Recently my colleague Jill and I worked with some teachers during a PD day on finding great Chrome apps & extensions for learning. We thought we’d kick off the time together by picking 10 of our most favorite (picking only 10 is hard!) and sharing them with teachers in 10 minutes. We wanted to quickly get teachers excited about educational apps and extensions available to their students. We might have went just a tad over 10 minutes but nonetheless we kept it brief.
Here are the 10 we covered with a quick description as well as the link to the Chrome Web Store. I am also purposely keeping this post short so it takes 10 minutes or less to read.
1. Google Dictionary – a very handy extension to use in Chrome. Students can quickly look up the definition of a word by using the extension or directly; or double-clicking any word on a web page will bring up it’s definition and a sound icon to click and hear the pronunciation.
2. Pixlr Express – this app allows you to quickly and easily do some fun editing to any photos you have saved on your computer, in Google Drive, or even captured live via webcam. This is one of many apps that integrates easily with Google Drive.
3. Scratchpad – another app that works seamlessly with Drive. This one opens a new (smaller) window to give the user a basic note-taking application. The really nice feature is that a “Scratchpad” folder is automatically created in Google Drive with each note stored inside it.
4. Lucidchart for Education – students and teachers can quickly build diagrams, flowcharts, and concept maps with this web-based diagramming tool. Again, saves and syncs straight to Google Drive for easy access from any computer or to collaborate with a classmate.
5. Readability – this is an extension that strips all the extra “stuff” off of a news article or blog post. Many times advertisements and other links can be very distracting as students try to read content on the web (for teachers too!). The Readability extension gets rid of all those extra bits so you can focus on just the content.
6. Lego Builder- What kid (or adult) doesn’t love building with Legos? With the Lego Builder app you can build all kinds of fun structures. Students that love Minecraft will also find creating content enjoyable with this app too.
7. Isle of Tune – this is a great app for the musician in all of us. Create a town on your island and each element of your town has different musical properties. Then as you send your cars driving around your newly built community your new tune will play.
8. MeeGenius – this is one of many great apps for younger grades to read and listen to online storybooks. Access a bookshelf full of the popular stories loved by many generations. Students can not only hear the book read to them but also see the words highlighted on the page as the story is read.
9. Typing Club – keyboarding skills and the necessity for students to have them are becoming more and more embedded in everything we do. Apps like Typing Club
10. Math Invaders – practicing math just got a lot more fun. Students can practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in a game-like format.
The great thing about installing apps in Chrome (whether on a Chromebook or not) is quick and easy. With everything in Chrome staying in sync to students’ Google accounts, access to these apps is easy no matter which Chromebook or computer a student is using that’s connected to the web.
These are just a sample of the great educational apps available in the Chrome Web Store. Be sure to take some time to check them out! If you have any other favorites please feel free to list them in the comments!
Google Chrome has quickly become my browser of choice over the last year or so. It’s huge list of features and overall reliability speak for themselves. If you and your students are using Google Apps for Education and its accompanying Google products, you quickly find that everything just works better in Chrome.
As our team helps teachers this school year with Chromebook implementation, we have come across many apps and extension to share with staff. It seems to be one of the most popular features with teachers about the Chrome browser.
When I share with teachers about Chrome extensions, I tell teachers to think of them as enhancements to their web browsing. They put information at your finger tips quickly, help keep students more productive, and assist with information curation.
Here are some of my favorite Chrome extensions that are great for students:
To Do List is a simple, yet effective way to have a running to do list right in your browser. This is great for students that need to keep track of upcoming assignments and other school events. There is a number badge displayed directly on the extension telling you how many items you have on your list. It’s easily to reorder the items on the to do list by dragging and dropping, highlight more important items by adding the pound sign (#) at the front, and switch between a few different color schemes to choose the look of your list.
There are a lot of extensions created by Googlers in the Chrome Web Store, but Google Dictionary has become a fast favorite for many teachers. Students often will need to be reminded of the definition of a word as soon as they read it while looking up information on the web. This extension is a great help. Students can click the extension, type in the word they need to look up, press enter and they’ve instantly got it without leaving the page they’re on. The feature I like the most about this extension though is the ability to double-click on any word in a piece of text and immediately see a pop up bubble with that word’s definition. Not only that, but students are also given an audio icon to click on to hear the word pronounced for them.
We all have seen articles and other online resources that are very cluttered with ads and other pieces of information that are irrelevant to the content we’re trying to focus on. The Readability extension greatly helps with this. I always use a CNN article as an example when I’m sharing this one with teachers. As soon as the article loads, click the Readability extension and you are presented with three options: Read Now, Read Later, and Send to Kindle. Students can click Read Now and Readability will convert the article by stripping off all of the extra information that is not needed and presents only the article and specific images associated with the article. This makes for a much more focused, eye appealing reading experience. If students want to take the extra step of creating a Readability account they can click Read Later to have the article saved to their account for easy access at a later time. If a student reads a lot of Kindle content, they can link up Readability to their Kindle for access later from another device.
This is a great accessibility extension for students that need a little extra help with their writing. Once this extension has been installed, the only place it can be used is when a Google Doc is open for editing. The extension adds a purple tab at the top of the document that says Read & Write. The extension allows for students to instantly have read to them anything that they have typed on their document. Sometimes all students need is to hear what their piece of writing sounds like when read aloud to help with edits. There are also other features like a built-in dictionary, picture dictionary, and other study tools.
The developer of the extension has a nice video tutorial that demonstrates all the features. It’s about 6 minutes so definitely check it out:
If your students are already using Google Apps for Education, this new extension from Google will allow them to quickly and easily capture content from the web and save it directly to their Google Drive. Students are able to save a screen capture of the existing page being viewed, or specific items on that page (links, images, sound bytes) can be saved to Google Drive by right clicking on them and choosing the Save to Google Drive option. Another handy extension for students to help them curate content on the web.
We all know that links on the web can get really long and not very neat looking. The Shorten Me extension helps with that if you need to email a link, post a link in a discussion or in a piece of writing or a presentation. When clicked, the Shorten Me extension automatically creates a shortened link of the web page currently being viewed using the http://goo.gl link shortener. Once it link is created it is automatically copied to your computer’s clipboard so it can be quickly pasted into an email or document. There is also an option with this extension to also have a QR code automatically generated for the link that can also be used to quickly get others to the link via their smart phone or tablet.
While I know there is no shortage of other great Chrome extensions for students these just happen to be a handful of my favorites. I always enjoy sharing these with teachers so they can share them with their students. They help us all to be a bit more productive and enhance our learning on the web.
Learning isn’t analog any more
When I think of analog learning, I think of something static. I think of content that doesn’t change and is quickly outdated. I think of a textbook that I can’t interact with. Would you agree? If so, what do you think our students think? Is this normal to them? Do we want it to be normal to them? Do they have a say?
Learning opportunities that exist today are far from analog. The evidence of content is in abundance. That doesn’t mean we just send our students freely to the web without important conversations about things like proper digital behavior and critical consumption. This cannot be treated as a skill that we have students pick up in 8th grade from a particular course. How to deal with the flood of information and tools available to our students must become a literacy. We have a responsibility to our students. If we claim to be doing what’s best for students, yet we keep our resources and methods in the 20th century, our students are losing out.
We. Need. A. Plan.
Getting our students to a place of digital literacy begins with us. It’s a matter of modeling what we expect. It’s a matter of teaching the way we would want to be taught today if we were students in our classrooms. We must make this literacy a priority for teachers before we can expect to get our students there. Teachers: this isn’t meant to be seen as “one more thing”. Your students want you to go with them on this journey. Let them help. Let them teach you. Grow together. Leaders: it’s not a matter of finding the time for your teachers to learn; it’s a matter of making the time.
This is why a plan is important when beginning to venture into these new horizons of literacy. We have national standards for administrators, teachers, and students to help guide us in our journey to increase our digital literacy. Be sure to check out the Essential Conditions too. All are great places to start.
Does every teacher, student, and administrator need to have X, Y, and Z mastered straight away or even by the end of one school year? I don’t think so. What we expose our students to; learning that fosters creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking provides them continual experiences for them to build on year after year.
For example, In my district, our department is working closely with our Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Instruction to plan out a year-long professional development plan to our elementary principals. Using the NETS-A as a guide, we’ve created learning opportunities that allow administrators to experience new tools, ideas, and resources they can take back and use with their teachers (modeling), which will (hopefully) have a trickle down effect. Teachers will become interested and want to learn more, which leads to teachers using said ideas and resources with students which leads to students being exposed to new tools and resources to foster the “C’s” mentioned earlier. Teaching and learning is happening in new and different ways. It’s an exciting plan to be part of and our team can’t wait to see what happens next.
Making a move from the “analog” is an important step. One that’s hard to make by oneself. Planning and support is essential. Stick with it and don’t look back. You can only get better.
Thanks for reading.
First, a great story to share about an email I got from a couple of kindergarten teachers this morning. They had emailed me to share exciting news. But first some back story. I have partnered with these teachers many times over the last few years to help them with various instructional technology topics. Last year, they had found a video on YouTube that was produced by another kindergarten class (not in our district) on the life cycle of a butterfly. They decided they’d like to re-create this project for teaching this important science topic. I helped with the “talent” (kindergartners), camera work, and worked with them as they learned the editing and finalizing of the video. I was also lucky to get to attend the video’s premiere at a parent night. The teachers and their students did a fantastic job with their production of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”.
Now back to their email they sent me earlier this week. The subject of their email was “Look what we did!”. When they say “we” I knew they meant that in reference to their students, not them. They had attached the video of this year’s version of “The Butterfly Life Cycle – Kindergarten Style”. I watched the video while smiling ear to ear the entire time. The students did a fantastic job acting out all the different stages of the butterfly life cycle (how can you not smile at them?!?) and the teachers did all the planning, preparation, and video production work on their own this year. I am really proud of them and told them how lucky their students are!
Being an Instructional Technologist, I always strive to empower teachers, not enable them. What I mean by that is, it doesn’t matter if it’s one teacher or a group of teachers; no matter if it’s the first time they’re learning about a topic or it’s part of the continual support I offer, I will not “do it for you”. By enabling, or making it easy, doesn’t empower someone to step out of their comfort zone and learn something new. I will teach, re-teach, and always be there for support for any teacher that wants it; without fail. I always make sure teachers know this. Teachers need to know this. Our students need to know this. My goal is to equip with the necessary tools, resources, and knowledge base to increase comfort-level and success rate. Doesn’t project-based, authentic learning lend itself nicely to empowerment? Shouldn’t we want this for all learners, regardless of age?
“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.”–William Arthur Ward
I met with the administrative team earlier this week at one of our middle schools. They wanted to talk iPads. They were thinking about purchasing them for themselves to be more efficient with their administrative duties as they do walk-throughs, formal observations, etc. We met for over an hour talking about the device. What it will do, what it won’t do, and possible workflows for things they wanted to be able to do. They came ready with their questions, which was fantastic. They came into the meeting with an open mind. In fact it was so open of a mind that by the time I left they had decided to not buy iPads for themselves. They didn’t come in with the “gotta have it” mindset. They came in with the “do we need it?” mindset.
These administrators did however, get a much firmer grasp on the possibilities when placed in students’ hands. I didn’t spend a lot of time showing educational apps, but I did show a few of my favorites. I keep folders of apps for several subject areas on my iPad so I have them organized and ready to go if I need to do a little show and tell.
I’ll admit, I had a pretty good feeling going in that the device wasn’t going to be best for them for what they were wanting to do. It’s not going to replace a laptop. Will it get there some day? Possibly. Do I enjoy having an iPad? Absolutely! This Apple fanboy has his hand proudly raised. However, while it is a great device and offers great potential in the hands of students, I also know that it’s not the device for everyone. I wasn’t there to tell them they couldn’t buy iPads. Even if after meeting with me they still wanted them, that was fine. I would still support them in their use. I was there at that moment to help them make an informed decision. The administrative team decided they did not need them, but they did decide that they’d like to begin some sort of implementation in their building to put them in the hands of students. Not as the end-all be-all device, and no huge instant influx of them, but to add to the variety of tools available to teachers and students.
We get so excited about the next big thing. It’s easy to get excited! I get just as excited as the next person. If you were on Twitter around noon CST on Wednesday there was lots of excitement:
Just for fun, create a column in tweetdeck for #ipad3
— Dean Shareski (@shareski) March 7, 2012
I’ve learned, however, to have a bit more of a critical eye to what the device (doesn’t matter what it is) can do for our students. Isn’t that what we should do with everything? Not be so quick to run out and buy, but to ask, “Does this make learning better for our students?” This isn’t a decision that can be made in one hour, or even one day. Careful planning and thoughtful questioning is important. We have homework we need to do too.
I really appreciated these administrators taking the time to make an informed decision rather than just running out and buying because it’s a hot item right now and then after the fact say, “Now what do we do?” I think the willingness to be open, ask questions, and be informed in the long run can sometimes take us farther in the long run.
Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments.
Name the movie. I’ll give you some wait time….if you said Cars good job! More specifically that line came from Mater the tow truck as he demonstrated his mad backwards driving skills to his buddy Lightning.
As I caught a glimpse of the Daytona 500 tonight, this reminded me of the brainstorm I had for this post. My good friend Steven Anderson will be glad to hear I had a Nascar event on the TV. Anyways, let’s get on with it.
We always talk about “moving forward” and “looking to the future” when conversations arise about making school better. You can take it a step more specific by talking about what we’re having students do with technology, design of learning spaces, or anything really that’s related to education. It is important to do that. Long term goal setting and planning is important work. Dreaming big is really fun too and can really help getting some creative ideas stirred up. We should always Keep Moving Forward (coincidentally enough I quoted another Disney movie in that post ).
While we do need to have somewhat of an idea where we’re headed, don’t forget to look back on what we’ve done. Don’t forget to celebrate those things. Teachers some times say to me, “But I only tried one new tech tool in my classroom this year. But I planned these four things and I only did two of them.” So what?!? You achieved something! Look back on this and celebrate where you were when you started and pat yourself on the back for where you are now. Talk with your students about it. Get their feedback! That’s growth! You worked to make learning better for your students! Knowing where we’ve been can be equally as important as having a vision of where we want to go.
I’m meeting with some teachers this coming Friday to continue work they’re doing with various (yes they have choices) ways to use technology to make learning better for students. The first thing we’re doing though, is looking back at their “action plans” they began at the beginning of the school year. To look at what they set out to do, what they’ve accomplished, reflect on its impact in their classrooms, refine as needed, and keep plugging along to accomplish more between now and the end of the year.
Making time to look back, can often be the best plan for help with moving forward.
I welcome your comments. Thank you for reading.
This video has certainly made the rounds in the last couple years with over 3 million views to date. It’s posted over at TED, however, it is from the 2009 World Science Festival. Take 3 minutes and give it a watch. The video features Bobby McFerrin. You might remember him from this video (but don’t watch that one right now, watch the one below…unless you really want to).
Interesting and entertaining at the same time isn’t it? Over at TED the title of the video is, “Bobby McFerrin hacks your brain with music”. He shows that by creating a “common chorus”, or finding something we’re all commonly connected by (in this case music), we can tap into the ways we’re naturally wired to produce something great.
What if we took more time to learn how to do this for our students? That is, finding commonalities that give deeper connections to learning for everyone, that tap into those ways we’re naturally wired; rather than trying to re-wire (back to a previous time period many times). Is this just another way to say “differentiated instruction”? Or is it more than that? Will Richardson calls this “Beyond Differentiation” in his latest piece over at ASCD called Preparing Students to Learn Without Us, where he states:
For schools and teachers, it means connecting our expectations to students’ passions and interests as learners. That is both a challenge and an opportunity for educators working with 20 or 30 students in a classroom. The reality is that despite having talked about personalized learning for more than a decade, most schools and teachers have been slow to discover its potential through the use of the social web, interactive games, and mobile devices.
Would you agree that our students are coming to us being naturally wired this way? All of this technology (social networking, devices, etc.) is not just part of, or an add-on in our students’ world. It IS our students’ world. A world we as educators need to catch up to.
I had the pleasure of being invited to keynote TeachMeet Georgia a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta, where I talked about a new responsibility we (teachers) have to our students: the ability to Connect, Collect, Curate, and Create. Most of the time I was working on that presentation, in my head I kept referring to these as “skills”. I was then reminded of Howard Rheingold’s “Crap Detection 101″ , where Dr. Rheingold conveys the importance of this not just being a skill, but a literacy. We should want all our students to have these new literacies to truly empower them with the tech and devices that is their world, the “wiring” that they come to school with if you will. It must be more than consumption of information. It needs to be creating, investigating, criticizing (constructively), and sharing.
However, these literacies start with us. Teachers, Administrators, Librarians, and Parents. We must model them and refine them. Regularly.
Which is harder: to change how we’re wired or how they’re wired?
Yesterday, my district hosted a day of professional development for teachers and staff that are involved with the e-learning program at three area districts (including mine). It was a great day for teachers to collaborate and learn with each other about best practices and hopefully get some new ideas for teaching online.
In the afternoon, we had a good ol’ tech tools smackdown where folks from each respective district went back and forth sharing a favorite tool they have used or think students would enjoy using in an online course. I decided to share the Google Search Story Creator. If you’ve never created a Google Search Story, it’s a lot of fun and a great way to quickly share a search experience. Since the search story creator is kind of hard to find (it’s located towards the bottom of this page and says YouTube is making a new, permanent home for it), I also made a custom link that was easier to share with others. Please feel free to pass this along: http://bit.ly/searchstorycreator.
I wanted the teachers to see a relevant example first before I explained how to create one. I only had about 4 minutes total during the smackdown so the first 35 seconds was sharing an example of a finished search story. One of the online courses in my district (American Government), students have an assignment to create a short commercial for a political candidate. I thought this would be a great way for students to chronicle locating information about a specific candidate. So I created this search story:
I picked the first candidate that came to mind and it very briefly shows how I located information on a particular subject. Students would have a great time creating these and I’m sure would do a much better job than my example (as I alluded to in a conversation later that day).
Then I went on to explain how the search story creator works. You plug-in your search terms, define the type of Google search to be completed on each of those terms (web, images, maps, news, blog, product, or books), add some music and upload to your YouTube account. As you can see in the above example, YouTube (Google) packages it all together in a nice little video to share with classmates or make it a nice addition to an overall assignment.
When you’re creating one, definitely take advantage of the preview area as you plug-in your search terms and define the kind of search you want to perform. This comes in handy for checking out the kind of results that are going to appear in your video before you finalize it.
Have fun creating your search story!
When I was meeting with a teacher earlier this week, the teacher said to me, “I’m just having a hard time letting go”. This was in reference to a current method of instruction because of a new piece of instructional technology I was supporting her use of. I honestly don’t remember what the technology was because this past week was a crazy one. This teacher’s comment resonated with me though. By the way, my response to her comment was something along the lines of, “That’s OK. Change is hard but doesn’t have to be instant”. In my efforts to support this teacher in a new endeavor of instructional technology, it would be unfair of me to push too hard. Don’t you agree? Should there be a speed limit on the change process?
Teachers need a continual support system in place with any instructional strategy, technology or not. They need the initial formal PD upfront, classroom visits if necessary, ongoing communication to “check in”, and then more formal PD to build upon existing skills. More specifically to technology, however, if a financial investment is made and a plan is not in place to support it (continually), then we have not only failed our teachers but we are also failing our students. When I say “we”, I don’t mean there is a finger-pointing at any one leader (principal or other administrator), I mean “we” as a collective body of leaders that want what’s best for students.
I think sometimes we try too hard to exceed the speed limit in the change process. We get excited and want to buy everything and we want everyone to change right now. We’re at a point in education where change is inevitable, and necessary. We shouldn’t forget the old adage, “Talk is cheap”. However, how fast is too fast to expect change? Teachers are going to have a hard time “letting go”. Do they need to eventually “let go” 100%? I think they do.
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
– John F. Kennedy
Let’s be ready to support teachers appropriately but also remind them in their effort to try something new, change doesn’t have to happen overnight. However, it does need to happen.
Just some thoughts on the matter. Thanks for reading.
Have you ever said this phrase: “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” For me it’s always been a phrase to remind me to quit over-thinking something. That I was making something too difficult. That I was trying to recreate something that has already been created. Perhaps a reminder for me to just put my own unique spin on something.
I find myself saying this to teachers when working with them to integrate technology. Not in a negative way, but just as a reminder to not let the idea of students using more technology seem so daunting and like they have to reinvent their teaching. I’d rather them think more on the “why” in regards to using technology than the “what”. Focus on the skills not the tools as my friend Bill Ferriter has said. Now, does that mean teaching practices won’t change? I hope they do change. I’d think that by making technology use more of a priority, working to get it more commonplace, our teaching methods would change for the better. I’m not talking about what we’re teaching (content is content), I’m talking about how we’re teaching.
If you’re thinking of trying a new technology tool/idea/website to bring to your classroom for the 2011-2012 school year, don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. Think about how it’s going to enhance what you’re already teaching, how it will make you a better teacher. How it will get your students having meaningful conversations about what they’re learning. How it will get students creating and sharing their learning in new ways.
Don’t feel like you have to try technology tools X,Y, and Z all during first semester. Or even the whole year! Pick one, stick with it for a reasonable amount of time, and be sure to involve students in the conversation about how it went. Get their feedback. Listen to them.
The wheel is there. Think more on the learning and where you can take your students.