Thursday, September 12, 2013

It's Windows! It's Mac! It's a #ChromebookEdu! #fb

I'm going to go ahead and break my new rule a little bit. Certainly that surprises no one :D For Apptastic Thursday, we are looking at a new kind of app instead of just one. The new Chrome Apps combine everything awesome about Chrome Apps with full functionality offline and on your Desktop like traditional software. These new Chrome Apps are designed "For Your Desktop". That don't exactly live inside your browser anymore. As of this posting, only available for Windows and Chromebooks. Mac and Linux coming soon. 

What makes them so great?

  • Launch from the desktop
    No more opening Chrome to get to these babies! They are inside the Chrome App Launcher.
  • Work Offline
    You know that whole myth about Chromebooks being useless offline? BUSTED!
  • Cloud Connect
    Your stuff is fully connected to the cloud, compliments of Google Drive of course.
  • Auto-Updates
    I don't even remember what that annoying little update box looks like anymore. Come over to the other side. It's great having stuff that is always up to date and just works!
  • USB, Bluetooth and other peripherals join the party
    That other myth about Chrome not playing well with USBs and the like? BUSTED!
  • It's Pretty!
    Yes. I went there. I absolutely LOVE that my work Windows machine now looks a little more like a Chromebook. YAY!
And what oh-so-fabulous apps are available in this new breed? I thought you might ask that. My favorites, in no particular order, are:
  • Google Keep
    LOVE, love, love Keep! I use it on my phone almost daily. Now all those handy, dandy reminders are on my desktop too. And of course, they sync up to each other. It speaks beautifully to my post-it note loving heart <3
  • WeatherBug
    Full disclosure: I used to LOATHE WeatherBug. I disliked it so much I actually blocked it from our school computers. Now? WHOA! This bad boy has got an amazing redesign. The word stunning actually comes to mind. For more fun, go into the settings of it and check the option for "closest weather station camera". It brings a whole new meaning to taking a look out the window. 
  • Pixlr Touch Up
    It's no secret that I love Pixlr. Most likely, it will be the Apptastic Thursday app in very short order. For many schools, I recommend it to replace PhotoShop (at least on the beginner level). It doesn't have all the bells and whistles that the full app/website has but it is certainly handy for working offline. 
  • Text
    The geeky girl inside of loves this app. I still feel the NEED for a basic text editor. Blame it on two many years working with HTML and writing scripts. Whatever the reason, I'm very excited to have this guy available offline. 
For now, that's it. Four super, amazing Desktop apps to get you started. What do you think? Which ones did I miss? Have fun!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Turn Off the Lights (Don't Light a Candle) @TurnOffTheLight

One of my FAVE-OR-ITE extensions is Turn Off the Lights. Not intended to be a slight to Teddy Pendergrass' song of the same name but this is something else entirely!

Turn Off the Lights is an extension for the Chrome browser. At it's very basic, it mutes/shades the screen except for the portion where the video is actually playing. In the classroom, this is brilliant for hiding other videos, ads, etc. I personally use it for watching videos not in full screen or to change the effect of the video I'm watching. Below is a screencast showing some of the features of Turn Off the Lights.

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.
**Screencast created using Jing.**

A couple of things to note:

  • It does not attach where many other extensions are. It actually shows up in the Omni bar (also known as the address bar). The lightbulb type icon will be there anytime you are on a webpage where it can be used. Generally that is going to be where there is a video of some sort.
  • There are some GREAT shortcuts to know
    Crtl + Shift + L to turn lights on/off
    Alt + F8 restore default opacity
    Alt + F9 save current opacity
    Alt + F10 enable/disable eye protection
    Alt + (Up arrow) increase opacity
    Alt + (Down arrow) decrease opacity
  • Check out the Options inside manage extensions!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Timeriffic! @rdrrlabs

While I still haven't weighed in on this video that was circling Twitter last week,  I will say I'm pretty attached to my devices. My cell phone is never left behind; it's kind of my life line.

 My all too frequent problem was remembering to change the volume of my phone based on where I was. I was constantly turning the volume up and down. When I went to work. When I left work. When I went to bed. When I woke up. You get the idea. The problem was that I didn't always remember to turn the ringer back up and would miss calls, notifications, etc. Have you ever tried to find a cell phone with the volume turned down?!?!  Then I found out, there is indeed an app for that. Say hello to my good friend Timeriffic!

This app allows me to have my phone automatically change the ringer and notification volume based on what time and day of the week it is. I have literally set it and then forget about it. Beyond ringer notifications, it also changes whether Wi-Fi is on, screen brightness, alarm volume, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, and more!

For me, this was a no-brainer. It is set during the workweek to a very low volume during work hours. When I walk out the door and head for Houston traffic, I don't have to remember to turn the volume back up because Timeriffic already did it! :D

Monday, September 9, 2013

Say Hello to the POWERFUL @Google Form :D

Have you used Google Forms yet this school year? You should. You need to. Everyday in every way. Here's your three minute video for creating Google Forms.

Need some general ideas for using it in the classroom? This will get you started:

  • Create a form for open house that asks for parent name, email, phone, best time to contact, child's name, allergies, etc. Now you have this wherever you go from field trips to the beach. You also have a list for copying and pasting parent email addresses. 
  • Use a form for Peer Feedback of an in-class presentation
  • Take your class paperless and use it for an answer sheet with a verbal quiz (think spelling test). 
  • Still keeping a reading log? HELLO Google Forms with your beautiful time/date stamp.
  • Speaking of time/date stamp, create a form that acknowledges help/failing grade/inappropriate behavior. Have students complete it to also acknowledge the behavior. Include drop down questions and text for them to personalize it as to WHY it happened. 
  • Paperless storyboarding and story building.
  • Inventory! Everything from books to serial numbers. 
  • With a little experience, they make GREAT create your own adventure makers!
**Update: Features released from Google today. Click here**
SO many great uses for Google Forms. I may need to come back to this topic and show a couple in more detail. Today I want to show you how to set-up a large scale inventory or record keeping system with multiple forms and ONE master.

As the Instructional Technology Director, I oversee 38 campuses that literally span the entire state of Texas. As part of our Chromebook deployment, we offer our students an OPTIONAL theft/loss policy. Each campus needed to have access to their own data on which students purchased the policy. I needed access for each campus. 

For record keeping purposes, every campus used a Google Form to track which students purchased the policy. It was a simple form that asked for student name, serial number, and payment method. The campus registrar and principal were then each given access to the spreadsheet for that form. 

I needed the information from all 38 spreadsheets (they were created as part of the Forms) and did not want to rely on copy/paste and did not want to visit all 38 spreadsheets individually. 

I created a Master Workbook in Google Docs. 
For every campus, I created a separate spreadsheet inside the Master Workbook. Each spreadsheet then automatically pulls in the data from each of the 38 separate spreadsheets created from the Google Forms. How?

Inside cell A:1 of each spreadsheet inside the Master Workbook I used the following formula:
Broken down the formula is as follows:

  • =ImportRange    <----- That is the formula
  • ("SpreadSheetID",   <---- Notice the parenthese and the quotation marks. The comma has no space in front of it. The SpreadSheetID is found in the URL of a spreadsheet. For example, this spreadsheet:
    has a SpreadSheetID of 0Amz5tB87ZkRDdEhMcWVTSXcxYWlONmctVlg2ZWtmNXc
    *The ID is essentially everything between the the key= and the #gid=0
  • "Range") There is NOT a space after the comma. Notice the quotation marks and parenthesis. I generally just make up a really large number to capture all the responses I will have on the form. 
And that's it! Now all the data from all 38 separate forms automatically fills into my Master Workbook. If you run into any problems or need any help, feel free to contact me or ask a comment below!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Innovate. Create. Repeat. #edTech

Professional Development is kinda my thing. One of my favorite parts about my job is the opportunity to work with other educators providing them tools to use in their classroom. The look of joy and excitement when something clicks… it’s just magical! Watching their thinking and ideas grow is a pretty amazing process.

What I’ve learned over the last few years is that educators are natural learners and innovators. They get excited and once they are rolling with an idea… Sally, bar the door! It just takes a spark, a thought, an idea to get them started. Once they know that it is “okay” to be innovative and step up to try something new, it’s fairly smooth sailing. I want to let all of you in on a little secret. It will be the crux of your teacher toolbox. This one secret will set you free to explore, to try new things, to jazz up your classroom. It’s really simplicity at its finest.

During most professional development that I provide, the secret is shared with this TRUE story.

When I first moved to Houston to take my position as the Harmony Public Schools Instructional Technology Director, my family stayed behind to finish up the school year. One particular morning, I couldn’t get my 11 year old to answer her phone. I tried calling. I tried texting. No dice. Oh boy! She had obviously fallen back asleep. What to do? What to do? Her phone was probably on silent or vibrate and she couldn’t hear it.

My problem was not “How can I teleport 200 miles away?” No. My problem was "How do I wake an 11 year old who has fallen back asleep?“ **This is where the story is closing in on the secret. ** Because she has an iPhone (don’t ask), I logged into “Find My iPhone” and clicked Sound Alarm. Within one minute she called me wide awake and very startled! Mission accomplished :D

Did you catch the secret? You DO NOT have to use apps for their intended purpose. That app was designed for finding a lost or stolen phone. It was never meant to function as an alarm clock for families separated by a couple hundred miles. But it worked! And the app police didn’t come pick me up.

Don’t wait for someone to show you how to use a particular app. Make up your own use. We encourage that in our students; it’s labeled innovation. Before spending hours creating a new tool or endlessly searching an app store, inventory what you already have. Is there a way to innovatively use an app or resource you already have to meet your goal? Often the answer is yes! We simply miss the forest for the trees because no one has given us permission to use it “that way”. Well jot it down now! I’m giving you permission! Innovate. Create. Use. Repeat!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Send a WHAT?!?!?! A Fax? @HelloFax

Welcome to Apptastic Thursday!
Today's app goes to Hello Fax. Go ahead and file this under productivity and time saver. Like I mentioned in yesterday's post on Print Friendly and PDF, I DO NOT like to print. Worse than printing HAS to be faxing. I mean really?!? Who does this anymore?!?

Not exactly a rhetorial question. I can personally attest to insurance companies, schools, and doctors' offices that still believe in late 80s technology. Whatever floats their boat but for me... it just isn't working! Between figuring out which way the paper faces and trying to keep it from eating my papers, it is truly just a test in patience. Say hello to Hello Fax! This handy, dandy Chrome app connects seamlessly to my Google Account. With a few quick clicks, I can not only send faxes but also add signatures to the documents I am "faxing". The documents are uploaded through my Google account and a confirmation email is sent when the documents are successfully sent. Not one company has ever complained about the way the fax is received. Apparently, they have no idea that it came from my computer. More than once, it has been invaluable to me when I am traveling, at home, or out and about far away from a fax machine.

Ready to get "faxing" right from your computer?

Step one: Install Hello Fax.
     *Good for Chrome, Android, and iOS.*

Step Two: Connect to your Google Drive.

Step Three: Add your Signature.
     *I took a picture of mine with my smart phone but they have other options too.*

Step Four: Start faxing from the comfort of your chair!

For the casual user, the free account will most likely suit your needs. If, however, you are working with lots of people still using AquaNet and wearing parachute pants, one of the monthly plans may offer you more flexibility including being able to receive faxes through the app.

Stay calm and Fax on!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Print Friendly and PDF

If you have followed me for any amount of time, you know that I am inherently against printing. It isn't something that I do very often and avoid at ALL costs. That being said, there are times when I need a PDF or need to capture some information off a website. Enter Print Friendly and PDF

This has become one of my FAVORITE extensions. For me, it is a go-to as an extension on Chrome. Their website boasts support for Safari, FireFox, IE, and even iOS devices. For detailed information, try this link:

After installing/adding the extension, simply click on it when you are on a page you would like to save as a PDF. For instance, I have used it for compiling job descriptions, newspaper articles, the current headlines of, and more! It is a HUGE time saver and easier for me than saving bookmarks. Websites are always subject to updating or being taken down. This protects the data I need from that. If you MUST print, it has that option too. 

Before printing (or making a PDF), notice the other features this extension offers. You can remove images (including ads!) from the document. If you choose to not print or create a PDF, you can also send an email. For all of those who need to cite sources, the document includes the URL where the information was gathered. There is also an option to change the font size. This is great for emerging readers, those with vision issues, and for annotating the PDF later. 

If you haven't tried Print Friendly and PDF, I encourage you to give it a once over today!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Welcome Back to Blogging! cc @gcouros @RafranzDavis

Hello Again World!

I've blogged. Stop. Wait six months. Blog again. Blog a bunch. Forget to blog. Read others blogs. Remind myself to blog. Blog..... Rinse. Repeat. You get the idea. I think blogging is a very powerful and useful medium and one that I tend to forget to follow through on. I jot a note, add a virtual stickie, and sometimes even begin a draft and then I forget to follow through. Well no more!

**Disclaimer - I am still light years away from the great George Couros and Rafranz Davis **

From this point forward, the plan is to blog at least every weekday. Ideally, the schedule will follow something like this:

  • Mondays - Get Moving Mondays! This will encompass everything from a productivity tool to an inspirational story or showcase of student's work. It will will be something to get you moving on a positive note on Mondays. 

  • Tuesdays - Toolbelt Tuesdays. This is inspired by the idea "obvious to you, new to someone else". It seems that I am frequently bombarded with people wanting to know how I do "such and such". Usually it is something that has become so very common place to me I don't even think about it anymore. Time to share it out!
  • Wednesdays - Extension over Midweek Whatever latest and greatest (or most frequently used) Chrome Extension I have come to love and use will be shared. I keep TONS and move some in and out. These seem to be the little magic pieces most people get excited about. If you don't have Chrome installed on your machine, DO THAT NOW! I'll wait ;-)
  • Thursdays - Apptastic Thursdays Every good EdTech blog needs Apps, right? From Chrome to Android to Apple, I have apps up my sleeve for you. From novel uses to tried and true classics, prepare for a weekly share. For the most part, the apps will be free (they are my favorite price to "pay"). 
  • Friday - Freaky Fridays. I LOVE finding innovative uses for apps. Let me repeat that: I LOVE finding innovative uses for apps. If you have a cool way to use an app let me know. From alarm clocks that were never intended to be, to app uses my own kids have come up, I will share it out. 
The weekends? Those are reserved for my rants, raves, reviews, and reflections. Whatever I've come up, that's what you will find. If you haven't subscribed/followed this blog so far, then now is probably a great time! As always, comments are always welcome :D

Re: Gmail Subject Line

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jamie Vandergrift, reached out to me and Amy Mayer with a Gmail question. A friend of hers was having trouble changing the subject line when replying inside Gmail. And so this post was born!

Google and I as a whole have a very love/hate relationship. Sometimes I feel like we have a Taylor Swift relationship (sans goats). When I remove my bias, Google truly offer educators amazing free tools and as more and more schools embrace Google Apps for Education (GAFE), Gmail is one of those tools. In true Google fashion, they will randomly move, delete, or add things. Actions and items will be thoughtlessly put in a drop down menu where no one would ever expect to find them. I chalk it up to their engineer minds that are so superior to mine.

All that being said, here is your quick Gmail lesson of the day.

Whenever you respond to an email in Gmail it is occassionally necessary to change the subject line (please see disclaimer below). When that rare occassion arises, the place for that is well hidden.

1. Click “Reply” on the Email.
2. Click the little arrow in the box in the new Reply/Compose window.
3. Click “Edit Subject”

DONE deal! Change the subject line and carry on.

DISCLAIMER: While this whole conversation was happening on Twitter, Amy pointed something out that is worth noting for etiquette purposes. Randomly changing the subject isn’t the best plan for most emails. If the entire subject is really a change, go ahead and start a new thread. Many people have their emails in “conversation view” and changing the subject a couple of times can really mess things up. For others, it is simply frustrating to carry on an entire conversation when the subject has changed. Just start a new thread. For those that really want to change the subject line…. carry on!