Friday, October 30, 2015

Making Life Easier with the Chrome App Launcher

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After taking a break last week for NDEA, this week I wanted to talk about a tool that is more about making life easier and more efficient for both teachers and students.  The Chrome App Launcher is a tool that I have only recently started using, and I am amazed at how much easier it is to access the things I need to get to easily and how much faster I can be using that instead of my Chrome Apps page.

Basically, the Chrome App Launcher allows you to launch your favorite and most frequently used apps right from your desktop instead of having to first open Chrome, go to your Apps page, scroll through your pages of Apps, and find the one you want.  Even if you are accessing something on your main apps page, for most of us we are talking at least 3 steps: launch the browser, click the apps button to get to your apps page, and then clicking the app.  The App Launcher allows you to access your apps faster by essentially putting the apps page access on your desktop.

In addition to making it easier to launch your apps, it also makes it easy to organize and find them.  If you have a lot of apps (I had three pages of them when I started), you can organize them into folders, making them easier to locate.  I now have folders for my Office apps, my personal apps, my educational tools, my new things to try, etc.  My most frequently used ones I left on their own on the main page to make access easier.  And if you still have a ton of apps even after organizing them, you can use the search bar at the top of the tool to search for specific apps.

But wait, there's more!  This tool does more than just allow you to organize and quickly access your apps. The search bar also allows you to do basic searches for simple questions or do a Google search that will then open in a browser.  I found the simple question searches helpful because you can search simple math questions and avoid having to open up a calculator on the computer, or simple conversion questions, which can be helpful in a math or FACs class, but also just for personal use.

Overall, this tool has a lot of potential just for making life easier.  Teachers and students can both use it to make working and using Google more efficient and to stay more organized. To get the App Launcher on your computer, do a search on your computer for Chrome App Launcher.  You should see the app launcher icon appear and you can either right click and choose "Pin to Taskbar" or drag it to your taskbar.  Then you are ready to go!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Storyboard That

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Yesterday I was reminded of a tool that I haven't looked at in a while called Storyboard That.  In the past, I think I have mostly considered this to be a more elementary or middle level tool, but in reality it has great potential for high school too.  Basically, Storyboard That is an online tool for creating storyboards and organizing ideas.  You can even take your storyboard and turn it into a greeting card.  While the free version has some limitations (like a limited number of cells, only creating 2 storyboards per week, set layouts, etc.), it can be an easy and fun way to have students show what they know.  While the most obvious areas to use this would be English or Social Studies, Storyboard That provides a large variety of lessons and ideas using the tool that could be beneficial in multiple areas.  In addition to the collection of lesson plans and guides there are many existing storyboards that could make great supporting resources for a classroom lesson.  I would definitely recommend checking those out!

Basically, in the tool, you create a storyboard (either 3 or 6 shots for the free version) and then you can put in backgrounds (lots of different scene choices), people, speech bubbles and text, descriptive text for each cell, shapes, or uploaded pictures. While the free version is limited to a traditional 3x1 or 3x2 grid layout, there are still many possibilities for classroom use.  And of course, you can sign in with a Google account, making the one click login and registration process smooth and easy.

Overall, Storyboard That is a tool with a lot of classroom potential.  The lesson plans and guides provided on the website are incredibly useful and have a lot of great ideas!  Check it out using some of the links below and try one yourself!

Getting Started with Storyboard That Video

Link to Lesson Plans and Guides

Link to a Webinar About Storyboards in the Classroom from Free Tech for Teachers- It's good and worth checking out if you want to get more out of this tool - it's just long (60 minutes)

Here's a fun example of a teaching storyboard for Julius Caesar:

Create a Copy | View Larger

Friday, October 9, 2015

Formative Assessment in the Classroom and Tools to Help

Formative assessment has become a focus in the classroom here at my high school and there are a number of technology tools that can help with that.  I did a couple of blog posts last year on different formative assessment tools and the ones I like to use, so this post is simply a review of a couple of really helpful ones, with a link to a chart comparing a variety of options.

The formative assessment online tool I find myself recommending more and more is called Formative.  Not a super original name, but it tells you what it does.  I think what I like most about this tool is the variety of question options it has, both quick responses where you don't have to pre-load the questions, and quizzes and assignments you can create ahead of time.  Additionally, you can assign formative assessments to students, so it doesn't always necessarily have to be done live in class with students.  Students can answer a variety of ways, including by writing or drawing on the screen, or by taking a picture of their work and uploading it as an answer.  I find this one very helpful for math and science where it may not be feasible to have the students actually work through the answer on the computer as easily.  With formative, they can still work through the problem on paper, but then take a picture of it and turn that in so the teacher can still see their work.  Overall, formative has shown itself to be a well-rounded formative assessment tool, so if you don't like to use a lot of different tools in your classroom, this is a good one to try. And for more information, check out this old post from last year about Formative.

Kahoot is another formative assessment tool that I really like, simply because it is easy to use and fun.  I have used this with a few library lessons during summer school and the students are always engaged and have fun with it.  In an nutshell, Kahoot takes formative assessment and turns it into a game.  The premise is still the same (find out what your students know), but the set-up of Kahoot, the multiple choice answer format, and the "rankings" it gives after each questions turn it into a fun game for the students. This is a tool that can make a formative assessment more fun if not overused and timed right with the appropriate lesson. For more details about Kahoot, check out this old post from last year.

Plickers is a formative assessment tool that I have not personally used but learned about from a teacher during summer school who used it in her class.  It is basically the old version of holding up your notecards with an A, B, C, or D on them, but using technology.  The benefit of the Plickers is that instead of notecards with letters it uses QR codes, which are then held in one of 4 different directions by the students, which helps cut down on those students that are only holding up the letter A because they see everyone else doing it.  The students hold up their cards and then the teacher scans the room with the app open on a device (computer, iPad, tablet, phone, etc) and the app feeds the student answers into a format the teacher can see and review.  Like Kahoot, it is something a little neat and different, and while it is fairly limited in the types of questions you can ask, it is fun and engaging for students and can make formative assessments a little more interesting.

Well that's plenty of formative assessment information to get you going, but if you are still looking for different formative assessment tools to use in the classroom, check out this comparison chart from Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers.  It is a helpful way to compare different formative assessment tools and find the one that's right for you!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Voice Typing in Google Docs

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So clearly I am on a little bit of a Google kick to start they year out, but I promise to expand the horizons going forward.  However, Google just has so many neat little tools, add-ons, and extensions that can make life so much easier when they are used at the right time or in the right circumstances.  The tool this week is one I learned about earlier this year from our Special Services Assistive Technology Consultant.  It is a tool in Google Docs called Voice Typing.

Voice Typing does just what it sounds like.  It allows an individual to speak text into a document instead of typing it.  This can be a great tool for some of those students you have who struggle with writing, with forming their thoughts into organized, constructive papers and assignments, or who have limitations with being able to type.  It would also be great in foreign language, as it supports a variety of languages.  So far, the tool appears to be very easy to use and very accurate.  Additionally, it is already a part of the documents tools menu, so there are no additional extensions or add-ons to add to the document or account.

Overall, this tool is simple, easy-to-use, and could be very helpful for certain students, certain classes, or certain assignments.  Try it out or check out the link and video below for more help and info!

Link to Google Page with Help Info

Youtube Video About Voice Typing