Thursday, December 20, 2018

Awesome 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!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Write Better with Writer's Highlighter Add-on for Docs

Writing is a process, not a one-and-done event. When a student is writing their first draft, it is important that they simply get their ideas out, mistakes and all. After that brain dump, now comes the work of editing and revising.

This is summed up beautifully in the following quote:

"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." - Arthur Plotnik

There are many tools and techniques available to assist with the editing process. A while back I covered many such resources in my blog post "Self-Editing Tools for Student Writing in Google Docs". Recently I came across a new add-on for Google Docs that deserves to be added on to this list.

The tool is a free add-on called "Writer's Highlighter". It can be used in several ways, but the main focus is to highlight words in your document that match a customized list. For example, these could include overused words or phrases, including "very", "really", "stuff", and more. The add-on can also color-code your sentences based on their lengths.

See below for more details and directions on how to use this very useful tool. Or, rather I mean "this helpful tool".

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Learning Music, Art, Science, Math and more with Chrome Music Lab

When I used to teach middle school math, one unit I always loved to do each year was my "Music and Math" unit. We explored lots of connections between music and math, while learning about fractions, exponents, prime factorization, and more. We even concluded the unit with a day of student performances called "Curtstock" or "Curtsapalooza" (depending on the year).

One of the great things about music is how connected it is to other disciplines. As mentioned above, music can tie into math through fractions (duration of notes), exponents (decibels), multiples (beat), and prime factorization (harmonizing notes). Likewise music can connect with science when exploring sound waves, frequencies, and more, as has influence and occurrence in history, literature, and art.

To help explore musical concepts and how they relate to other topics, Google has created the Chrome Music Lab. This is a collection of 13 interactive "experiments" (so far) that let users create, play, and learn with a wide range of music concepts. These activities are also cross-platform, working on laptops, tablets, and phones.

See below for an explanation of each of these engaging tools...

Thursday, December 6, 2018

10 Writing Prompt Tools for Creative Inspiration

I love writing… blog posts, stories, poems, and more. As much as I love it though, writing can be a challenge. Often one of the most difficult parts is just getting started. Sometimes we just need a little inspiration, a jump start to get us thinking down a new path.

When my daughter was younger we used to do poetry nights where we would use a website (Watch Out for Snakes) that would randomly create titles for us by putting together adjectives and nouns. We would then challenge each other to write a poem based on one of the prompts, followed by reading our new creations. Yes, I have always been a nerd.

Just like those random titles inspired me to compose poems, such tools can help our students when they need to write a journal entry, short story, essay, article, poem, or such. Thankfully there are many resources available to use for writing prompts, story starters, and other writing inspiration. In this blog post we will take a look at 10 example tools to use in your class.

By the way, if you are interested to see some examples of what came out of my poetry nights, feel free to check out Elemental Love, Moonstruck Conifer, and Smallest Pony.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Self-Checking Assessments in Google Sheets with Conditional Formatting

There are so many excellent tools for online assessment including Google Forms, Quizlet, Kahoot, Flippity, Quizizz, and more. In addition to providing teachers with data on student performance, online quizzes can also be valuable simply for student self-assessment.

With self-assessments the purpose is for the student to test themselves, see if they are correct or not, and usually retry until they get the right answer. Grades are not collected, because by the end the student should have every question correct. The point is to let the learner practice, see what they do and do not understand, and then work toward improvement.

There are several tools that can be used for this sort of self-assessment. One great option is to use Google Sheets with conditional formatting. This allows you to provide feedback based on what the student types in for their answers, so they can identify and work on questions they are struggling with.

To help make this easier, I have created a "Self-Checking Assessment Template" for Google Sheets. See below for a link to get your own copy, along with directions on how to use it, and some behind-the-scenes explanations of how it works.