reading skills. In this blog post we will take a look at what the research says about the benefits of closed captioning for students, as well as learn how to find and use closed captioned videos on YouTube.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Interactive Clock Face with Google Drawings

Google Drawings is a fantastic tool for many tasks (diagrams, graphic organizers, infographics) but is also a great option for making digital manipulatives. For example in an earlier post I shared a bunch of ways Drawings can be used in math for interactive learning (see here:

Recently I decided to see how Google Drawings could help with another math topic: telling time. This is a Common Core Math standard for grades 1, 2, and 3:

  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.MD.B.3 - Tell and write time in hours and half-hours using analog and digital clocks.
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.MD.C.7 - Tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m.
  • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.3.MD.A.1 - Tell and write time to the nearest minute and measure time intervals in minutes. Solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes, e.g., by representing the problem on a number line diagram.

To address this I created a Google Drawing template with an analog clock face and two rotatable clock hands. See below for a link to get your own copy of the interactive clock template, as well as directions for using it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Four Fantastic Feedback Tools for Google Docs

In the past when a student turned in the paper copy of their essay, story, report, or project, it was common for their teacher to pull out a red pen to provide handwritten feedback on the pages of the student's work. Feedback is a critical part of the learning process, providing helpful information on strengths, weaknesses, and guidance for improvement.

Now with tools such as Google Docs and Classroom, it is easy for students to create and submit their work digitally. So how does a teacher leave feedback on an electronic document? As we move from paper and pencil to Docs and digital, we need options for providing feedback that is valuable to the student, but not cumbersome and unnatural for the teacher to create.

Thankfully there are many excellent options for creating teacher feedback for digital work. In this post we are going to take a look at four specific options. These include tools for:
  • Text feedback
  • Voice feedback
  • Video feedback
  • Handwritten feedback
See below for details on each of these options, as well as a slideshow and one-hour training video where each method is demonstrated.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

20 YouTube Channels for Social Studies

YouTube is a fantastic resource for schools to teach content and for students to learn content. For pretty much any topic you can think of, someone has made a video explaining it (which I greatly appreciate when I have had to replace parts in my clothes dryer three times in the last few years).

The same thing is true for social studies. YouTube hosts thousands of educational videos on history, politics, geography, and more. Some are created by talented teachers sharing their classroom creations with the world, while others are made by companies, museums, and more.

Recently I had the chance to curate a list of YouTube channels for a social studies inservice I was leading. Below are 20 of the channels I found that are worth checking out for your classroom if you teach social studies. I am sure there are many more channels beyond what I have listed, so I would love to hear about others. Please use the comments section at the bottom to share links to your favorite YouTube channel or playlist for social studies.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Watch the Video from the September 2016 Google User Meeting

Catch up on everything new in Google Apps over the last month, and see great ideas and resources!

Below is the recorded video from our September 2016 Google User Meeting, along with the meeting agenda with links to all the resources and over 25 Google Apps updates from the last month.

The monthly meetings are hosted by the Google Educator Group of Ohio, but are open to anyone from any location. The purpose of these meetings is to:
  • Connect Google-using educators
  • Share the latest Google Apps news and features
  • Provide tutorials, demonstrations, and how-to’s
  • Share best practices of how Google Apps is being used within schools
  • Ask questions and get answers
For those who cannot attend in person, the meetings are broadcast live using a Google Hangout. Users can join the Google Hangout remotely to participate in the meeting, or can simply watch the live stream. The video from the meetings is recorded and available for later viewing for those who cannot attend or connect live.

See below to view the recorded video from the September 2016 meeting:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

5 Google Tools for Staff Professional Development

In schools we are always looking for creative ways to offer meaningful professional development to staff. This might mean:

  • Flexible PD where staff can participate at a time of day or day of the week that works best for them
  • Interactive PD where staff can communicate with others, share ideas, ask questions, and more
  • Engaging PD with the use of multimedia to go beyond typical text or slideshows

There are certainly dozens of excellent technology tools to use for delivering professional development, and we should try out a wide variety to discover which ones work best for our staff, content, and goals. Many of the free Google tools can lend themselves to providing flexible, interactive, and engaging PD. In this blog post we will take a brief look at five possible Google tools to use:

  • Google Hangout
  • Google Hangouts on Air
  • Google Classroom
  • Google Communities
  • Google Sites

See below for details on each of these tools, ideas for use in delivering professional development, and additional resources to help you learn more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Engaging Quiet Students with Google Forms

When I was a student (many, many years ago) I dreaded class participation. Now don’t get me wrong… I loved school. I was a straight-A student who excelled in all my subjects, loved to learn, and took the most challenging courses.

I just didn’t like to talk.

You see, from the time I was a little child into my early teen years, I used to have a stutter. Some days were better than others, but one thing that always brought out the stutter was speaking out loud in class. When a teacher asked a question, I most always knew the answer, but was hesitant to raise my hand. And nothing was worse than the teacher having each student in class take turns reading from the chapter in the textbook. The closer it got to me, the more nervous I became, trying to determine which paragraph would fall on me and which words I would undoubtedly stumble over.

And I am sure I was not alone. For a wide variety of reasons, student may be reluctant to speak up and participate in class:

  • Perhaps they wrestle with a speech impediment.
  • Maybe they fear they do not have the right answer or a valuable contribution.
  • Or they just need more time to think before they are ready to answer.
  • Or maybe they are shy.

Thankfully today technology provides us with more tools for students to participate in class, share their ideas, and ask questions. One great option is to use Google Forms. See the rest of this blog post below for some ideas on how Forms can not only involve the quiet kids, but improve class engagement for everyone.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Exploring Tangrams with Google Drawings

At some point in your life, probably in school, you have had the chance to play with a tangram puzzle. If somehow you are not familiar with this, a tangram is a popular Chinese puzzle made up of:

  • 2 big right triangles
  • 1 medium right triangle
  • 2 small right triangles
  • 1 square
  • And 1 parallelogram

The object of tangram puzzles is to create an image by moving, rotating, and flipping the pieces as needed. Common images to make include animals, boats, people, objects, letters, and such.

In schools, tangrams can be a great way for students to learn and explore:

  • Problem solving
  • Spatial reasoning
  • Geometry transformations - moving (translation), turning (rotation), flipping (reflection)
  • Fractions
  • Creativity - when making their own tangrams

There are lots of ways for students to explore tangrams from physical blocks you can purchase, to virtual tangrams online. One great tool for creating, solving, and exploring tangrams is Google Drawings. It makes it easy to create shapes, and then move, rotate, and flip the shapes as needed.

See below for everything you need to get started using Google Drawings for tangrams. This includes a free blank template with all the tangram pieces already created, a dozen pre-made tangram puzzles to solve, and detailed directions on how to manipulate the shapes using tools in Google Drawings and create your own tangram puzzles.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Comparing Countries with Google Maps

Maps are a powerful tool to help students understand and explore our world. However, maps are never a perfect representation, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. For example this could include confusion on how big land masses really are when compared to each other.

A big reason for this is the popularity of the Mercator projection map. This is the map we are used to seeing, which takes the spherical world and lays it out on a flat map. To do this, the map has to stretch out the landmasses as you move further North or South from the equator. As a result, areas such as Antarctica or Greenland end up looking much larger than they really are.

Recently I came across a neat website called “The True Size Of” which is built on top of Google Maps. The site does a great job of helping users compare the real sizes of states and countries, relative to each other. This can help students get a better idea of how large other countries really are and improve their understanding of the world.

See below for a quick overview of how the site works, along with some examples of the comparisons you can make.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

11 Ways to Teach Math with Google Drawings

Google Drawings is one of my favorite parts of the Google Drive suite, even though it seems to often get overlooked. Perhaps that is because Google itself hides the Drawings link under the “More” menu in Drive rather than letting it sit at the grown up table with Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

However, I think Drawings deserves much more attention especially in the classroom where it has so many educational uses. These include:

In addition to those ideas, one of my favorite uses for Google Drawings is teaching math. Drawings lends itself very well to mathematics with its shapes, rotations, tables, lines, and much more.

See below for 11 ideas for how to use Google Drawings to teach and learn math. In each case I have included a brief explanation of the idea, a Google Drawing template or example, and Common Core math standards addressed.

Monday, June 27, 2016

New Google Forms Quiz Feature vs Flubaroo

Google Forms has long been a favorite tool for schools, and one of the most popular uses for Forms has always been online assessments. Digital quizzes have many benefits for schools including:

  • Automatic grading for quick feedback for teachers and students.
  • Easy analysis of the results to determine who needs help and what content needs retaught.
  • Use of assistive technology to have text read aloud or zoomed in for easier reading.
  • Preparation for high-stakes online tests.
  • Savings on paper and printing.
  • Easy to update in the future or share with others for collaborative editing.

Google Forms has always made it super easy to create quizzes, send them out to students, and collect all the responses. The only pain point has been how to grade the student submissions.

Thankfully for years we have have the awesome add-on for Google Sheets called Flubaroo. This add-on allows educators to automatically grade the quiz responses as they get submitted from a Google Forms and collected in a Google Sheet. Over time more and more valuable features have been added to Flubaroo to make it a powerful tool for online assessment.

Suddenly though, there is a new option. At ISTE 2016 Google announced that Forms will now natively support the grading of online assessments without the need of an add-on such as Flubaroo. What does this mean for all the schools who have been using Flubaroo for years? Does it still have a place? Do these new features make it obsolete?

For all the details, see the rest of the blog post below for an in depth comparison of what Forms does, what Flubaroo does, and where they are different. Spoiler alert: Don't throw out Flubaroo just yet. Also, I cover a detailed overview of how to use the new Google Forms Quiz feature.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Managing Multiple Google Accounts in Chrome

It is becoming more and more common for someone to have multiple Google accounts.

  • You have your personal Gmail account
  • Then you have your school Google Apps for Education account
  • Then you also have that Google account for the club/sport/organization you help run.

As a Google Education Trainer, I have lost count of how many accounts I have. Typically I have one, if not two, accounts for every school I work with, as well as dozens of accounts on the domains I run.

So the question is, how do you manage multiple Google accounts?

To make matters worse, there are actually several different options for handling multiple accounts in Chrome. Some are better suited for specific situations, while some are just better in general. How do you know which to use?

See below for options to manage your many Google accounts, when to use which method, and detailed directions on how do each.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

KISS and Tech Up

When it comes to technology integration we are often encouraged to think outside of the box, transform education, revolutionize the learning process, and aim for the stars. As noble and well-meaning as this is, sometimes it can have the unintended consequence of impeding the growth of educational technology in schools.

How is that possible?

This last year I had the privilege of working with several teachers over many months on technology integration projects. The plan was to explore SAMR, the 4 C’s, ISTE standards, and technology tools. Then the teachers would create a technology integrated activity for their students.

As we got closer to the date to develop and deliver the lesson, I got variations of the same concern from many of the teachers:

  • Is my project big enough?
  • Am I using enough technology tools?
  • Does this really revolutionize teaching and learning?

The teachers were stressing out that their lessons were not awesome enough to count as real technology integration. They felt intimidated and unsure and reluctant to move forward.

Seeing the problem, I tried to reassure them that they were fine. They just needed to embrace the philosophy of KISS. No, not the makeup-wearing rock band.  What I mean is the phrase “Keep it Simple, Stupid” (or “Sweetie” if you prefer to be nicer).

Read on to see why…

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Interactive Checklists in Google Docs

Checklists are a convenient and effective way to stay on track and get things done. For our students, checklists can be used in many ways to keep track of items such as:

  • Steps in a science experiment
  • Self-monitoring of behavior
  • Mastery of subject content and standards
  • Tasks when composing and editing their writing
  • Working through a math procedure
  • And many more…

Although paper checklists are convenient, when done electronically, checklists can be collaborative, edited as needed, accessed by multiple people, and hopefully not eaten by the dog.

There are certainly a lot of mobile apps, web extensions, and websites that provide checklist tools, such as Google Keep. However, for many years Google Docs did not offer a built-in option for an interactive checklist. There was a workaround where you could change the bullet style to a box and then do several steps to check a box, but it was a lot of hoops to jump through for a feature that should have just been a normal part of Docs.

Thankfully Google has now added a real interactive checklist feature to Docs! With this new checklist tool, when a user checks off an item, the corresponding text gets crossed off with strikethrough formatting. If you prefer not to have the text crossed off, I came up with a workaround for that. 

See below for a short 6-minute video and written directions on how to use the checklist tool in Docs with and without strikethrough.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Totally New Google Sites

Out of all the major Google tools, most people would agree that Google Sites has been the most overdue for an update. Yes, it is one of my favorite programs, and I have used it extensively to design websites, and I have created loads of training videos and guides for it (see here for details). Still though, when compared to most modern web design tools, Google Sites has fallen far behind its competition.

Google Sites actually started out its life as a product called JotSpot which Google purchased in 2006 and then finally released in 2008 as Google Sites. Over time Google has added new features to the underlying JotSpot code (such as the horizontal navigation bar) but the foundation was still a ten year old product with new options built on top. This prevented Sites from being able to act like newer web design tools with drag and drop editing, layouts that respond to mobile devices, and such.

Rather than another update, Sites needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.

And now it appears that is exactly what Google is doing! In a recent post on the Google Apps Updates blog, they have announced a “totally rebuilt” Google Sites is coming. This is fantastic news for schools, organizations, and individuals who need to create websites but were struggling with Sites lack of updates and modern features.

So what can we expect with the new Google Sites? And when can you get access to it? See below for all the details I have been able to collect on this new announcement.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

AutoCrat Version 3.0 Updates and Tutorial Video

For several years AutoCrat has been one of my favorite and most used Add-ons for Google Sheets. Just this week the latest version was released bringing new features, ease of use, and better performance.

If you are not familiar with AutoCrat it is tool that let’s you merge data from Google Sheets into Google Docs, PDFs, or even other Google Sheets. You can think of it like the Google version of mail merge in Microsoft Word, but a lot more awesome!

Common uses for AutoCrat include form letters, certificates, discipline reports, RTI forms, walk through documents, student schedules, and even “Madlib” stories.

My most common use is to generate certificates of completion for the webinars I create. After watching one of my 1-hour recorded webinars, you can take a short quiz to prove you watched the video. If you pass the quiz, then AutoCrat generates a PDF certificate of attendance to turn in to your school for one contact hour. As of the time of this writing (June 2016) it has generated over 3,000 certificates for my webinars, something I never would have been able to do if it were not automated.

If you have never used AutoCrat before, you should absolutely try it out. If you have experience with it, you will be excited to see all the new features. See the rest of the blog post below for an overview of what's new in version 3.0 and watch my detailed tutorial video on how to use AutoCrat for merging.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Why and How to Share Student Writing with the World

What motivates students to write? Better yet, what motivates them to rewrite and edit and work to improve what they have created? Certainly there are many factors that can encourage student ownership and pride in writing, but one of the most impactful is audience.

Think about your own life. Let’s say you need to send out a newsletter or give a speech or do a presentation. If you know there will only be a handful of people who are going to receive your memo or listen to you talk, you will do a good job, but perhaps not your absolute best. Life is busy and we are pulled in a dozen different way at any one time, so we do what needs to be done and quickly move on to the next pressing task.

But now let’s say your audience is different. That article you are writing is going to be published in a magazine or an online site read by tens of thousands of people. Or that presentation you are giving is the keynote and hundreds of attendees will be focused on you and your words. Oh yeah, and it is being recorded so anyone can watch the video in the future. Hmmmm. Do you spend a little more time writing, and tweaking your words, and revising the final product?

Of course you do. And the same is true for our students.

When your students write, who is their audience? Many times it is an audience of one. Just you. What they write is going to be read by their teacher, graded, handed back, and that’s it. End of story. How much motivation will our students have in such a situation? Just enough. Just enough to get the grade and satisfy the requirements of the assignment.

So how can we change this and help provide more motivation for our students to do the best they can when writing? One option is to provide them with a larger, more authentic audience. Technology gives us unprecedented tools for collaboration and communication. Instead of just writing for their teacher, students can be writing for the world.

  • Student work can go beyond the teacher’s desk to be shared with peers and experts from around the world. 
  • Instead of just the “red pen comments” of their teacher, students can get feedback from multiple people and perspectives. 
  • And with a larger, more authentic audience comes motivation to write and rewrite, to make their work as good as they can.

As Ruston Hurley says “When children create for the world they make it good. When children create only for their teacher they make it good enough.

See below for details on three ways you can use Google tools and other technology to help students share their writing with the world.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Extensions vs Web Apps vs Add-ons

The Google ecosystem provides a wide range of powerful programs to help you do pretty much anything you need. This includes browsing the web, typing a document, creating a slideshow, sending email, collecting data, and so much more.

However, even with all the features in their tools, Google knows they can’t do everything. There is probably some task you wish you could do, but can’t.

To help address this, Google allows third parties to create tools to extend the functions and features of Chrome, Docs, Sheet, Forms, and more. These tools come in three forms:

  • Chrome Extensions
  • Chrome Web Apps
  • Add-ons for Docs, Sheets, and Forms

At the most basic level, all three of these do the same thing. The are tools that help you do something in the Google ecosystem that normally you would not be able to do. They provide extended features, tools, and programs that Google did not build into their products by default (at least not yet).

Even though all three types of tools have that in common, they are still quite different in many other ways. A common question I hear from folks is:
"What’s the difference between an extension, a web app, and an add-on?”
To help answer this, I have put together a chart that compares and contrasts these three different types of tools. See the rest of the post below for this information as an infographic and a bulleted list.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poke a Stick at It: Being a Lifelong EdTech Learner

What do you do when you don’t know how to do something with technology?

Recently I was leading a professional development session on Google Classroom for a room full of educators. I had just finished explaining how you can invite a co-teacher to your class, and how they will be able to make posts, create assignments, and grade work just like you. An attendee then asked me, “Can a co-teacher archive a class that is not theirs?”


As a Google Certified Trainer and Innovator, and a constant users of all of Google’s apps, I really try hard to know pretty much every nook and cranny of the Google tools. Of course though, no one can know everything. I simply had never had an occasion to see if a co-teacher can archive someone else’s class.

In short, I didn’t know the answer.

Which brings us to the question - What do you do when you don’t know how to do something with technology?

This is something we all face from time to time. I face it as the “expert” standing in front of a room of teachers. You may face it as the teacher instructing a class full of students. Our students will face it all throughout their lives as they encounter new situations.

My solution is the response I gave to the teacher who asked the question, as well as to the entire room of attendees - You poke a stick at it.

Let me explain...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Make Grading Easier with Preformatted Docs

I recently received this question from a teacher…

If I push out a Google Doc worksheet to my students, and they complete it with their own writing, is there an easy way for me to see what they wrote versus my original questions?

That is a reasonable question. As a teacher you want to assess student work thoroughly and accurately, but also quickly. Anything that helps speed up that process means more time to use for planning creative activities, working directly with students, getting professional development, and more.

If you provide students with a Google Doc that has a series of questions to answer and resources to explore, when they fill in their answers and writings, the Doc could easily become one big block of uniform text from beginning to end, with no easy way to pick out what the students wrote versus what you provided.

One option to consider for addressing this is preformatting your Google Docs templates so the student work looks clearly different from your text. See the rest of the blog post below to learn how to do this, and to see what the final result can look like.

Monday, May 23, 2016

66 Question Checklist for Rolling Out Google Apps

Every day more and more schools move to Google Apps for Education. It is a powerful solution to meet many needs for students and staff. Some benefits include:

  • Programs - A wide variety of online tools including Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Gmail, Calendar, Sites, Classroom, Hangouts, and much more.
  • Third Party Tools - Thousands of useful Add-ons, Web Apps, and Extensions to provide more features.
  • Modularity - Choose just the tools you want to use, and who has access to them.
  • Updates - Frequent automatic updates to all the tools so you always have the latest versions with the newest features.
  • Central Management - Simple online management of all users, programs, and devices,
  • 21st Century Skills - Support for the skills our students needs for their future including collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.
  • Price - It’s free!

So it is easy to see why so many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education. However, what may not be as easy is the process of deploying Google Apps for your district. There are a lot of questions to consider, options to choose, and steps to take to get from start to finish in a complete roll out.

I get the privilege of working with loads of schools on all aspects of Google Apps including initial setup, Active Directory Sync, email migration, Chromebook deployment, admin console settings and best practices, and all related professional development for teachers, techies, and administrators. One of the first steps in the roll out process is a checklist of questions I have the schools work through to determine their unique wants, needs, steps and plan for Google Apps.

See the rest of the blog post below for my list of deployment questions, as well as a Google Doc version you can copy and use for your own district. Hopefully these questions will help you think through all the options, catch some issues you may not have considered, and work out a plan for your next steps.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

4 Ways to add Clipart to Google Docs

“Where’s my clipart!?”

When someone first moves from Microsoft Office to Google Docs, that is often one of the early questions that comes up. Certainly Google Docs offers many excellent new features to explore (revision history, voice typing, sharing and collaborating, and more) but we still tend to notice the things that are missing rather than the new tools that are there.

So, yes, it is true that Google Docs does not have a simple Insert Clipart menu option, but that does not mean there is no way to include clipart. In fact, quite the opposite! Google Docs provides (at least) 4 ways to add clipart to your documents.

These options are great for students creating stories, reports, projects, posters, and more, as well as teachers making instructional material, hyperdocs, templates, and such. In addition, all of these options allow you to respect copyrights and teach students about the proper use of media.

See the rest of the blog post below for 4 easy options for adding clipart to Google Docs, with explanations of how to do each.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Googlink: Creating Interactive Posters with Google Drawings

Google Drawings is often overshadowed by the other Google Drive tools such as Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms. However, it is an excellent tool for students and teacher to do many tasks including graphic organizers, teaching math, and desktop publishing (see here for examples of each).

One more educational use for Google Drawings is to create an interactive multimedia poster. This is very much like creating a Thinglink. Let’s call it a Googlink.

If you are not familiar with Thinglink, it is a powerful online tool that lets users annotate images with pop-up text, pictures, videos, weblinks, documents, and more. It can be a great way for students to demonstrate their learning. You can see many examples of Thinglinks here:

Although Thinglink is an excellent tool, its free version does have some limitations. As an option, Google Drawings can be used very much like Thinglink, and might be the perfect alternative for you and your students.

See below for information on how to use Google Drawings in a similar way as Thinglink to create, edit, and share interactive multimedia posters, as well as a sample Googlink to test out.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Excellent Add-ons for Google Docs

Google Docs is a powerful word processing program with many unique features including voice typing, the Explore tool, Version History, web fonts, and much more. 

However, Google knows that even with all of those features, Docs may not be able to do everything you want it to do. So Google Docs allows you to install Add-ons to extend the capabilities of the program.

Add-ons are third-party tools that provide extra features for Docs. Over time the amount of available Add-ons has grown tremendously. So how do you wade through all of these to find the best ones and the hidden gems? 

To help out I have collected a list of my favorite Add-ons for Docs. Certainly this is not a comprehensive list, and there are other awesome Add-ons beyond my list, but these will give you a good place to start. Some of these Add-ons will likely be familiar to you, but hopefully you will find a few new ones or be encouraged to dig deeper into one you have tried before.

See below for my list of recommended Docs Add-ons, what they do, ideas for how they can be used in schools, and a quick overview of how to install, use, and remove Add-ons. And be sure to let me know which Add-ons you would recommend to add to the list. I would love to learn from you!