Thursday, October 4, 2018

Convert PDFs to Google Docs - and 5 Other Tools for Learning

My father called me to ask if there was a way to turn a JPEG into a PDF. I told him that there were a few ways we can do it and that I should just come over and see what he’s trying to accomplish. It’s the best way to coach someone on technology issues.

When he told me that he needed to scan receipts to share via Google Drive, I suggested that we install the new Adobe Scan app on his phone. This worked perfectly and cut out about two steps and a piece of hardware for my father who doesn’t need extra headaches over hardware and software. Who does?


Helping my father sort out his issue with converting to PDF got me thinking about how far these tools have come. It also got me thinking about how many tools we actually do not need to accomplish some of the tasks we face as teachers in connected classrooms.

My favorite PDF conversion trick is to open a Google doc in drive by right clicking on the file and selecting open with Google Docs. Most files that were originally created in word or Google docs and then converted to PDF will convert to a doc file rather easily. But this wasn’t always the case because I can remember when Google Drive could barely convert a word doc without severely messing up the formatting.

This way of converting PDFs to Google Docs is a sort of a hack. If you open the PDF and then select open with in the upper toolbar, you don’t get the same option. You get whatever apps are pre-installed in your Google Drive or whatever apps you’ve installed to convert PDFs. But after trying several of them, right clicking within Google drive and selecting to open with Google docs has been the cleanest way to do it.

Some of these PDF tools, however, could be very helpful for classroom teachers. Let’s look at five tools I do not want to live without in the 21st-century connected classroom.

1. Print to PDF

If you’re looking for a way to print content from a website, look no further. Print friendly and PDF is a Google Chrome extension that will make any website ready to print with one click. And if you don’t want to print it, you can download a PDF instead.

When you click the extension while visiting the web page you want to print or save to PDF, a window opens that allows you to edit the images and delete the elements of the page that you don’t want. This feature is nice because sometimes you don’t want all of the links that go in a post, or perhaps you don’t want all of the images or text. Most chunks of content can be deleted to clean up the document.


Maybe you want the images but you want them to be a smaller size. You can adjust the size of all the images at once by selecting a different scale percentage in the toolbar across the top of the window. The same goes for the size of the text.

One of the nicer features of this extension is how the title of the page and the URL are at the very top of the first page and can’t be deleted. I like this feature because sometimes I have to add the URL so my students can refer back to the site from which we got the content. It’s also just good modeling to show my students that we include the back link when we use someone’s content. This could be better than giving them credit because it’s giving them a direct link back to their site – a drop of link juice for their site's authority. When was the last time a works cited page had the authors source material on speed dial for client referrals?

If you need to email the PDF, there’s an email button built in to the toolbar, as well. I haven’t needed to use this feature much with students, but it’s very easy to see how this could be helpful for someone who lives by the email workflow.

2. Dochub

I’ll admit that Dochub was a little buggy in the beginning, but I saw that it was a small company with a good idea and lots of potential. Wow, am I glad that I stuck with it for the past four years because it’s now my go-to for editing PDFs.

Dochub is great for adding or removing pages from a PDF document. It’s can also facilitate adding or removing content from a PDF. There’s no need to print something, tape a piece of paper over the part you don’t want, and recopy the document. Dochub allows you to do it digitally and save the edited file to Google Drive.


I like to add questions and comments in the margins of readings that I pull from the web. This also includes adding symbols or icons like a pencil on paper to various parts of documents where students may need a cue to make a note of something or to refer to their skills packets.


And this is just the free version. If you needed more features like signing documents securely, the paid versions of Dochub do that, too.

3. Google Drive Previewer

The new PDF preview features in Google Drive are perfect. I know this has nothing to do with converting PDFs, but it has a lot to do with using PDFs in a new way for learning activities. Let me explain.

Remember the content I pulled off the Internet with the Print Friendly and PDF Chrome extension? Picture this .. it’s in a Team Drive folder that students can access. They are assigned sections of the reading (or whatever the content may be) and you ask them to use the comment tool to write “need to know” questions about anything in their assigned section of the content. The teacher can watch the students work and reply to comments as they are posted.


It’s amazing how much teaching and learning can happen when students are charged with asking questions. Now, the lesson is about uncovering the content instead of covering it. We can all see the questions, responses, discussion, and the connection between the text and the need to know information.

The comment tool in the Drive preview also works for image files. This opens new doors for establishing thinking routines, making thinking visible, and learning with others because the decisions of each learn are clear and available to their peers.


In effect, the expectations are better reinforced when students see an example from their classmate that passed my examination versus an exemplar provided by the teacher. If you teach teenagers, like I do, then you know that an idea from a peer is far more “sticky” than one from me.

4. Adobe Mobile App

This is the app I showed my father. The best two things about it is how hard it works to scan a clean image and the ability to share via almost whatever app you want. For my students, and my Dad, this means sharing via Google Drive.

The app uses your device’s camera to scan the document. It recognizes the document and automatically locates the edges before taking the pic. Then, the app will recognize the text and adjust the tracking of the document to straighten it out.

If you want to scan several pages, it will recognize one page after another and not make the PDF until you touch the “Save PDF” button in the upper right. It’s easy to crop, delete pages, change the order of the scans for a multi-page PDF, or edit the color or orientation. I think you get the point.

5. Make PDFs With Google Slides

Let’s think beyond a slideshow app and use Google Slides as a publishing platform. It doesn’t matter whether you need to publish digital or print media, Google Slides is the best free app that gives you a clean slate for your students’ work. In my toolbox, it’s only second to Adobe InDesign, but I don’t need powerful apps like Adobe CC for my history students.

Slides can be used to make ebooks. In fact, I’m using it to make my first ebook about learning strategy templates with Google apps. I changed the page to 8.5 by 11 inches and made a design template for the content. This particular ebook shares 30 templates on Google Slides, Docs, and Drawing – all based on learning strategies that work. 


What else can we do with PDFs?

I’ve already written about using Slides in different ways, so I won’t get too deep. But I want to mention that individual slides can be downloaded as PDFs, and the print options open doors for rethinking how to use Slides.

Consider instructing students to use the slide for drawing or images and the speaker notes for the text. In the print settings, choose the settings that allow you to print the speaker notes and one slide per page. This becomes a great way to print all of the student work at once. More in-depth directions can be found in this article.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

17 Reasons to Use Google Keep in Your Classroom

The virtual world is upon us whether we like it or not. That means we have to take the good with the bad – students are not easily focused on what traditional classrooms put in front of them. Their attention is increasingly being robbed from classwork by notifications and apps that offer more engagement.


I know these issues because I suffer, too. We're all wondering what people are doing all of the world, and it's great to learn from interacting with our friends online, watching YouTube videos, or listening to podcasts on the way to work. The trouble comes when this increase in information processing shifts our abilities away from staying on task and being responsible for our commitments.

Apps like Google Keep offer solutions to some of the problems faced by both students and teachers in the classroom. Here are some of the ways Keep can be used to alleviate the stress created by fast-paced schedules and online access to instructional materials.

1. Reminders (Time Management)

This one is my favorite. I use reminders on a regular basis for anything necessary. From remembering to bring $20 for a gift to picking up my son at school, I set reminders for whatever I cannot stand to miss.

Let's say your students need to reflect on their weekly work every Thursday night to prepare for a class meeting on Friday. They can choose the best time of day to receive the reminder and click the link to go directly to the Google form, doc, etc, so they can complete the task right away.


Students can benefit by setting reminders to work on assignments, bring in certain materials, or to attend tutorials. Sure, many of us can write these things down on a calendar, but the reminder feature on Keep can appear as a notification on your phone or pop up based on a GPS location. Plus, the reminder can contain the file the student needs to work on.

I mentioned above that we are dealing with media that are constantly robbing our students' attention. This goes both ways, too. We are dealing with trading time. The time in a day can be spent on different activities that add value to our lives. Reminders help keep me making the right choices in the long term, especially when I'd rather be doing something else.

2. Make Lists

It seems that many people run their days on to-do lists. Making a list in Google Keep includes check boxes and a strike-through when you check the box. The best part is the ability to archive the list or reuse it for routine tasks.

Students could use a list made from the directions for a project. Simply select the text you want to send to Keep, and right click to bring up the menu from which you can choose “Save to Keep.” There may be some work that needs to be done to format the note, but most of the job is done automatically.


3. Organizing Notes

I still remember the excitement of getting a new Trapper Keeper at the back-to-school sale. It was a binder with a simple wraparound piece to keep it closed. We kept notebooks, paper, folders, and a pencil bag inside. It had everything I needed inside.

This same childhood feeling came back to me after I started using Keep to organize my projects, ideas, notes, and websites I may need to reference routinely. It was just so easy to color code notes and write tags to filter the notes with one click.


If you’ve ever seen a student take a photo of your slide projected on the screen. This can be a very efficient way to collect the information, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t find it later or don’t spend much time processing it. By taking a photo (or screenshot) and labeling it, you’ve thought about bigger ideas that relate to the information. This is already a step ahead of most note-taking practices, especially those practices that are more on the side of recording information than distilling it into a note.

4. Setting Goals

We all talk about goal setting at one point or another. It’s the only way we learn how to manage all of our tasks and make progress on our aspirations. But how many times have you taught kids how to leverage tools like the reminder feature to avoid procrastination.

Sometimes it’s not the right time to do a task. Perhaps it doesn’t fit with our schedule or we are not emotionally fit to initiate and persist. This is exactly the organizational skills our students need to learn. When is the best time to complete a set of tasks for an assignment?

The best time to complete the task depends on the individual. The best time to schedule your time to complete all or some of an assignment is when the assignment is assigned. If I am assigned something on Tuesday to be completed by Thursday, I know that Tuesday night is the best time for me to complete some or all of the tasks. I can set a reminder to complete it at 7:30 p.m. and include a link to the materials in the Google Keep note. When it pops up on my phone, I’ll be at the right place and ready to work.

As students practice setting work completion goals in this way, they can begin to calibrate their time management. Essentially, using Keep in this way becomes a way to dial in the accuracy of their assumptions on their work habits.

5. Collaboration

Keeping people on the same page has never been so easy. The ability to collaborate is a standard of cloud computing and ultimately the best use of these platforms. For students working on group projects or cooperative learning activities, the ability to share notes is crucial to their work flow.

Google Keep allows you to share notes with other Google account holders. Simply select the collaboration icon at the bottom of the note. The owner of the note with be in parenthesis and account icons are visible for easy identification of collaborators.



I even collaborate with myself if it’s a reminder I don’t want to miss. Perhaps you have a Google account for school (or work) and a personal account, shared notes between accounts will ensure that you get reminders on your app. The app only shows one account at a time, so switching between accounts can affect your reminder visibility via the app.

6. Character Recognition

The text from an image is recognizable by Google Keep. If you upload an image to a note, click the three horizontal dots for more options. One of the options is to “Grab image text.” This tool places the image text in the note.

Grabbing image text can be helpful if you need to transcribe the image text or if you take a photo of a slide during a presentation and want the text in your note. The note text can then be used to add information to a Google Doc or Slides presentation (keep reading for more on this).


7. Bullets to slides

Let’s say you have to prepare for a presentation and you organize your ideas and materials in Google Keep. You can make a slide presentation from the information in a Keep note. The Keep icon is on the right sidebar of the Slides app waiting to be clicked. It opens your notes within Slides, allowing you to click the three vertical dots and add information to a slide.


This doesn’t just go for Slides, either. You can access your notes and add information to a Google doc, too. Perhaps you’re working on a lesson and you want to bring together ideas you’ve been collecting for an upcoming project. The information is ready when you are, including images and links.

8. Sketches

Drawings are great for sketching ideas and putting a more personal touch on a note. They can be made on both the browser and mobile apps. Although the drawing options are limited, it does include changes to the pen size, color, and backgrounds – grid, lines, dots, and none.



The drawings can be sent via email or text message. If you need to illustrate the directions or collect a sketch from someone, sometimes text messages are the easiest way to do it. The drawing is sent as a file, not a link to the Google Keep post.

If your class uses Google Drive, try sharing drawings to a folder in Team Drive to collect your students’ work. The folder in Drive can be viewed as a slideshow for discussion. This workflow would be good for a variety activities. For example, have one student face the screen and describe to a student facing away from the screen what to draw and where. Activities like this help students develop team skills, technology proficiency, and more detailed descriptions.

9. Drawings on Images

Google images is full of slides from slide presentations used by teachers and professors from all over the world. These slides are easy to save in Keep where annotations can be made with the drawing tools. Just like making a note with a drawing, you can draw or write on an image, like adding a star or check mark next to the points on a slide clipping that you want to focus your attention.


10. Reuse Comments

Making comments on student work is often a matter writing similar statements in different places. I store the rubric level descriptors in Google Keep notes so I can copy and paste into Google Doc comments. This saves time and establishes a routine with the students to refer to the rubric. As long as the level descriptors are specific enough, the feedback will be actionable.


11. Vocabulary

Quizlet is awesome. I love it for so many reasons, and Keep can be a more integrated way to organize vocabulary study. If students transfer the word list to a note, they can have the words to quickly reference as well as the link to a Quizlet deck in the same note.

Users can then label the note with the subject and the unit to further organize their study materials. Over the course of a few years, they may amass quite a few notes with lots of key information. Considering most of the learning materials traditional approaches would use get recycled or otherwise left behind, this is a game changer for long term resource organization.

12. Note Cards

This would have been perfect in grad school. I can’t tell you how many times I had to use the same research on different papers. If could have done a keyword search on my own term paper notecards, that would have been amazing.

Plus, paper note cards don’t have clickable links to resources. Sure, the tactile nature of paper cards is important to people. Take a photo of the paper note card and add it to a note in Google Keep. Then add the links and label accordingly or title it so you can search for it later. If you handwriting is neat enough, you could transcribe the note card to the Keep note and optimize the searchability of your notes.

13. Journaling

Writing in a journal is different than note-taking. It’s challenges the writer to make deeper connections with new information and prior knowledge to strengthen their understandings. It’s best used for concepts and big ideas, which is perfect for Google Keep.

In use #3 on this list, I suggest using color to organize notes. The colors could relate to themes. One of the powerful effects of journaling is the organization and reorganization of information into new and old groupings.

14. Curate Web Resources

If you have the Keep Google Chrome browser extension, you’ll be able to open Keep and save the URL without leaving the website you’re currently using. It lets you write a Keep note and label the note to organize it among your other notes. 


Students don’t do themselves any favors when they come across useful resources and close out of the tabs on their browser when they’ve found what they need. The process of finding what you need puts us in front of several useful resources. When you find one that looks good for a future question, save it with a relevant label and continue your search.

15. Transcribe Voice Recordings

The mobile app allows you to make a voice recording note. The note can be transcribed automatically, but you’ll still need to edit the note to fix the spelling and punctuation issues. But this shouldn’t stop you, especially if the spoken word flows better for you.

Students should be encouraged to write with voice recordings and transcription tools if they are not good typers or loose ideas because they write too slowly. I type really fast but still use the voice tools because it’s a different approach that maintains words on the page when my brain-to-hands connection is a little tired or uninspired.

16. Access Notes on All Devices

In the Mobile Age of the Internet, not much is more important than WiFi and access to our tools whenever and wherever we need to be productive. For many people, this means accessing information on different devices, depending on when and where we are working.

My students use Chromebooks during class and their phones for most of their connected productivity elsewhere. If they use Google Keep on their Chromebook to set a reminder for a homework assignment, for example, they can receive the reminder on their phone if the Keep app is installed and they are logged into the right Google account on the app.

17. Search Your Notes With Keywords

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been trying to train my father to use the search tool in Google Drive to find documents. He sees how quickly I find things, especially when they’re not labeled well or in the proper folders. The problem is that he’s in his sixties and it takes a lot of rewiring to get him to embrace the search tool as a primary means of finding files.


Our kids are more prepared to embrace the value in developing effective search skills. Like Google searches, Keep will search titles and the note content to serve you results that relate to your keywords. This means, using good keywords in the notes as well as meaningful titles is crucial to making highly searchable notes.

Why Google Keep?

The best part about using Keep with my students is the amount of connected learning skills they get to develop through productivity suites like G Suite Edu. It essentially does not matter if they take what they’ve learned and apply it to a Microsoft platform because the concepts about search engines and keywords are still the same. Plus, most of these tools do the same thing with slight variations or added features.

Google Keep is sticky notes for the mobile connected worker or learner. Evernote has more features and acts more like a notebook with editing tools, and OneNote is very much like a digital binder. These tools are great, but the integration Keep has with other apps is ideal for G Suite users. I guess if I worked for a company or school that used Microsoft, this list would be about OneNote. But I think the reasons would be very similar, if not the same.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Classroom Websites With the Student User Experience in Mind


Three clicks to content is the rule, or so they say. I learned this after searching about how many clicks deep users will often go to access content online. Why was I searching this? I’ll explain.

When I first started teaching, I tried to put everything my students needed on the Web. But only about 3 to 5 percent of them took advantage. The rest acted confused or struggled to remember the assignments -- or at least where to find them.

Will I ever solve this problem?

I couldn’t relate to this at all. Content on the Web would have been a dream for many of us who went to high school before schools had Internet in every classroom.

Regardless of what I thought, all that mattered was my students’ experience and that what I was doing for them was not working. It was back to the drawing board, literally -- I drew out the click pathways a student had to take to complete an assignment. It wasn't hard, but it wasn't as easy as they were used to.

Think Like a Web Designer

The next phase of in this project focused on the layout and design of the websites I was visiting. What were they doing that brought me to their site? What did I see first? Did I want to stay? Why? These questions and more led me to a few understandings.

Web designers aim to make sites that provide users the information they seek without making the experience confusing or tedious. Although the three-click rule is not necessarily true in the sense that it applies to every user and site, it provides me as a non-designer a metric as I developed my classroom website.

I wasn’t creating an experience for students that made it intuitive to meet my expectations. The URL was hard to remember. The site layout did not guide users toward the content I wanted them to access. And there was no clear incentive for them to spend time getting used to the Web site design for their success in the course.

Students prefer to access information online using smart phones, tablets, computers, and perhaps something else that's been developed and become popular since the publish of this post. What they don't want is to work too hard to get there. Who does?

First Steps Toward a Solution

As I scratched my head and tried new things for another year, I had the bright idea to just ask the students what they wanted. What were they willing to do to access the information online? Their response inspired me and guided my mission to provide quick and easy access.

After quite a bit of discussion, it came down to the simple fact that the students could choose to find the information on my site or choose to go on social media or watch a YouTube video. This was the first time I realize that I was competing for their attention

I shared with them what I had learned about the three quick rule. Most of them agreed that there was some truth to the rule, but they also said that if they really wanted to see something online, they were willing to click as many times as it takes.
The students agreed that they would use the classroom website, or almost any site, if the content is no more than three clicks away.

Culling the EdTech Tool List

During the discussion I had with my students, one student said, “We just have too many logins and passwords to remember.” Although I wanted to disagree, it didn’t matter what I thought. This whole inquiry was about the student user experience.

Luckily for everyone this was also around the same time when a lot of new online tools were excepting the one click Google login and account set up. I looked through all the different tools that we used and started prioritizing based on how often we use the tool and how easy it was to log in, which meant whether not you could log in with Google.

Quizlet was the first app to get the gold star on my new quest. It had an app, you could log in with google, and it was (and still is) very useful for both students and teachers. Google Drive and remind followed Quizlet on the list for the same reasons.

As tools were dropped from my list, I found other ways to do learning activities. This was often just a matter of rethinking the way I used the Google apps suite. Slides was then used to make posters and photo essays. Docs was then used to do card sorting activities, which simply meant inserting tables and having students color code or copy and paste text.

Taking apps off the list of tools we used was good for my focus, and it certainly alleviated some of the confusion that students had experienced in our nearly paperless classroom.

Setting Up My Course Sites

My students needed a place to land, so I showed them how to bookmark my website or save it on their home screens. One student even said that since she sees the shortcut on her home screen, she thinks about the class more often.This may seem like a superficial observation, but it speaks to the impact of our kids increasingly virtual world.

Next, I made an assignment blog with BlogSpot and embedded a feed on the homepage of my website. For those of you who are familiar with Google classroom, I had basically made a Google Classroom two years before it was released. Teachers using Moodle thought I was wasting my time. Most of them now use Google Classroom to support their students who all have Google accounts and often Chromebooks, too.

Like Google classroom, I used the assignment blog to communicate various information with students including links to Google Drive folders to which they needed to turn in their work. If you’re keeping count, that’s three clicks to not just content but actually turning in the work, as well.

I made separate content sites for each course that I taught and linked them in the horizontal navigation of this landing site. This still kept them three clicks to content.
  1. First click on their device to the landing site.
  2. Second click to choose the course that they are taking.
  3. Third click to choose the unit and lessen their currently studying.
At this point the only thing bogging down our BYOD classroom was app updates, device specific problems, and students confusing there apps with too many different Google accounts. Luckily for all of us, Google was about to come out with a solution they called Classroom.

Along Came Google Classroom

My explanation of how I built my sites and drove student traffic to them may have seemed like it was all very ideal and went smoothly all the time. It did not.

Sharing documents and managing document permissions with Google Drive was not easy before Google classroom. Almost every other day I had to teach a student how to make a copy of a document from my website. Little did I know, I could’ve put copy links on my website by replacing the word “view” at the end of the URL with the word “copy.” I’ve learned a few hacks since then.

With Classroom, I was able to eliminate the lesson blog and a landing site. I kept the course sites because students still needed those sites for the content, but I’ve since adjusted how I train them to access the course sites.

Instead of the students bookmarking the landing site, I encourage them to install the Google Classroom app and bookmark the course content site. This may seem like a small change from the previous routine, but it matched what a lot of other teachers were doing.

The best part about using Classroom and the Google apps suite is the familiarity that students in 2018 bring to my course. I’ve made changes in my routines to match what they have done with other teachers because it cuts down on learning tech, making more time for learning social studies.

Does the three-click rule matter?

The rule was useful because I needed something to focus the user experience on my sites. Making the adjustments with my students helped me consider their experience 100 percent of the time.

Three-clicks to content became a promise to not make sites that suck to use. After all, they can choose my site or a few clicks to social media. Whether it's right or wrong, we are in an attention economy and need to design educational resources accordingly. 

Currently, I us bit.ly to shorten links and provide more memorable URLs -- or at least shorter ones to type. We start on classroom and branch out to Team Drive or content site resources, depending on the nature of the lesson activity.

I like to design learning activities the way organic traffic flows as opposed to the social media driven approach. This way, the routine of typing URLs in the Omnibox becomes a bit more second nature, which is means that my students are more likely to find the answer to their questions initially on their own. Then, the conversation is about questioning the answers and sources in lieu of using the teacher is an encyclopedia.

I hope this process and history has helped. I truly believe that classroom website design should be looking at the user experience to develop healthy opportunities for our children.

Please comment below about anything, especially what you've learned from student user experience. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

10 Exam Review Activities With Google Apps for Education


It’s that time of year, again. Reviews are being edited and reused from previous years, and a variety of activities are on the agenda to re-engage learners.

The conventional paper-based reviews haven't been enough for my content-hungry high school history students, so I turned to Google apps to figure out how to enhance the experience.

Here's my combination of review activities I've done over the years. If you have one to share, please let us know in the comments below. It doesn't have to be about Google apps – just good teaching and learning.

1. Docs: List, Group, Label 

Far too often, learners try to simply memorize the meaning of a term or concept and stop there. If they took a few extra simple steps, they would deeper their knowledge and enhance their memory of the content.

List, Group, Label address this need by exercising the learner's ability to use the content list (or vocabulary) to draw connections between and among the terms, names, concepts, etc.


Open a Google Doc. Paste the list (or generate one) into the doc. Add a table with as many rows or columns you think may be necessary. Move the words into any row, focusing on the potential relationships among the words. Lastly, label the groupings. Add a row to organize headings if you need to.

I can't say enough about this activity for review, essay prep, and learning activities throughout the year. It's great for making thinking visible, organizing notes, and working with Google docs, learners can easily learn with their peers.

2. Slides: Make a Quiz

Who's almost always making the quizzes? The teacher, right? Why not have the students make a quiz. Why not share your slides with them (or a copy of the slides) and let them add a few quiz questions on the end.

The one who remembers the most is usually whoever does the teaching. When learners have to make quizzes that assess comprehension, they, too, have to comprehend the content to the extent that they know what something is and what it is not, as well as potential sources of confusion.



Insert links to the other slides in the answer choices. This post about hyperdocs includes a template to get started (end of post). Make sure you are signed into your Google account before making a copy. Once you are signed in, go to File and Make a Copy to edit it and maintain ownership of the file.

3. Forms: Quiz With Feedback

Since Google Forms was updated to include quiz functions, like self-grading, I've been most intrigued by the automatic feedback options. Users can receive feedback written by the quiz writer for correct and incorrect answers, including links to other resources that may support the feedback.

Identifying the gaps in knowledge is something that every good review can deliver. Forms with feedback automates the process so the conversation can focus more on bridging the gaps or eliminating them altogether.

At its core, the feedback feature supports the reason why we go to school in the first place – the learn. Too many review activities are focused on memorizing information to answer questions correctly. Effective feedback puts the onus of learning back on the student who can figure it out or ask a helpful question.

4. Drive: Connect Concepts With Images

This activity is one of my favorites and one that every class needs, regardless of age.

Place a set of images into a Google Drive folder, and open an image by double clicking it. This opens the previewer, which can be used as slideshow.

Tape concepts (or anything you want) to the three walls that are not being used to project the images. If your classroom has more than four walls, then that's just cool.

Organize students in the middle of the room, and ask them to walk to the concept that best relates to the image projected on the screen. This is a total body response, so it shows everyone the nature of the response without much guess work.

I take the time to ask the students a few questions. Why did you choose a concept? Was it easy? How confident were you about the choice? Was your decision impacted by anyone else? These kinds of questions are exactly what they need to be thinking while taking a test.

Most importantly, this is a moving activity. One of the things I've learned with 1:1 device classrooms is the need to move during instruction. For great teachers, and those who teach young children, this is probably obvious. To the content heavy secondary teachers like myself, many of us need reminders and new strategies that get kids on their feet.

5. Slides: Make a Jeopardy Game

Jeopardy is always a hit – it's one of the first interactive digital games I did with students. The difference, now, is that I'm using Google instead of Microsoft, which is almost perfect. I'll Explain.

The directions to make a template can be found here. The only problem is that the links that have already been visited do not change color. In a game like Jeopardy, is is important because the tempo of the game relies on players knowing what is available to choose.



I've tried a Chrome extension that changes link colors. I've tried different scripts to make an add on for Google Slides. But I just don't have the knowledge of Java Script to write the function that will change the color of the visited links (or the background color for the text).

The fix, for now, is to print the topic board and give one to each player. This way, they can at least mark off the ones that have been already chosen. You could also make a topic board on a whiteboard and mark the options already chosen.

When I find a solution, or someone shares one with me, I will certainly update the how-to post linked above.

6. Sites (New): Complete Digital Review

I have a review page for every unit on my content sites. Each review page starts with an outline of the major topics and details students need to know to be successful on the test.

I didn't always do it this way. I used to make students do more of that work for themselves. Why the change? I've since made more process-based review activities.

Sure, the review pages have stuff like embedded Quizlet decks, but my favorite activity is matching trios. This activity requires students to match three terms to support a potential response to a problem.



I encourage them to find a concept, event, and individual to form a trio because this combination will make it easier to answer the question (concept), support claims (event), and include some significance (the individual). For math and science, trios could include formula, problem, and data set.

7. Slides: Charades (sort of)

I use Google Slides simply to deliver three words at a time for charades. The student facing the screen provides verbal and nonverbal clues to help the student facing away from the screen guess the word.

Although this may seem like a very basic activity, both students are doing a lot of practice reinforcing the concepts that relate to the words chosen for the activity. As the students who can see the word works to figure out how to best describe the word without giving it away, the student who cannot see the word is scanning through all of their prior knowledge from the course to make a connection.

This kind of practice between prior knowledge and a given concept supports building comprehension, argument development, and just general fluency on the topics. Plus, it's just fun.

Try it. If you see what I see in my classroom, your students will be smiling, giggling, struggling, feeling rewarded, and being very active in their review process.

8. Images: Search for Slide Clippings

Google Images is one of the most untapped resources for Teacher notes subject-specific notes on Google or on the Internet. It contains clips from the online slide presentation social networks like Slideplayer or SlideShare. These platforms have tools within them that allow users to make Clips or images of a particular slide.


Since so many of these presentations online are used for classes in various subject areas, a lot of the clips are very helpful when it comes to summarizing the main ideas of a topic. They often have explanations of specific examples, too, which is exactly the kind of thing that students need when they're studying for tests.

Sometimes in the classroom I have my students find slides on Google Images that best explain a specific part of a topic or serve as a response to one of our essential questions. We then upload the slide the images to a shared Google drive folder to be displayed on the on the screen with the projector.

This sort of activity turns the students into contributors and also teaches them valuable study habits. Since they're contributors they are also more engaged because the content of the lesson is something that they've chosen – it wasn't prescribed by the teacher.

I really appreciate a more descriptive approach versus prescriptive approach to teaching especially for review because at the end of the day it's the students education, not mine. in other words if I'm confident that they can go out into the world and learn for themselves, then I've taught them how to learn, not how to be taught.

9. Keep: Reminders to Study

Most kids … let me rephrase that. Most people do not know when to study. We can easily forget that we need to study if we don't have that reminder, especially these days where so many things are competing for our attention.

Google Keep is not just about notes. It also allows users to set reminders on specific days and at specific times. This is crucial for study habits because students are more likely to study of they think about when they are most able to study and set a reminder for that particular day and time.


I've found that to level up your reminders, it's good to add a link to the material you need to study or to the document you need to complete. these reminders can be shared with other people who have Google accounts, and images can be added to them, which just makes them that much more useful in our highly visual image- and video-driven online experience.

Lastly, if your students are like me, then they might benefit from color coding their Google keep notes. It only takes a little bit of exploring among the tools on each note to find the color formatting options as well as other options such as being able to pin a note to the top of your Google Keep

10. YouTube: Playlists

We cannot underestimate the power of YouTube. Students often turn to YouTube first for answers to their own questions. Why wouldn't we want to work that into the study habits we design for them?

YouTube already has a lot of videos available on almost every topic a student may need to study, so the next step is to organize them. this sort of activity doesn't just provide a resource for the students. It provides a resource for the world and certainly other students studying the same topics.

Think about what that means in terms of the student's motivation to make this playlist. The audience is far greater than if they simply completed a review to perhaps turn in for a grade or to prepare for a test that only the teacher will read. Since the audience is expanded, the student engagement becomes more expanded, and the significance of the work they do certainly drives them to put more effort, often leading to better results.


Let's go deeper on this one. Just within this activity of making a playlist, there are some learning activities that could be done to scaffold making a good playlist. For example, playlist have a space for a description. The description summarizes the main ideas of the videos, which are two of the skills we definitely want are students to be practicing – finding main ideas and summarizing.

Students could also reorder the videos in the playlist based on importance to the topic. Order could be determined by chronological order, or perhaps the topic is about a step-by-step process and each video relates to a particular step in a sequence.

It may seem a bit simple, but the work students are doing when they make these playlists – when they make good ones – is exactly the kind of processing that we want them to be doing to increase comprehension of the material they're reviewing. With so many choices these days, being good at choosing is a valued skill.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Embed Slideshows in 7 Easy Steps on New Google Sites

I love the way our high school's modern world history course is designed. The first three to four units are about concept and skill development, while the remaining few units are application of what students learned in the first half of the course.

The application is done through case studies, which are often teacher driven. I couldn't see the value in application being so much about what the teacher is doing, so it was time for something different.


This semester, my modern world class is making a website for their case studies. The students are making each case study a page on the site with sub pages as necessary.

It made the most sense to me to make the case studies a website because it can serve as a place that brings it all together in a published space.
I've been inspired by Alan November to stop saying "turn it in" and start saying "publish it"? 
My students have made digital maps and infographics and photo essays in the past, but this time I wanted something different for them. I wanted my students to make something in a way that visualizes data from a Google Sheet.

I chose Awesome-Table because it has several useful sheets templates, and it helps that my students have 1:1 Chromebooks. Awesome-Table is also intuitive and easy to use with a little bit of spreadsheet basics and web editor experience.

The first case study was on China's Communist Revolution, so we started with a slideshow of the major events. This included an event title, image, and description with a link to the resource used.

He's what we did.

1. Choose the Template

Once you go to Awesome-Table.com and connect your Google account, the dashboard looks like the image below. It includes a few templates, access to the template gallery, and your recent projects listed at the bottom.

Choose the slideshow template. If it is not in the upper section of the dashboard, click the template gallery link in the upper right.



2. Set Up the Google Sheet

Since Awesome Table pulls data from a Google sheet, you can access the template sheet by clicking the link in the upper sidebar on the right.

The pencil icon allows you to change the Google Sheets doc to which you want to link to your Awesome Table project. This is particularly helpful if you already have a template in your drive that you want to link to the table project.


When you open the Google sheet (by clicking the link), you will see the sample data. Delete the sample data and add your own project data.  


3. Share a Folder

I've found that the best way to enter data into a spreadsheet is to let my students do it. Plus, they're the ones who need to learn this stuff, anyway. Why should I do it? Sure, it would be faster and neater, but that's not what our classroom looks like.
We make messes and learn from cleaning them up.
To provide access to the sheet and a place to gather images for the slideshow, share a folder link to a Drive folder. Make sure the permissions allow those with the link to have the ability to edit anything in the folder.

Then, share the link via a communication and content manager like Google Classroom to get your students working. We use Classroom, but we also use Team Drive for collaborative work.


4. Find an Image

The image selection step in this project exercises the learner's sense of contribution, which can translate into a stronger commitment to their learning experience.

This is also a good time to review some of the acceptable use issues related to images, such as licensing for publishing and permission to use for making money.

Once the image is saved to the student device and uploaded to the Drive folder, it's time to grab a link for the Google sheet. The link should have permissions set to "anyone with the link can view."


Paste the link into the appropriate column and row on the Google sheet. It may take some time for the image links to update the project. Always refresh your browser and the project for quicker results. Patience goes a long way, too. 


5. Write a Caption

The written portion of this project is completed in the description (slide text) column on the Google sheet. It's a great opportunity for students to practice one-sentence summaries as well as identifying the most significant takeaway for the audience.


6. Include a Link

The image description is clickable, so I had my students include the link from the source they used to write the description. The link goes in the far right column on the Google sheet.

7. Embed the Slideshow

The last step is to get the embed code to paste into the area of the website where the slideshow will live. Click the share icon and copy the last embed code format. Go to New Google Sites and double click the area where you want to place the slideshow. Choose the embed icon (<>) and select embed code to access the box in which the code needs to be pasted.



The finished product ...

When things don't work ...

We ran into one issue during this project. The links for the images only worked in a particular format. The format was available when we accessed the link from the horizontal tool bar. Select the image and choose the link icon to access the file link.

You may have to adjust the permissions to "anyone with the link can view" (share settings). Play around with it, and be open to troubleshooting with your students. Sometimes they know the answer.

Either way, it's good for students to see that problems are normal when it comes to content creation, and that these problems take time, patience, and testing solutions to resolve. 


Please share your thoughts below. I'd love to here from you. 

Thanks for reading!


Friday, April 27, 2018

5 Student-Centered Google Classroom Features

My goal is to use technology to allow students to take increasing ownership over their learning. It is my belief that they can do this under the right conditions.


For the teenagers that I work with, the right conditions are often anything that doesn't make them work too hard to access the content. Think about it. They engage in online media based on ease of use and access. If teachers make content too many clicks deep into a website or LMS, they won't want to find the information.

Meeting kids where they are is ultimately more important than testing their grit when it comes to developing classroom routines. Google Classroom is a great platform to help students become efficient self-starters because it allows teachers to manage a stream of information, not unlike the design of most social media apps.

The following shares some of the ways I use Classroom to set up the right conditions for students to take full advantage of their learning opportunities.

1. Links in the Stream Text

This may seem like not a big deal, yet I've found that my teenagers are more likely to find the link if it is within the stream post text. The bottom is for attachments and links, but there's less confusion when the link is within the post.


2. Student-Specific Stream Posts

Not every student needs the same support. Sometimes students need different learning support, while other times they may have missed school and need to make up work.

Any type of post to the Google Classroom stream can be posted for a specific student(s). This keeps the stream relevant for every student and protects the privacy of the students who need different learning supports. 


3. Topics

A parent once told me that it took her child 20 minutes to figure what to do for homework. Kids will be kids, of course, but the fact that the student didn't know exactly where to find the information was a bit troubling. This wasn't a story about one of my students, yet I'm sure some of my students could relate. 

I create topics for each unit, technology information, weekly agendas, and exam reviews. If a student missed an assignment, they can click the unit topic and find it quickly. The same goes for exam reviews. Better yet, the final exam review is as easy as click exam reviews, leaving the student with every unit review to prepare for the final. 


4. Comments (Stream Posts)

Google Classroom provides the option for teachers to set the extent to which students can post and comment on the stream. Every class is different. Some classes use the stream to make comments, post useful content, or ask questions. 

I keep the options wide open because it allows my students to take ownership of their learning in a interpersonal way. It's one of my number one jobs as a classroom teacher -- to help students develop interpersonal skills.


5. Move to Top

We are competing for our students attention. They have conversations they'd rather be continuing with their friends and Instagram content they've invested so much exploring. Who am I to say that they should sift through my unorganized Classroom stream.

Move to Top allows teachers to move a post to the top so students will see it first. This is critical when posts pile on top of a post that will continue to drive learning activities in the future. 

I make a weekly agenda post, so those are the posts that get moved to the top after the quizzes and Google Classroom question posts pile on top of them. 


Thanks for reading, and please share your questions or tips in the comments below.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Google Drive Preview Comments Transform Learning Activities

My students can now comment on images and PDFs in full view of their peers because of a recent Google Drive update. I know this sounds like a small thing, but it means not having to make a lot of materials on my end and places more of the decision-making on my students.


Let me explain how I used to design a cartoon analysis activity.

I chose a cartoon and added it to a Google Form. This form had questions and text boxes for student responses. We either discussed the results by looking at the response sheet projected on the screen or made comments on the sheet via Team Drive.

Although the activity design I described above is good and works, it's a lot of steps for me. It's better than paper, but not as good for students as how I do it now. Most importantly, I can spend my time providing feedback and answering questions instead of managing learning materials.

Check out my process for cartoon analysis with the new preview comments update.

1. Make a folder in Team Drive.

Team Drive is my favorite addition to G Suite since Google Classroom because it's an easy workspace to manage. We make folders for each unit and often students make docs or folders to facilitate a learning activity.


For more on Team Drive, check out this post that shares 10 ideas for your classroom.

2. Students find and upload the content.

The best part of this step in the activity is that the content is chosen by the students. At first, some of the images are not exactly what I'm looking for, so I spend extra time reinforcing image search expectations and file management – skills kids need to be fluent in digital spaces.

I took this opportunity to rename the cartoon image files with a number so I could assign those numbers to groups of three students.

 

3. Students use an analysis routine to make comments about specific parts of the content.

Thinking routines have replaced stock worksheets in our classroom. In this case, students focus on objects, people, and symbols before looking for text on the cartoon and trying to predict what message the artist wants to convey. (The second image below shows the explanation students see on our course website.)

The best part about the comment tool is the ability to select a specific area of an image. This takes away any question about what part of the cartoon a student is discussing.



4. Reply to comments to encourage participants to clarify or dig deeper. 

As students are working, so am I. After a walk around the room to ensure everyone understands the expectation, I watch and wait for the comments to which I can reply with questions for clarity or to dig deeper.



5. Debrief about the activity and some of the discussion highlights.

The comments and replies make the debrief on the activity much more efficient because the students can read a long in context as I discuss the analysis students have done.

Further, when you select a comment, the area the student selected to generate the comment stands out as the rest of the image darkens a bit. This simple feature adds so much focus for participation without having to take extra time to clarify which areas we are discussing.


Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts on how to use this tool in the comments below.