Category Archives: Tools

Cardboard VR in the Classroom

Last Friday we rolled out our new set of Google “Cardboard” VR viewers.  The first experience was with grade 8.  I led them through the Google Expedition depicting the life of two Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.  Monday, Ryan Maney (@rmaney17), our amazing elementary STEM Teacher used them to take grade 4 students on a virtual field trip to a wind farm as an introduction to their science unit on energy.  (NGSS 4-PS3 Definition of Energy and Energy Transfer).

In both cases the power of the experience was realized by the excitement of the students.  One fourth grader was overheard saying, “I would have never guessed that teachers would use VR in a classroom.”

Our grade 8 Humanities teacher Tweeted…


What did we learn from these experiences?

  1. VR Experiences need to be short or have frequent breaks.  The main reason for this is to prevent kids from getting a headache or queasy when using the viewers.  It doesn’t happen to everyone, but we did have a few children who needed to put the viewer down after a few minutes.
  2. You don’t need a full class set.  We only have 10 viewers.  As our STEM Teacher so masterfully modeled, pausing frequently is an opportunity for students to stop, reflect, and record observations.  Think of it as “close reading” with VR.  Students would view a scene, then pass the viewer to their partner as they wrote down observations, details, and questions.  Then their partner then does the same while they view the next scene.
  3. Make sure your viewers have a button.  Many of the cheap viewers I’ve seen at Walmart or other places don’t have the button that mimics a screen tap.  This is necessary for many of the Google Cardboard apps, Google Earth, YouTube, CoSpaces, etc.  It allows the students to select items, move, or pause playback while in VR.  We went the the Homido Grab headsets (pictured below) and Huawei Honor 5 inch phones (no SIM Card).


So Let It Be Spoken, So Let It Be Typed

When I first started working with technology in schools, speech recognition software was quite expensive and not very good.  Now it’s built in to phones, tablets, and computers and available for anyone to use.  While I don’t want to get into an argument about the necessity of teaching keyboarding in 2016, I do want to let you know that there are other options to quickly and efficiently get student words on a document.

How to Turn Speech Into Text



Did you ever notice the little microphone next to the spacebar on your iPad or iPhone keyboard?  Tap it and say something.  It lets you speak your text in just about any app that lets you type.

BONUS FEATURE:  Word Prediction

Notice a little white line above the T and Y keys?  Swipe up on it to reveal the built in word prediction feature.  As you start typing something, it will try to predict what you are typing.  Once you see the word you want, tap it.


Google Docs

In any Google Doc, go to TOOLS and select “Voice Typing”.


Mac OS

Turn on Dictation

Go to your SYSTEM PREFERENCES and select Dictation and Speech.




Using Dictation

If you would like to dictate text, open an app. (The example below uses Microsoft Word.)

Click in the document where you would like to start typing and press the fn key twice.

NOTE: If this is the first time you are using dictation, and you selected Enhanced Dictation, you will need to wait for the language file to download.



As you speak you can add punctuation by saying “period”, “comma”, or “question mark”.  You can also say “new line” to start a new paragraph.

Text to Speech on Mac OS

Having your text read back to you after typing is a good way for students to proofread their work.  To enable Text to Speech go to the SYSTEM PREFERENCES and select “Dictation & Speech”.



For the Dearly Departed

One of the realities of working at an international school is the yearly transition of teachers moving on to new schools at the end of the year.  Already there are boxes of stuff filling rooms and hallways from those who are moving.  But what about all your digital stuff?  How do you take it with you?  What happens to files you’ve created after you leave?  Here are a few things to take care of before you go…

Google Apps

You should make a backup of any files you’ve created on your school’s Google Apps account.  If you’ve created any documents as part of a team or department, you will want to transfer ownership of those documents so they do not disappear after your account is deleted.  Here’s a video I created explaining what to do:



Since you will probably be losing your school e-mail address, there are 3 things you need to remember to do here.

email_tasksFORWARD – Any e-mail and attachments you are going to need to a personal e-mail account.  This could be anything from awesome lesson ideas you received, important documents and attachments, and login/account info for anything you may have signed up for using your school e-mail account.

FORWARD – Any important information that people at your school are going to need after you leave.  This could be important invoices, receipts, inventory lists, or account information for online tools that will be needed for the next school year.  You’d want your predecessor to do the same for you, right?

UPDATE – Your default e-mail for any online accounts you created using your school email address.   While you will likely no longer have access to any subscription services that were provided and managed by your school or district, you probably also used your school e-mail to create accounts for a variety of different online tools or services.    Better login, go to account settings, and change the default e-mail.  Once you no longer have access to your school e-mail, you will no longer be able to recover any account information, or reset a forgotten password.

Update Your CV or Resumé

This transition time is also a good time to update your CV or resumé with your new school, e-mail, and contact info.  You probably also want to update your profile info on Social Media too.  It saves you from having to explain to people, “Oh, yeah. That’s my old school. I’m not there anymore.”

So, if you are one of those joining the ranks of the “Dearly Departed”, congratulations! Blessings and best wishes on your new adventure.


Image Capture: Best Little App That Nobody Knows About

There is beauty in simplicity.  I appreciate those little tools that do one thing, do it well, and don’t try to be anything else.  Did you know that hidden in your Apps folder on your Mac is a little app called Image Capture?

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.47.54 AM

What does it do? It takes pictures or videos from a device (camera, iPad, iPhone) and lets you import them to your Mac and save them wherever you want.

That’s it.

When do I use it?  When I want to take a few images or video that I shot on my school iPad and copy them to my desktop or a folder on my Mac.  I DO NOT want to add these images or videos to my photo library.  I DO NOT want to sync the iPad or back it up.  I DO NOT want to copy everything.  I just want the pictures and videos I want, where I want them.  Image capture does just that.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.02.16 AM


Sharing Digital Kits

As many of you know, Digital Storytelling (or rather, Storytelling with Digital Tools) is one of my passions and is a great way for students to reflect on their learning.  Getting the photos you want in the hands of students can be a challenge.


Don’t send students to Google and tell them to find pictures.


Provide your students with collections of images to use for their project.  These are often referred to as Digital Kits.


Our third grade students took a field trip to the museum.  During the trip, teachers, students, and chaperones took photos.  When the class returned, the photos were collected and the best ones were uploaded to a folder in the teacher’s Dropbox account.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 11.41.41 AM

Here’s where the magic happens.  From Dropbox, you can right-click and get a link to that folder containing all your images.  THEN you can turn that link into a QR Code using a simple tool like  Print that QR Code and let students scan it with their iPads.  They now have access to all the images in that folder.

Students were then told to find and save 6 images that they wanted to use to tell their story about their trip to the museum.  Once those images were saved to the camera roll on the iPad, they could use iMovie, 30 Hands, or other storytelling tools to create their story.


Second grade teachers took photos of a science experiment performed in class.  They captured the setup, the experiment itself, and the end results.  Those photos were put in a Dropbox folder and shared with students using a QR Code.

Photo Apr 02, 11 53 50 AM

Students then scanned the code, saved the pictures to the camera roll, and then used those pictures to create a story of their experiment using the 30 Hands app.   They needed to arrange the photos in sequence and record their voice explaining how they set up the experiment, what happened, and what they learned as a result.  Listening to these “video lab reports” teachers were able to get a clear indication of student understanding.


Don’t use dropbox?  You can use, Google Drive, or another app.  The key is to use something that lets you upload a collection of photos and share them with a link that can be turned into a QR Code.

We also found that many QR Code scanner apps for the iPad use their own built in browsers to open web links.  I found it helpful to go to the settings on these apps and change the default so it automatically opens links in Safari.  This makes it easier for students to save images by just tapping and holding on an image until the “SAVE IMAGE” option pops up.



Make a Google Slide Resource Page

For my primary students, rather than let them search the Internet themselves, I like to provide resource links for them when they research online.  Tomorrow, grade 1 will be coming to the computer lab to research whales.  In the past, I’ve created a simple page with hyperlinks leading them to online resources and videos that their teacher and I have already viewed and approved.  This time I thought I would try something a little different and more visually interesting using Google Slides.

After a little playing around, here is what I came up with. (Click the image below)

Whales - Google Slides

The trick here is to make the page appear full screen so the students see just the slide.   To do this, I created a new slide presentation with one slide.  Added images and hyperlinks to my resources,  then clicked PRESENT to get a URL for just that one slide.

Next I made one minor tweak to the URL, changing edit# to present?  So the new URL looks like this.

The result is a hyperlink that automatically opens as a full screen slide with active links. Sure this is a little more work, but don’t you think it is more interesting than just a list of hyperlinks?

Thanks to Lisa Highfill and her amazing “HyperDocs”  presentation for inspiring this idea.

Old Dog Still Good for a Few Tricks

In 2006 Microsoft released the latest version of PhotoStory3 (version 3.1). If you’re looking for a simple tool for creating digital stories with images and voice, and you’re a Windows user, this still remains an excellent choice.


It’s 2014. Why am I writing about Windows software that hasn’t been updated in 8 years? Because it still works.  And by “works” I mean it still works for student projects better than most, if not all, other storytelling telling tools out there.  Believe me, I’ve looked at dozens of other web 2.0 tools and apps and still have not found one that has convinced me to switch away from PhotoStory because I’ve not yet found one that meets all these requirements:

  1. No student login required
  2. Gives student a place to write narration notes right in the app
  3. Record student voice right in the app
  4. Give student control over image pan & zoom
  5. Create or Add background music
  6. Export as a video file

As my school transitions away from Windows machines toward Chromebooks, iPads, and BYOD I miss the straightforward, step-by-step approach PhotoStory uses for building a story.  iMovie for iPad is an excellent tool and is almost as easy for students to use as PhotoStory, but unless you’re buying a new iPad, it’s not free.  30 Hands has greater simplicity and ease of use, but falls short if I want to control image pan and zoom.

In the Chromebook world, I’ve searched the Chrome Web Store for a PhotoStory replacement, but everything I’ve looked at seems to come up short.  So far, Narrable and Movenote are the ones that come the closest, but I still long for a tool that gives me pan and zoom control for my images and can export as a video file.  Oh sure, there are some amazingly powerful video editing tools like WeVideo, that allow a myriad of transitions, effects, and audio/video channels, but I’m not sure I want my second & third graders logging in with a Google ID and working with all the embedded distractions provided by something this sophisticated.

For now I’ll keep bringing my students to the computer lab to work on PhotoStory 3 projects and continue recommending it to elementary teachers until something better comes along.

How to Upload Video to Your iDevice

Yesterday I had one of those “Ah-Ha” moments.  It came when I saw this tweet from Gregory Kulowiec.

Gregory Kulowiec Tweet

This got my head spinning with possibilities.  I know how take video or photos from an iPad Camera Roll and get it to my computer using the Google Drive, Box, or DropBox apps, but getting video from those apps to my iPad has been problematic.  What if I want to provide my students with video clips* and have them add their own voiceover, or edit them together with other clips or their own videos? Using “open in” it looks like I should be able to do this.

Armed with this new bit of information, it was time to play.  Here is what I discovered…

This definitely opens up some new possibilities for student media projects.

*NOTE: You may have an issue if you want to share out one video with a whole class. See Bill’s comment below.

Just Share It!

Have you been looking for an easy way for students to share their video projects with you?  If you’re a Google Apps school, then the answer is right there in front of you.

As an added bonus, videos you’ve uploaded to Google Drive and videos shared with you can be embedded in Google Sites.  Just insert the video from your Google Drive.  This is a wonderful way to share student projects.


Unfortunately, this only works in Sites.  If you want to embed a video in Google Slides (Presentations), your only option is still YouTube.

Add the Google Drive Mobile app to the mix and students can record videos on their Android, iPhone, or iPad and upload them directly to their Google Drive account on your school’s Google Apps domain.  With 30GB of space, students have plenty of room if they avoid uploading bulky HD Video files.

As for the “Warning” in my video, I discovered some issues when you try uploading a video from an iPad or mobile device connected to our school network.  Contacting Google support was both easy and helpful. They assisted me in troubleshooting the issue and determined that there may be some issues with our filter/firewall. For those of you who like technical stuff, here is what Google Drive needs in order to work properly:

Embed It in Google Sites

Let’s face it. I’m a Google fanboy. I’m for the total Googlification of my life. I use docs, maps, hangouts, gmail, Chromebooks, Android, and all sorts of other things Google, even Google+. I’ve also built numerous Google sites and have students do the same for class projects. Here is where I’ve recently run into a problem.

I like to embed stuff. All sorts of stuff on my sites. Lately it seems Google has a problem taking embed coded from anything that isn’t from Google. Youtube, Forms, Maps are not a problem but any other code I seem to embed using the iFrame gadget or simply by switching to HTML view and pasting just seems to come up blank. This has been frustrating.

Today I discovered this while perusing the Google help forums.  It appears that the issue is not so much with sites, but with the Chrome browser.  Apparently Chrome wants any content embedded on your page to have the same security as the page itself.  Since Google sites are HTTPS, then any embedded content must also be HTTPS.  If you try to embed HTTP content on your site, Chrome will see it as a security risk and not display it.  If you are having embed difficulties, here is what I did to “correct” the issue.

  1. Make sure you have the latest version of Chrome.  Go to your Chrome SETTINGS and click HELP.  On my Mac, the current version is 30.0.1599.101ChromeVersion-1
  2. Embed the content you want to embed on to your page in Google Sites. You can use the iFrame Gadget or just switch to HTML view and paste the code where you want it to go. Save your page.
  3. The embedded content will likely not display, but look up in your Omnibox (where the page URL appears in your browser.) Right next to the bookmark bar, you should see a shield.shield1
  4. Click the shield and then click “Load unsafe script”shield2

The embedded content should display now.  I have not found a setting to always allow this so you will have to keep an eye out for the shield when your pages do not look right.  For now at least, it works.