Sunday, August 14, 2016

Get your MeL Chrome Apps!

MeL is now available in the Chrome Webstore

I'm excited to announce to my fellow Michigan Educators that the Michigan eLibrary (MeL) has published six of their databases as Chrome Web Apps! It's now easier than ever to give your students access to high quality research databases.

Six different apps are available in the Chrome Webstore:

MeL - Michigan eLibrary Logo

Access the entire Michigan eLibrary which features all of your favorite MeL databases and resources including MeLCat.

MeL Teens Gateway

MeL Teens 

Access to resources specifically for grades 6 through 12+ including homework help, recommended books, and college planning and test prep tools.

MeL Kids 

MeL Kids GatewayResources specifically designed for young learners, pre-K through 5th grades,  including homework helpers, stories, games, and information about the state of Michigan!

MeL College Bound

Resources to help you select, prepare and pay for college.

MeL Michigana

Michigan is a great state! Learn more about it with access to 15 diverse research digital collections, giving access to primary resources such as photographs, family history, and podcasts.

MeL Business 

MeL Business Gateway
Support and resources for entrepreneurs and small businesses as they contribute to the Michigan and global economies.

MeL and Chromebooks

The MeL Chrome Apps make it easy to access MeL resources on Chromebooks. Schools that are taking advantage of Chromebook management features can automatically push out the MeL Chrome apps to all of their students and pin them to the shelf for easy access.

Access MeL apps through the Chrome App Launcher (search key)

Instructions: To push out apps to students, a domain administrator will need to log into the Google Apps Management console and visit Device Management > Chrome > User Settings > Force Installed Apps & Extensions. Search for and select the MeL apps you wish to push to students. Apps will appear the next time your devices sync with the management console.

Pin MeL apps to the Chrome shelf for instant access!

Instructions: Make accessing MeL apps even easier by pinning favorite apps to the Chrome shelf. After deploying an app (see above) have a domain administrator use the Google Apps Management console to visit Device Management > Chrome > User Settings > Pinned Apps & Extensions to configure the pinned apps.

Place all of the MeL apps into a folder to keep them organized!

Instructions: Create collections of apps by dragging and dropping apps on top of one another. These collections can be named (i.e. “research tools”) for easy identification. Collections can only be created by individual users and can not be centrally managed by domain administrators at this time.

Resources for Media Specialist and Librarians:

Make a copy of this Google Doc to distribute this information to the teachers at your school!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Google Sites for Portfolios and Project

Google Classroom has quickly become one of the most popular classroom management tool for teachers- a task formerly handled by Google Sites (for me anyway). So what about Sites? Does it have a place in the classroom? Absolutely! Google Sites is an ideal tool for student portfolios and projects. Don’t ask your students to create a poster board project or (another) presentation. Instead, ask them to build a website!

Note: there is a NEW version of Google sites that is currently in development. All of the examples below are using the old Google Sites. Not all of the tools listed below are [currently] compatible with the NEW Google Sites.

Benefits of Website projects:

  • Learn how to effectively research and gather information. 
  • Practice displaying information for an audience. 
  • Build 21st century skills 
  • Real-world writing practice 
  • Share your finished project with the world 
  • Easy to collaborate remotely. 
  • Easy to update and add over days, weeks, or months.

Subject area teachers sometimes shy away from website projects because they aren’t web designers, or they feel that the technical aspect of the project will take up too much class time. These are valid concerns, but ones that can be addressed by using Google Sites.

Google Sites:

  • Does not require any experience building website. 
  • Does not require any knowledge of HTML or coding. 
  • Can be as simple as create a word document or using MS Publisher. 
  • Provides deployment and management tools for teachers

Tips for Success:

Build a site template

Instead of asking students to start from scratch, build an empty Google site that contains all of the required pages and elements for your assignments. Students simply add in their content.

Use SiteMaestro

SiteMaestro is a free add-on for Google Sheets that will automatically take your site template and make a copy for every student in your class. It will also tell you who is working on their site and allow you to send messages to individual students or all students.

Develop a Rubric

Rubric scoring is the optimal way to evaluate website projects and students will exhibit a range of skill and ability. Use the Orange Slice rubric creator (a free add-on for Docs) to get started.

Project & Portfolio Examples

Student Projects

Portfolio Examples

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Getting Started with VR in your Classroom

Virtual reality (VR) is beginning to gain traction as a viable classroom learning tool. Google Cardboard, the affordable VR viewer, is leading this new area of experiential learning. 

Google Cardboard is the 20% project of Google Engineers David Coz and Damien Henry first announce at Google I/O in 2014. 

Key Features of Google Cardboard:
  • Made from cardboard
  • Fits any cell phone
  • Works with any VR content
  • Cheap ($5-20)

How Does it Work? 

VR compatible content splits your screen into stereoscopic perspective. When viewed in a viewer it becomes an immersive experience. Turn your head left, right, up, or down to look in that direction. To select something, look at it or press the button on the cardboard viewer. 

What do you Need?  

To experience virtual reality you will need three things: 

1. A compatible mobile device

Most mid-grade and higher cell phones support VR content. The iPhone, Nexus, and Galaxy devices are all VR compatible. Phones must have an accelerometer and gyroscope in order to work correctly in VR mode. Most inexpensive track phones ($100 or less) will NOT work. 

Tablets (iPad and Android) can be used to view VR content in “normal” mode. The experience is not as immersive as using a VR viewer, but is a good option to consider if you already have access to tablets.

Google has partnered with Best Buy to offer a complete classroom VR set which includes everything that you need to experience VR in the classroom. Learn more:

2. A VR viewer

While you can view VR content without a viewer, the experience is greatly improved when viewed through a compatible cardboard viewer. There are many to chose from: 

Cardboard Viewers - Google developed the first viewer “Google Cardboard” and made the construction plans open to anyone. There are thousands of companies offering cardboard viewers. You can even make your own! These viewers are the most affordable ($5-20) but won’t last forever and may not be the best for daily class use. 

Plastic VR Viewers - Several companies have started to make more durable plastic viewers. These are optimal for the classroom as they will withstand the wear-and-tear of student use and can be easily cleaned. Viewmaster makes one of the leading viewers which is a great classroom option. 
  • Viewmaster: 

3. A VR App

In order to experience virtual reality, you will need access to some virtual reality content! There is a rapidly growing list of content creators who are supporting the VR platform. One way to explore is to simply visit your app store (Apple or Android) and search for “VR” or “Virtual Reality”. 

If you are using and app and you see the cardboard icon, that app supports virtual reality. Click the icon to switch into VR mode. Here are a few more popular websites that support VR content. 
  • YouTube - using a laptop, perform a search and click the “filter” button. Select 360° video. 
  • Facebook - Facebook is heavily promoting 360° video. Join their group to experience 360° video as it develops: 
  • ThingLink - create your own VR content with ThingLink! Create immersive experiences for your students using the VR editor. Note: requires a ThingLink subscription. Learn more: 

Google Expeditions

Virtual Reality is an individual experience. This makes it difficult to facilitate a whole-class experience. That is why Google developed Expeditions, a whole-class VR experience. 

Think of Google Expeditions as a 21st century version of the Magic School Bus! 

Teachers select from one of over 50 virtual field trips and launch the experience using the Expeditions App for Android and iOS. Students will be taken into a virtual world which is narrated and guided by their teacher. Expeditions can be paused to facilitate whole-class discussion and teachers can “point” to any object on the screen to easily guide students. 

Google Expeditions is free for schools. Learn more here: 

Monday, August 1, 2016

13 FREE VR Apps for the Classroom

Virtual Reality (VR) has great potential for the classroom when used effectively by experienced and creative teachers. VR is also a very new and evolving technology. To help you get started with virtual reality in your classroom, a group of educators I worked with this summer put together a list of 13 FREE VR apps that are classroom appropriate. 

You can view the list here:

Feel free to copy and share. 

Do you have a favorite app that we left out? Please let me know by leaving a comment on this post!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

3 Ways to use VR in the Classroom

Just because a technology is “cool” or “immersive” does not mean that it is well suited for the classroom. To truly have an impact on learning, classroom technology should go beyond simple engagement (i.e. “wow, this is fun!”). It must build skills or teach concepts. 

Virtual reality (VR) is a new technology that has classroom potential. If you have had an opportunity to experience Occulus Rift or Google Cardboard, you know what I'm talking about - it's awesome! But is VR something that we should consider for the classroom? Can it be used as a teaching tool? I think so, and here's how:

There are three levels at which VR can be incorporated into the classroom. None of the levels are inherently better. Each one has a purpose. An effective lesson will likely include all three levels of engagement.

Note: these levels are similar to the SAMR model of technology integration. 


Students observe content and media in a passive setting. This is the simplest way to use VR in the classroom. Virtual reality is being use as a “hook” to engage students. Using VR for observation is usually a short experience followed by other forms of classwork or instruction.

VR Apps for observing: Discovery VR, nytvr, Jaunt VR, YouTube360


Exploration with VR extends simple observations by asking students to go deeper and to record observations or reflections. Explore with VR encompasses virtual field trips which may be facilitated by the teacher. Students should be expected to record their thoughts, feelings, and experience during or after their experience.

VR Apps for Exploration: Google Expeditions, Google Street View, YouVisit VR


Students begin by observing, start explore, and conclude by creating original content. Created content might include original writing, video, stories, images, or new VR content.

VR Apps for Creating: ThingLink ($), Cardboard Camera, Google Tour Builder 
Do you agree with this framework? Think I left something out? Leave me a comment and let me know! 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Android on Chrome - 2 Observations

I have had an opportunity to explore the use of Android Apps on my Chromebooks for the past few weeks. You can read through my comprehensive overview here.

I have two new observations to share.

1. Distinguishing Apps

One of my initial concerns when I began adding Android apps to my Chromebooks was issue of differentiating between Android and Chrome Apps - they all look the same! This is an issue if you install the Chrome AND Android versions of a took (like Pixlr for example).

A recent update to ChromeOS 53 (developer) has addressed this issue by adding a small Chrome icon badge to Chrome Apps. It's interesting to note that the badge only appears on Website apps, not native Chrome Apps like Versal or Vysor.

The Pixlr Android app (left) and the Pixlr Chrome App (right)
On one hand, this is a helpful change, however as I have way more Chrome Apps than Android Apps, I would have preferred to see an Android badge added rather than a Chrome badge. 

2. Chrome Sync

One of the best things about ChromeOS is the ability to sign into any Chromebook and have all of your settings and content instantly accessible. This is possible because there is very little content that is actually locally stored on a Chromebook. With Android Apps, that is not the case - each one is locally downloaded to the device you are using. 

I was very curious about how Android app installations were going to be handled on Chromebooks. This is extremely important for schools who have a shared device program. The last thing we want is for the quick boot-time of Chromebooks to be hindered by downloading and installing 2gb+ worth of Android apps on each device. 

I have access to both the Asus Flip and the Chromebook Pixel. Android came to the Asus Flip first, and then the Pixel. I had installed a handful of Android apps on the Asus device and was curious to see what would happen when I switched my Pixel to developer mode to test Android Apps on that machine. What I discovered is that Android Apps do NOT sync. I had to manually install the Android Apps onto my Pixel. 

My guess is that this is not the way things are going to work in the future and is just a function of this feature being in very early stages of development. It would make sense to me to add a new option to the Chrome Sync interface to allow the user (or administrator) to enable / disable Android App sync.
Adding Android Apps as an option to the Chrome Sync page would provide individual users the ability to decide if they want Android Apps to sync across all of their devices. 
Those are my two new observations about Android on Chrome at the moment. Have you discovered anything interesting? I'd love to hear your thoughts and discoveries. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

John's Summer 2016 Chromebook Picks

Looking to purchase a new Chromebook before the back to school season? Here are my summer Chromebook picks! New models come out regularly, so I reserve the right to make adjustment! Prices are based from the manufactures website and may be lower on Amazon.

The Budget Machine

Pick: Lenovo N21
Cost: $180
A solid, durable device for an amazing price. The n21 features a rotating web cam, specifically designed for science classrooms and a nifty hidden handle. Not a power-machine, but hey, it's less than $200!
Full Review:

The Tank

Pick: Dell Chromebook 11
Cost: $219
Dell made significant improvements on their second Chromebook. The Dell 11 features a really nice barrel hinge that extends all of the way through the screen. The Dell 11 can also be easily repaired, making it a great device for schools. Can be configured as a touch-screen.
Full Review:

Performance Machine

Pick: HP Chromebook 13
Cost: $499
Other than the $1,200 Chromebook Pixel, this is the best device on the market. HD Screen, fast processor, 4GB of RAM. My only dissapointment is the lack of a touchscreen option. 
Full Review:

Cool Factor

Pick: Acer R11
The R11 is a convertable, 3-in-1 device and features a standard touch-screen. With Android Apps coming to ChromeOS, this is an awesome device.
Full Review: