Thursday, May 24, 2012

Integrating Google Docs into a Google Calendar Event

Google is amazing.   In a world full of usernames and passwords, it is nothing short of  remarkable what one little username and password can get you access to online.  Be it a district branded Google Domain login or your personal Google Account, Google gives you access to your most frequently used applications all in one place, with one login.

Each of these tools are remarkable in their own right, but Google did not stop there.  Most of their tools flawlessly integrate with one another too.  Whether you are inserting a Google Form, Map, or Picasa slideshow into a Google Site, or inserting a picture from your Picasa Web Album into a Google Presentation, the process is typically seamless.  The one exception to this rule occurs when you embed a Google Document into a Google Calendar event.

The issue here is twofold.  First, the Event Attachment feature must be enabled in Calendar Labs (easy enough).  Second, and more challenging is dealing with the privacy defaults in Google Docs.   All documents are private by default. When you insert a document in a calendar event, it remains private.  All seems well on your end when testing the link because you are logged into Google, but when your students attempt to access the embedded document, they are met with a Google Docs login screen, not the embedded document.

The Solution is to enable public sharing for each file you embed in your calendar, but this can be a tedious process.  My solution is simple, create a public folder in your Docs/Drive account and then drag files into it.  Documents automatically take on the sharing setting of the parent folder. 

See the two step process laid out below in both image and screencast format. 

1. Enable the Event Attachments feature from Calender Labs.

2. Making the documents you want to embed "Public on the web" opposed to the default Private.

 I demonstrate the full process in the screencast below.

photo credit: Stuckin Customs via photo pin cc

Monday, May 14, 2012

Stop Animation in the Classroom: Project Based Learning Perfection

Creating simple stop animation videos in the classroom is just that, simple.  All you need is a computer, webcam, and some free software.  If you have an iPad or iPod touch, it can be even easier.

Think back to your own primary education.  For me, I have vague memories of actual instruction, but I can recall in great detail the projects.  I loved dioramas, poster board, clay, and crayons.  Children, by nature want to create with their hands, to bring their imagination to life. 

Should we be shocked my childhood experience?   Absolutely not.  When Bloom's Taxonomy was revised and then released during my first year in the classroom I was like, "now this make sense."  Creation is special and when done correctly can have a lasting effect on your students.

Thanks to advances in technology, much of this creation can now occur virtually.  In my opinion, a solid digital creation evokes the same kind of experience as its physical counterpart and when
a student produced stop animation film of  >3 mins can be filmed in a 90 minute block; what's stopping you? 

The Software

*Jelly Cam - My top pick.  An Adobe Air program created by the brilliant Chris Bennett in his spare time.  Already in its 4th update, it allows for filming, editing, and audio, all to be done in one place.   While Chris offers video directions, it is my opinion that any student with even rudimentary computer skills can click his or her way through making a film with this program.

Helium Frog - For those feeling a bit more adventurous, this free Windows program has some of the most advanced features I have seen in any animation software. Check out this online guide, you will need it;)

Pivot Stick Animator - This is a stand alone Windows program where the students can create a stop animation movie with stick figures. It would be a good place to start because it simple and it can help them develop an understanding of frames.

Stop Motion Recorder - While several stop animation apps exist for iOS, I personally have hours of hands on time with this one and feel comfortable recommending it.  Feeling adventurous? Here is a list of 7 others.


Having your students storyboard a video before they start shooting is perhaps the most essential step.  It is comparable to  mind mapping or rough drafts in the writing world.  Here are some free printable templates to get you going.

Music and Sound Effects

Free Sound Project (the single best place to find random sound effects) You will need to login to download. Registration is free. Use the Search link on the left of the home page to search for sound effects.

Soungle is a free site that allows users to easily find and search sound effects and musical instruments samples along our huge online library.

Freeplay Music  and Jamendo are both excellent resources for finding copyright friendly music on the web.


A simple webcam will do.  Many can be picked up at Walmart for under $20.   I have bought a number of webcams off ebay for large class projects.  I have been luck enough in the past to purchase recently off lease webcams on ebay for as little as $2 each, shipped!  Simply search "webcam lot" on ebay and wait for the right deal.  Most are plug and play.

*One added bonus to having webcams in the classroom...Use your webcam to scan QR Codes online, in browser with  Did someone say QR Code Scavenger hunt?


Making Stopmotion Movies - This teacher created site provides step-by-step instructions for making stop-motion movies with your students.

Bob Greenberg - Blogmeister - Blog of a teacher who uses stop animation.

Brickfilms - an entire site dedicated to making stop animation movies with Legos

Just for fun, allow me to leave you with the worlds largest and smallest stop animation videos, both shot with a Nokia N8 phone!:


photo credit: StreetFly JZ, edtechworkshopvia photo pin cc

Monday, May 7, 2012

URL Shortening: Spread the Word

*Disclaimer: This is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, just my take on it.  If you currently use URL shorteners in the classroom, I encourage you to share this post with your colleagues.  Now on to the post.

We live in a Hyperlinked world and so do our students, yet nine times out of ten assignments are given out to students in paper form.  This process is a means to an end in a traditional classroom, but why do we see this practice carried over in to digital assignments too?   Hyperlinks do not work on paper so we end up asking students to type in a URL to get to the digital content on the web.

My suggestion would be to skip the paper altogether and post the assignment on your blog, class website, or wiki.  Don't have one of those you say?  In a manner of seconds you can create a static website with

We do not live in a perfect world and sometimes your students will need to type in a web address.  When it comes to this, make the process as simple as possible.  Web addresses are very specific and one missing character, or spelling mistake and you will be wasting precious instructional time as your students grow increasingly frustrated.

In the two examples below I have provided links to the same page.  The first is to the original URL, the second to the same link, shortened using a simple online service.  Which would be easier for your students to get to?

A URL Shortener simply redirects the user from a short domain name provided by the service, to the original web page that has a long URL. The process is as follows.

1. Copy the original web address (the long one).
2. Navigate to your favorite URL shorting service (see some suggestions below).
3. Paste the long link in the space provided and click a button.
4. New short link appears.
5. Use short link with your happy students, parents, and peers.

1 minute video tutorial for you visual learners

The hardest part of the process is choosing which service to use.  Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

1.  The original. A very basic service, but straightforward.  Paste long url. Get short url.  *Note the "Custom alias" option where you can customize the url.

2.  My favorite.  On the surface it is a streamline shortening tool, but becomes a powerhouse when you create a free account.  When shortening links while signed into you can create custom short urls, get stats on links, QR codes, and even make a bundle out of a list of links.

3. What list would be complete without an entry from Google.  Yes the everything giant has its very own URL shortener.  If used in conjunction with your Google Account, it will maintain a list of your shortened URL's compete with click statistics and QR codes.

4. This one is for you elementary teachers or the High School teachers with a sense of humor.  Paste a long URL in the space provided and click the Moo button (yes, I said moo button).  Moourl will return a "milked" (short) URL.  Click the "Give your moourl a person touch" link to customize your short URL.

Please spread the word and put an end to senselessly long URLs!

photo credit: Feggy Art, Jeff_Werner, Cofrin Library and juliatenney via photo pin cc

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Google Reader: Making me look smarter since 2005

I love Google Reader.  Personally, no other tool has contributed to my general instructional knowledge as much as Google Reader.  While I have changed the way I access that information over the years with the advent of sites like Feedly and apps like Flipboard, the bulk of what I read personally and professionally comes from my Google Reader feeds.  

I was recently updating a handout that I use to share this amazing tool with teachers and decided that others might get something out of it. I liken the process of using Google Reader to going fishing and having the fish jump directly in your boat instead of waiting around for an occasional bite.  So much is competing for the time of educators today.  Using Google Reader is one way to maximize your knowledge with a minimal time investment. 

If I could offer only one user tip to new users, it would be to mix your personal and professional feeds.  If you do not add personal content to your feed list, you will only read them at school and how many times have you had time to do that? 

An introduction to Google Reader by Lee Lefever @commoncraft

*Click the little arrow in the top right corner to view the guide full screen.


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