Thursday, September 26, 2013

2 Legendary Chrome Extensions for Struggling Readers and Writers

I hear that reading and writing are important.  How students should be doing these "across the curriculum" and how they are essential components of the Common Core.  More than that though, they are both crucial to a students long term success.  While they come naturally to some, for many, they can be a daily struggle.

As a former Special Education teacher I spent much of my time identifying tools that would help my students compensate for their various learning differences.  These tools typically turned out to be some form of technology.   In my opinion, technology "levels the playing field."

Enter my two favorite Chrome Extensions for struggling readers and writers.

1. Ginger, where were you when I was in school?  Once installed, this amazing tool automatically checks the spelling of written text, but also for over 30 common grammatical errors!  *As an added bonus, Ginger displays the correction in sentence form so the student can see the mistake in context and hopefully learn from it.

2. Proof reading is important.  Hearing what we type enables us to detect errors that our eyes alone do not catch.  Enter Speak It.  It is like our own personal proof reader.  I like how just stick some headphones on (it looks like they are listening to music) and have their words read back to them.

 *One tip on this one.  Highlight the text you want to read first, then click the Speak It extension button.  If you click the Speak It button first, it will read every word on the page!

By the way, I used both while writing this post.  While not a good writer, I am on a mission.

Photo Credit: e-magic and Wendy Copley via flickr

Monday, July 15, 2013

20 Must Have Chrome Apps for the Classroom

Googles "#1 focus is on the USER...and all else will follow."   How true is that in education too.  I am a teacher of students, not of Economics, Mathematics, etc.  When we take our eye off the ball, we have already lost the game.  Teaching is not easy because we are not teaching subjects, we are teaching individuals.

Teaching to the individual needs of students takes manpower and in public education today, we are WAY out numbered.  What are we to do?  Give up the fight?  We would make more money elsewhere. That's not in us though.  We are teachers and as John Maxwell said, "We want to make a difference, with people that want to make a difference, doing something that makes a difference."  

Enter technology, the force multiplier.  1:1, Flipped, and Blended, are not just buzzwords they are paradigm shifts.  Done correctly (supported) they can offer a truly individualized education.

This brings me to the core point of this post, to share with you what I feel are 20 of the most useful Chrome apps.  Chrome apps don't have the same fervent following as similar apps on iOS or Android, but in many cases they are just as good if not better.  What I like most about Chrome and web applications that utilize Google Authentication is the premise of a single sign-on.   In a traditional school setting (not 1:1) a student is likely to use dozens of different computers in a short span of time. With a single Google Account, that student can seamlessly access all of their files, bookmarks, settings, and applications across any number of devices.  The experience is the same everywhere, even at home. 

So, without further ado, my top 20. Some are teacher tools, but most have content creation and students in mind. Please keep in mind that there are many amazing subject specific Chrome apps (Biodigital Human, Geogrebra, etc), but I was going for a more universal approach here.  If you have questions about any of these apps, or would like to share some that you are using, please leave a comment.

Thanks to friend and colleague Teresa Thomassen for this projects foundation and inspiration.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ignite your (students) Presentations

Storytelling is foundational to all human knowledge.  It is how information was passed from generation to generation.  Throughout history, those with the finest oratory skills often held the most prestigious posts in society.  Despite the rise of social media and various forms of digital communication, the ability to convey ones thoughts verbally (in front of a group) is still a highly desirable skill.

I basically talk to groups of teachers for a living.  The mere thought of this would have horrified my adolescent self.  While I was required to take public speaking courses in both high school and college, neither helped me with my public speaking phobia.  Thankfully my own children will have a different experience.  The Common Core and specifically the Speaking and Listening Standards (SL) embed these skills throughout the curriculum, scaffolding this skill in authentic settings.  

Enter Ignite, a fun and engaging presentation format that lends itself equally well to both professional development and student presentations.  There are only two simple rules to Ignite: 
  1. Your talk must be guided by a slideshow.
  2. The show should consist of 20 slides that auto advance every 15 seconds.
The result: A self paced presentation that forces the presenter to examine what is truly important about the information they are sharing.  Additionally, the auto-advancing slides help with drifting.  I have a bad habit of chasing rabbits  when I am presenting and once again, auto advancing slides do not permit for those types of indulgences.  

It really is that simple.  To get you started, I have embedded two videos on the subject.  The first is an Ignite on giving Ignites and the second is an education specific example.  Also, HERE you will find my auto advancing Ignite PPT template.  HERE is a Google Slide Ignite template too.

Ignite explained in an Ignite format

An education/PD Ignite

photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Adding a Link to a Google Calendar Description

While Google does not give us the ability to insert a hyperlink in a Google Calendar description by default, with a little HTML action we solve this deficiency.

Here is the magical code: 

<a href="URL"> display text</a>

Education application: Perfect for teachers that want to share assignments or resources on a public calendar to their students. Public school calendar for an administrator or counselor to share date specific resources.

See how to use it in the video below.

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Teachers Guide to Placing and Receiving Free Calls with Gmail and Google Voice

Verbal communication with parents or guardians is an essential component to any successful school year.  Many administrators make this form of communication mandatory for their teachers, but are financially unable to provide them with the necessary tools to accomplish the task.  Most schools have 3-5 phone lines (if you're lucky), but they are ALWAYS in use.  It is almost a game we play, finger ready, waiting for an open line.  

Cell phones have made this task simpler for many teachers, but at some schools cellular reception is spotty at best, and who wants to give out their personal phone number?  Google had part of the solution with Google Voice and I have written about it before here, but for phone calls, Voice is only good for receiving voice calls (text messages is another story).  Like most other technology, Voice's usefulness is magnify when combined with another tool.  In this case, Google Chat.  This is not a "new" partnership,  but is one that is not well documented in the education community.  

I have created a very short video tutorial on how to facilitate this partnership for yourself.  If done as shown in the video, it will be like creating your own classroom number, compete with voicemail.  I can not recommend enough the use of Google Voice for classroom teachers.  I hope you enjoy the tutorial.  Please feel free to ask questions or leave your own success stories in the comments section below.  

*The video will be updated as the kinks related to Google Hangout are resolved. If you are interested and missed the the I/O keynote, you can check it out here.  One hour and thirty minutes in, you can view an amazing education specific announcement that has the potential to change the face 1 to 1. 

photo credit: apalapala via photopin cc

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I Didn't Know Google Could Do That: Advanced Search Tips and Tricks

I am a Fan Boy, I openly admit it.  Google can do nothing wrong in my eyes (Minus their decision to discontinue Reader).  This is not the case with all educators.  Some teachers and parents blame Google for the dumbing down of a generation, and they may be partly correct.  I on the other hand, I tend to be more of a pragmatist.  Surrender has its benefits, below are a few tips and tricks that could make your personal and professional life a little easier.  

*Update May 13, 2013:  Atari just celebrated Breakouts 37th birthday.   To celebrate, do a Google Image search for  “atari breakout” (no quotes) and experience a nastalgic little surprise   I am not sure how long the fun will last, so enjoy the easter egg while you can.

photo credit: Simon via pixabay

Friday, April 12, 2013

Augmented Reality: Bringing Learning to Life

The enormity of this whole Augmented Reality trend  hit me like a ton of bricks the other day when I made my first "Aura" using Aurasma Studio, a free cloud based program from the makers of the Aurasma app.  Prior to this experience, augmented reality was just a novelty feature that some smartphone apps like Yelp used.  While cool, I doubted their genie usefulness. 

As a child the promise of "Virtual Reality" was always just around the corner, but nothing of substance ever materialize; that is unless you count the Virtual Boy that almost succeeded in blinding a generation.  This is feels totally different and has the potential to "change everything."

I first saw the Aurasma app in 2011 when it went by the name Aurasma Lite.  While it looked cool, I had already seen apps like Yelp and had an augmented reality UFO shooter game on my iPhone that made that experience forgettable.  Fast forward to 2013.  Google Glass is all over the news and I have been doing a lot more work with iPads in the classroom.   That combination drew my attention to the concept of  Augmented Reality  in the Classroom.  A Google search for that term finds Aurasma Studio only a few clicks away.

Wow is all you can say when you see a really cool Aura (the augmented reality experience made possible by the Aurasma app).  With Aurasma studio a teacher or technology facilitator is able to create a truly unique experience for their students in a manner of minutes.

Here is an example of an Aura that I created for an up coming Earth Day activity.  I downloaded a short video clip from Youtube (using and then set to work with Aurasma Studio and in only a few minutes made this (while shown on a computer, the students will interact with it on paper).

Not bad for a first try.   The software is intuitive enough that I needed no formal instruction to know what was what in there. Future Auras should take no more than 5-10 minutes to create.  A small investment for the awesomeness that is produced.

It boggles my mind that this is not taking off like wildfire in the classroom.  To get  started, check out this video tutorial form the team at Aurasma and then apply for a free Aurasma Studio account.  The Aurasma app your students will need to access your Auras is also free and is available for both iOS and Android.

*One tiny bit of advice.  Do not forget to have your students follow your Aurasma Channel so they can view your Aura's.  They simply need to do a keyword search for your channel, then click the Follow button and they will be good to go.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

12 Free Super Tools for Teachers

Batman was a favorite childhood superhero because he was just a regular dude.  He had no super powers,  the only thing that separated him from everyone else was the desire to be awesome and some amazing toys.

Fast forward 30 years and the model still fits.  Teachers with a desire to go above and beyond have a much simpler path today, then they did even ten years ago.  Digital tools, like the ones spotlighted below, have a magnifying effect on a teachers ability.

Is this an end all be all list?  Nope.  Just tiny taste of some tired and true beauties. 

A few of these are spotlighted in detail in various various posts on this blog.  If you would like more information on any of them, feel free to ask.

photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Become a Communication Ninja: 7 Free Tools for Teachers

The image above is a compilation of photos depicting a common sight.  Smart phones and texting have become a way of life.  What was once considered a luxury item has become common place, and it is even considered as essential as food, water, and shelter by many of our students.  That last bit might seem like a bit of a stretch, but when polling students, I often get "texting" as the #1 answer to the question "What do you do in your free time?"

*The graphs below are from a study by the media giant Nielson designed to help "developers, publishers and advertisers better understand who owns a smartphone, and if those devices are successfully penetrating the low-end income brackets thanks to lower price points."   The answer, as you can see, is a resounding YES.

What is my point in all this?  Know your audience.  When I first started teaching, we were instructed by administration and mentors to call home often and keep detailed call logs when we did.  The problem I found with that tactic was outdated contact information resulting in wrong numbers or disconnected lines.  When email becomes common place, I quickly concentrated my efforts on weekly email newsletters.  Over time, I found email to be a more effective communication tool for MOST of my parents, but I was still not reaching 20-40% of them.

Enter the modern day.   Today we see a world much flatter than it was just five years ago.   Smart phones, text messages, high speed internet, and web applications all make communication much more transparent.   The premise of this post is to provide you, the teacher, with 10 free tools that can help you become a Communication Ninja.

The Tools 

Google Voice - Google Voice is an amazing free service available to anyone with a Google Account.  The idea here is to register a "virtual number" with Google, and then tie it to all your physical numbers.  A "One Ring" for your phones, if you will.   The virtual number can not directly place calls, but it can forward calls to your physical lines (as previously mentioned), send and receive text messages, and receive voicemail messages.  While not specifically designed for teachers, it is the one communication tool no educator should be without.  Here are just a few ideas of how it can be used with parents and students:

  • As primary contact number or voicemail service.  Put it on your syllabus,  your email signature,  etc.  It is safe and secure. When parents or students use it, it automatically logs the call and transcribes any voicemails you may receive.  Voicemails can be forwarded to your email account for convenience or sharing with administration.  The number can be "shut off" at night and new calls forwarded to voicemail so you can sleep uninterrupted.  Prank calling the teacher is a thing of the past with the ability to block any number.   Where legal, live conversations can also be recorded.
  • Text Message. - "When in Rome..."  Email, is NOT the preferred tool of the people.  It is very much a corporate tool and is viewed as such in the eyes of our students (and some parents).   If you want to reach your students, or the parents of your student that do not have a work email, your best bet is with a text message.  Google Voice allows you to send and receive plain text messages (sorry no MMS - media/picture messages at this time).  Just like the voicemail messages, text messages are time and date stamped and stored in your Google Voice account.  
I could go on forever about the wonders of Google Voice, but you would be better-suited spending that time playing around in their UI.  Enjoy and feel free to ask questions or share with us the innovative ways you are using this service in your classroom.

Google Calendar -  If you are already using your Google Account (or Google Apps for Education account) for Google Voice, you would be remiss not to give Google Calendar a solid look.  While already tied into may of our smartphones (Android by default), chances are you may already be using it.

Google Calendar is actually an aggregator for multiple calendars.  You can subscribe to various public calendars and/or make your own.  As a classroom teacher, I would have a separate calendar for each prep.   Each of them can be embeded into any webpage and then updated directly from your Google account or smartphone.  Students can also subscribe to your calendar  using their own Google account, making  physical agendas a thing of the past.

See my earlier post on attaching Google Docs directly to calendar posts for an even greater level of awesomeness.

Remind 101 - There are literally dozens of mass-texting tools out there on the web, but my absolutely favorite is Remind 101.  It is secure, simple, and clean.  You can set  up free account in seconds, and it even comes with printable pdf directions for subscribing to your blast texts that you can send home with your students.  You can schedule prewritten messages to trigger at a specific date and time.  Remind 101 also has both an iOS and android app.

Edmodo - Edmodo is a Learning Management System (LMS) and social networking site all rolled into one.   The students take to it easily because it resembles Facebook, and parents like it because it is secure and they can see their child's work. Edmodo lends it self well to the flipped classroom model and  I have seen it used successfully in a blended setting too.  I have mentioned this tool numerous times on this blog and even wrote a dedicated post about it here.

Blog - I am surprised by the number of teachers that would never consider creating a classroom blog.  As a classroom communication tool, blogs are ideally suited because of their structure (most current post at the top).   It is my opinion that this structure works very well for daily homework or daily communication home.  Blogger is an obvious first choice for me and if you are already using Google Voice or Calendar, then you already have a Google account and is all you need to get started.   Blogger also has a email subscription option built right in that will email parents automatically when you update your blog.

Doodle - Finding a common time to meet for any group can be a challenge.  With Doodle, in just a few seconds you can offer up a selection of possible meeting times and dates, then email out a special link that will allow potential attendees to choose the time slots that would work best for them.  Everything is transparent, so nobody feels like their voice isn't being heard, and it saves time and energy.

Signupgenius - This is an interesting tool that many of my teachers use to create signup sheets for parent teacher conferences.  It would also work well for potluck meetings and PTO events.  The UI is not the most user-friendly, but the end result cannot be argued with.

While this a brief list, every tool on it is priceless and can make the world of difference to teachers trying to balance instruction with communication.

 photo credit: kevin dooleyMarkKelleyGoodNCrazy,  Daniel Stagner all via photopin cc

The photo of the pin was taken from  The image is linked to the actual button for sale.  I have no affiliation with Zazzle, nor do I  receive any compensation from them, but I could not resist. 


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