Thursday, January 21, 2016

My 10 Favorite Google Chrome Extensions

I need more time in a day like the next person, but we know that's never going to happen. All we can do is make better choices and use our tools more efficiently.



Chrome extensions are small tools that do one or two regular tasks. They install into your browser and often appear in the upper right, next to the omnibox (where the Web address is typed).

Here are my favorite extensions that save me time and facilitate making a better product.

1. URL Shortener

Sharing Web addresses can cause clutter if you can't link text or objects. Whether it's Twitter, Remind, or email, I make sure that the URL doesn't take over the content of the message.

You can choose among a few good shorteners that can be set to use native shortening or base it on a search engine like Google (goo.gl). 

2. Snagit

This is essential for anyone who needs to give clear direction to groups of people. It's probably my most used tool on this list. I use it to solve a variety of time-saving issues, including snipping document excerpts to make DBQs (document-based questions) and taking screenshots to support instructions.

Snagit automatically makes a folder in Google Drive and can even make videos or GIFFs (20 seconds or less). The png image quality is perfect for publishing to the Web, and videos can be uploaded directly to YouTube.

3. QR Code Generator

We still use paper to share information. For some things it's easier than relying on digital means exclusively. But that doesn't mean we can't throw in a QR code to go from analogue to digital in a second.

Make sure that you choose a QR code generator that is easy to use. My favorite is the one that makes the code with one click and provides a jpg that can be dragged from a drop-down and placed into a document. 

4. Boomerang for Gmail

Want to send an email, just not right away? Send one at a specific time and date from Gmail with the Bommerang extension. Manage your people with scheduled followups or set a message to resend if it's not opened in specified time period.

5. Pocket

The Pocket app for iPhone works great, so it only makes sense to have the extension handy on my browser. The great thing about Pocket is the ability to tag articles. This makes it easy to call up articles by topic.

6. Pin It

Every image on your browser will give you a Pin It button when you hover over the image. Click the button, and you can save it to your Pinterest where I believe some of the best on the Internet is stored.

7. Save to Google Drive

The spirit of extensions is to save time by completing a simple task without leaving the a site. Save to Google Drive is aptly titled. Try it out. 

8. TL:DR

Our reading time comes and goes. Too Long, Didn't Read is a great tool that keeps you in the flow when you don't have time to read it all. It makes a summary of the article in different lengths for you to choose, which is my favorite feature. 

9. Buffer

We often have a lot to share on social media, but blasting our friends and followers with posts is not helpful. Buffer automates your posts to keep your feed alive without having to check it seven times a day.

The Buffer extension also includes a button that shows up when you hover over an image. 

10. Clearly

Too many ads or extraneous content cluttering a page and distracting a good read. Clearly is one of many extensions that will rid the page anything but the text you want.

What extensions do you use? Share it in the comments. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

5 Tips for Teaching Generation Z

The most important thing we can do for our kids is to understand them. This is a tall order for teachers who struggle to relate to the ways their students communicate.

The way kids connect with the world outside of the classroom poses management issues within the classroom. One way to take away the issue is to not make it one. I'm not convinced that the issue is the technology, however. Perhaps it's what the technology has done to the way kids think and articulate their thoughts. This is not a new theory, but here's where I am on a plan to provide better instruction.


Kids these days are used to interactive information, videos, texting, and more possibilities to define themselves than the Generation X or Y child. Since the way Generation Z sends and receives information is different, we need to understand their modes of communication to better support them in the journey to becoming an adult. Furthermore, we must understand how the way they communicate affects literacy and processing. 

I have a Z pre-teen at home and have only taught Z students. Here's what I know having been raised by Xs in the Y generation. 

1. Short Phrases

Texting and YouTube is what they use. That means generations X and Y are competing with unfamiliar conversation controls and the PAUSE button.

Let me explain. 

When a text comes in, the receiver has control over the response time, and they can affect the tempo of the conversation. This allows them to think about their response under less stress. The pause button on a YouTube video, for example, allows them the same control over tempo.

How can you make this work in the classroom? Try Verso App

2. Use Visuals

This works for everybody, but if you have a room full of Generation Z, you'll need to choose to either tell jokes, the most amazing stories, or the best kept secrets for them to pay attention for more than 45 seconds. 

Throw a provocative image on the screen, and you'll have them for at least three minutes. Ask them questions, and you'll have then for as long as they feel like they are contributing.

Recently, for example, I taught my students about Executive Order 9066. I started with an image analysis of the Japanese internment camps and followed it up with a study of the Korematsu vs. United States case. 

If I had started with the executive order, I'm sure I would have worked hard to engage half of the class for most of the time. This probably sounds like good teaching for any generation, right? The difference with Generation Z is that this needs to be what the average teachers do, not just the good ones.

Otherwise, they have better things to do, especially with a powerful handheld computer in their pocket.

3. Make it Interactive 

Content doesn't have to some solely from the teacher or the textbook. Students can use the Internet to find a variety of sources and share them with the class. 

This type of activity opens opportunity to practice evaluating sources for trustworthiness and usefulness. It also encourages students to be contributors instead of mere consumers. 





4. Be Honest

They can handle it. Their world is packed with on-demand information that most adults could have never fathomed. That means their world is also full of honesty amid the usual deceipt.

Be yourself. Teachers are not superhuman purveyors of knowledge. We are facilitators of learning. We know what it looks like when students are successful and know what to do to get them there.

5. Take Criticism Well (Give it, Too)

This one is hard. It means you'll have to establish a classroom atmosphere that maintains the hierarchy of authority without making students feel like they can't have a constructive opinion about the teacher or lesson. 

Generation Z's path to understanding the value of respect requires a different approach than the authoritarian strong hand of Generation X. Leverage their ability to let the world know what they think about something by using student self-evaluation.

After each exam, provide a evaluation / reflection form so they can turn their opinion tossing toward themselves. This will place their education in their own hands and help them rethink the responsibilities of the teacher. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

10 Things Google Apps For Education Replaces

It's been three years since I started using Google Docs, and it's relieving to reflect on how much more productive I am now that Google Apps are my go to for so many daily routines.


Thinking back to the beginning, it was a student who showed me Docs. I was complaining about Dropbox, and he mentioned that I have a similar app with my Gmail account. From that day, it was a gradual replacement of non-Google apps. I was soon sold on the idea of having so much in one platform.

Here are some of the things I've replaced. 

1. Microsoft Office

Word and PPT were two of my most used tools to make instructional materials. Thankfully, Drive converts those formats to Docs and Slides. Sure, you can do everything in PPT, but Slides is quicker and easier, especially if you publish to the Internet and use videos from YouTube.

10 Activities with Google Slides

2. External Drives

Forget about not having your files. If the Internet connection is good, all of your files can be accessed from whichever computer you're signed into. This is crucial for schools because both students and teachers can find themselves at a different computer or even a different classroom from time to time.

The Internet has proven to be more reliable than my ability to remember an external drive.

3. Firefox

Google Chrome is the only browser for me because the customization supports the efficiency of my daily routines. Firefox was a good step up from Internet Explorer, but Chrome takes it all a step further for users who find themselves at multiple work stations throughout the day.

Sign in and enjoy the same settings on different devices.

4. Paint

Paint does not even come close to Google Drawing. I use Drawing to make images for blog posts and graphic organizers for my students. My students use it to do map activities, make graphic organizers, and so much more.

5. Photoshop (light editions)

Drawing can also be used to edit photos. What's great about it is that you can recolor, crop, add layers, and change the transparency of images. It's not Adobe, but it's perfect for the quick fix.

6. Edmodo 

The ability to communicate with my students safely is key. I appreciate the social media format that Edmodo provides, but it could never keep up with the volume of files that I need to share with my high schoolers. Google Classroom is the one for sharing with students from Drive and managing communications.

10 Google Classroom Routines that Work

7. Dropbox 

I was really into the potential of Dropbox. It was the first cloud storage that change the way I manage files. But for so long, that's all it did, and it cost money for more usage. Schools have money for free. Google is free.

8. Paper 

Printing and copying is not over in schools. We still need paper copies, depending on the intended use. For example, I would not use paper if the goal was to have students work on the same document simultaneously. Docs works great for that.

Read Flattening Our Classroom for a closer look at one class, one document.

9. DVDs and VHS 

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and contains more content than anyone one would need in several lifetimes. It would take an ancient Chinese dynasty to watch what is uploaded. Plus, you can make playlists that can be shared with students or embedded on a class site. Try doing all of that with DVD or VHS.

10. Scantrons

Google Forms and Flubaroo can do it all. No paper. No waiting for the Scantron machine that will probably break once it's your turn. Plus, the data analysis that can be done with Flubaroo is a must have for classroom teachers.

10 Tips About Using Google Forms for Learning

Thanks for reading. Share a comment on how you use Google Apps for Education to replace an old tool or routine. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Rote Learning | "To Be, or Not To Be"

I have to share this quick story.

As we were wrapping up a background study on the Arab-Israeli conflict, I asked my students a couple of questions to help them empathize with both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
  1. Should the majority ethnic group be in control of the law of the land?
  2. If the law of the land is to protect the people, should it protect all people equally?
One, two, four, then six or seven students began to recite Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. I was more than caught off guard and very pleased over what I heard because it wasn't the sound of rote memory. It was the intersection of practice and application – only this time it was interdisciplinary.

I had nothing better for them in the remaining five minutes of class, so I asked them to summarize the lesson we can learn from both the Arab-Israeli Crisis and Hamlet.

An eager student raised her hand and said: "Both situations teach us that we sometimes have to make tough decisions that do not leave us with a desired outcome."

This is a perfect example as to how important it is to require students to memorize key vocabulary, multiplication tables, and Shakespeare. How else will they be able to recall information efficiently. If you need to look it up every time, you'll be surpassed by those who already know.

I am a big fan of essential questions and lessons that transfer across disciplines. All the same, I want my kids to be able to calculate math without calculators and remember causes of key events in history. Further, I'm convinced that the employment of essential questions facilitated the application of the soliloquy. 

To think that Understanding by Design replaces rote learning is shortsighted. Unfortunately, some educators are quick to interpret new approaches as a call to throw the baby out with the bath water.

take a brick-by-brick approach to developing as a professional. The lower thinking levels of Bloom's are crucial to support the middle and higher levels. 

This experience with my 11th graders was an reminder of a lesson I Iearned long ago. It was a bright spot at Holliston High School, and an important moment when a teacher realizes that the effect is real. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

5 Instructional Ideas for Using Images

One of the best ways to reduce the language load for learners is through images. Analysis strategies are great for English language learners as well as advanced students who may experience anxiety when it comes to learning new material. 


Students need to learn and practice analysis routines like patterns in the playbook of a professional football team, especially as they go through the many changes that challenge the developing child.  

Here are some ideas about how to use images to establish analysis routines that match the way our brain approaches a variety of situations.

1. Building Concepts

Choose three images that are of different people, places, or things yet have a concept in common. Display the images, and instruct your students to identify and describe the similarities among the images.

Some students will immediately identify the key concept, while others will pursue a variety of possibilities. It's important to validate students who come up with plausible responses yet miss the key concept. It doesn't make them less knowledgeable because learners process at different rates and in different ways. Celebrate all ideas before redirecting to the key concept. 

The following example would help students develop the concept of an exoskeleton.


2. Change Over Time

One of the most important ways to analyze anything is by observing the changes over time. This is a thought process that we use in science, history, and many types of reflection. 

Health and nutrition teachers could ask students to list what they ate for breakfast when they were 3, 7, and 13 to analyze for the similarities and differences.

This example is one I use to show change over time with my history students.


3. Picture Reveal

Making predictions and testing them is something we use in all disciplines. It's at the heart of the scientific method and crucial for reading to learn.

This activity is simple. As each piece of the image is revealed, students write their observations in one column and their predictions of what the entire image is in another column.

This sort of exercise is great for learners who struggle to focus as well as those who are overwhelmed by open-ended responses. "You mean that there is more than one answer?"

Click here for a sample note-taking sheet. Click "Make a copy" and it will be added to your Google Drive.


4. A Thousand Words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This means that amoung all of your students, they can come up with some great descriptions of events of processes. 

Choose a series of images that are thematic or relate to the concepts you want them to learn. Be sure to provide a note-taking organizer or expectations on how to make notes.


5. What do you see?

It's important to value the sophistication of the following two questions.
  • What do you see?
  • What makes you say that?
It's also important to honor each student's ability to answer the questions without interruption. This classroom management strategy, itself, promotes student voice in a simple, sophisticated way.

Bonus: Image Summaries

This one is a favorite, for sure. I have my students find an image on Google images that best summarizes what they learned during the last class. 

It takes no preparation, includes choice, and serves as a diagnostic assessment.