Sunday, May 31, 2015

Yet Another Useful Chrome Extension

Here's the problem . . . A student needs a picture to add to an assignment. So, she searches for the right image, finds the one she wants, now she has to copy it to her hard drive, then upload it to her Google Drive. Too many steps! True, she can just right click over it and use copy image and paste it into the assignment, but what if she wants to use the image for something else at a later date? 

Well, it's much easier to use the Save to Google Drive Chrome extension!

The Save to Google Drive Chrome extension helps you save web content or browser screenshots to your Google Drive.
* Adds a browser action to save the current page.
* Adds a right-click context menu to save hyperlinks and media.
* Configurable through an options page. (Choose the folder where you want images stored.)

The extension will add an icon on the extension bar and also an option on the right click. When hovering over an image the Save to Google Drive option will be available. The first time it is used, users will have to authorize and accept the extension.

For Teachers
As you build your Google Site, adding images will obviously enhance your site. Create a folder for your site images to be stored and change the share permissions for the folder to Anyone with a Link. (Without this option, images will not display on your site.) To insert an image from your Google Drive to your Site, watch this quick video: 

Try it! 

Canva, Visual Literacy and the Common Core Standards

In our digital and media saturated world, our student's ability to think visually, to have visual literacy skills, is extremely important. The Common Core ELA standards mention the use of visual materials in three of its anchor standards, the ones that undergird the rest of the standards.

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Visual Literacy in the Classroom

In the classroom, this might mean having students analyze the argument of an image or evaluating the claim made by an infographic. But even more powerful is having students create their own graphics for presentations, research projects or other assessments.

If you are interested in trying to incorporate more visually literacy into your curriculum, you might start with Edutopia's post Common Core in Action: 10 Visual Literacy Strategies and the Infographics as a Creative Assessment page on Kathy Schrock's website.

There are a number of free web based tools out there that could be used by students to create their own visuals. The Cool Infographics blog has a great list of tools you can use for creating infographics, along with the pros and cons of each one.

Canva for Great Posters, Infographics and other Visuals

I have been playing around with Canva lately, figuring out how to create eye catching infographics for our school library. It is not a new tool, but they have been getting some buzz lately for the extras they provide.

In addition to being a great design tools (especially for beginners), Canva also has some sharp tutorials for using its product and design concepts in general. Their teaching materials section also has a growing list of lesson plans for a variety of subjects. If you are a bsuiness or graphic design teacher, you also might want to check out their design school blog.

And of course Canva has a YouTube channel. Below is a video from their channel that provides an introduction to their service.

P.S. There are Canva apps for the iPad and Chrome

Friday, May 29, 2015

PDF Mergy

Converting multiple documents into a PDF can't get easier than PDF Mergy Google Chrome App
PDF Mergy allows you to easily select multiple documents from Google Drive or your computer and merge them into a PDF file. Quick...easy...done.
Image result for pdf mergy         Image result for pdf mergy

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Get more from your slideshows with Google App Pear Deck

Pear Deck is a simple presentation tool designed to enhance student learning during a slideshow. It allows you to create interactive presentations and assess student learning in real time. Ideally, each student in the class should have their own device to respond to the embedded assessments within the presentation.  Throughout, teachers can pause at points where they've added questions.  Teachers can view students' responses to these questions immediately, as well as post the results on-screen for all students to see.  Slideshows peppered with interactive assessments can support students' understanding and retention. A feature to give students choice in how they respond could help differentiate and give teachers a better look at student performance.

Pear Deck is free for students and teachers (with a higher end, paid premium model) and it fully integrates with Google Apps for Education.

When you sign in to your Pear Deck account, create a new interactive lesson by selecting “New Deck.” You can then create a slideshow from scratch or import a PowerPoint, Google Presentation, or PDF. Once you have imported an existing document or created your presentation within Pear Deck, you can go through and edit the slides incorporating free response (text), free response (number), and multiple choice questions within the slide.

Learn More:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Free Images & Other Tools for High School Graphic Design Students

A few days ago a Business Education teacher asked me where her students could find images for graphic design projects. There are a lot of free photo and clip art sites out there. Below I have listed a few that I find useful for Art or Business Education teachers who teach graphic design classes.

Stock Photos, Clip Art and Icons

Pixabay, Free Images and  Morgue File search their own databases of photographs. Every Stock Photo searches several other free sources. 

The images on these sites are free, but they are also ad-supported. Images from professional stock images sites are usually integrated into search results. Students are likely to accidentally click on the paid results. These pictures are watermarked, but there still might be some frustration.

The Noun Project has user contributed symbols and icons. They would be great for infographics or logos. The only issue is that if you want to use them for free, you have to give credit to the designer. Otherwise, each one is a few dollars each.

The images on Open Clipart are also user contributed and are free for commercial use.

Pixabay also has vector graphics and illustrations in addition to its stock photos.

General Search Engines

The images you can find through general search engines have their own issues unless you can identify which ones are are cleared for commercial use.

Luckily, there is a usage rights filter in Google ImagesYahoo Images and Bing Images. Just perform the search as usual and then look for the filtering option right underneath the search box.

Here is an example from Google Images.

Bonus: Other Tools

Here are a few other tools that might also be useful for design projects. 

Coolors generates random color palettes that you can fine tune and then export the color scheme. The pallet includes the hexadecimal codes you can use in your favorite image editing program. You can also browse other color palettes that other users have generated. Colourlovers is another user contributed site where you get inspiration from other peoples color palettes.

There are also few useful Google Chrome extensions that might prove useful for student designers.

Use What Font to identify the different fonts used on a website. With Palette for Chrome you can right click on a image on a website and get a color palette that matches the picture you selected. Do you just need to know the RGB or hexadecimal value in one specific image? Then install the Color Pick Eyedropper extension.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Magical Chrome Extension

I am a die hard Chrome user.    But lately I have been have some major problems with Chrome.  Chrome has a tendency to suck memory and slow down your computer when tabs are left open.  Add the multitude of extensions running in the background - and my compute comes to a standstill. 

Until I found an extension to fix this problem.  The extension The Great Suspender temporarily suspends any tabs you're not using.  It lets you manage when tabs should be "put to sleep" anywhere from 20 seconds to three days.  This means you can keep your email and 30 other tabs open in the background without slowing down your system, and then access those tabs again at any point.  Tabs that you haven't used in a while, depending on the time period, will turn blue and read "Tab suspended.  Click to Reload." You can also add any website to a "whitelist" which exempts certain pages from suspension no matter what.   It offers a new other customizations  - both manual and automatic.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Why is Creativity So Important for Today's Learner?

In a previous post I discussed Collaboration as the first skill I dive into when I evaluate possible uses of an online tool or app. If I can't find a way to use a tool in a collaborative way, I may not invest much thought into using it.
Once I've established how collaborative a lesson can be with a specific tool, I dig deeper to evaluate the other skills it can help develop. I always want to know how it can support and build essentials skills before I think about content. Don't get me wrong, there are some incredible content resources available for today's learner, but if I don't design a lesson that uses content to develop student skills, too often that content becomes quickly forgotten with no real learning gains. A great resource combined with a great lesson helps develop all of the 4Cs.
We want our students to be creative, but sometimes the whole idea of being creative is left to a student's own devices. For many students being creative starts and ends with them creativity planning to meet the requirements with as little work as possible.  If I  leave the product of an assignment a bit more open-ended one of the most common questions from students is "Is this good enough?". I typically respond with, "It's good, but can you think of a way to be more creative? Either I get a no, or the real discussion begins.
Creativity - Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. Students will:
  • Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
  • Create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
  • Use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
  • Identify trends and forecast possibilities.
With the help of my incredible PLN, I've compiled a list of tools that can support creativity in classrooms and for professional development. Check out these resources in this collaborative Google Doc:
Learn more about creativity:
How do you promote creativity in your classroom?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Teaching Students Web Searching Skills: A Few Resources

I have had several conversations this week about our students and their research skills, a topic I often discuss with classroom teachers and administrators.

What research skills do our students already have and how can we improve them? 

People are usually surprised by how poorly their students perform web searches or show such a ack of care with their choice of low quality websites. Most adults assume that students either learned these skills early in their school career or that they just get it because of their age. The peer reviewed studies on kids and research don't support this assumption. Instead, students don't put a lot of thought into planning their search. Their searches are unfocused and they don't evaluate their results or refine their search as they go along.

You may find that you have to teach your students these skills so that they can complete your assignments more effectively. Or better yet, check in with your friendly school librarian. They are teachers who are trained to teach these skills.

There are a ton of resources out there, but here are few that I like a lot.

Google Resources
Google has provided some great resources for web searching, because why wouldn't they? It's in their best interest. The Google Search Education Evangelism team no longer updates their site, but their materials are still there. Hack College has a useful infographic that is like a mini-course all in place. Google has a great interactive feature called How Search Works and one of their engineers created this short video explaining the search engine.

This organization based out of the Illinois Math and Science Academy has great tutorials and activities for teaching search and evaluation skills.A lot of the materials are free.

The West Chicago High School LRC has a text based tutorial called Search School. It covers the basic of constructing a search on a search engine. Full Disclosure: I was the author of the tutorial, so  I am bit biased about its quality.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kaizena - Authentic Feedback for Students

Teachers spend countless hours grading student work in order to provide feedback for improvement. One of the most frustrating parts of this process is watching the students stuff their graded work into their overflowing backpacks, or better yet, throw their work out as they leave the classroom. While feedback is crucial to their academic journey, it is important for teachers to provide authentic feedback that students understand and can actually use in order to improve their skills.

Kaizena is a free resource that allows teachers the ability to track and rate skills in student work, while providing feedback in different ways. Users can sign in with their Google Accounts and even take advantage of the Kaizena App for Google Docs or Kaizena Mini Google Add-on that makes it easy to utilize the tool directly in the Google Drive. Kaizena provides the following options for feedback:

  • Track/rate skills and rubric criteria - Kaiziena creates a summary for the teacher/student
  • Provide voice comments directly in student work 
  • Two-way, real time conversation in order to promote collaboration and communication 
Kaizena gives teachers the opportunity to provide fast, authentic feedback to students. In turn, it gives students the opportunity to hear directly from their teachers and communicate as needed in order to improve their skills. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Enhance your Google Slides with Slides Carnival

Google Slides is a great tool for students and teachers alike. But, let's face it.  But Google's templates are scarce and they aren't very good.  Slides Carnival offers hundreds of high-quality, well designed Google slides templates.  Each presentation includes dozens of variations of slides, including slides for quotes, charts, maps, statistics and more.  Below is a template called  "Nathaniel" that I love:

Browse through their gallery, choose the template you like.   Once you find the template you like, click on "Use this Presentation Template."  Then go to File menu and select "Make a copy."  You will get a copy of the document on your Google Drive and will be able to edit, add or delete slides.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Collaboration Resources for the Modern Learner

When you evaluate a new resource for classroom use it is important to first look at the skills that can be connected to the tool. Many tools fail when the teacher or class simply use them as a way to distribute content in a different way. Understand that this is not always the case and sometimes a lesson at the substitution level of the SAMR model can be incredibly effective. 
Whenever I look for a new tool to share with staff or use in my classroom I want to know how it can support and build essentials skills before I think about content. I always try start with how a tool can support one or more of the 4Cs. 
The first skill I frequently start with is collaboration.

Collaboration - Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students will:
  • Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
  • Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  • Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
  • Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

With the help of my incredible PLN, I've compiled a list of tools that can support collaboration in classrooms and for professional development. 
Check out these resources in this collaborative Google Doc: 
Collaboration Tools to Support the 4Cs and Student Growth

What other tools can you recommend to build collaborative skills with students and staff?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Two New Google Extensions for Accessibility (Plus a Few More)

Google recently released two new Chrome extensions to improve accessibility. The Color Enhancer extension helps people with partial color blindness distinguish between shades of color when browsing the web.

Animated gifs and other animated content can be distracting for computer users with cognitive disabilities, The Animation Policy extension will allow users to control how animated images work in their browsers. Now you can prevent that annoying gif from continuously playing over and over again.

PC Magazine published an article that gives a little bit more information about both extensions.

Here are few more that you might find useful as well. 

WAVE Evaluation Tool
This tool evaluates webpages for possible accessibility issues. This could be useful for special ed or general ed teachers looking for pages for a class assignment.

This is a screen reader for people who are visually impaired. It will read webpage text in a synthesized voice. Apparently, it is built into the Chrome OS on Chromebooks, but this extension will allow you to use it on your PC or Mac as well. Google has an interactive tutorial for learning how to use it.

ChromeVis will allow users with low vision to zoom in on or change the color of selected text. Here is the user manual for more information.

Google Dictionary
Though this might be considered more of a reference or search tool, this extension from Google lets you click on a word to get a definition from Google's dictionary. You can even click on a speaker icon to hear the pronunciation of the word.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Make Youtube more interactive with eduCanon

The internet is filled with videos that can teach any subject and can supplement any class.  Many teachers have used these videos and have transitioned to a flipped or blended model of teaching where students watch videos on their own time.  But holding students accountable for watching an assigned video, or making the viewing experience more active, is a challenge.  Without standing right over a student, how do we know they are really watching?

Enter eduCanon.  eduCanon is a free, web-based platform that allows you to build formative assessments right on top on any YouTube video.  The site has a lesson builder where you select a YouTube video and then you create your own multiple choice questions that go along with the video. You can embed questions at specific points.  You decide exactly when a questions will pop up during the video.

You can also monitor students results.  When you sign up as a teacher, you can create class lists, then assign lessons to those classes.  The site then gives you a breakdown of each student's responses.  
Here is how it works:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tools for Interactive / Flipped Video Lessons

Flipped learning has been a popular ed buzzword over the last few years. I've seen some incredible examples of teachers flipping a unit or a full year. I personally prefer a bit more of a blended style. Sometimes I see incredible rewards in engaging students in a video outside of class. At other times the experience is much richer when we are in a room together and I can pause and discuss the video in class.

When you do decide to create or use an existing video there is a wealth of online resources that can turn the video into an interactive lesson for a 1 to 1, BYOD, or a flipped classroom. These tools can help teachers can assess engagement and understanding when videos are watched in or outside of the classroom.

Here are a few of my favorite tools to turn online videos into interactive learning experiences that engage students and deepen understanding. 

Zaption - Create Engaging Video Lessons
TEDEd - Lessons Worth Sharing

eduCanon - Unleash Video's Potential - Take Notes from Videos

EDpuzzle - Make Any Video a Lesson

Viologues - The Start of a Meaningful Conversation

What is your favorite tool to do more with video assignments?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Getting Started With Podcasting in the Classroom

With the release of Serial on NPR this past year, many news outlets have proclaimed a a renaissance in podcasting. Though the idea has been around for a long time, and it really started to catch on in the mid-2000's, I still don't know too many teachers that listened to podcasts before Serial became a phenomenon.

If you have never downloaded a podcast or two or tried podcasting with our students, then you might want to give it a try.. This week, Richard Byrne of the excellent blog Free Technology for Teachers posted about Soundcloud's new tool, Souncloud for Podcasting.

The free version of the plan allows you to host 3 hours of recording at a time and you can distribute your podcast to various podcasting services (e.g. iTunes).

There are a ton of ideas for using podcasts in education related magazines, blogs and on twitter, as as well as directions for creating your own easily accessible on the web. Here are few resources to get you started.

Creating Your Own & Using Them in the Classroom

Free Technology for Teachers has a recent post about (relatively) easy ways for students to create podcasts. In addition to a ton of other ed tech resources, Kathy Schrock has links to several podcasting rubrics on her site. The ReadWriteThink website also has a great activity called Podcasts: The Nuts and Bolts of Creating Podcasts that is really helpful.

If you want to be old school cool and use a book to learn more, I heartily recommend Podcasting for School by Kristin Fontichiaro.  And though it is no longer in print, you could also use Kidcast: Creative Podcasting Activities. Both are older titles, but there are used copies available or your friendly school librarian could probably help you find a copy.

Finding Content Related Podcasts

You could always ask around on Facebook or Twitter to see what other podcasts other teachers enjoy. But there is also Learn Out Loud's podcast directory.

There are tons of great podcasts out there that are intended for a general audience, but would be great to use in the classroom. Backstory is a public radio show that covers topics in American History. Grammar Girl has bite sized (byte sized?) podcasts about grammar and writing. They are also both pretty entertaining. Scientific American has the 60 Second Science podcast as well.

The website Listen Current curates public radio stories related to topics in English Language Arts., Science and Social Studies. The free version alerts you to daily stories and provides graphic organizers for active listening. The premium offers a lot more, of course.

Finally, if you are an iTunes user and a high school teacher, check out iTunes U for free content from colleges and universities for you or your advanced students.