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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cool Chrome Extensions

I love using Google's Chrome browser for lots of reasons, one of which is the integration with the Chrome browser on my phone.  A tab that's open on my laptop can also be viewed on my phone, same with bookmarks.  But Chrome also has a lot of good extensions that take the normal browsing and surfing to a new level.  If you're using Chrome you'll notice a menu at the top called Window and then navigate to Extensions.  From here you can see extensions that might already be installed, delete extensions, or enable/disable them.

At the very bottom you can search for new extensions too.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I Flip for Flipboard

I am a news and information junkie and one of my favorite apps, and one that I always hit first thing in the morning, is Flipboard.  Flipboard gives you all of the news you want at your fingertips in a really great interface.  You choose the topics (like sports, news, financial, entertainment, rss feeds, Twitter) and customize the app how you want.  What I really like about the app is when you view content it's very intuitive and easy.  Just swipe between categories and stories or flip to read more when you're inside of a story.  The swiping becomes natural after you've used it for a little while.  If you're looking for a great way to integrate current events into your classroom, specific to the needs and wants of your students, Flipboard is a great avenue.

One great feature of Flipboard is that you can create your own magazines and flip stuff into them that you like or want to keep and read later.  Another neat feature is that other users can subscribe to your magazine, so anything you save can be read by them too.  This is a great feature for teachers who want to direct their students to specific content and it can be done quickly and easily from any device.

The real motive behind this post, though, is a great Chrome bookmarklet, or link in your bookmarks, is called Flip It.  This allows you to take a website that you see while browsing in Chrome and flip it into your Flipboard magazine with the click of a button.  See an article you want your students to pay attention to and have on their devices, just hit to button and it's there.  This is a great way to keep your classroom connected to what you want them to be connected to.

Copy Google Drive Folder

I came across this tip today and thought it was definitely worth sharing.  You can easily make a new copy of a single file in Google Drive by going to File > Make a Copy but I learned today that you can copy an entire folder.  In order to do it you need to visit this site and enable the script on the page and give it permission to access your Google Drive.  Once you do that you'll be given a new screen which allows you to choose your source folder and what you want to call your destination folder.

Once you hit 'Create' you'll find that you now have a new folder with a new name in your Google Drive with all of the contents of the source folder.  Pretty cool tip.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Research (and Cite) Right in Google Doc

Update: There is also a Chrome extension that allows you to do instant citation from a website you are currently visiting.

The ability to do research right in a Google Doc has been available for quite a while but this weekend I learned of the ability to cite that research with the click of a button.

To access the Research feature simply go to Tools > Research and a window will pop up on the right side of your document.  Within that window you can search Google and use the little drop-down arrow to search for Images, Quotes, and other filters.  The neat part is once you find your information and insert your information via a link into your document you then have the option to press the Cite button.  Pressing that immediately drops the citation into the bottom of your document and puts a little superscript citation button next to the link.  This is a great feature for students and others who are researching and writing papers and can't remember whether they're supposed to use MLA, APA, Chicago or whatever else is required.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Doc to Form Google Add-On

I discovered a great Google Doc add-on today called Doc to Form.  What it does it allows you to take a Google Doc and turn it into a form simply by highlighting the questions on the document and clicking some buttons in the sidebar.  The add-on then takes the questions and creates your form and gives you the opportunity to view spreadsheet or form.  I know for some teachers the Form template can seem daunting and this may be a way to help ease their fears.

The add-on was in testing and if the above link doesn't work you'll have to jump through one hoop by visiting this website.

Demo Video

Thursday, December 11, 2014

iPad to iPad Mirroring

Sometimes it's nice when you have iPads to be able to mirror what's on your device to your students devices so you can control what they're seeing.  A few examples of this may be if you're doing a presentation or a read-along and want to know students are seeing what you're seeing, like a PDF that you've marked up.  A new website I just found via is called

It allows you to upload a DOC, PPT, or PDF and then give your kids a code which allows them to see those documents on their iPad.  When you change pages on your screen it changes on theirs.  If you wanted to combine this with guided access you could lock students into an app and have complete control over what they see and do.  You can even schedule a presentation for the future plus there's a free iOS app, which worked a lot faster for me than having the students go to the website.  Plus, there's nothing to sign up for and you can import files from Google Drive or DropBox.

Since this only requires a device connected to the Internet you could do this with students in an part of the world!

Here's a bit from Preso's website:

Simply select "Open in" or select a file from either Dropbox, Google Drive or Box, and start broadcasting your presentation.

No account creation, no payments, no hassle. We don’t even ask for your email id! 

- Seamless real-time mirroring of presentations across any screen, over the internet or AirPlay
- Retina-quality graphics on the viewer’s devices
- Long tap to highlight a specific part of the slide
- Simply upload your presentation and share with anyone using a PresoCode/link
- Start a broadcast immediately or schedule it for later
- Safe and secure: Your documents are safely stored on the cloud and are permanently deleted 30 days after you upload
- Supports PowerPoint, PDF, and Word files

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hour of Code at Lincoln

For the past two days I've had the privilege of being in classrooms participating in the Hour of Code.  If you don't know what the Hour of Code is it's a nationwide initiative by to introduce computer programming to 10 million students and encourage them to learn programming.  The excitement level is non-stop from the minute kids get their hands on their devices until they're pried away from them.

What I appreciate about kids coding is that learning a skill like coding is akin to learning another language.  When I was a kid writing code was one of my best computer memories and something I always remember doing.  Telling a computer to do something and having it react is a great feeling of accomplishment.  What the Hour of Code captures is that feeling, but with characters and activities such as Frozen, Angry Birds, and Flappy Bird that hook the kids and keep them entertained.  There's reading, math, and most importantly social collaboration.  Kids are constantly looking over their neighbor's shoulder to see what they're doing or showing off what they've accomplished.

"I just can't stop smiling!" was a quote I heard today from a student, leaning over her partner's Android tablet as they worked together on creating a Flappy Bird game.

"It's my life beat Mr. Birks  Even if it takes 10 years!" was another quote from a Isaias after he created and shared his Flappy Bird game with me.  You can play it here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

siteMaestro for ePortfolios

One thing I always struggled with as a teacher in a 1:1 classroom was having a place for students to share their digital work/life so they had a more real audience than me and their parents and the refrigerator.  I've looked at a lot of tools, like Three Ring and Moodle, but always kept coming back to the thought that Google Sites was a free, easy to use alternative.  But it seemed laborious to set them all up with the correct permissions for each student.  Enter siteMaestro!  This Google script add-on is attached to your Google Sheets and automatically creates a Google Site for each of your kids, gives them the sharing permissions so they can edit it, and allows you to control who can view the sight (in or outside of your domain).

First of all, it's free.  Second, it's very easy to setup.  You have to create one Google Site template first and then enter your students information into the spreadsheet.  But then you press the Create button and the magic begins and the script creates all of the sites, assigns permissions, and populates the spreadsheet with all of the students' URLs.  Whoa!  Blows my mind how cool that is.  The neat step about having it in a Google Sheet is that the teacher can publish that sheet and have one place with all of the students' URLs for their sites.

If you're looking for an easy way to have digital portfolios then take a look at siteMaestro.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Meeting Pulse - Connect with your Class

I saw a neat service by Microsoft that is in beta right now called Pulse that allows you to use some real-time tools to stay in touch with your audience.  But, it's only free for another month and then it becomes very expensive.  I mean VERY expensive.  My sense is it's built for bigger companies and organizations that don't care about their budgets.

So it got me to thinking whether or not there was a simple, free tool that would do the same.  I know Socrative and PollEverywhere will do these but I wanted something dead simple and especially one that kept the pulse on the audience.  A quick Google search turned up MeetingPulse which fit the bill perfectly.  What is has going for it is that it's free.  It's very easy to set up.  You can sign up with your Google account.  And it's easy for the audience to find and access your poll which allows your audience to interact with you during your presentation.

Create an account and an event with a unique URL and once you start it your audience goes to the site to see what you're asking them to do.  There are four options:

  1. Pulse - the audience simply taps on their device Agree, Disagree, Not Clear, or Too Slow and the results populate on the presenter's screen immediately.  The responses only stick around for ten seconds and they pulse is reset.
  2. Polls - the presenter can ask a simple question that they audience can reply to, like PollEverywhere
  3. Questions - the audience can enter a question and the presenter gets a notification that someone has a question and can choose to address it or not.  Others can upvote the questions.
  4. Raffle - this function keeps the audience engaged by randomly selecting one of them to win whatever you're giving away.  Conversely, it could be to choose a student to answer a question.  Their device will blink and tell them they've won!
Check out the video below:

Academic Help Site for Writing

I heard about this site from  If you are looking for a site that can help students with their writing then might be the place.  I've cut and pasted's review below because they explain it pretty well:

Academic Help is a great resource to share with students preparing for mid-year or end of term exams.  Middle school and high school students will find that Academic Help has tons of guides to help young writers.  Their website provides free writing guides and samples of different types of papers.  This includes examples of critical essays, narrative essay, application letters, and even tips for creative writing.  The resources on Academic Help are totally free and work for a range of age levels.
There is a section of Academic Help’s site dedicated to general writing tips and do’s and don’ts for each type of writing assignment.  Teachers can use the samples on this site as mentor pieces for a writing unit or direct struggling students to Academic Help for extra examples.
Explore their website to see how they can help students prepare for exams this year!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Embed Interactive Elements into a Blog

I found this list of 50 free embeddable interactive widgets that you can add to your elementary blog to give students something to do when they visit besides just read.  They are also excellent if you have a smart board.  They include math, social studies, science and language arts.  I've dropped one below to give you an idea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

eDownloader - Download Files on iOS

One thing about the Apple ecosystem is the ability to move files to and from the device is somewhat tightly controlled.  Sometimes in class students want to be able to download a sound or video file to use in a presentation and they can't.  An app that is free today (and also available in the WSD App Portal in the future because I just noticed it's back to $1.99) called eDownloader does a pretty good job of allowing you to grab content.  These apps never have a very intuitive interface or try to do too much but this one is pretty easy, with a little bit of hunting around.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Talking Pictures App

An app that went free today called DMD Topic - Talking Pictures is a good one for students who have a picture they want to add voice comments to it.  After you take a picture you can zoom in on certain parts as you talk about them.  After you're done the app does all of the zooming for you and also blurs out the rest of the image and just focuses on what you've selected.  If you didn't get it downloaded today then you can request it from the App Portal.

9 Different Informal Assessment Tools Compared

Here's a great chart from that compares nine of the most popular student response tools in one place.  Of all the ones on the list, I've used just over half of them and with minimal effort they can be used to gauge where a class or group of attendees is at in response to what they're learning.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Keep Notes and Reminders in Google

Google has an often overlooked feature called Google Keep.  It allows you to make virtual sticky notes and reminders that you can access from all of your devices.  They just made them shareable too which has big implications for the classroom.  The interface is very easy to use and very simple, which helps sometimes to keep students focused on the task at hand.  You can add images, voice, and even set reminders.

There is not currently an iPad app (but there is an Android app) but there are a few apps that do what a Google app should.  The one I've tried is TurboNote and did a great job of immediately picking up the new note I created online and putting it on my iPad.

Instead of me listing all of the features I'll let Lifehacker

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Leveled Reading with News in Levels

A great website that's been around for a few years called NewsELA has current events in a leveled format.  That means that each story provides different Lexile reading levels so you can tailor what your students read to where they're at.  A site I just read about on called News in Levels aims to do the same thing, with a twist.  This site is geared toward English Language Learners or readers at a basic level, but also contains higher levels too.  The added bonus of this site is that each story and each level has an accompanying video that either shows the news story or reads the words to the reader.

Educational Benefit: If you are looking for leveled stories or stories for ELL students this is a good resource.  They also have a chat option to chat with students around the world and a Skype feature for video calling.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Send Anywhere Updates

One of the best apps (and now computer application) that I've come across for transferring files to and from an iOS device is Send Anywhere.  It's free, simple to use, and moves big files easily over wifi.  Today they came out with a new iOS version and while I was looking at the release I noticed they also had a Chrome extension and a desktop version of the software.  Life just got a bit easier.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Google Drive App Updates

Today Google Drive updated their iOS app with some neat features.  One new thing you can do is open files from your Google Drive and save them back to your Drive from other apps on your device.  This may have the biggest impact for the classroom.  Any saved changes are automatically synced to your other devices.  Another cool one is the ability to unlock your Drive using your Touch ID.  You have to enable this in the Google Drive app settings.

And finally, the one I like best, is the ability to download a video from your Drive into your camera roll.  In the past you've been able to make a video available offline, but now by tapping File Info > Open In > Save Video if will go directly into your camera roll instead of somewhere else inside the Google Drive app.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hour of Code

Last year my students participated in's Hour of Code.  It's designed as a way to get students excited about learning how to code.  I highly recommend finding time for your students to participate this year.

Hour of Code

What is the Hour of Code?
The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. Check out the tutorials, and look out for new ones coming for the Hour of Code 2014.

When is the Hour of Code?
Anybody can host an Hour of Code anytime, but the grassroots campaign goal is for tens of millions of students to try an Hour of Code during December 8-14, 2014, in celebration of Computer Science Education Week. Is it one specific hour? No. You can do the Hour of Code anytime during this week. (And if you can't do it during that week, do it the week before or after).

Why computer science?
Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. It helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic and creativity. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st-century career path. See more stats on

How do I participate in the Hour of Code?
Sign up to host an Hour of Code event here and start planning. You can organize an Hour of Code event at your school or in your community — like in an extracurricular club, non-profit or at work. Or, just try it yourself when Dec. 8 arrives.\

Who is behind the Hour of Code?
The Hour of Code is organized by, a public 501c3 non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. An unprecedented coalition of partners have come together to support the Hour of Code, too — including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the College Board.

I don't know anything about coding. Can I still host an event?
Of course. Hour of Code activities are self-guided. All you have to do is try our current tutorials, pick the tutorial you want, and pick an hour — we take care of the rest. We also have options for every age and experience-level, from kindergarten and up. Start planning your event by reading our how to guide.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Google Communities

One place where I've been doing a lot of reading and researching is in the Google Communities.  In short it's loaded with forums on specific Google products.  For example, I'm keep tabs on the following Google services: Classroom, Docs and Drive, iPads in the Classroom, Apps for Educators, Google Docs Tips and Google Apps in Education.  Since many groups have the same name or content, one tip when looking to join a community is to see how many members are in the group which will give you a good idea of which ones are most popular and most active.

Unlimited Google Storage

You may or may not have noticed that your Google Apps for Education (GAFE) account now has unlimited storage.  When I first heard it was happening I was excited and amazed.  Oh, the possibilities!  Backup, and pictures, and documents galore.  On the bottom left of your Google Drive home screen it used to say the percentage of space you had left but not it just says how much you have used.  I looked a bit deeper and the top end of my account says 10Tb (never typed terabytes before) which is a TON of space.  There's one caveat.  The biggest file you can upload at one time is 5Tb (that's a lot).

Google Apps Customizer

If you've used Google tools at all you might have noticed the nine little squares on the top right of your Google environment.  Some call it the 'app switcher', others the 'selector', and others the 'waffle'.  Regardless of what you call it I've always bemoaned the fact that I couldn't adjust what was in there.  I couldn't move things around or get rid of things I didn't want.

But today I discovered a Google Chrome extension called App Launcher Customizer you can add to your Chrome settings which allows you to not only add/remove what you want but also to move things around in the order that you want.  Give it a try.  It put a smile on my face.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Google Calendar - Appointment Slots

Here's something that's been around for a while but I didn't know it existed, and it's great!  Appointment Slots is a tool baked into Google Calendars which allows you to designate a time period, with incremental time slots, for people to self-select a meeting time with you.  This would be useful for teachers setting a time for students to meet or parents for conferences.  The process for creating one is as simple as creating an event.

1,000s of Free Socrative Quizzes

Socrative is a great tool for the online classroom.  Here is what their website says:

Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers by engaging their classrooms with a series of educational exercises and games. Our apps are super simple and take seconds to login. Socrative runs on tablets, smartphones, and laptops.

There are 1,000s of free quizzes at this website for you to use.  You can filter them to your liking and grab the SOC # and add them to your Socrative class.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Screen Sharing via Messages

Note: you need Apple's newest operating system, Yosemite, in order for this to work.

Yosemite has some new "cool" features, including SMS relay, phone calls on your Mac, and handoff.  But one of my favorite features is Screen Sharing and it's built right into the Messages app.  If you've never used the Messages app, I highly recommend it.  It's a great, quick way to stay connected.

The new feature of Messages is the ability to share your screen (or control someone else's) and it's baked right in.  When using the Messages app on your laptop you'll see a Details button on the top right.  Click on that and if that person is also logged into Messages you'll see the option to either share your screen or request to share theirs.  It will then open up the Screen Sharing app and allow you to remotely control their computer.

This is a great for those who support others, whether they're teachers or family members.

Is Google Up or Down? How about Apple?

Yesterday I had a lot of staff asking me if Google's services were up or down.  I found a website that shows you the current status of Google's apps.  There's also one for Apple's services too.

Apps Status Dashboard

Apple Services Dashboard