When you think about what Google is doing with their cloud services, it might be one of the most exciting things in technology, and it has a dramatic effect on what schools can use those services for. There are not many companies in the world that would open up their services to outside developers to add extended features. Google does it in almost everything. Chrome can still have apps even though they are a little harder to get, and it can also have extensions that extend its capability. Nearly all of their native Drive apps (Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides) can have add-ons to make them just that one step better.
In today’s post, we are going to discuss the most widely used of those add-ons because I would argue its the most commonly used of Google’s Cloud apps. Let’s talk about Google Docs Add-Ons! You can find my favorite five below, but I think it’s essential to cover where to find them first. You may be reading and saying that’s a no-brainer, but there are always some who may still need it.
Add-onsns aren't a hard thing to find. In the menu bar at the top of every document, there is a menu that says add-ons. Click that and then click get add-ons to access a whole app store of extra capabilities. When you add them, they will then show up in that same add-on menu for use when you need them. The vast majority of them bring up an extra toolbar on the right side of a doc to give you added capability, but that depends on what that add-ons intended function is.
My five favorite add-ons include
Joe Zoo Express:
Rubrics and feedback can be a hard thing to get right. In the end, anything that requires a rubric also requires a subjective assessment. There is no getting around a teacher having to add personalized feedback to it. To do so, you need a tool that simplifies and streamlines both the process and workflow. That’s where Joe Zoo Express can help
Joe Zoo is an all in one feedback add-on for Google Docs that gives you many of the capabilities you need to provide positive feedback to students. To start, it has a rubric builder that is quick and easy. You build a rubric within their web portal, and the add-on allows you to insert that saved rubric and use it. You can also add comments and see insights. It indeed gives you a great feedback option.
Another feedback tool that gives you options. The idea is that you can record audio feedback that you can then add to a student's Google Doc. If you have ever had the text you have written lost in translation, you know this tool is excellent. The add-on simple lets you highlight text within the Google Doc and record your voice. The students can then see and click on those audio files as they open their document. You can then save that comment to reuse it on other students work.
This way of commenting has to advantages. To start, students can hear things like the tone in their feedback. This gives them an added layer of insight that allows them to improve their writing. It also can be a bit quicker than typing. Just highlight and speak, and you can add those comments to the doc!
Google actually offers Google translate as an add-on directly in Docs. From a teaching standpoint, this is incredibly helpful. If you have have been teaching long enough, you have had a student in your class where a language gap between you and those individual students can impede their learning. It’s no fault of either person, but the reality is that it makes the situation tough.
What if you could have that person write in their native language, and then you could translate it in docs? Translate allows you to both embrace their native language as they learn the countries language of choice, and it could even give you a place to allow students to comment and explain things in their native language that they may not be able to find just the right words for. While most people see the value in learning the language of choice within a country, they are living, having the option of a native tongue provides both comfort and understanding. Tha’s exactly what we want kids to have. We want them to be comfortable in our classroom, and we want them to understand what they are trying to learn.
Docs to Form
This is one that I think on the surface doesn't look that helpful, but when you drill it down to the assessment level, you realize that it can be incredibly beneficial. Most teachers operate from a standpoint where they have content specific notes and notebooks somewhere. They also have to give assessments which can be done effectively in Google Forms. This add-on makes the process of going from one to the other reasonably straightforward.
When you start the add-on, it pops a menu on the right-hand side of the screen that lets you build forms directly from the information you have in Docs. You still have to copy and paste stuff from Docs to the add-on, but having the add-on means I don’t have to have a whole other browser window open. It allows me to copy content directly from my notes into an assessment format within Google Forms, and anything that makes my life easier is an incredible tool for me.
GradeProof: Proofreading with AI
This is the one that I think is a bit off the wall, and to get the full value it does cost a bit. If your teaching writing or writing on a regular basis, it may be worth it though. The primary function of GradeProof is to proofread things within your Google Doc. It also checks plagiarism in the premium version which may be of incredible use to teachers who are having students write on a regular basis.
The program works by using AI to check what is in your paper. It checks everything from spelling, to grammar, to phrasing, to eloquence, to in-depth analytics about what the document contains. It can give both a teacher and incredible student insight on how to improve their writing. The price could be a little restrictive for some (it’s $120 a year), but its one of those things which I think can be used consistently. Consistent use makes $120 worth it.
Let’s take this post to talk about Virtual Reality. VR is one of those spaces in education technology that is still a wild, wild west. There are so many education technology companies that have dipped there toes into the VR pool, and there are so many startups that are trying to gain a foothold in schools. Just last year at ISTE, I saw Google add to Expeditions, companies that let students create VR, and companies that give students an all in one headset. This year we have seen the explosion of Merge (the Cubes have led to headset purchases) and Google getting into the VR creation field with Tour Creator. All of it’s impressive and at times hard to follow, but I think the most impressive maybe what Oculus did. I recently purchased an Oculus Go, and at present, I think it might end up being the winner of the VR race to the middle.
When you look at every company participating in the Virtual Reality field, I think one thing is for sure. The middle is where it is at. For the past couple of years, you only had two choices to get into VR. You could use phone-based VR which requires that your phone is inserted into a headset to be used as the lenses for viewing, or you could use the intensive VR of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive which requires expensive kits and a costly gaming PC. There was no middle ground. No version did not need a substantial financial commencement or a cell phone. That’s beginning to change, and I recently obtained the most mainstream of the middle ground devices, the Oculus Go.
To start, the Oculus Go solves a multitude of problems with Virtual Reality. To start, it is a standalone headset that just needs a phone to set up. Once the setup is finished, the headset is connected to wifi and works almost entirely without it's accompanying mobile app. You can run virtual reality software, purchase new experiences, and connect to the web all from inside the headset. It's really the first headset that you can describe with ”no fuss, no muss.”
If you're talking about content, the best way to describe it is decent. Oculus Go connects to the Oculus store which was already built out somewhat because it's the same company that makes and supports the Samsung galaxy gear. There are plenty of options as far as apps go especially if you are willing to pay. From an education perspective, there are some excellent options revolving around the human body, space, travel, and places in the world. I wish it had access to Google’s content though. The Rift has a Google Earth with street view option on it but is nowhere to be found on the Go. From what I can see, it's either a lack of processing power on the Go that keeps it off, or it's just Googles lack of willingness to support one of their main competitor's products (Facebook owns Oculus). Having Street View and Expeditions on the Go would genuinely make it a must-have for education, and I would also love to see a native Youtube 360 app. You can access Youtube 360 through the Gos browser, but getting there takes just way to many steps. Getting Google content on Go may just take Google and Facebook playing nice, but I would not hold my breath.
Hardware wise it's certainly the most accessible option, and it could be one of the best options for schools. To start, it's only $200. I don't know that we will ever see a full headset get lower than that. When you think about what it includes, it's a lot of bang for your buck. It contains what amounts to an Android display setup on its interior, speakers, storage, and a computer with a decent amount of processing power. All of those hardware specs can be described as better than average when compared to other devices, but the key is that it puts it all in an accessible VR package. There will be some who will knock things like the screen resolution and processing power, but in reality, it's good enough for most.
I think when you look at new hardware a whole lot of folks also miss the little things when judging a product. With this headset, that includes battery life, phone pairing, and comfort. From a battery life perspective, it's again decent, but I did not expect much else. VR takes processing power which can quickly drain a battery. I noticed that it lost around 20% of a charge in about an hours use. I don’t think that’s a major issue though as charging is a simple micro USB, and you could wear the headset while it is plugged in if necessary. The headset also needs a phone to begin its setup process, and I found it’s pairing with my iPhone 8 to be seamless. The Oculus Go app prompts you through setup, I didn’t have to go through Bluetooth settings to do so, and adding software is incredibly easy in both the app and the headset itself.
Comfort wearing can be a make a break or break thing for VR headsets, and this headset does the best job it can to make things comfortable. Naturally, it’s going to be heavy on your face. It has computer components and battery built directly into it, so those things are going to add weight. I have noticed the weight, but it is not so much it's unbearable. The straps also adjust, fit well, and they are comfortable. I was a bit concerned that the straps would fit my large head size, but they did so effortlessly with room to spare. I can’t say the same about every other headset. The piece that sits flush against your face is also soft, and it looks like it can quickly be taken off for cleaning.
Overall, I LOVE the Oculus Go. There is not anything even remotely close to it on the market at the moment. I still don’t think I would recommend it for extensive school use yet though. I think there are just too many factors in the VR game at the moment that can change quickly. Many companies are still trying to get to that middle, and that middle is going to start on the consumer side. It’s going to take VR companies (including Oculus) time to see the education value in their product and have a team that focuses on education issue and content. There is value in the educational content that is already on Oculus, but it needs to continue to be flushed out to make a real school impact. If they both companies wanted to (and that’s a huge if), it could start with Google’s education-oriented VR. I think you also could also run into issues with the Go as the company does not recommend use for children under 13, and it could make some queasy. If there is any place for this to start in schools, I think it may be having 1 or 2 in a media center at the high school level to experience destinations of study, and I think it absolutely has a place in higher education. Really, Oculus Go is not the all in one VR answer schools are looking for, but it one of the best places to start to get close.
Bird Brain Technologies is an incredible company, and they have some impressive new tricks up there sleeve. Bird Brain makes both Finch robots, and they make Hummingbird robotics kits. Out of all of the kits and maker supplies I have tried, Hummingbird is easily one of my favorites, and now they have added Microbit!
Hummingbird kits consist of a custom Arduino board, lights, sensors, and motors. The idea behind them is that a student can take the board, wire it with whatever they want, and add the electronic components to something they have made out of arts and crafts materials. It means students can make almost anything with them including some awesome robots. I have seen middle school students make coffee drinking robots, police cars, dioramas, UFO’s, and more. It is genuinely a maker activity that gives students endless possibilities.
Adding Microbit capability takes it up one more notch. A Microbit is a $30 board that gives students a the ability to program its onboard LED’s, buttons, power ports, and sensors. Microbit has it's it’s own blockly coding program, but it also works with Python as well. Adding it to the Hummingbird gives you the ability to run the Hummingbird “headless” which can open up a world of possibilities.
Running it “headless” basically means that you can run the Hummingbird without it being attached to a computer. In the past, you would always have to connect Hummingbird to a computer through a USB cable and run its programming through one of the many software platforms it supports. Running it headless means I can create the program ad detach the board to build standalone robots and items such as intruder alarms that use the Hummingbird sensors to take actions. It makes the Hummingbird kit more than just an incredible maker activity because now I can build tools for the real world that I can reuse. That’s important to show any kid!
Check out Hummingbird HERE
Cubelets are an exciting concept for a maker tool. They are basically big blocks that in some way have similarities to Legos. You build a new creation with them. The key to it all though is that each of them has some sort of function. You have some that drive, some that are Bluetooth, others that spin, and a whole lot more. The entire goal is to build a robotic creation that you can also code.
Anytime you work with Robots you also need a great lesson library to help you in support. Thankfully, Modular Robotics helps you with that! Check it out HERE.
It’s time for a quick blog about video creation, and you can’t talk about video creation without We Video. Apple has always taken the lead on content to creation with Adobe being a close second, but the issue is not every one has the device or expertise that is needed to make videos on those platforms. Chromebooks are taking over the world, and there has to be a way for students to create a video with it, and thankfully We Video fits the need.
We Video is a full video production suite online. From a production suite standpoint, it is a somewhere in between iMovie and the professional suites that Adobe puts out there. More importantly, though it's entirely web-based, it also apps on both significant platforms to indeed make WeVideo about the only tool you can teach no matter the device
Check it Out HERE
Google is being Google, and they are in the process of shifting one of their approaches to their suite of tools. Google’s strategy has always been to put something out there and then iterate on the design. They are in the process of iterating on Chrome, and those iterations are something Google schools (especially with Chromebooks) need to know.
The main iteration is that Google has started to phase out Chrome apps, and they are filling that need in a couple of different ways. They are porting Android apps over to Chrome, encouraging developers to develop dynamic web apps, and they are helping developers to add apps to Google Drive. That last one is what this blog is all about. We are going to discuss my 5 favorite Google Drive apps. Of course, everyone knows about Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms, so we will skip those. To find the ones we are talking about, go into Google Drive, click new, and then click more.
We have started the heart of the summer season for schools. If you are out of school, you might be enjoying some relaxing time with your family by the pool. If you're like me, you're running through events both for you and your kids. Summer can also be a season though for learning, and my friends at Common Sense have curated some both some excellent books and podcasts to check out
Find the Books HERE
Find the podcast HERE
I have been debating whether to write something on this topic for a few days now, but I think it’s time. I typically don’t want my blog to have political issues in it, but I think the one that is in the broader conversation right now warrants it. If you disagree with my point of view, I hope you can appreciate it and agree to disagree. It’s something that has weighed heavily on my heart in the last few days, and if my buddies at Little Bits have the guts to speak out, I should too.
What am I talking about? This blog is going to be all about the current administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy. Why do I think it’s warranted here? It’s affecting children, and it makes me sick every time I hear about it. I also think there is a broader discussion to be had involving the way we educate children.
Immigration is an incredibly complicated issue especially when it comes to the US southern border. On the one hand, you want to protect the US from violence, drugs, and other negative influences that can come across our border from other countries who struggle to keep those things at bay. On the other hand, you also have to treat others as human beings no matter where they come from, their skin tone, their language, or any of the other factors that make cultures unique around the world. You also want to have compassion for those who are fleeing violent situations in countries of turmoil. No matter the case, a human being should be treated with compassion.
Compassion is not what is being carried out currently. No one in their right mind should condone the forcible removal of children from their family unit. Thankfully, public pressure has forced the administration to backtrack somewhat on that piece of their zero-tolerance policy, but there are still many who have not been reunited with their parents as of this writing. Others are being forced into detention centers with their parents which is better than the alternative, but it can still cause considerable harm to that child emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. While I don’t have the perfect answer on how to handle the issues of these families coming over the border, anything lacking compassion is not it. Can you imagine having to choose between staying where you are and possible dying violently or going somewhere else where your children could be detained in some way? I can’t.
As I have seen these headlines in the last week, I also got sucked into watching the teacher appreciation surprises that Ellen DeGeneres does on a regular basis on her show. Those videos give me hope that the United States won’t get sucked into a cycle of hate, lack of compassion and that there are still incredible human beings who see every person for the light that they are. In many instances, Ellen rewards incredible teachers who take students from lower economic backgrounds, and they get incredible things from them. Many times the kids in these pieces are migrant children. It gives you hope that schools can be a safe space no matter the factors that may differentiate that child on a surface level. There are SO many teachers who show that compassion every day, and they will continue to be some of the lights that shine the brightest.
I pray and hope every day that we can get to a point where we see other human beings as just that. Humans breathe the same way; they sleep the same way, and the bleed the same way. We have a responsibility to teach that compassion, love, and understanding to every student that walks through our doors. If we do, those students can get a greater perspective that will let them solve world issues, create things that help many, and change the world for the better.
Bringing compassion back is going to take everyone doing more. When policies are so anti-human, we have to scream from the rooftops about those injustices. Our education community is strong, and education businesses that center on “what’s best for kids”often fall on the same side of what is the most compassionate response. Just this morning, I received an email from my friends at Little Bits that did just that. They announced that they would donate 20% of all of their direct sales in the next week to help fight for compassion and against the extremist policies of the current administration. For them, that’s a huge step as it also coincides with what I imagine is one of their biggest direct sales weeks of the year. ISTE is this week, and I can only imagine the number of people who get excited about their product and make a purchase. It also took incredible guts to step out there at the risk of alienating a portion of their consumer base. Little Bits act of kindness was an incredible step, and if you were thinking about making a purchase, do it this week! The Little Bits Code Kit is excellent.
Personally, I want to do more to help these families, but I feel a bit helpless. As an educator with four kids, I don’t have considerable income that I can contribute to help. What I can do is teach my kids that we treat every human equally. They all have something unique to share with the world. Some go down negative paths and should have consequences for the choices that they make, but they are still human and need to be treated with love. I also want to empower all of my children to change the world for the better. The United Nations has something called the “Sustainable Development Goals or SDG’s,” and they can be an incredible place to start in understanding world issues.
I am no longer in the classroom, so my scope of change is primarily contained to my own children. If you're still in the classroom, you can go much broader. You see and mold a group of kids every year, and if you fill your class with compassion and love it rubs off. If you give kids the opportunity to understand world issues and the “SDG’s,” they could be that one kid that changes things for the better. If you don’t believe it can happen, watch this VIDEO from Google Science Fair winner Olivia Hallisey, it will change that view quick.
Education continues to be the light that can change the world, and it’s more important than ever. Teachers are the light on the front line of all of the issues that plague our society, and they can be the light that changes things for the better. If you're a teacher and you feel like the problems with the profession are weighing you down, remember that. Educators have to be there to change it to the positive.
There are those apps and tools that you know are magic as soon as you see them. They may do something no one has ever thought of, or they come up with a smart way to solve a problem. Seesaw was just that app for me.
Seesaw is a portfolio app. It allows kids to put all their work in one place and add reflections easily. It also has an easy login for your children as all they have to do is scan a QR code. To me, it gives you a multiuser tool that students can both create and turn in creation assignments on. It makes it easy to turn in on almost any device.
If you want to know more check out there PD in your PJs series HERE
One of my favorite tools is getting a significant upgrade. At its core, Symbaloo is great, social, digital bookmarking. It gives you a tile-based system to save all of your essential sites on one wall. From a school standpoint, this is great from the start because it gives younger teachers a place to have their littles easily access where they need to go.
Where it comes up a notch is when you realize that you can embed Google tools into it. This means it can be a fantastic avenue to things like choice boards and differentiated workflows. All you have to do is write the directions in a Google Doc then pop in the Google Doc link. It also means you can use it for things like curating Youtube walls
In recent years, Symbaloo has been basically three different platforms. They have had the regular Symbaloo I talked about above, a pro version which gives some control over domains, and a system called learning paths which uses the tiles to make a game board with learning activities. Would it make sense to combine all of these? Well, yes, and that’s what they are doing. By the end of the summer, all three will be combined!
Check them out at symbaloo.com.