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.