Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dragon Quest! A Google Slides Interactive Story

Growing up in the 80’s meant reading loads of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. They were fun, and a little scary, and you died pretty much every time, but they got lots of kids into books. A while back I decided to bring this idea off the page and into the 21st century by using Google Slides to create an online, interactive story.

Often we think of Google Slides in terms of linear presentations, with one slide after another in order. However, Google Slides allows you to add hyperlinks to your presentation which can link to other slides within the presentation when clicked. This allows you to create a nonlinear slideshow, where the user can branch off to multiple different slides from any one slide.

Linking to other slides can be used to create quizzes where each answer choice leads to a different slide to let you know if you got the correct answer. It can also be used to build an interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” story where each slide offers choices that lead to different parts of the story.

And so was born “Dragon Quest”!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Drive-ing me Crazy

Normally my posts are about all the wonderful ways Google tools can be used to transform teaching and learning. Unfortunately this post is not one of those.

Many people have been emailing me saying that they are not able to access my publicly shared help guides, slideshows, and other Google resources. It turns out something has gone terribly wrong with my Google Drive.

If you are unable to access my resources as well, I wanted to take a moment here to try to explain what is happening…

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How to Insert Text Boxes in Google Docs

Google Docs is a powerful word processing program that does many unique things beyond a traditional program such as Microsoft Word. (See here for some of my favorite features of Google Docs.)

And even though Docs is constantly being upgraded, there are some features that it is still missing. For example Docs does not support page borders or drop caps.

One of the most commonly mentioned missing features is the ability to add text boxes. In Microsoft Word you can easily insert a text box, type in it, and move it around to any spot in the document.

In Google Docs, however, when you click on the “Insert” menu there is not an option for a text box. The option does exist in the “Insert” menu of Google Slides and Google Drawings, so hopefully we will eventually get an update to Google Docs that provides more features for adding object like text boxes. In the meantime there is a workaround that does a pretty good job.

See below for a video showing how to do this, and read the rest of the post for written directions.

3 text to speech tools and 5 ways your students can use them

Many times people are accused of talking to their computers. Well with text to speech tools, your computer can talk back. Google Chrome has several extensions that will read web pages and Google Documents aloud, often with a variety of voices and adjustments for speed and volume.

In this blog post we will take a look at five ways students can benefit from text to speech tools. Then we will examine three of the best Chrome extensions for this purpose.

You can view the short video to see a demo of each of the three tools, and then read the rest of the post for more details on how these can be used in school.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Ultimate Guide to Creating Assessments with Google Forms

Google Forms is an easy but powerful tool for teachers to create online assessments for their students. And with the help of the Flubaroo add-on, the quizzes can be graded automatically as well. There are many benefits for using online assessments with students:
  • Quicker feedback - With autograding quizzes, students can get their results in a matter of minutes, rather than having to wait until the next day (at the soonest) to see if they understand the material or need more help.
  • More frequent assessments - Since the quizzes can be graded electronically, teachers can easily give small assessments each day or so, giving teachers much more frequent feedback on how their students are doing, and if they need to adjust their instruction.
  • Statistics - Since the assessments are digital, so are the results, which makes it much easier to do item analysis, look for patterns, and determine where the needs are.
  • Preparation - Most states are moving to online assessments for their high stakes grade level tests for students, such as PARCC, Smarter Balanced, and AIR. It is important that students feel comfortable taking tests online so the state tests will assess their content knowledge, not their technology skills (or lack thereof). Using online assessments in your class will help prepare students for the state tests.
  • Collaboration - With digital assessments it is easy for teacher to collaborate with their colleagues when writing the quizzes, or to share assessments with other staff for their use.
  • Special Needs - By going digital we are also able to take advantage of assistive technology. For example, with online assessments students can zoom in as needed, and use text to speech to read the questions.
  • Multimedia - Online assessments don’t just have to be digital versions of the same old paper and pencil tests. Instead we can incorporate color images and videos to provide a richer experience.
  • Savings - And of course going paperless can help save on paper, ink, and budgets.
And there are probably many more benefits as well. The next question then is … how to you create, distribute, and grade online assessments?

See below for a large collections of resources I have created to give you everything you need from getting started to advanced techniques. You will find two videos, each an hour long, as well as several help guides and slideshows.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Watch the Video from the January 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 January 2016 Google User Meeting, along with the meeting agenda with links to all the resources and updates covered. 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 January 2016 meeting:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Alternatives for the Clearly Chrome extension

Bad news: Clearly is going away.

For years one of my favorite Chrome extensions has been Clearly from Evernote. It is a simple extension that does an awesome thing. When you click the Clearly extension it cleans up the web page you are reading by removing ads, comments, backgrounds, and all other distracting images and elements, leaving only the core content of the page in an easy to read format. The extension is especially useful for students to help them focus on what they are reading when websites can be full of so many distractions.

Unfortunately it is being discontinued.

Evernote announced on their blog that as of January 22, 2016 they will no longer be supporting or offering Clearly. If you already have it installed, it may still keep working for now, but without any more updates it may stop functioning overtime. If you do not have it installed, it will no longer be available in the Chrome Web Store. For more details see Evernote's blog post.

So what alternatives are the for Clearly? Thankfully there are other Chrome extensions that perform a similar function. Below we will take a look at four options to consider for you and your students. Watch the video to see each one demonstrated and see the rest of the post below for a quick overview of each with links to install them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Addressing student cheating in Google Apps

Modern technology provides schools with amazing options for the "4 C's" - Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical thinking.

Unfortunately it also provides new opportunities for a fifth "C" - Cheating.

21st century technology gives students new ways to plagiarize or share work. As more and more schools embrace technology, Google Apps, Chromebooks, and more, what are we to do to address the issues of academic integrity?

I recently recorded a one-hour webinar on this topic. In the video training we take a look at cheating as well as possible options to help address the issue. These include non-technology options, as well as technology tools and resources that can help prevent or investigate cheating.

You can watch the video below, access the linked resources for the session, and read an abbreviated overview of the webinar content in the rest of the blog post:

Monday, January 18, 2016

6 awesome uses for Revision History

When I first started teaching (way back in BG - Before Google) when you graded a student’s paper, all you had to go on was the final paper itself. What you saw on the page was what you had to work with.

However, with Google Apps that is not the case. Google provides you with your own personal time machine in a tool called Revision History, which lets you see every change ever made to a document, when the change was made, and who made the change. This powerful tool is available in Google Documents, Slides, Sheets, and Drawings.

So how can teachers use Revision History to improve teaching and learning? See below for an overview of how the tool works, followed by six awesome ideas on how you can put this to use in your classroom.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Adding Integers with Google Drawings

The concept of negative numbers can be a challenge for students to grasp. We usually address this by trying to model positive and negatives with something more physical or concrete. Common illustrations involve number lines, temperature, elevation, or electrical charges. I even used balloons and bow ties when I was a middle school math teachers (maybe I’ll need to explain that one in a future post).

One of the more effective methods to demonstrate adding positive and negative numbers involved using semi-transparent colored plastic chips on an overhead projector (younger folks can ask a seasoned educator about this once ubiquitous device). Blue chips represented positive numbers, while yellow chips stood for negatives. When you added a positive number with a negative number you would put the chips on the overhead projector and then pair up the positives with the negatives by placing the blue chips on top of the yellow chips. Since they were see through, a blue chip and a yellow chip would look green, which indicated the positive and negative cancelling each other out. Whichever color had chips left over would be added up to give the final answers to the addition problem.

Friday, January 15, 2016

New Version of Google Sheets

I recently came across a top secret screen capture (shown on the right) of what I believe must be the new version of Google Sheets.

Although you can't tell too much from the picture, one thing is clear... the new version of Sheets is em-bed-dable.

Feel free to leave your best pun in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Turn your old computers into Chromebooks

After more than two decades in education, one thing I know for sure is that schools hold on to old things. With tight budgets we have to be careful to make things last, sometimes well beyond their normal lifespan. This is especially true for computers which should have a healthy life span of five years, but many schools keep them going twice as long.

When the computers are older than the students, problems can arise:
  • The computer gets slower and slower with each year and each program installed over those years.
  • The operating system may no longer support modern versions of software.
  • Or the operating system itself may no longer be supported or get new updates (Microsoft ended service for Windows XP on April 8, 2014).
So what is a school supposed to do with that 9 year old Dell desktop or that 7 year old Lenovo laptop? Typically we do one of the following:
  • Sell the old desktops and laptops to an eRecycling company for scrap metal.
  • Store the old equipment out of site, stacked up on pallets.
  • Or keep them in the classroom despite their decreasing functionality.
Well now there is another option! Neverware has released a product called CloudReady that can turn old laptops and desktops into Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. There is a free option and a paid option depending on what you need.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Why should schools use GAFE instead of personal Google accounts?

Google provides free Google accounts to anyone. You can easily sign up for an account and get an email address like, and get access to most all of Google’s tools such as Drive, Calendar, Sites, and more.

However, Google also provides schools with a different kind of account. Schools can get Google Apps for Education accounts, which we will call GAFE for short from here on out. Many schools around the world have rolled out GAFE to over 40 million students, but there are still many schools that may be considering this option.

Schools may wonder if users can get regular Google accounts, why should schools get GAFE accounts instead? Wouldn’t it be fine for staff and students to just use personal Gmail accounts?

It turns out that although personal Google accounts and GAFE accounts are similar, Google Apps for Education actually provides schools with a large number of additional features and tools that are not found in personal accounts, and are tailor made for the needs of a school.

See below to learn about many differences and benefits for using Google Apps for Education accounts in a school setting. You can click through the slideshow, read the blog post, or both. If you can think of other special features of GAFE versus personal accounts, feel free to add them to the comments below.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jeopardy Game Templates for Google Slides

Many years ago the height of technology integration was creating an interactive Jeopardy game in PowerPoint. So, I decided to go a little retro and recreate the Jeopardy game in Google Slides.

The key to making a Jeopardy game is to use the "Link" tool in Google Slides. Normally a slideshow is designed to be viewed sequentially, one slide followed by the next in order. However, Google Slides allows you to put links in slides that can link to any other slide in the presentation, regardless of order. By using links to other slides, a presentation can be created that is non-linear, in which the user can choose which slides to view.

Using this technique I created two Jeopardy Game Templates. One has five categories and the other has six categories. In each template all the items are already hyperlinked, so all you have to do is make a copy of the slideshow and then add your questions, answers, and topic descriptions.


On the Search for the best way to start your day? After you crawl out of your Sheets be sure to have a big bowl of Googloops, the best cereal on Earth! Four out of five Docs recommend Googloops as the best way to Keep your energy going all day in your Classroom, or at Play, or when you just Hangout with friends. Have a bowl before you Drive off today.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Best Virtual Protractor and Ruler for Chrome

As we continue to move more into digital activities for our students, some things that often stay non-digital are physical manipulatives including rulers and protractors. Certainly there is nothing wrong with using wooden or plastic rulers and protractors (our students do need to know how to use them) but there are also benefits to having online alternatives:

  • They can’t be left at home, or at school, or broken
  • They are easy to turn on and off as needed
  • They work great with online activities and websites (no concern about scratching the screen)
  • Students can't hit each other with digital rulers
  • They are free!

Below you will find information about my favorite virtual ruler and favorite virtual protractor. Both of these require the Chrome web browser, but once you have them open they work on any website. You can watch the short video below to see them being demonstrated and/or read the rest of the blog post below for details.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Making Gmail Safe for Schools

It is important for our students to effectively and appropriately communicate and collaborate with others, and email is a valuable tool, among many, to help students do this. Schools can, and should, be an ideal environment where students can learn how to communicate digitally, which is a skill they will need for the rest of their lives.

However sometimes schools can be hesitant to turn on Gmail for their students. They may worry about who students are sending email to, and who they are receiving it from. Schools may be concerned about the content of the messages as well.

Thankfully Google Apps for Education provides several tools and features to help schools provide a safer, more controlled environment for students to use Gmail. I recently did a one-hour webinar that takes a close look at these options. To learn more you can view the recorded webinar below, check out my detailed help guide and help resources, and read through the summary in the rest of the post below.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How to Play YouTube Videos Safely in School

YouTube can be a powerful resource for education with over 4 billion videos watched every day. Despite the number of cat videos, there are actually quite a lot of educationally valuable videos. Google even has their education channels at where they have currated videos by grade level and subject area.

However, even if you find the perfect video explaining how to add fractions or the phases of meiosis or how the pyramids were built, you can still run into a problem when having your students watch it. By default in addition to seeing the video they will also see ads, user comments below the video, suggested videos on the page, and then more suggested videos after their clip is done. At best these could be distracting. At worst they could be inappropriate for your students.

So what can you do?

Below we will take a look at three options you can use to let your students watch a YouTube video without all the extra stuff. You can view the video explaining the options, or read the directions below, or both!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Language Arts Graphic Organizers with Google Drawings

Graphic organizers are a powerful tools for language arts. Students can use them to plan an essay, compare and contrast characters, detail the sequence of a story, explore the meanings of a word, and much more.

There are many tools for creating and using graphic organizers, but one great option is Google Drawings. Some benefits include:
  • Loads of ways to add images, shapes, connectors, text, and more
  • Easy to collaborate with partners or for a whole class brainstorming activity
  • Final product can be shared as is, or can be exported in several formats
  • It’s free!
Recently I created a new batch of graphic organizers in Drawings that are aimed at language arts. All of these are freely available for use. Just click the links below to get your own copy to use and edit however you need.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Big Blank Wall - My 2015 IDEA Talk

A while back I had the privilege of sharing a short "IDEA Talk" at the 2015 WVIZ/PBS Ideastream Education Conference.

My talk was tilted "The Big Blank Wall" which refers to a particularly challenging feature from my first classroom. I spoke on how easy it is for us as educators to confuse process with purpose, and our need to embrace edtech change.

You can watch the short (7 minute) video below, read the full post, and then ask yourself what is your "Big Blank Wall"?

In addition to the recorded video, below is a copy of the original post I wrote on this topic several years ago on one of my other sites: