Friday, December 7, 2012

Add Images to Your Google Forms

Until adding images directly into Google Forms becomes available, check out the great solution put together by James Eichmiller.  It's really easy to use.  You can find the step-by-step instructions at

Here is the URL of the spreadsheet you'll need a copy of:

I put together the video below to demonstrate the process.

Complete List: 15 Ways to Be a Smarter Teacher

I really enjoyed reading the 15 Ways to Be a Smarter Teacher series posted by Ian Jukes on the Committed Sardine blog.  Here's the list he put together.  Click on each one to read more.

  1. Smart Teachers Understand That It’s About Them Not About Us.
  2. Smart Teachers Study Their Students.
  3. Students Take Risks When Teachers Create Safe Environments.
  4. Smart Teachers Exude Passion As Well As Purpose.
  5. Students Learn When Teachers Show Them How Much They Need to Learn.
  6. Smart Teachers Keep It Clear Even When They Can’t Keep It Simple.
  7. Smart Teachers Practice Vulnerability Without Sacrificing Credibility.
  8. Smart Teachers Teach From the Heart.
  9. Smart Teachers Repeat the Important Parts.
  10. Smart Teachers Ask Good Questions.
  11. Smart Teachers Don’t Just Pass Out Information.
  12. Smart Teachers Stop Talking and Start Listening.
  13. Smart Teachers Let Their Students Teach Each Other.
  14. Smart Teachers Avoid Using the Same Approach For Everyone.
  15. Smart Teachers Never Stop Teaching.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Guest Blog Series About 1:1 with Chromebooks at Leyden

In case you missed these, here are the links to the complete series of guest posts that were written for Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog about Leyden High School District 212 going 1:1 with Chromebooks this year.  We very much appreciated the opportunity to share our story with Scott's followers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Getting Started With Google+ for Educators

On November 15, 2012, Google announced that Google+ became available for Google Apps for Education domains.  That was really exciting news!  Like many others educators, I had been using Google+ through my personal Google account to connect with lots of different people.  Now that it's available for all of the faculty and staff in my district, I can imagine some amazing ways we can use it to expand our personal learning networks, provide professional development opportunities, hold group meetings, and much more.  The most interesting question will be if and when we should enable Google+ for our students.  The available premium features appear to be excellent options for limiting student usage to within their domain.  We'll see.  But it all starts with getting our teachers familiar with and using Google+ first.  I put together the following narrated presentation to assist the Leyden teachers with getting started, but hopefully others find it beneficial, as well.  So, if you'd like to learn more about Google+ and how to get started, turn up your volume and play the presentation below (I'd recommend viewing it in full-screen).  I'd love to hear how others are using Google+ in their schools and if this presentation was helpful, so please consider leaving a comment.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Advanced Gmail Search Operators

Did you know that you can quickly search your Gmail account for messages to or from specific people?

Did you know that you can search for email that only contains attachments?

Did you know that you can search for email within a specific date range?

Did you know that you can search for email by size?

If you haven't recently reviewed the advanced search operators available in Gmail, check them out here.

You can also watch the following video from The Google Gooru that was recently created and highlights a few of the operators.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Read&Write add-on for Google Docs

Thanks to the Free Technology for Teachers blog by Richard Byrne, I learned about the Read&Write add-on for Google Docs.  Installing this Chrome Web App provides the following features within Google Docs:
  • Text To Speech with Dual Synchronized Highlighting.
  • Talking Dictionary
  • Picture Dictionary
  • Vocabulary Tool
  • Study Skills tools to capture Google highlights
This could be a valuable tool for students at all levels, but especially those with learning disabilities, struggling readers, and English Language Learners.  Check out the video below for more details and a demonstration.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

New Gmail Compose and Reply Experience Coming Soon

On October 30, 2012 I read a blog post that announced the new Gmail compose and reply experience that will be rolled out in the near future.  I found the ability to test this out in my personal Gmail account and put together the following sneak peek of what's to come.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure Google Forms

Have you ever wanted to create a single Google Form that displays different questions based upon the users answers?  Check out my screencast below to learn how to use page breaks and the "go to page based on answer" option with multiple choice questions to accomplish this task.

Be sure to change the resolution to 720 HD and watch this video in full screen mode.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sometimes it's the little things - Canned Responses in Gmail

I get it. We live in a time when people want information when they want it, on their terms, and that fits their timelines and needs. As the Director of Technology for my district, when I share something new with our faculty, it may not be needed by everyone at that time. It may eventually be helpful at a later date, however, and I certainly can't expect our faculty to archive and index every email I send them. So, what to do? This year, one new thing we started was a faculty tutorials Google site that we use to archive every tutorial, screencast, and other training materials that gets produced by a variety of technology leaders in the district. This provides a phenomenal repository of resources that teachers can peruse to find something specific or to just see what's new. It also makes it very easy for me to respond to an email inquiry by just sharing a link to a section of the tutorials site. While this has been tremendously beneficial, it doesn't help in every situation. There are times when a more personal touch is needed or when someone asks me a question that does not have a tutorial as an answer. This is where canned responses in Gmail comes in very handy. Instead of storing information in a variety of files that would require me to find, open, copy, and then paste the information into my current email, I can keep everything I need right where I need it... in my inbox. A couple examples of how I use canned responses include storing the details about our Dell employee purchase program and the details of the resolution to a common SlideRocket account problem. Both of these are randomly needed a few times every year. Storing them as canned responses that can be added to any email has been extremely helpful and a big time saver for me.  Canned responses are even great to just store those phrases and sentences I find myself using over and over.  Yep, sometimes it's the little things that make me happy. If you'd like to learn a little more about setting up and using canned responses, please watch the SlideRocket presentation below.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Google Docs Offline On Your Chromebook

Many of our Leyden students have a need for accessing their Google documents on their Chromebooks when they don't have Internet access.  I put together the following tutorial to explain the basics of enabling and using offline docs on a Chromebook.

Before the end user/student can set this up, make sure that offline docs are enabled in the Google Apps for Education control panel:  Settings > Drive and Docs > General > Offline.  There is an "Allow users to enable offline docs" checkbox.

This slide deck contains audio.

Unfortunately, SlideRocket was bought out by another company and no longer provides an educational product.  Here is the PDF version of the slide deck.  Sorry, no narration.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chromebooks at Leyden - The Logistics of 1:1

A few weeks ago, a couple of my colleagues and I were asked if we'd be guest bloggers on Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog and do a 4 or 5 part series on going 1:1 with Chromebooks in our district:

Part 1 - Why 1:1? Why Chromebooks? authored by Jason Markey, East Leyden Principal (posted 9/17/12)
Part 2 - The Logistics of 1:1 authored by me (posted 9/24/12)
Part 3 - From the Classroom – How Learning is Evolving with Access for All (coming soon)
Part 4 - Student Tech Support – Student Ownership of 1:1 (coming soon)
Part 5 - still in the planning phase

Here is a copy of my post.

The wonderful thing about Chromebooks, is Chromebooks are wonderful things.
Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs.
They’re bouncy, flouncy, pouncy, trouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!
The most wonderful thing about Chromebooks, is they’re the only one!

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t be trying to write a blog post at the same time while watching my 15 month old daughter, but hopefully I got you started reading this with a smile.  This is the second post in the four-part series on going 1:1 with Chromebooks in our district that a few of my colleagues and I were asked to write for Scott McLeod’s amazing Dangerously Irrelevant blog.  Be sure to check out the first post in the series, Why 1:1? Why Chromebooks? written by Jason Markey, our principal at East Leyden High School.

Let me start by suggesting that one of the really wonderful things about Chromebooks is that they actually eliminate or simplify a number of logistics.  While researching and planning to go 1:1 in our district, this made the Chromebook an extremely attractive choice for us.  Far too often over the past 12 years that I’ve been the Director of Technology for our district did technology initiatives run into problems because of logistics.  The following are some of the key highlights that we’ve experienced so far:

None.  Really, none.  We purchased enough devices that they came pre-setup with our wireless network configured and enrolled into our Google Apps domain.  We were able to take them out of the box and give them directly to students.

We purchased our Chromebooks directly from Google so the management tools were included.  If you purchase them from a different vendor, you can contract with Google to add the management capabilities.  Basically, this adds a ChomeOS section to the Settings tab in your Google Apps for Education control panel.

Being web-based, I can quickly and easily manage our entire fleet from just about any web-based device I may be working on.  Some of the management features we have implemented through the control panel are as follows:

    • Proxy Server - We force all of our Chromebooks to communicate through a proxy server so that our students will always be working behind our firewall and content filter.  This was critical for us since our students take their devices home.
    • Screen Lock - We force all of our Chromebooks to be locked after a set amount of idle time or upon closing the lid.  The students can easily re-enter their passwords to pick up working where they left off.
    • Default Homepage - We control not only what the default homepage is for all of our students, but also define multiple different tabs to open each time they log into their device.  That has proved beneficial when we want to get particular information delivered to or highlighted for all of our students.  For example, we created a webpage about digital footprints that was the first page students saw for a week.
    • Account Access - We do not allow “guest mode” on our devices and only allow users within our domain to log in.
    • ChromeOS Updates - We have the ability to allow or prevent our Chromebooks to auto update and can restrict the version of ChromeOS our students are using.
    • Chrome Web Store - We currently allow our students full access to the Chrome web store, however, we can easily turn it off or restrict which resources our students have access to in the web store if necessary.
    • Apps & Extensions - We push out a base package of apps and extensions to all of our students to help standardize some of the tools and practices used in our district.  A few of the tools in our base package include the Google Tasks, Google Dictionary, and Readability extensions and the GeoGebra, Desmos Graphing Calculator, WeVideo for Drive, and Kindle Cloud Reader apps.

That’s about it.  It doesn’t seem like a lot and that’s really the beauty of it.  There just isn’t much to manage for a Chromebook environment.  I’d also like to note that if you have your Google Apps domain grouped into organizational units (OU), you can configure your management settings differently for each OU.

Once again, none.  There is no software to install and manage on the Chromebooks.  With our initiative to move teaching and learning to the Web, our teachers and students have the freedom and power to use just about any free tool or resource they choose.  In my opinion this can foster more student choice which could lead to more student engagement and creativity.  Check out one of my previous blog posts on this topic.

Because all of our Chromebooks are exactly the same and any user will have the same exact experience regardless of which device they use, we were able to randomly assign the Chromebooks to the students.  We built a system that was used during our registration/book pick-up day the week before school started that had a staff member scan a student’s ID badge, scan the Chromebook’s serial number, scan the Chromebook’s asset tag (self created), and then scan the power cord’s serial number to create a record in a database and officially assign the device to the student.

One of the most exciting things we’ve done in conjunction with going 1:1 this year was to develop a new Tech Support Intern (TSI) class.  This is an elective course in our Business Education department that runs every period of the day and serves as the starting point for all of our teachers’ and students’ tech support needs.  More detailed information about this class will be featured in the fourth post of this series, so stay tuned.  For the purposes of this blog post, it’s important to note that we purchased 60 extra Chromebooks per school to serve as loaner devices that can be issued to students through the TSI class when they have a device in need of service.  Our goal was to never have a time when a student did not have a Chromebook.

This is one of the logistics that choosing Chromebooks completely eliminated for us.  With the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook battery lasting 8+ hours, we were able to require our students to bring a fully charged Chromebook to school every day and be assured that they’d be able to use it in every one of their classes.  Since this is a requirement, there are consequences for not bringing a Chromebook to school and for not having a charged device.  If students find themselves in either situation and need a device to participate in class, they can check out a loaner from the TSI class.  The TSI class keeps statistics on how many times a student checkouts out a loaner because they did not have their own to use and sends reports to our deans to assign the consequences.

We issued a protective case to all of our students and require them to carry their devices in those cases when not in class.  They are small enough to even fit in a backpack.  We’re hopeful this will cut down on the breakages.  To help prevent any mysterious disappearances, either on accident or on purpose, we had all of our Chromebooks laser engraved with the following text:

Property of Leyden High School District 212
If found or presented for sale,
please call 847-451-3017.
ID# 2012-2xxxx

In addition, we added a barcoded asset tag to each device with the number matching the engraved ID number on the device.  We outsourced the engraving and asset tagging work which was completed before we even took delivery of our Chromebooks.

We currently have sufficient building-wide wireless coverage to ensure that our students can use their Chromebooks everywhere they need to.  In addition, we currently have a 250 MB Internet pipe for each of our two campuses.  So far, both the wireless infrastructure and our bandwidth are holding up.

I may have missed a few logistics topics, but am more than willing to field your questions, so feel free to contact me at, via Twitter @LeydenTechies, or through my blog at

I’ll wrap up by mentioning that we have been thrilled with the digital evolution of our district into a fully 1:1 environment and many of our success are a result of choosing to go with the Google Chromebook.  The most important factor to our success so far, of course, is our teachers.  We have incredibly talented teachers that have risen to the challenge of moving teaching and learning to the Web.  Because we didn’t have to hire any additional tech support or dedicate as much time, money, and resources to going 1:1 with Chromebooks as we may have needed to do with other devices, we were able to hire two full-time instructional tech coaches to support our teachers.  Please check back for the next post in this series, From the Classroom – How Learning is Evolving with Access for All, to learn more about the professional development we’ve done and the amazing things our teachers and students are now doing.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this post.  “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”  Uh oh, guess it’s time to get back to my kids ;-)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Do More With Discovery Education

As more of my district's teachers have started to implement the Discovery Education content and resources available to them into their lessons, I decided it was time to add another set of tutorials.  In a previous post, I demonstrated how teachers can search for resources and then share the links with their students.  If you're ready to take things to another level, you can start to share DE resources with your colleagues in your school and/or district and (this is the really big one) you can create your own classes, add your students, and create assignments that get delivered directly to the students.  Two of the assignment types that you can build are writing prompts and quizzes and the results of both can be reviewed and commented on by the teachers.  I go into a lot more detail in the videos.  Be sure to watch them in full screen and 720 HD.  Enjoy!

How to Share Discovery Education Resources With Your Colleagues

Creating Discovery Education Classes, Adding Students, and Creating Assignments

Monday, August 27, 2012

How to get the URL of a Discovery Education resource

A valuable resource we provide to the teachers and students in our district is access to the Discovery Education website.  It contains thousands of digital files of varying media types including full videos, video segments, images, clip art, audio tracks, songs, articles, interactive activities, complete lesson plans, presentations, handouts, assessment tools, and much more.  Many people associate Discovery Education with science and history, but their offerings now span dozens of subject areas including mathematics, English/language arts, health, world languages, visual/performing arts, research/study skills, teaching practices, career/work place skills, and more.  All of our teachers have the opportunity to create a Discovery Education account (Leyden teachers can click here to learn how) and, new for this school year, all of our students have been uploaded into the system and have accounts created for them (Leyden teachers can click here to learn how students log in).  In previous years, the only option for our teachers to use a Discovery Education resource was to project it in their classrooms.  Now that all of our students have their own Chromebooks, have their own Discovery Education accounts, and our teachers are publishing course content in a learning management system (we use OpenClass) or on websites, teachers can now share links to DE resources for students to access both in and out of the classroom.  The following video tutorial demonstrates how teachers can get the URL of a specific DE resource to share with their students.  Be sure to change the video resolution to 720 HD for best quality.  I plan on producing additional tutorials that show how teachers can create classes in their Discovery Education accounts, add their students, and share resources within the system.  So check back later.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Listen to iTunes Audio Podcasts on Your Chromebook

If you'd like to start having your students listen to iTunes audio podcasts on their Chromebooks, there is a solution.  Just have your students install the iTunes Audio Preview/Podcast Downloader extension from the Chrome web store and then direct them to the appropriate podcast page.  The extension will add a Preview link next to each audio file that the students can click on and listen to.  This will also work for teachers on their laptops.  If you've never visited the iTunes podcast listing page, you should check it out.  There are thousands of free podcasts organized into dozens of categories that you can search through.  Once you find a podcast you'd like your students to listen to, you can share the URL with them by posting it on your website, in your learning management course (we use OpenClass in our district), or even emailing it to them. I'd imagine this could be a very popular tool in language classes.  Please note that this extension only works for audio podcasts and not video podcasts.  Enjoy!

Here's a screenshot of how the Preview link appears once you have the extension installed.  The URL for this particular podcast page is:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Flashcards Anywhere and Anytime with StudyBlue

During the first week of school in our new 1:1 environment, I had a few teachers inquire about different options for getting their students to use flashcards on their Chromebooks. I'm excited to share what I think could be a helpful and standard way of using online flashcards in our district.  Allow me to introduce you to StudyBlue. Here are some of the things I love about StudyBlue:

  • It works on any device: Chromebook, PC, MAC, Android device, and iPhone/iPad.  This allows teachers and students to create and study flashcards anywhere and anytime.
  • There is a Chrome web app that allows our teachers and students to log in with their Google Apps accounts.  By the way, this app has already been pushed out to all Leyden students, so they already have it.  Gotta' love the app management of the Chromebooks!
  • It's easy for teachers to create flashcard sets and share them with their students.
  • It's easy for students to create their own flashcard sets and they can share them with their friends.
  • Flashcards can contain images and audio clips.
  • Students can choose how many and in what order the flashcards appear.
  • Students identify which flashcards they have learned and can re-study only those they need to continue working with.
  • Students can monitor their progress after each review of a flashcard set.
  • Students can set alerts to notify them when it's time to study the flashcards again.
  • Teachers and students can search for thousands of public flashcard sets that have already been created.
  • Teachers and students can import material from Excel files or csv files.
  • Flashcard sets can be edited after they've been created.
  • Flashcard sets can be made public, public but anonymous, private, and even password protected.
  • It's FREE!
The following video shows how a teacher can create a flashcard set and share it with his/her students.  The video has been optimized for 720 HD resolution, so be sure to change your playback settings.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Replacing Printed Planers/Calendars with Google Calendars and Tasks

One of the side effects of going 1:1 in our district this coming year is that we are no longer providing our students with printed planners/calendars.  The function of that tool, however, does not need to be lost.  In fact, my opinion is that it can be easily improved by teachers maintaining course calendars and teaching the students how to effectively use Google Tasks.  The following video provides more information and a tutorial.

1:1 with Chromebooks Becomes a Reality at Leyden

In a little more than 24 hours (from the writing of this post), the next step in the digital evolution of Leyden Community High School District 212 will be achieved.  On August 14, Leyden officially becomes a 1:1 district when students report for the first day of classes... with their Google Chromebooks.  It has certainly been a long journey to get here, but that light at the end of the tunnel is now a blinding supernova.  For the past two years, we have been researching and planning for this day.  We're ready!  At least, I really think/hope we are.  Here are some of the key highlights to how we got here:

  • A dedication from our Board of Education, administration, teachers, and everyone to providing our students with the tools and environment that will allow them to be creative, collaborative, better critical thinkers, improve communication, foster the 21st century fluencies, and become better digital citizens.
  • Research, research, and more research!
  • Committees used for planning.
  • The addition of one hour to the weekly administrative council meetings to talk about going 1:1.
  • Coming up with a new plan for measuring student success.
  • A two year pilot program.
  • Upgrading the district's wireless infrastructure and bandwidth.
  • The implementation of Google Apps for Education for faculty, staff, and students.
  • Deciding to move teaching and learning to the web and that the Chromebook was the right tool to accomplish this goal.
  • Ongoing support from Google and the Chromebook team, which started with a site visit from a couple Googlers and a trip out to the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.
  • Adopting OpenClass as our learning management system.
  • Professional development opportunities, including our 2-day digital evolution summit which offered dozens of sessions taught by leading educational technology enthusiasts from across the country.
  • The hiring of two full-time instructional technology coaches.
  • The creation of our Tech Support Internship (TSI) elective class.
  • Publishing an informational website for parents/guardians and students.
  • Hosting an internal planning website for faculty and staff.
  • Working with a vendor on a solution that would allow students to access websites that do not work on the Chromebook but that would still remain behind our firewall and content filter.
  • Working with a vendor on a solution that would allow faculty and staff to monitor the screens of their students and even restrict their Internet access (still a work in progress).
  • Working with vendors to create and improve available Chrome web apps.
  • Working with some vendors on optional third party insurance plans.
  • Deciding to get our Chromebooks laser engraved and asset tagged.
It reads...
Property of Leyden High School District 212
If found or presented for sale,
please call 847-451-3017.
The ID# matches the barcoded asset tag.

  • Creating a Chromebook Intro website that loads every time the students log onto their device.
  • Deciding on which Chrome web apps and extensions to push out to every student's account (ongoing work in progress).
  • Developing a web-based Chromebook checkout system.
  • Handing out the Chromebooks the week before school during registration and book pick-up.

  • Having a tremendously talented and dedicated technology staff.
  • Having lots and lots of patience.
  • Knowing that what we are doing will make a difference.

I'm sure that I've forgotten at least a few things in my list, but I think you get the idea (if you've read this far). We are very excited about the upcoming historic year!  I suppose I should probably go to bed now to rest up for all the fun.

One last note, we are planning a few days during our first semester for anyone that might like to stop by and see and learn more about what we're doing.  Let me know if you're interested.  I can be reached at

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Create a Digital Assigment Dropbox with Google Forms UPDATED

Back in February I put together a post regarding using Google Forms to create a digital assignment dropbox for collecting student work (original post here).  The basic idea is to use a single Google Form throughout an entire course to collect the web addresses of students' digital work.  Creating the form will automatically create the spreadsheet for the teachers that they can use to see all of their students' assignments on one screen instead of needing to open dozens of individual emails or folders/collections in Google Drive.

Since my original post, it was decided that our district would issue a second Google Apps for Education account to all of our teachers in our student domain (we have one domain exclusively for faculty/staff and one for students).  Therefore, it is my recommendation that our teachers create their digital assignment dropboxes in the student domain.  There are two main advantages of doing this.  First is that the teachers can now require their students to be signed into their Google Apps accounts in order to submit their work instead of leaving the form open to the public.  Second, the teachers can automatically collect the usernames of the students filling out the form as an additional validation check.  To accomplish these goals, the teachers should create their forms in the student domain and check the appropriate boxes in the upper left corner of the form editing window:

Here is my original screencast with more information and the instructions for how to create the form.  Be sure to change the playback quality to 720p HD for the best clarity.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Suitcase Chromebook Cart

Tomorrow I am running a workshop on Chromebooks at a small local PD conference called the Taste of Tech hosted by the Illinois Learning Technology Center 1 Central (LTC1C).  My challenge was finding a way to transport 25 Chromebooks  for the participants to get hands-on with.  My district doesn't own anything portable enough for me to use, so I had to get a little creative.  My solution involved a suitcase, some of the packing materials from our Chromebook shipments, and an x-acto knife.  I'm happy with the results :-)   Since the Chromebook batteries last all day, I don't have to worry about bringing the power cords!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Student Choice Leads to Creativity

I am a huge advocate for allowing students to have a choice in the methods and tools they use to convey their learning.  This gets away from the idea that lesson plans and assignments have to be scripted by the teacher and can be challenging for some to implement.  But the end results can blow you away and supports and encourages students to be creative.  With the teacher focusing solely on the learning objective and then getting out of the way, students can and will become more engaged because they are making their own choices and become more invested in their learning.  For some students, creating a slide deck may be the best option.  For others it may be a podcast, a digital storytelling project, a VoiceThread, a Glogster poster, or even a timeless diorama.  The options are limitless.  I believe that students that can take on a task, challenge, or problem and then choose their own way to demonstrate and communicate their solution or what they learned will far better prepare them for their futures than if they can simply follow directions.

I was fortunate to recently attend ISTE 2012 and was excited when I learned that there were going to be two Ignite sessions.  I quickly added them to my schedule and was not disappointed.  For those not familiar, Ignite presentations are exactly 5 minutes in duration during which the presenter talks while 20 slides are displayed for 15 seconds each.  The presenter does not control the slides as they automatically advance, which certainly results in fast-paced and energetic presentations.  I absolutely love this presentation style!

During the second Ignite session,  Ben Smith (@edtechben), a physics teacher from Pennsylvania, gave a great presentation about allowing students to have choice and how it leads to creativity.  The best part was that the entire Ignite session was recorded and posted so that even those that couldn't attend the conference can be inspired by the talks.  All of the presentations are worth watching, but if you only want to focus on the student choice and creativity presentation by Ben Smith, skip to the 44:00 minute mark in the video below.

Video on Demand:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New User Interface For Chromebooks

Google just released version 19.0.1048.17 on their Chromebook Dev channel which includes an all new user interface.  Here are a few photos of what this looks like:

We will begin testing out this new version of the ChromeOS on one of our nine carts starting tomorrow.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Don't Get Stuck Digging Ditches

My father repeatedly told me when I was a young boy that if I wanted to dig ditches for a living then I should dig ditches, but he didn't want me to get stuck digging ditches because I didn't have any other options.  That always seemed to make sense to me every time he said it.  Now that the tables have turned and I am a father of three wonderful kids, it is one of my hopes and dreams for them to be able to make their own choices and do the things they enjoy.  Moreover, being an educator and a district administrator, this is something I hope for all children and students.  A big factor to obtaining this goal will be their education.  So, what kind of education will they need?  In a recent lecture event delivered by Tony Wagner to the THINK Global School, he shared some of his findings related to what business leaders are looking for in employees today.  Since, as Mr. Wagner suggests, "knowledge has become a free commodity" and "now, suddenly, everyone has access to all of the information in the world at their fingertips" it only makes sense that education should be different.   Mr. Wagner's research has resulted in the development of what he calls the Seven Survival Skills for Careers, College, and Citizenship.  Those skills are the following:

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination
If these are the skills that employers are looking for, shouldn't it be the responsibility of educators to foster their development?  Often times I find myself getting too wrapped up in what I'm doing that I lose sight of the big picture.  I always try my best to remember to take a step back and ask the simple questions.  Why am I doing this?  What am I trying to achieve?  What really matters?  Tony Wagner's seven survival skills will certainly become answers to some of my questions and help me stay focused on that big picture.

I highly recommend all educators watch Tony Wagner's Creating Innovators lecture event to learn more about his seven survival skills and their impact on education.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Augmented Reality Glasses Coming Soon???

Although much of my time these days is either spent planning and preparing for our district to go fully 1:1 next school year when we issue Google Chromebooks to almost all of our students or coaching my seven year old son's two different soccer teams, I do try to keep an eye on the future.  At the rapid pace that technology is evolving, it's almost impossible to keep up and yet I feel it's my job to make sure my district is prepared for, well, who knows what.  The who-knows-what that I've been most interested in are the developments being made with augmented reality.  Wikipedia defines augmented reality as being the "live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data."  There are already a number of products on the market that utilize augmented reality and I truly believe that they could become the next major transformative tools in education.  So I found it both funny and ironic today that, during a presentation to our faculty, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction (@LeydenASCI) used a video clip from Back to the Future showing Marty McFly on a hover board and suggested that that this type of future may not be all that far away and then soon after the presentation learned that Google announced that they have begun testing their new augmented reality glasses.  I quickly remembered an inspiring video I came across a few years ago from a graduate student titled Augmented Reality - The Future of Education and am excited to see how his vision is now close to becoming a reality.  Thanks Google!

One students dream back in 2009...

is getting closer to becoming a reality today thanks to Project Glass.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do More With Google Maps

I just came across the following presentation by Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) on his Free Technology for Teachers blog.  This is a great introduction into getting more out of Google Maps.  Some of the features he covers include the following:
  • Changing views and activating information layers
  • Adding Maps Labs features
  • Measuring distances
  • Creating and saving a personalized map
  • Adding collaborators to a personalized map
  • Adding placemarks
  • Embedding links, images, and videos into placemarks
  • Drawing paths between placemarks
I thought I knew Google Maps, but always manage to learn something new from Richard.  A big thanks to him for sharing his slides and his knowledge.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

YouTube for Teachers by Chad Kafka

Let me start by saying that I only wish I could take credit for the slides below.  These are great!  This slide deck was put together by Chad Kafka (@chadkafka) and includes a few items specific to his school, but the information can easily be transferred to any Google Apps for Education domain.  For those teachers new to using YouTube in the classroom and even the veterans, there will be something you can learn in these slides.  Way to go Chad, and thanks for sharing!

Monday, March 5, 2012

T.H.E. Journal Webinar on Chromebooks for Education

Mark your calendars now.  On Wednesday, March 21 from 2:00-3:00 pm CT, T.H.E. Journal will host a webinar on Chromebooks for Education.

Presented by:
  • Jaime Casap  (@jcasap)
    Senior Education Evangelist
  • Jason Markey  (@jmarkeyAP)
    Assistant Principal
    East Leyden High School
  • Bryan Weinert  (@LeydenTechies)
    Director of Technology
    Leyden CHSD 212                          <---  Hey, that's me :-)

Moderated byLinda Briggs, contributing editor, T.H.E. Journal

Jason and I will be sharing how and why our district has chosen to move to a 1:1 environment in the 2012-2013 school year when almost every one of our 3,500 students will be issued a Google Chromebook.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Computational Thinking Resources from ISTE

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has just released some great new resources related to computational thinking (CT).  You can find the following along with other resources on their website at

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Use Screencasts To Provide Feedback To Students On Their Digital Assignments

The following video shows a great way to use screencasts to provide feedback to students on their digital assignments.  This comes from Amy Mayer's Fried Technology blog.  I absolutely love this concept and think that pairing a verbal response to student work with all the great written collaboration that can take place today (i.e. Google Docs comments) is just outstanding.  While this video specifically demonstrates the use of the free Jing screencasting application and Google Docs, I think it can easily be expanded to other screencast tools and used to provide feedback on almost any type of digital work.  Well, maybe not multimedia projects that have sound, but just about everything else.  For example, you could create a screencast with your feedback as you navigate through a student's slideshow, digital presentation, Themeefy or Storify project, and much more.  I especially like this idea in language classes as it allows for teachers to provide verbal feedback in the language being studied.  Although this process does require a little investment of time to setup the first time you run through it, I think the overall benefit would be well worth it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Use Google Forms to Collect Your Students' Digital Work

Many teachers assign work to their students that results in some form of digital product.  The following tutorial is one method that could be used to help collect and organize all of this work.  The basic concept is to use a single Google Form that has enough questions to allow the teacher to filter the submissions and review the student work in any way the teacher prefers.  A significant feature of this method is the automatic time and date stamp added to each student entry so that assignments can have due dates and times outside of the traditional class period.  I'd be interested to hear what you think of this process, so please leave a comment.

Please note that if your students are in a different Google Apps domain than your teacher account, you will need to uncheck the box that requires the person submitting the form to be in your domain to make the form "public."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chromebook Announcement at FETC 2012

Today I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Eye Opener Keynote and a press luncheon at FETC 2012 where Rajen Sheth, Group Product Manager for Chromebooks, announced that three districts, including mine, will be going 1:1 with Chromebooks in the 2012-2013 school year.  Not only were these events a real honor to be a part of, they were a lot of fun.  It was the first time that I had been involved in something of this magnitude at a major conference and was made even more special by sharing it with Jason Markey (@jmarkeyAP), Mikkel Storaasli (@LeydenASCI), and our new #googleschool friends from Council Bluffs and Richland Two.  After the events, it was incredible to see things I had said being tweeted, blogged about, and quoted in various publications.  This was definitely an experience I'll never forget and cannot thank the Chromebook team enough for this opportunity and for all their support with Leyden Community High School District 212's digital evolution.  The following are some links to the video recap of the keynote and the articles that have been published so far:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm Talking Chromebooks at FETC

I'm currently at FETC 2012 in Orlando with Jason Markey (East Leyden Assistant Principal - @jmarkeyAP) and Mikkel Storaasli (Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction - @LeydenASCI) and will be participating in some presentations talking about Google Chromebooks.  Here's my schedule so far.  Please come hear more about how Leyden CHSD 212 is using Chromebooks, what are plans for the future are, and to just say hello.

Tuesday, January 24
1:00-3:00 p.m.   Chromebook Classroom -  a Technology Solution Seminar in room S230C
5:00-7:00 p.m.   Working at the Google booth

Wednesday, January 25
7:30-8:15 a.m.    Eye Opener Keynote-  Scaling Technology in Education:  Building on the Web in room SA1
                          (The URL for the keynote webstream is:
12:00-1:30 p.m. Press Roundtable
2:30-3:30 p.m.   Working at the Google booth

Thursday, January 26
12:00-12:30 p.m. Working at the Google booth

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Updates to Flubaroo grading script for Google Apps

A few months ago I blogged about Flubaroo, a phenomenal FREE script that you can easily implement with your Google Forms and Spreadsheets to create automatically graded student assessments. I just learned that Flubaroo has recently released some new features.  Check out the Flubaroo blog post to learn about these new features and, if you haven't already started to use it, check out the following overview video:

New Features -

Overview Video -

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Global and Digital Citizenship

An important task I've been working on lately is the updating of our district's technology policies.  As we prepare to move to a 1:1 environment next year with every student receiving a Chromebook, there are surely a number of policies and procedures that will need to change.  During my efforts, I was re-examining a variety of the digital citizenship resources that I've been collecting and stumbled across a recent post on the Committed  Sardine blog from Andrew Churches about Global and Digital Citizenship.  I have long appreciated Andrew's "six tenets of citizenship":
  1. Respect yourself
  2. Protect yourself
  3. Respect others
  4. Protect others
  5. Respect intellectual property
  6. Protect intellectual property
You can read more of Andrew's work on digital citizenship on his Educational Origami wiki.  One of his latest projects is the side-by-side comparison of global and digital citizenship.  Click on the image below for the full pdf version.  Please note that this is only a draft and Andrew is seeking comments and feedback.