Saturday, December 16, 2017

Enhance Accessibility with Chromebooks

In this first in a series of blog entries on ensuring learning accessibility for all students, we explore Chromebook add-ons and extensions.
Are  you struggling to enhance accessibility with Chromebooks in your classroom? In this blog entry, you will find  a few accessibility add-ons and extensions for Chromebooks.

Make Learning Accessible on Chromebooks

Find a list of Chrome apps and extensions for special needs grouped by topic. Special thanks to Eric Curts for sharing his wonderful ideas.


  • Picto4Me – Allows you to create, edit, download, and play pictographic communication boards.


  • Simple Blocker – This tool helps students to stay focused on their work by blocking distracting websites. The user can choose the sites to block, how long to block them, and include optional password protection.
  • uBlock Origin – A simple but powerful ad-blocking extension that removes distracting ads from websites.
  • Move It – This extension can be set to periodically stop students working and have them do something physical. Research supports movement during study to improve retention.


  • OpenDyslexic – This extension overrides all fonts on web pages with the OpenDyslexic font and formats pages to be more easily readable.
  • High Contrast – This tool can make webpages easier to read by changing the colors to increase contrast, invert the colors, or switch to grayscale.
  • Readline – Although designed as a speed reading tool, you can adjust the speed to the lowest setting and use this extension to easily read text one word at a time.
  • Visor– This screen overlay tool darkens the page except for a horizontal band you can move up and down as you read, helping the student focus.
  • Color Enhancer – For people who are partially color-blind, this tool can help adjust and improve webpage colors.

Reading Comprehension

  • SummarizeThis – Copy and paste any text into the app to get a summarized version of the most important information.
  • sentiSum – Get a summarized version of any web page.
  • Google Dictionary – Double-click any word on a web page to get a pop-up with the definition and audible pronunciation.
  • Books That Grow – Books That Grow is a leveled reading app that contains eBooks that are set for each user’s reading ability.
This list is just a few of the many Chrome add-ons that can enhance accessibility in your classroom. Be sure to see another list of helpful add-ons that enhance readability and reading comprehension. If you discover other apps and extensions that work with the Chrome browser to help students with accessibility, please share in the Comments section.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Power of Add-Ons: Save as Doc

Managing Google Form responses can be a pain. But the power of the Save as Doc add-on makes it a breeze. Learn more in this blog.
Eliminating the number of decisions you have to make increases your energy level, asserts the author of The Power of Engagement. You can accomplish this in a easy way with a Google Sheets add-on. Consider this scenario. You setup a Google Form and send it out to everyone you  know. When you are looking at the responses, you realize, “Wow, I don’t want to reformat this Sheet of Form Responses for readability.” You want to avoid countless energy-sapping decisions as you try to wrap content in Sheet cells, move data around, read tiny text on a crowded screen. A wonderful Google Sheets add-on makes it easy to read through the responses submitted via a Google Form and saved in a Google Sheet.

The Power of Less Decisions

We all know that reading long paragraph field entries is a nightmare in a spreadsheet. But, good news! The add-on Save as Doc is the cherry on top when it comes to finding a solution for your Google Forms content.

Save as Google Doc Core Features

  • Choose any name for the generated document.
  • Select any number of adjacent cells to output.
  • Choose any heading style for column headings.
  • Add a pagebreak after each row of data.
  • Save the current settings as the default.
  • Generates a Google Document in your Google Drive.

How to Use This Google Add-on

  1. Download the add-on.
  2. Within Google Sheets, click on Add-ons.
  3. Choose “Save As Doc > Start.”
  4. Select the cells, rows, or columns to include or choose “Select all data.”
  5. Type a Save Doc File name.
  6. Modify the output settings in the sidebar.
  7. Choose “Save as Doc.”
  8. At the bottom, click on the blue Open the Doc.

The Google Three-Step

You’ve heard of the Texas two-step? Now you have the Google three-step:
  1. Use Google Forms to enter the information.
  2. The responses are compiled in Google Sheets.
  3. Use the Save as doc add-on to turn your information back into a Google Doc.
Watch this video walk through by Free Tech4Teachers blogger Richard Byrne:

More Favorites Coming Soon

Want to power through more tough tasks in Docs, Sheets, and Form with add-ons? I’ll be sharing some more of my favorites in upcoming blogs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Digital Bulletin Board Smackdown

One of the best new tools offered by technology is the digital bulletin board. Learn how to use it and which ones are the most effective for learning.
Looking for a free, simple assessment tool? Then this digital bulletin board smackdown is for you. First, however, let’s define what a digital bulletin board is. It’s not putting up decorative items on the TV screen in your classroom. It is a way for students to collaborate and learn together by digitally sharing resources, ideas, questions, and final products.
Before we jump into an analysis of some of the various bulletin board tools available, let’s take a moment to revisit why they are so awesome. Here are the two best ways to use them in the classroom:
  • Exit Tickets – Exit tickets can be a great way to set up the next day’s learning by allowing the teacher to discover what students learned (or didn’t learn) today.
  • Quick Write – With quick writes, you can ask students to respond to an open-ended question or prompt, which, if structured correctly, can move them up the level to Bloom’s Taxonomy in their learning.
“What are the best lesson ideas? How can you use [digital bulletin boards] in the elementary classroom and in high school?” asks Lucie Renard in her blog entry featuring thirty creative ways to use digital bulletin boards in your classroom. Let’s explore a few ways digital bulletin boards (DBBs) make learning possible.

Digital Bulletin Boards in Your Classroom

Digital bulletin boards enable anyone to post:
  • Videos
  • Images
  • Text
  • Thumbnails of Google Suites documents
  • Links to other document
What’s more, these DBBs  empower students to:
  • Summarize key concepts using text, video, or audio
  • Collect student work and assignments
  • Develop a graffiti wall
  • Curate a digital collage
  • Make a concept/mind map
  • Gather data about a particular phenomena or event
  • Share takeaways about a field trip
  • Share book talks
  • Analyze book characters

Digital Bulletin Board Tools

While there are a baker’s dozen of digital bulletin board tools available, including whiteboard solutions,  a few popular digital bulletin board tools have risen to the top of the heap. Those top of the heap tools include:
Each of these tools was assessed and assigned a score. Read on to see how each of them did.

Criteria for Digital Bulletin Board Selection

Ready to select a digital bulletin board for your classroom project? Here is a breakdown of  the top four digital bulletin boards according to my preferred list of features. If you have your own preferred features, please add them in the comments section below.

User Management

  • Free
  • Use another account to login (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter)
  • Allows for multi-user collaboration


  • Easy to add Post it or index card
  • Reminders on special days
  • Embed images, video, text, thumbnails of digital documents (e.g. Google Docs, Slides)
  • Chat feature between users (audio/text)
  • QR codes
  • Custom background/wallpaper


  • Mobile friendly with Android/iOS version
  • Requires Flash
  • Apple Watch compatibility

Digital Bulletin Board Smackdown

Ready to see how digital bulletin board favorites stack up? Let’s take a look at this chart. I encourage you to add your own favorites to the Google Sheets version of this smackdown.
digital bulletin board

Points to Remember

Classroom learning opportunities can be enhanced when students use visual tools like digital bulletin boards. Research suggests that visuals enhance students’ ability to:
  • Organize and process information
  • Practice higher order thinking skills
  • Have their various learning style preferences met
Make the effort to use a digital bulletin board solution in your classroom with your students. It can make a big difference.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Give Thanks with Google Forms

Thanksgiving is a perfect time of the year to engage the imagination of your students and encourage them to be creative with Google Forms.
This Thanksgiving, why not give thanks by utilizing Google Forms in the classroom? I have been thankful ever since I began using Google Forms; it makes real-time work and collaboration a creative joy. Here are some classroom applications of Google Forms this Thanksgiving.

Today I’m Thankful Because

Have students complete a Today I’m Thankful Because Google Form with things they are thankful for.  Students complete a form, then the teacher can generate a list of their responses and display some of the commonalities. Another idea is to generate a word cloud from the list. The word cloud below was created using It allowed me to paste the list from my Google Sheet and then upload an image of a turkey to use as an outline.

You can extend this activity by having students:
  • Write descriptive paragraphs in Google Docs about the things they are thankful for.
  • Create posters in Google Drawings of their thankful lists.
  • Draft letters to people they are thankful for using a Google Doc template.

Thanksgiving Turkey Traditions at the White House

Rely on Google Forms to quiz your students on the history of Thanksgiving. This quiz  focuses on the turkey traditions at the White House. The President of the United States pardons a turkey on the eve of Thanksgiving at a White House ceremony. This tradition of compassion dates back fifty years to Harry Truman.  Test your knowledge.
President Barack Obama, National Turkey Federation Chairman Gary Cooper; son Cole Cooper participate in the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon ceremony in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Nov. 26, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Try these quiz ideas:
  • Learn how Thanksgiving became a national holiday. Embed a video about the history of Thanksgiving on your Google Form. Then quiz your students.
  • Compare the first Thanksgiving dinner in Colonial times to the one we celebrate with today. Students delight in the differences. You can also have them share what unique foods they will see on their Thanksgiving table.
  • Quiz students about fun facts about turkeys. Enable them to use multimedia to share what they learn about these fascinating birds.

An Interactive Thanksgiving Story

Students love to read “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories. Therefore, why not let them create their own story using Google Forms? These stories can be created by taking advantage of section breaks in Google Forms. When an option is selected on the form, it will go to a unique page about that particular answer. Before getting started, it will be very helpful to have students brainstorm their ideas by creating an outline first.
Check out this short Thanksgiving story I created. It tells a story about what I will do on Thanksgiving Day.  Another idea is to give your students a writing prompt for their story such as:
  • If you could have any guest at Thanksgiving, who would it be?
  • What would happen if a scarecrow joined you for dinner?
  • You have magically become a Pilgrim. Describe your day.
  • My family’s Thanksgiving traditions
  • My favorite Thanksgiving story
  • The best part of Thanksgiving break
These are just a few ways to use Google Forms this Thanksgiving. I can’t think of a better time of the year to engage the imagination of your students and encourage them to be creative. Let us know in the comments below how you are using Google Forms in the classroom.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Explore Google Earth’s Brown Bear Livecams

There are many ways to incorporate livecams in the classroom. Explore Google Earth’s Brown Bear Livecams and take students on a learning journey to Alaska.
In July of this year, Google collaborated with to offer “Bear Livecams” in Google Earth. If you are a fan of live video feeds and like to use them to engage your students in learning, then your class will definitely have to check out the Alaskan brown bear livecams. Watching the bears eat, play, and hang out underwater at Katmai National Park is such an incredible experience.

Five Brown Bear Livecams

When you go to Google Earth’s storytelling platform Voyager, you will find five livecams.
1.Brooks Falls – This camera is located at Brooks Falls, Alaska. On this livecam, watch the hungry bears wait in the river near the waterfall for their next meal. They search for the best fishing spot as they dine on salmon.
2. Lower River – This camera is located where the Brooks River gently flows into Naknek Lake. On this livecam, watch female brown bears and their cubs play, rest, and practice the skills they will need to hunt for themselves one day.
3. River Watch – This camera scans a vast amount of the Brooks River. On this livecam, watch the bears and their cubs from afar as they sit in the river. As they come out of the riverbanks, you can often see them begin to play.
4. Underwater – This camera is, of course, located underwater in the Brooks River. On this livecam, watch the bears employ a variety of hunting techniques, including simply sitting on the river floor and waiting for a fish to swim by. Also watch them try to “snorkel,” or swim on the surface while submerging their heads to look for fish.
5. Dumpling Mountain – This camera is located up in the clouds on Dumpling Mountain. On this livecam, you can see all of Brooks Camp and the surrounding country stretching out in front of you. On a clear day, you can spot the active volcanoes bordering the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Classroom Connections

Below are a few lesson ideas that you can incorporate in the classroom.
  • Encourage students to use Google Keep to take notes on the daily activities of the bears. They could then create a timeline of these activities using Google Drawings.bears
  • Have students present using Google Slides about volcanic eruptions, including the world’s largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, which occurred at Katmai National Park.
  • Have students create and print 3D models replicating what they see on the livecams.
  • Assign students to use Google Scholar to research the brown bears of Alaska and then write a paper in Google Docs.
  • Use the activities occurring in the livecams as writing prompts to have students practice their inference skills about things they are seeing.

More Classroom Connections

  • Explore the terrain of at Katmai National Park and Preserve using Google Maps as a whole class activity.
  • Invite a geologist to talk about the significance of wildlife at National parks and have a Google Hangout with him.
  • Let students use Google Drawings to create a comic strip about how many salmon bears eat in a day.
  • Have a discussion in Google classroom about the way mama bears teach their cubs survival instincts and the lessons we can learn from them.
  • Create a Google Form to record daily logs about the bears’ activities.
  • Use green screen technology or a webcam to have students record a story they created using stick bear puppet figures.

Bear Cams in the Classroom

These are just a few ideas for how to use the live Bear Cams in your classroom. If you watch live webcams in the classroom, please share in the comments below which ones you watched and how you incorporated them into lessons.
All photos used in this blog post appear courtesy of Google,, and Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Improve Your Students’ Reading Experience with Chrome

Discover how extraordinary the Chrome browser is with this list of reading tools that will help your students have a more successful reading experience.
The Chrome browser is so dynamic that I’m often amazed at its functionality and how it can help the many students who are now reading on digital devices. If you have students who need a better reading experience or struggle with reading comprehension, then there are some apps and extensions that will help them. And many of these will be perfect for differentiating learning!

Reading Comprehension

Newsela – This is one of my favorite Chrome apps that I always feature in my trainings. Newsela features current event articles covering many subjects, each written at five different Lexile levels.  With this extension, students can read the same material at an appropriate level for themselves.
TLDR: Summarize Anything – The TLDR extension creates a short summary of any web article without leaving the original page. This will help students discern the most important ideas in the article they are reading.
Word Cloud Website Preview – I love word clouds, so this is another favorite of mine! This extension can turn any content from the web into a word cloud. The word cloud can then be reviewed to summarize the content on the page or to help decipher key words used.


ATbar – This Chrome extension provides you with a toolbar that has many features including color overlays for web pages, a dictionary, text to speech, word prediction, and more.
BeeLine Reader – Bee Line Reader is another one of my most beloved extensions, so much so that I wrote a blog entry about it here.  It creates a more readable version of a website by removing all of the ads and other extra distracting items. In addition, a color gradient can be applied to the page in order to guide the eye from one line to the next.
MagicScroll Web Reader – This extension turns web pages into a flippable ebook. Its unique scrolling system lets you scroll web pages without moving them. This makes it easier to read long articles without being distracted.
Mercury Reader – If your students are easily distracted, then they might want to get Mercury Reader. It makes any website easier to read by removing ads and distractions. You can also adjust the font size and color scheme of the new text.
This list is just a few of the many Chrome extensions and apps that help with readability and reading comprehension. If you discovered other app and extensions that work with the Chrome browser to help students with reading, please share in the Comments section below.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Celebrate Digital Citizenship Week

Need ideas on how to celebrate Digital Citizenship Week? Check out these activities and resources that are sure to help you.
Digital Citizenship Week (October 16 – 22) is the perfect time for you and your students to reflect on the role technology plays in your lives. It’s an opportunity to stress the importance of positive online habits, to learn about digital safety and responsibility, and to encourage acts of kindness. Whether you’re looking  to celebrate just this week or throughout the year, we have activities and resources that are sure to help you.


Three Kind Things

The latest social media app that all the kids are crazy about is the New Nice App. The app comes with a twist—it’s nice. The tbh app, short for “to be honest,” works by letting users send anonymous compliments to their friends and contacts. That being said, I created an activity that focuses on being kind. With this Google Slide activity, students write three kind things they will do. Next, they design their friendly ghost. The ghost doesn’t even have to look like Casper! Try it here by choosing an empty slide and listing three nice things you will do today. Get a copy of this Three Kind Things Ghost Activity here.

Positive Digital Footprint

A digital footprint is a trail of data you create while using the Internet. It includes the websites you visit, emails you send, and information you submit to online services. Have students think about what their digital footprint will look like 10 to 15 years from now. Allow them to illustrate their footprint with words, images, or videos. Try it here by choosing an empty slide. Get a copy of this Positive Digital Footprint Activity here.

A Good Digital Citizen Grid

Being a good digital citizen is more than being a safe Internet user. It’s about being responsible and smart and having respect for yourself and others. Have your students engage in conversation about the importance of being a good digital citizen through Flipgrid. Check out this example from Berkeley County School District, where elementary students responded with their thoughts. Try it out by responding at If prompted for a code, use aa3f8a.

More Activities

Don’t forget to visit the blog Google-ize Your Digital Citizenship that I wrote last year. It contains more activities, such as a Digital Citizenship Pledge, a Responsible Use Policy Scavenger Hunt, and more.


Below are more awesome resources to take advantage of.
Be Internet Awesome – Google, in collaboration with online safety experts, developed the Be Internet Awesome program. The program teaches the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety. In addition to a curriculum for teachers, the program includes Interland, an online game that puts these critical lessons into hands-on practice for students.
BrainPOP’s Free Digital Citizenship Resources – BrainPOP’s free digital citizenship resources offer schools ready-made learning pathways. These pathways explore topics such as Information Privacy, Media Literacy, and Digital Etiquette. Be sure to check out the Teaching Resources, too. They include a guide, video overviews,  rubrics, and lesson plans. More information can be found at Making the Online World a Better Place Starts With You. Get registered here.
Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship Week Activities –Common Sense Media lists activities you can do to celebrate kids using technology safely, responsibly, and respectfully. Below are a few resources from Common Sense Media.
Microsoft Educator Community Digital Citizenship Resources – The Microsoft Educator Community offers a digital citizenship course for educators. Educators can earn a “Microsoft Digital Citizenship Champion” badge that can proudly be displayed on their profile once they complete the course. Furthermore, educators get access to a OneNote Notebook full of resources and lesson plans.
PBS Webonauts Academy – Webonauts Internet Academy is a web game for 8-10 year olds. It gives them an opportunity to have some fun while exploring what it means to be a good digital citizen. It is quite engaging. In addition, it becomes all the more powerful when parents and teachers use the game to spark more conversations about digital citizenship.

Don’t Forget

Remember, the ISTE Student NETS #2 is itself called Digital Citizenship. As you build digital citizenship lessons, look at the indicators. These will help you in creating clear targets that students will understand and can achieve.