Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Google Apps and the Brain Friendly Classroom

Drawing and Artwork

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Dr. Marcia Tate has made it her life’s work to show educators how to create a brain-friendly classroom through her Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites series. This post is second in a series linking what Dr. Tate has identified as brain-friendly strategies to various Google products. I will share what makes the strategy powerful and how to leverage the multiple Google tools to help in student learning.

This Week: Drawing & Artwork

Why are these important?

Dr. Tate sites several studies showing how drawing and artwork can help a student in their learning process.

  • When students add drawings to their notes, it aids in recall of that information making the abstract tangible.
  • It has been shown that drawing in math helps students to visualize the problem before solving it.
  • Success in STEM is linked to accurate observation, spatial reasoning, and kinesthetic perception, which are also art skills!
  • Different areas of the brain are activated during drawing and artwork activities thus increasing connections.
  • Patterns in the arts help the brain in finding meaning.

How can Google Apps help?


While the core Google Apps suite focuses more on productivity, there is a creative app included in Google Drawings. Google Drawings does allow for some basic artwork creation by adding and manipulating shapes and images and can be a great tool for students to use when trying to visualize math problems. The Drawing app is also embedded in Docs, Sheets, and Slides for ease of adding creativity to productivity.

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But you can get really creative if you get beyond the core apps and embrace Drive Apps and Chrome Apps! Drive apps are third-party sites that work with your Google account in that they allow you to use your Google login for access and your Drive for storage. Many of them are also collaborative! Chrome Apps can be added to the Chrome browser through the Chrome Web Store, and like Drive Apps, these third-party websites allow you to use your Google account for login and access and provide you with a wealth of creative tools!

Here is a list of Drive Apps and Chrome Apps to help you bring drawing and artistic creativity to your classroom.

Drive Apps
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“JSPixely is a graphics editor tailor made to create pixel art for game sprites, icons or just plain pixel art. All icons used in the JSPixely GUI (except the Google Drive™ icon) were created with JSPixely.”

“Online Vector Graphic Design by html5 and SVG effects! It’s like Illustrator but works on the cloud with Google Drive”

Moqups: Mockups, Wireframes, and Prototypes

“The best HTML5 app for creating crisp mockups, wireframes & interactive prototypes.
Achieve flow with our web app for creating mockups, wireframes and interactive prototypes that look great onscreen and on paper thanks to the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) technology.”

Chrome Apps

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“Create awsome art using this cool painting app.”

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“MyPaint is a fast and easy graphics application for digital painters. MyPaint lets you focus on the art instead of the program. You work on your canvas with minimum distractions, bringing up the interface only when you need it.”

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“CanvasDraw is a HTML5 rich drawing application supported by the online drawing community at RateMyDrawings connects your artwork with one of the most active drawing communities online by showcasing your drawings to the community of members who provide you with feedback and help you grow as an artist.”

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“Remember those old cartoons where hand drawn lines appeared to vibrate because of slight variance between frames? This app lets you draw sketches like that right in your browser and share replays with friends!”

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“Procedural Drawing Tool. Simple drawing tool with a set of special brushes.”

InspirARTion - Sketch and Draw

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“Open your creativity with this easy to use painting application. Number of amazing brushes give you a way to create beautiful artworks just in few strokes. Try symmetry modes to create an interesting effects. Save your creations or share it you with your friends.”

Kenneth Wesson, an educational consultant specializing in neuroscience, agrees with Dr. Tate and has said that every discipline should have students draw. He says "...we have ignored much of the recent research on how the human mind develops when art is a consistent part of long-term instructional planning."
Get Drawing!

Next Week: Field Trips!

Aaron is a Google Certified Teacher and authorized Google Education Trainer and former instructional coach with 19 years of classroom teaching experience. He has presented at state, regional, and national EdTech conventions including Google Education Summits and the ISTE annual convention.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Google Apps and the Brain Friendly Classroom
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Dr. Marcia Tate has made it her life’s work to show educators how to create a brain-friendly classroom through her Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites series. Too often, we create a learning environment that is very unnatural thus making it difficult for the brain to make connections between old and new learning. For example, we naturally learn by talking, by playing, working in groups, using technology, and by experimenting. Very rarely do we learn silently, by ourselves, sitting still.

Now look around at the typical classroom in our schools. Do you want kids to not just learn but also REMEMBER? Make the environment make sense to the brain.

I am going to be writing a series of posts linking what Dr. Tate has identified as brain-friendly strategies to various Google products. I will share what makes the strategy powerful and how to leverage the multiple Google tools to help in student learning.

This week: Brainstorming & Discussions

Why are these important?

Both of these activities are important because they allow the learner to truly think about and process the questions and possible answers. Marcia Tate sites multiple studies that show adolescents learn more from small group discussions, that brainstorming is a creative process thereby engaging the brain at a higher level, and that discussions allow the learner to clarify their understanding. These activities get students beyond just “what is” type questions and takes them into “how might,” “what could,” or “why is” levels of thinking.

In our normal, everyday lives, we learn from talking to others. Our ideas and understandings are shaped the more we have to defend our points of view and the more we hear the ideas of others. This is very natural for the brain.

How Can Google Apps Help?

Google Docs are perfect for brainstorming! The fact that a document can be edited by up to 50 people simultaneously makes this an incredible virtual whiteboard. But it can also get a bit daunting and here are some ideas that might help.

  • Share Smart: Don’t take the time to share it with each individual. Set the sharing to “Everyone with the link” “Can Edit.” Then, use a URL shortener (I like the shortener extension for Chrome) and project that new url. Students can then type it in and get to editing the document. You can also email the URL or share it via Google Classroom. Just find a quick and easy way to get them there!
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  • Use Slides instead of Documents: If the group gets a bit big, one document can get tough to navigate and all of the colorful cursors can get a bit distracting and in the way. Use Slides and give each student, or small group, their own slide. They can still see what others are typing but have their own contained environment to work productively.
  • Use the Collaborators Icons at the Top to Navigate: When you are working on the same document as another person, or group of people, icons representing those collaborators will show up at the top. Click on an icon to be taken to where they are currently editing the document and you can see what they are talking about.


  • Google Groups: Keep the classroom discussion going outside of school! Set up either a Web Forum or Q&A Forum depending on your classroom needs. These can be easily embedded on your website and the membership and moderation options allow the teacher to maintain a safe environment.
  • Google Docs & Fishbowls: The “Fishbowl” activity where you have the students in two concentric circles. The inside circle is discussing the topic with the teacher while the outside circle is communicating via a Google Doc. The outside circle can interject ideas, comments, or other thoughts that the teacher (who is monitoring the Doc) can use to guide the discussion with the inside circle.
  • Hangouts: Whether it is a video or text hangout, the ability to have a group discussion no matter where the members are in the world, has been made easier by Google. Bring in a guest speaker or an entire class from another part of the world to join your discussion!

Next Week: Drawing and Artwork

Have a happy day!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How I Weaned Myself Off of Office

How I Weaned Myself Off of Office

In 2011, I was accepted into the Google Teacher Academy in Seattle, WA. I went to this intense workshop pretty confident thinking “I know about Google Apps.” When I saw what others were doing with Google Apps and what was possible, my thought became “I’ve got a lot to learn about Google Apps.” When the school year started one month later, I made the decision that I would begin to embrace Google Apps and learn what it had to offer, but I realized that I needed a plan to be successful. I had been a long-time Office user and I knew it could be a daunting task unless I was smart about it.

Here is what I did, and what I recommend to others:

Pick One

Don’t feel like you have to learn the entire Google Apps suite all at once. Pick one that you would use the most and become an expert at that. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You will find that many actions and menus are the same as you move between apps, so when you do venture into a different app, you will find yourself in a somewhat familiar environment. Once you have become confident in one, move on to the next. Success is a key element to positively affecting motivation, and biting off more than you can chew will only bring frustration.

Don’t Quit Cold Turkey

Whether you are a teacher, business person, or just a private user, switching programs on a dime takes valuable time that you don’t have to spare. I made the decision that if I had to create something new, I would use Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides. If I already had what I needed in Word, Excel, or Powerpoint, I wouldn’t recreate it because my time is valuable. Sure, I was operating in two different environments, but I was learning the Google environment and I was able to compare it to the Office counterpart. It is important to note that Robert Marzano listed Identifying Similarities and Differences, in his book Classroom Instruction That Works, as one of the most effective learning strategies. Once my comfort level increased with the Google environment, I used Office less and less to the point that I don’t use it at all anymore!

Find That One Thing

Another suggestion I make to others is to find one task you have on a consistent basis that requires word processing, spreadsheets, or presentations. From here on out, complete that task using Google Apps. This gives you frequent and consistent practice at using the program which builds proficiency and confidence. Because there are many menus and actions in Google Apps that are the same between the apps, positive transfer becomes a powerful tool! Practice is key to retention!

Synergyse It or YouTube It!

“How do I…?” If your question starts with these words, type it into a YouTube search bar. You will probably find multiple screencasts of different Google users showing you how to accomplish what you are looking for. If your organization is a Synergyse Training customer, you will definitely find interactive training that will show you, in your own Google environment, how to do what you need. Remember that modeling and meaning are important elements to effective and long-lasting learning.

You can do it! Take that first step!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Google Classroom Update: Custom Theme

Hi all!

I learned today that you can now use your own photos to customize the theme of your Google Classroom. Here is how:

Have a happy day!

New Page Numbers and Header/Footer Options In Google Drive

Hi all!

Two new features were released for Google Drive today! They involve more options for page numbers and headers/footers.

Check it out!

Have a happy day!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Increase the Feedback Loop with Google Apps!

Increase The Feedback Loop With Google Apps

Educational researcher, John Hattie, in his book Visible Learning, has identified Feedback as one of the top ten influencers on student achievement. Further, in Dylan Wiliam’s book Formative Assessment, Wiliam cites a study that showed that comments-only marking of work had a greater impact on student achievement than did grades-only or even a combination of grades and comments. Google Apps in the classroom can easily harness the power of feedback in many ways!

Some Notes On Feedback

Not all feedback is created equal and it is not enough to just say what you think. Feedback should be timely and specific. Avoid generalizations and don’t be afraid to point out errors. However, be sure to point out the good things students are doing as well! It is important students know what they are doing right.

Further, feedback should be a continuous “loop” of student/teacher, student/student, or student/teacher/student interaction. It should not be a one-way street. Engage students in a conversation and get peers involved to get the most out of them.

But how can Google Apps help?


Let’s just start with the most basic and important function of Google Apps: Sharing. When a student shares a document, presentation, or spreadsheet with a teacher, that action immediately opens the door to feedback. Teachers can review work at any time and hold conversations either virtually, or in person, about the work. In the old way, if students wanted the teacher’s feedback, they would have to find a time before or after school, which is a precious commodity for both parties!

Insert Comment

This feature is great for offering more specific feedback to students. By selecting a sentence, word, paragraph, or character, the teacher can open a conversation about that specific element. To do this, simply select the element on which you want to comment and select “Comment” from the “Insert” menu (or click the shortcut in the toolbar).

A “sticky note” will open off to the right where you can type your comment. This “sticky note” will be attached to the element you highlighted and will become active when either the element or note is clicked. Collaborators can reply to the comment as many times as necessary until the issue is resolved.

If the document is shared with multiple people, and the comment is for a specific person, there is a great feature that makes this simple! In the comment “sticky note” type a plus sign followed by the person’s email address (ex. This comment will be emailed to only that person and not all collaborators.

This type of “asynchronous” collaboration makes Google Docs very powerful in the classroom!

Suggest Edit

A relatively new feature allows collaborators to “mark-up” the paper with suggested edits. To utilize this feature, you must be in “Suggesting” mode. You can switch to “Suggesting” by clicking the “Mode” shortcut in the top right corner of the document and selecting “Suggesting” or via the “View” menu.

When this feature is used, the old text gets a line struck through it and the suggested change is added in green. A “sticky note” is activated off to the right and collaborators can decide to accept or reject the suggested change.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom was developed to make the dissemination and collection of digital work simpler for teachers and students. An added bonus is the amount of feedback opportunities that are inherent in Google Classroom.

To begin with, when a teacher creates an assignment using a template, or when the student submits a document, sharing is immediately established between student and teacher. The teacher can insert comments, or use Suggest Edit mode, to offer feedback throughout the assignment.

Further, each assignment has a comment feature where students and teachers can communicate privately about the work. This is great to offer general, more holistic, feedback to students to keep them on the right track.


Kaizena is a Drive App and Add-On that makes the feedback and commenting features even more personal and powerful. The reason for this is that it allows the teacher to record their voice in making comments. I have seen this used with students and they love it because it feels like the teacher is sitting right next to them, helping them. Teachers love it because they can talk faster than they can type so “marking papers” can be a much easier task.

Teachers can also provide other resources to students besides just their words of wisdom. They can provide videos, websites, or other digital resources that might help the student with their project.

To make Kaizena a part of your Google Docs experience, just go to the Add-ons menu in a Google Doc and select “Get Add-ons.” You will then search the window for Kaizena and click the “Free” button to install. Kaizena will then be available in every Google Doc you create.

Watch this video to get started with Kaizena.

It is important to note that Kaizena only works with Google Documents and must be installed for both student and teacher.

Timely, specific, and meaningful feedback helps move learning forward more than most strategies we use in the classroom. Google Apps is a great tool to accomplish this in the classroom.

This is a post I wrote for Synergyse

Friday, December 19, 2014

Awesome Chrome Features You Probably Aren't Using

Hi all!

The following is a post I wrote for Synergyse, a company that focusses on Google Apps training.


Awesome Chrome Features You Probably Aren’t Using

When I became a Google Certified Teacher, my daily production was still done primarily in Microsoft Office. I made the decision, at that time, that all of my new productivity would be done in Drive. I would still use the old Office documents, if needed, but create new in Drive.

And I haven’t looked back!

Now, only 3 years later, all of my productivity, with the exception of video creation and editing, is done in Google Drive. Furthermore, my browser of choice is Chrome for the simple reason that Google products work best with Google products. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

My computer doesn’t have near the issues that some of my colleagues experience because, for the majority of the day, the only application I have running is the Chrome web browser. I can access my email, my calendar, create documents, create and manage websites, blog...nearly everything I need to do on a daily basis within one application.

Life is simpler.

And more powerful! I’m going to share with you some things you can do with Chrome that you might not be using. You might have heard about them, but remember that champions don’t need to be told what to do, just reminded!

The Omnibox
The Omnibox is Chrome’s all-in-one search engine and address bar. They must have known that it drove me nuts to see a person type an address into a Google Search bar. Chrome will know what you want to do.

But there is so much more the Omnibox can do, and here are just a few examples:

Search Drive
Install the extension OmniDrive from the Chrome Web Store

Type “Drive” then tab/space and type your query

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Search Gmail
Right-click on the Omnibox and select “Edit Search Engines”
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In the window that opens, scroll down to “Other Search Engines” and click “Add a New Search Engine. In the boxes, from left to right, enter

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To search your Gmail, in the Omnibox type “gml” and hit Tab or Space. Your Omnibox will change:

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Type your query in the Omnibox and a your Gmail will open with those search results.

Do Math
Enter your calculation

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...and your answer will appear!

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Set A Timer

Via Google Search

Type “Set timer for “x” minutes/seconds

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You will then get a timer pop up! It will start automatically, but you can stop, start, and reset as needed!

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Via Omnibox Timer
Install the extension from the Chrome Web Store

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Type “tm” into the Omnibox followed by Tab or Space

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Type in the desired time, press the return key and you will be alerted when time is up!

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Extensions are small “programs” that are installed into Chrome that increases the functionality and productivity of the browser. These have made me more productive by bringing more power to my creative environment.

While there are several that can be installed from the Chrome Web Store, here are the ones I use on a daily basis:

This extension will alert me if I have any new mail and, with one simple click, will open a new tab with my inbox displayed.

Save to Google Drive will allow me to save websites, pictures, or other web content right to my Google Drive and bypass my computer all together. Even cooler is that I can right-click on the content and “Save to Google Drive” will be an option!

No one likes an email, document, or anything that has a link that is a gazillion characters long. When I click this extension, the active URL is shortened to a nice version and I can copy it to my clipboard. I can then paste it into an email, document, or simply display it. It also creates a QR code that I can take a screenshot of and insert into websites, presentations, and more.

Tab Scissors gives you two active windows on one screen. This is awesome because I can be reading a website or watching a YouTube video on one side and typing notes on a Google Doc on the other.

All of this coolness is not just for teachers; these are great for students as well! My high school just went 1:1 with Chromebooks last year and we have been showing students these same features. Get them using Chrome beyond searching and addresses and they will be more productive in their classes and quality digital citizens.

Have a happy day!