May 3, 2018

How to Go Paperless at School

According to an analysis done by The Paperless Project, 68 million trees are used to make paper and paper products in the United States every year.  This analysis also finds that the global consumption of paper has increased by 400% in the past 40 years.  Additionally, The Paperless Project states that the pulp and paper industry is the fourth largest industrial user of energy.  It’s time that we embrace the many powerful and efficient digital tools to go paperless and save money, energy, time, and our environment.

Here are 10 great benefits of leaving paper and going digital:

  1. Reduced paper costs
  2. Reduced toner/ink and printer maintenance costs
  3. Less electricity costs from running printers and copiers
  4. Faster, more engaging, and more collaborative dissemination of information through digital media
  5. Easier and quicker access to and searching of digital documents
  6. Less physical space needed to store paper documents
  7. More secure storage of digital documents
  8. Less time lost to printing and copying documents
  9. People learning and mastering digital tools of communication
  10. More environmentally-friendly

 Also, you’ll have fewer paper cuts, and those are the worst!

Here are five free digital tools that schools can use to go paperless:

G Suite Apps & Google Classroom

If your school is a Google school, then these are a given.  Within G Suite, staff and students can create all sorts of digital documents and then share, collaborate, edit, assess, organize, and archive them.  Setting up shared folders and Team Drives is also a great way to spread information.  The Save to Google Drive Chrome Extension is a valuable tool to save almost anything you find on the Internet directly to your Google Drive in one click to make the curation of digital resources quick and easy.

Other than Google Drive and its associated apps, Google Classroom is almost a one-stop-shop in and of itself to have a paperless classroom.  Within Google Classroom, teachers can post announcements, reminders, polls, quizzes, assignments, as well as direct links to documents.  Teachers can also collect assignments submitted by students, provide feedback, and send it back to students.  Teachers can keep parents in the loop by inviting them to their Google Classroom as well.  To instantly share documents or a website to students in class on their Chromebooks, teachers can use the Share to Google Classroom Chrome Extension.

Teachers, students, and other school staff can use Blogger and/or Google Sites to share information with parents or anyone else in the school community.  Blogger and Google Sites are also good to use for displaying student work, activities, and events.

Here are excellent resources on getting the most out of the G Suite apps and Google Classroom:

PDF Conversion

You can use a copier’s Scan to PDF feature or use a standalone scanner to convert all your paper documents into PDF files.  Using a copier to do this is the easiest and quickest way since you can load several pages into the feeder at once.  If you don’t have a copier or a scanner, you can use your smartphone.  I recommend the CamScanner app, which will let you take a photo of any document, edit it (if you want), and convert it into a PDF.

Print Friendly Chrome Extension

This useful Chrome extension lets you remove text, images, and whole pages from things you find on the Internet, which will help you save toner and paper if you really do need to print something.  CleanPrint also has features to convert a webpage or online article into a PDF and/or email it.  To learn more about how to make the most of Print Friendly, check out my article about it.  Download CleanPrint here.


Remind is an app to help improve communication between teachers, students, and parents.  With Remind, teachers can send text messages, voice clips, photos, PDFs, and more directly to students’ and parents’ smartphones.  Remind has earned the FERPA and COPPA privacy badges from iKeepSafe.

Here’s a video about Remind:


Padlet is an online application to create, share, and collaborate on digital bulletin boards.  Users can access Padlet on a smartphone, tablet, or computer to post almost anything to a Padlet board, such as photos, documents, videos, music, Google files, and more.  Users can also comment on them to give feedback, suggest ideas, and ask questions.  Padlet is a great way to share and curate information and resources.

Here's a video about Padlet:

These tools will help schools save money, energy, and the environment all while improving productivity, communication, and collaboration.

March 27, 2018

Create and Book Appointments with Google Calendar

The work days of teachers and school administrators are nothing short of busy.  One of the more difficult things to coordinate amidst all the hustle and bustle is meetings.  Finding common free times, making appointments, canceling appointments, and just remembering it all is a huge task in and of itself.  Google Calendar has a hidden gem of a feature called “Appointment Slots” to make all of this simple, efficient, and easy.

Appointment Slots is exactly what you think it is.  It is a way to create a calendar with customizable time slots that people can reserve for meetings, conferences, or any other kind of appointment.  I’m thinking of using this feature to create calendars for teachers to reserve the use of iPad carts, so there are plenty of other uses for this feature besides personal appointments.  Here’s how to create your own Google appointment calendar:

1.  Sign in to your school Google account, and open Calendar.

2.  You can use your existing calendar, or you can create a new calendar just for appointments.  I recommend creating a new calendar to use only for this purpose.

3.  On the left side of the screen, click the + sign next to “Add a coworker’s calendar”.  Then, click “New calendar”.

4.  Name your calendar and add a description if you want.

5.  Once you’ve created the new calendar, click the calendar itself on the date for which you want to create appointment slots.  Then, click “Appointment slots”.  Now, you can adjust the title, date, time, and duration of slots.  You can also click “More Options” to change other things.  Click “Save” to finish creating them.

6.  To have people book appointments, click on the title of the appointments on your Calendar.  Then, click “This calendar’s appointment page”.  This will open a webpage to book the appointments.  Copy the URL of this webpage and send it to whomever you want to book appointments.  People must have a Google account to book appointments.  They can book appointments by clicking on an available slot, and then clicking “Save”.  They can return to this page to cancel or change their appointment.

This is what the appointments page looks like:

You and the people booking appointments will get notifications and reminders through Calendar.  Since teachers and school administrators do so much through Google as it is, this is an efficient way to make the scheduling and managing of meetings easier and simpler.

February 23, 2018

5 Steps to Optimize Your Email

According to research done by the Radicati Group, an estimated 11.2 billion emails were sent every hour of every day across the world in 2017.  The research also found that an average office worker received 121 emails and sent 40 emails per day.  Email was the preferred method of communication for 86% of professionals.  In light of this digital deluge, the efficient management of emails is an important way to bring clarity and calm to your work life.  Here are five steps you can take to tame the wild world of email.  I will be focusing on Gmail, but these steps can apply to any email service.

1.  Purge
If you were to take only one of these steps, this is by and far the most transformative.  Simply put, delete all the emails you truly don’t need.  Decluttering your inbox (or anything else for that matter, such as a room or a car) will make it much easier to find things, and it will make the things you still have easier to manage.  In Gmail, check the box next to the emails you want to delete.  Once you have all those selected, click the trash can icon near the top of the page to delete them.  The deleted emails will still be in your Gmail trash, and you can go there to permanently delete them.

2.  Unsubscribe
Over the years, you have probably signed up to get emails for a variety of sources.  You may also be getting emails from places where you didn’t sign up.  Spam filters are usually good at detecting and removing spam emails, but many unwanted or useless emails still get to your inbox.  There is a quick and easy way to reduce the number of emails you get by unsubscribing from them.  At the bottom of an email is usually a link that you can click to unsubscribe or update your email preferences for that sender.  Just click on that link and unsubscribe.  Here is what those links may look like:

3.  Organize
The first two steps will greatly reduce the number of emails you have in your inbox, which will make this step of organization much easier.  In this step, you will create labels for you Gmail.  These are essentially folders that you can drag and drop emails into to categorize and organize them.  This will help you manage all your emails and make it easier to find them since they’ll be in categories.  On the left side of Gmail, you will see “Inbox”.  Scroll down that left side until you see “More” with a down arrow next to it.  Click on “More”, scroll down, and then click on “Create new label”.  Now, you can name the label something like “Lesson Plans” or “Parents” or “Administration”.  Once you have created all the labels you want, you can drag and drop your emails into these labels.

4.  Use Email Groups
In a school or business, there are always certain groups of people we email on a regular basis.  Typing in each recipient in the To field (and even remembering all the people you want to include) can be tedious and time-consuming.  Having a ready-made email group makes the sending and organizing of emails faster and easier.  Email groups can be handy for teachers as they can create groups for parents, committees, courses, extracurricular activities, etc.  Below are screenshots and instructions on how to do this yourself in Gmail.

First, click the down arrow next to “Mail”, and then click on “Contacts”.

Next, click on “New Group...”, and then name the group.

Now, you can add people to the group.  Click the button with the plus sign, and then type in the email addresses of the people you want in the group.  When you’ve included all of them, click “Add”.

On the Contacts page, you can select a group to email.  Or you can return to the Mail page (click the arrow next to Contacts), compose a new email, and type the name of the group in the To field.

5.  Undo Send
We have all experienced that sinking feeling in the moment after sending an email you wish you didn’t send.  Gmail has a way of making that wish come true.  There is an undo send feature in Gmail that gives you the ability to stop an email from being sent even if you already hit the send button.  When you’re in Gmail, click the gear icon on the right side of the screen.  Then, click “Settings”.  Click the box next to “Enable Undo Send”, and then select the amount of time you want to give yourself to undo a sent email:  5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds.  Once you have undo send enabled, a narrow window will appear at the top of your Gmail inbox with the option of undoing the sent email and showing you how much time you have left to do it.

Hopefully, these steps will help you live a more manageable, organized, and efficient email life.

January 31, 2018

Tour of the New Google Sites

The students who are now in our classrooms are digital citizens through and through, having grown up with computers and the Internet at their fingertips.  Teachers are asking them to become more than digital consumers.  Students are now being given the opportunity to become digital creators, which activate and strengthen many important skills.  One tool that teachers can use to not only improve classroom communication, but to also allow students to be digital creators is the new Google Sites.

The new Google Sites is a vast improvement over what is now called Classic Google Sites.  The new Google Sites offers trendy modern aesthetics, increased ease of use, and adaptability to PCs and mobile devices.  It provides many other cool features that you can explore once you get into it.  Since many schools use G Suite for Education, the new Google Sites is a perfect tool to integrate into a classroom as it works seamlessly with all the other G Suite apps.  Teachers can use it to give their students, families, and coworkers a look inside their classrooms.  Students can use it for a variety of projects for different subjects.  I’m going to give you a tour of the new Google sites below.

You get to Google Sites in Google Drive, and all the Sites you create will be in your Drive.  Just right-click in Drive, and you’ll see the following menu.

At the top of Google Sites, you’ll see a place to name your site as well as buttons for undo, redo, preview, link, share, options, and publish.

You can also add a logo that will appear as a small image in the upper left corner of your Site.  You even have the option of using the color from the logo as a color theme for your Site.

You have three options for the size of the banner:  large banner, banner, and title only.  The “title only” is the smallest of the banner, making the content of your website appear farther to the top of the page.

You can change the background image of the banner to one of your own images, or you can choose one from Google’s gallery of images.

Double-click anywhere in the blank area of your site to make the insert menu appear, where you can insert a text box, image, or file from Drive.  You can also use the menu on the right side of the screen to get insert options.  If you want to add a footer to your website, you can do that from the insert menu as well.

The menu of insert options on the right side of the screen provides more features, such as inserting a divider, YouTube video, Google Calendar, Google Map, or something from Google Drive.  You can also easily move these items around your page and resize them to fit your layout.

The Pages tab is where you’ll go to create, name, and organize pages and subpages on your Site.

You can style your Site with any of the available themes under the Themes tab.  If you know the hex color code for a particular color, you can configure that too.

Click the gear near the top of the page to choose between top navigation or side navigation.  You can click the eye icon near the top of the page to preview your Site and how it would look on a PC, tablet, and smartphone.

Finally, you can publish your Site by clicking the Publish button at the top of the page.  Here, you’ll get access to publishing settings and the ability to unpublish it if you want to take it offline.

For more information about using Google Sites, check out this video tutorial.

Google Sites gives teachers and students many exciting opportunities to become digital creators and integrate multi-faceted learning opportunities into classrooms.

December 19, 2017

Flip Google Sheets into Fun Activities

Google Sheets is a powerful tool in the G Suite line-up, but it’s not all formulas, pivot tables, and data.  Google Sheets can become a fun, interactive learning opportunity with the help of the Flippity add-on.  With Flippity, you can quickly and easily turn a Google Sheet into an engaging learning activity for almost any content area.

The first thing you will have to do is install the Flippity add-on for Google Sheets.  You can get the add-on by clicking here.  Once you have that, you can begin creating Sheets and turning them into fun activities to use with your students.  Flippity offers 15 different games, tools, and activities to use.  For each one, Flippity provides a demo version, instructions, and a template, so you don’t have to do much of the work on your own besides plugging in your own content to customize each template.

Here are the ones Flippity offers:

Flippity is a great tool to bring some fun, engagement, and interactivity to any learning activity for any content area.  Plus, it is easy to use and (the most important part) free.  To learn more about Flippity, please click here.

November 27, 2017

Teaching ELA with Tech

There is one skill that is absolutely valuable no matter the future goals and careers of our students.  That skill is the ability to be an effective reader, writer, and communicator.  Communication skills routinely top the list of attributes that employers seek in candidates.  While students are still in K-12, having sharp reading and writing skills will help them across all content areas.  And maybe, just maybe, those skills will help them to enjoy reading a good book for fun.

Teaching reading and writing is a daunting task given the complexities of language and the diversity of students.  Tack grammar onto that, and it gets even more arduous.  By their nature, these are difficult and time-consuming skills to teach.  Here comes technology to the rescue!

Quill is a powerful, but easy-to-use online program that teaches ELA skills in a personalized, adaptive, and real-world system.  Once teachers create their classes on Quill, they can assign units, lessons, and activities from ready-made materials that are CCSS-aligned by grade.  Teachers also can see the names and numbers of the standards to narrow down what they want to use.  If teachers already use Google Classroom, then they can create their Quill classes with only a couple clicks as Google Classroom is fully integrated in Quill.

Then, teachers can give diagnostics to their students to see which standards each student needs to address to become proficient.  Quill will then automatically create individualized, “just right” lessons and activities for the students to address weaknesses, but teachers can also assign materials themselves.  Besides creating their classes on Quill, teachers do not have to create anything else.  Instead of creating and correcting assignments, teachers can use their time to better understand their students' ELA skills and simply assign them the lessons they need.

The lessons and activities on Quill are adaptive, adjusting themselves in real-time to the answers of the students to provide personalized exercises.  Students also get immediate feedback, help, and multiple tries when doing activities.  Additionally, students can re-take lessons as many times as they want.

Teachers get detailed reports with in-depth information on their students’ performance on specific ELA skills and standards, showing their proficiency percentage on each one.  Teachers also see which lessons and activities their students completed and when.

I saved the best thing about Quill for last.  Quill teaches ELA skills they way they are supposed to be taught:  within the context of real literature and writing.  Quill does not teach these skills in an isolated, fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice form.  Students work with real written passages in order to gain an understanding of how language actually works and how context, word choice, and sentence structure affect the overall outcome.  For example, if students are working on subject-verb agreement, they not only have to correct errors, but they also have to re-write the incorrect sentence and make sure they use correct spelling and punctuation in the re-written sentence.  Other exercises like figuring out how to best combine many ideas into one cohesive sentence or re-wording sentences for clarity are what set Quill apart and make it a comprehensive and effective learning tool.  Quill provides an authentic, real-world, and personalized way for students to learn ELA skills, and it makes it quick and easy for teachers to use.

Quill provides five unique tools to teach ELA:

1.  Quill Diagnostic – "Quickly determine which skills your students need to work on.  The diagnostic covers vital sentence construction skills and generates a personalized learning plan based on the student's performance."

2.  Quill Lessons – "Enables teachers to lead whole-class and small group writing instruction.  Teachers control interactive slides that contain writing prompts, and the entire class responds to each prompt.  Each activity provides a lesson plan, writing prompts, discussion topics, and a follow-up independent practice activity."

3.  Quill Grammar – "Over 150 sentence writing activities to help your students practice basic grammar skills from comma placement to parallel structure.  Activities are designed to be completed in 10 minutes, so you have the freedom to use them in the way that works best for your classroom."

4.  Quill Connect – "Using the evidence-based strategy of sentence combining, students combine multiple ideas into a single sentence.  They then receive instant feedback designed to help them improve the clarity and precision of their sentences."

5.  Quill Proofreader – "Teaches students editing skills by having them proofread passages.  Students edit passages and receive personalized exercises based on their results.  With over 100 expository passages, Proofreader gives students the practice they need to spot common grammatical errors."

There is a free version that is comprehensive by itself.  The paid versions offer more features and are very affordable.  Below is pricing information and a video about Quill.

October 16, 2017

Developing Digital Citizens

Although the Internet as we know it has been around for over 25 years, it will always be a brave, new world to the latest generation of children.  The younger generations are labeled as “digital natives”, having grown up with computers and the World Wide Web at their fingertips.  Yet, we must not assume they are native digital citizens.  The digital world has its own rules, expectations, and customs that can only be acquired and mastered through the guidance of those who know how the digital world works.  That’s us – teachers, guidance counselors, parents.  We must welcome these new, young citizens to our digital land, and help them to safely and successfully navigate its strange terrain.

Since this week is Digital Citizenship Week (October 16-20), it is the perfect time to begin the journey to help students become respectful and responsible digital citizens.  We do not have to go this journey alone as there are excellent resources to help us teach digital citizenship.  Since many K-12 schools already use G Suite for Education, I will focus on Google’s Digital Citizenship resources since they are easy to use and integrate.

Google wants students to Be Internet Awesome.

The core principles that shape the lessons and activities of the Be Internet Awesome program are:

Be Internet Smart – Share with Care
Good (and bad) news travels fast online, and without some forethought, kids can find themselves in tricky situations that have lasting consequences. The solve? Learning how to share with those they know and those they don’t.

Be Internet Alert – Don’t Fall for Fake
It’s important to help kids become aware that people and situations online aren’t always as they seem. Discerning between what’s real and what’s fake is a very real lesson in online safety.

Be Internet Strong – Secure Your Secrets
Personal privacy and security are just as important online as they are offline. Safeguarding valuable information helps kids avoid damaging their devices, reputations, and relationships.

Be Internet Kind – It’s Cool to be Kind
The Internet is a powerful amplifier that can be used to spread positivity or negativity. Kids can take the high road by applying the concept of “treat others as you would like to be treated” to their actions online, creating positive impact for others and disempowering bullying behavior.

Be Internet Brave – When in Doubt, Talk It Out
One lesson that applies to any and all encounters of the digital kind: When kids come across something questionable, they should feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult. Adults can support this behavior by fostering open communication at home and in the classroom.

The Be Internet Awesome program offers a free, ISTE-aligned curriculum with well-designed and detailed lessons and activities.  There is also a very fun and engaging game that reinforces the lessons.

Here are some other great resources for Be Internet Awesome:

Finally, Google offers a free Digital Citizenship and Safety Course for teachers to help them better educate their students on staying safe and secure online.  This course takes approximately 75 minutes to complete.

The Internet is a brave, new world for our children.  It is paramount that we take the time to teach them how to respectfully, responsibly, and safely explore this world that is becoming a bigger part of our lives each day.  The Internet is a community like any other, and the better citizens we can be in our community the better we all will be for it.

September 12, 2017

Bringing History to Life

Finding interesting ways to bring history to life and make it relevant for students can engage and intrigue almost any learner.  One of the more exciting ways to do this is through the use of primary resources, such as documents, photos, videos, and maps.  The National Archives has a fantastic online resource that provides digital copies of these first-hand resources as well as pre-made activities you can use with your students.

DocsTeach is a service provided by The National Archives that curates, organizes, and supplies digital primary resources and activities to teachers and students for free.  Once teachers register for a DocsTeach account, they can find, modify, and save pre-made activities as well as create their own from the thousands of primary resources available.  The National Archives adds new resources all the time.  The resources, documents, and activities range from lower elementary to high school.

Documents and resources are organized and grouped by historical eras, which are the ones included in the National History Standards.  When searching, you can browse by era, media type, or search with keywords.

DocsTeach also provides seven tools that are designed to strengthen particular critical thinking skills.

  1. Finding a Sequence:  Putting documents/resources in chronological order
  2. Focusing on Details:  Doing a close reading and analyzing details
  3. Making Connections:  Exploring the relationship between events and the concept of cause-and-effect
  4. Mapping History:  Gaining a geographical context of history   
  5. Seeing the Big Picture:  Matching resources that are related to one another in a concentration style game
  6. Weighing the Evidence:  Evaluating the strength of resources in proving a point
  7. Interpreting Data:  Assessing the source of a document

With DocsTeach, teachers and students can explore history and geography by bringing it all to life with interesting and interactive primary resources and activities.  Here are some helpful guides from DocsTeach:

May 31, 2017

Booktrack Classroom Hits the Right Note

Sound may be one of the more captivating, moving, and dynamic stimuli.  A certain song can instantly bring you back to a special moment in your life.  A specific sound can make you calm or alert.  A soundtrack can heighten the emotions and ambience of a film.  I’m a big fan of the composer Hans Zimmer, who has scored many movies.  When listening to his scores, I can create a crystal clear mental picture of the movie scenes while also experiencing the mystery or suspense of those sequences.  I discovered an online service that uses the power of sound and music to create an immersive, engaging, and creative reading and writing experience.  It’s called Booktrack Classroom.

Booktrack Classroom is an online service for teachers and students.  It provides a library of e-books that contains soundtracks and sound effects to amplify the reading experience.  As you read, the score, ambient sounds, and sound effects perfectly complement what is happening on the page.  I found it absolutely immersive as the sound sparked my imagination to better visualize and experience the story.  Booktrack has smart technology that automatically adjusts the score and sound effects to adapt to your reading pace, but you can also manually increase or decrease the reading speed to ensure the sound seamlessly matches the story.  Additionally, you can adjust the volume, pause it, and start the audio back up again by double-clicking on a word if you want to re-read it or if you lose your place.

Teachers can get a full-version account for free, but it’s only available for a limited time.  I checked today, and this offer is still valid.  Once teachers have an account, they can create specific classes within Booktrack Classroom, add students to it, assign individualized books to each of their students, monitor and track their progress, and much more.  These classes also integrate with Google Classroom, so teachers can send anything in their Booktrack Class to their Google Classroom.  Booktrack Classroom also keeps track of books you or your students want to read, are reading, or have read in “My Bookshelf”.  According to Evidence-based Educational Outcomes in Literacy by the University of Auckland and NYU, contextual soundtracks helped students increase comprehension by 17%.  This study also found students read for 30% longer and reported 35% higher satisfaction when reading with a Booktrack.  Now, here comes the coolest part of Booktrack Classroom.

Students and teachers can create their own Booktracks for any book in the Booktrack Classroom library.  For example, teachers can have students create their own Booktracks for a chapter out of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  It gets even better.  Students can create their very own e-books on Booktrack Classroom.  They can write their own stories and choose from hundreds of professionally made music tracks, ambient noises, and sound effects to match the mood and setting of their stories.  Additionally, they can create a book cover and then publish it for others to read and enjoy.  There is much potential here for the four Cs (critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication).

I encourage you to read a book on Booktrack Classroom yourself because the experience gave me a huge “Wow” moment.  When my eyes came to the part in A Christmas Carol when the bell in Ebenezer’s bedroom mysteriously rings, and then the sound of a bell rang while eerie music played in the background, I was as shocked as Scrooge but in a good way.

Booktrack Classroom works on any computer, and it has an app for Android and iOS.  You can learn more about it with these videos:

May 23, 2017

A Super Citation Tool

If academia had a scarlet letter, it would be P.  Those who dare to claim somebody else’s work as their own or even leave sources uncited would be branded with a gasp-inducing red P.  If you haven’t guessed it, I’m talking about plagiarism.  All kidding aside, people have lost jobs, students have been expelled, and publications have lost credibility because of plagiarism.

In my day, we had to pore over citation manuals or just memorize how to cite common sources in the most popular styles to write our research papers and works cited pages.  Only for the styles to change the next year!  Now, there are a few tools out there that will do all this work for you…and do it flawlessly.  The tool I’m going to focus on is one I think does it the best and offers additional useful features.

If you’ve heard of or used RefME before, then you should know that it has changed its name and all its services to Cite This for Me.  You can create your free account on its website.  The first neat thing about Cite This for Me is that all your references, citations, work cited pages, and notes are stored in the cloud, so you can access them from any computer, tablet, or smartphone once you sign in to your account.

Cite This for Me has a great Google Chrome extension that allows you to cite, quote, and save any reference you access online through Chrome to your account.  You can get this extension by clicking here.  Once you have the citation information, click “Add to bibliography”, and you’re done.  Here’s what that looks like:

Cite This for Me can do citations in MLA, APA, Chicago, and Harvard styles.  You can see all of its features for creating a works cited page below:

Cite This for Me provides many other great features, such as topic ideas, a plagiarism checker, and a spelling/grammar checker.  Also, it has an add-on for Microsoft Word, so you can seamlessly import citations and works cited pages from Cite This for Me directly into Word.

Now, you can go forth and live an academically sinless life!

April 19, 2017

Finding Images Right Within Google Docs and Slides

A few months ago, I wrote about effective ways to use Google Image Search to not only find the perfect picture for your needs, but to also get pictures that are free and legal to use and/or modify.  This is important for students because it allows them to be good digital citizens and avoid plagiarism.  There is a way to do this within Google Docs and Slides, which makes the whole process of finding and inserting images much faster and smoother.

When you are using Google Docs or Slides, click on “Insert”, and then click on “Image”.

A new window will appear, and you should click on “Search” to begin looking for images.  You are given three choices of databases to search:  Google, Life, and stock images.

Depending on your needs, you can conduct the same search in one or all three of these databases to find exactly what you want.  The images that do appear in your search will automatically be ones that are free and legal to use because of the built-in filter with the search.  If you are using a G Suite for Education account, then all of the images will be filtered with Google’s Safe Search as well.

Using this embedded image search tool within Google Docs and Slides will help keep students on task as they don’t have to leave the file they are working on to search for and get images elsewhere.  It will help them find appropriate and free pictures to use.  Finally, it will streamline the whole process to get the work done more efficiently.

April 12, 2017

Google Chrome Tips and Tricks

Google provides many time-saving and effective services and apps to help us get our work done faster and better.  Its browser, Chrome, is one of those tools.  Here are five neat things you can do in Chrome to make a teacher's or student's life a little easier.

1.  Set Specific Websites to Open at Startup

If there are particular websites that you always use or want right away when you open Chrome, you can make them load automatically at startup.  Click the traffic light menu button (three vertical dots) on the upper right side of Chrome.  Click Settings.  Then, configure how Chrome starts up.  Click the blue "Set pages" to choose the websites you want.

2.  Do Math

Chrome can solve simple and complex math problems, equations, and measurement conversions.  Just type in what you want solved into the ominbox (the white box where you enter website addresses), and hit enter.  You can also click on the microphone icon in the Google Search bar to do this by voice.  Here's an example:

3.  Save Webpages as a PDF

If you want to save a webpage as a PDF so you can save it electronically to your computer or flash drive, Chrome can do that.  Click Print, and then click Change under Destination.  Finally, choose Save as PDF.  This will save a PDF copy to your computer.  Now, you can keep the webpage for offline viewing, print it, or share it with others.

4.  Zoom and Full Screen

There are two ways you can quickly and easily zoom in and out of any website.  First, press the Ctrl key and the plus (zoom in) or minus (zoom out) sign key at the same time.  Second, click the traffic light menu button (three vertical dots) on the upper right side of Chrome.  You'll see the following options for zoom in, zoom out, and full screen (the box):

5.  Open Recently Closed Tabs

Sometimes you may close a tab that you want to have back.  An easy way to do that is to press Ctrl, Shift, T at the same time, which will open the last tab you closed.  You can also right-click on a new tab to open the last closed tab.

These five tips and tricks will help you and your students be more efficient and productive while doing work with Google Chrome.

March 30, 2017

Protecting Student Privacy

In the past, I have written about measures people and students can take to stay safe online with ad blockers, increased Internet security, and safe search engines.  Online privacy is a growing concern not only in our own lives, but also in our schools.  In 2016, the TRUSTe/National Cyber Security Alliance released staggering statistics about online privacy in the United States.  From 2015 to 2016, the number of people concerned about their online privacy increased by 45%.  Before I explain the tool schools can use to help protect student privacy and data, consider these five facts from the TRUSTe/NCSA study:

  1. 92% of U.S. Internet users worry about their privacy online.
  2. People are more concerned about losing their online privacy (68%) than losing their income (57%).
  3. People's top concern about online privacy is companies collecting and sharing personal information.
  4. 89% of people say they avoid companies that do not protect their privacy.
  5. 36% of people have stopped using a website due to privacy concerns.
You can learn more about the TRUSTe/National Cyber Security Alliance U.S. Consumer Privacy Index by clicking here and here.

In light of these dramatic figures and the rising risk of using online services, how do we ensure students' information is private and secure?  How do we verify the vendors of software and other online services are protecting our students' data and privacy?  We can use a tool known as the Student Privacy Pledge.

The Student Privacy Pledge was developed by The Future of Privacy Forum and The Software & Information Industry Association to "safeguard student privacy regarding the collection, maintenance, and use of student personal information."  The two organizations go on to explain that the Student Privacy Pledge is "intended to concisely detail existing federal law and regulatory guidance regarding the collection and handling of student data, and to encourage service providers to more clearly articulate these practices."

Click here to read the pledge over 325 companies, vendors, and service providers have taken.

Click here to view a list of those that have taken the pledge.

As the Technology Coordinator for my school, I vet each and every vendor of digital or electronic services to ensure they meet our high educational standards.  The Student Privacy Pledge provides me with an excellent way to verify these vendors are also protecting the personal information and privacy of our students.  According to the TRUSTe/NCSA study, only 31% of people understand how companies share their personal information.  The Student Privacy Pledge gives us much needed transparency to help make the best decisions for our schools and students.  In the 21st century, creating a safe learning environment is not only about physical security, but also digital security.

March 23, 2017

Scholastic Book Wizard is Magical

There is an online literacy tool that is simple, powerful, and truly magical.  I'm talking about Scholastic Book Wizard.  Finding something that fits perfectly is a wonderful thing.  Just ask Goldilocks.  The same goes for books.  Instilling a love and appreciation of reading and books in children is vital.  Finding the perfect book to match a child's interest, age, and reading level helps tremendously to accomplish that important goal.  The magic of Scholastic Book Wizard makes that happen.

Scholastic Book Wizard is free for parents, children, and teachers to use to help children find the right books for them.  It offers lesson plans, author studies, videos, discussion guides, booktalks, and many other great resources.  It provides fully featured and dynamic search parameters to find good books for even the pickiest of readers.  You can search by title, author, keyword, genre, subject, age, interest, and reading level.  The ability to search by reading level is probably the most helpful out of all the search options as it helps children choose a book that will feel just right for them.  As you can see below, you can search by Guided Reading Level (Fountas & Pinnell), DRA (Development Reading Assessment), Lexile Measure, and Grade Level Equivalent.

Scholastic Book Wizard provides much detailed and useful information about any book.  You can see below the information and resources you can find when looking up a book.

There are also subpages to the left that offer pertinent information and resources depending upon who you are.

Finally, there is a free Scholastic Book Wizard mobile app available for Apple iOS and Android.  What is really cool about this app is that you can use it to scan the bar code of any book and instantly get detailed information about that book, such as reading level, age level, genre, themes, page count, similar books, etc.  Students can use this app while they are browsing in a store or library to help them find the perfect book for them to read and enjoy.

To learn more about Scholastic Book Wizard, click here.  To learn more about its mobile app, click here.