Tag Archives: Google

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).


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.

Creating and Collaborating in the Cloud

This year is a year of changes at my school. I’ll likely be sharing others in future posts, but today I’d like to focus on one that I’m most excited about  – Google Apps replacing Microsoft Office.

Beginning this Fall our incoming 6th grade students no longer all have the exactly same computer supplied and imaged by the school. Instead they are allowed to purchase and bring their own laptop computer. This means our teachers are now dealing with students who could have Macs or PC’s and a variety software and hardware configurations. We needed something that would create a common experience for any platform and Google Apps was the logical choice.

To learn more about our Bring Your Own Laptop program click this link: https://sites.google.com/site/stjohnsbyod/


  • Google Apps is FREE.
  • Since it works in a web browser, the user experience is the same whether your on a PC or Mac.
  • Google Docs are saved automatically. There’s no need for students to save their work or try to remember WHERE they saved it. This is a BIG deal if you’ve ever worked with middle schoolers.
  • Google Docs are saved “in the cloud”. If a student’s computer breaks, their work is not gone. They can get on another machine, sign-in, and have access to all their work. This eliminates “the dog ate my flash drive” and “my computer froze” or any other technical excuse they might use to get out of doing their work.
  • Google Docs are “collaborative”. This opens up new possibilities for collaborative notes, documents, presentations, and projects. It also makes “turning in” assignments a simple matter of sharing your document with the teacher. No more saving, downloading, and uploading of files. It makes commenting, correcting and revising work much more efficient.

So how does Google Docs work in the classroom?

When students create a document the first thing they must do is give it a proper TITLE. The document title is analogous to putting your name, class, period, and assignment on the top of your paper. Our students are required to name their documents like this:

LastName, FirstName Subject Period Assignment


Naming documents this way allows the teacher to search and filter documents by assignment, subject, name, or class period.  A teacher could filter all documents shared with them to see all submissions for a particular assignment or just the documents submitted by a particular student. If a student shares “Untitled document”, the teacher will not accept it.

Instant Commenting

When a teacher is evaluating student work, adding a comment or critique is a simple as clicking your cursor in the document or highlighting a section of text and pressing CTRL-ALT-M (the keyboard command to insert a comment). CTRL-ENTER will post the comment.

When a comment is posted, the student can see it immediately.  If a student happens to have the document open while a teacher is looking at it, they will see the comment pop up on their screen. They might also see the teacher’s cursor moving through the document right on their screen indicating that the teacher is looking at their document at that very moment. As I explain this to students this might seem kinda creepy, but it’s also pretty cool.

In our old system, students submitting documents would have to upload a document to to Moodle. The teacher would have to download and save the document. Open the document. Add comments. Save the document, then upload the document back to Moodle so the student could see the comments. Instant commenting in Google Docs is a big time-saver.

Revision History

This is like document insurance. As you work on and make changes to a document, Google Apps is generating a revision history. At any time you can go to FILE and SEE REVISION HISTORY to look at previous revisions of your document. So if you, or one of your collaborators accidentally deletes part of your document, you just find an earlier version of your document and restore it.

How is this helpful to you as a teacher? Think about the writing process. Now you can take a students work and use revision history to go back and see their writing process. What changes did they make? What did they add? What did they delete? Did they make the corrections you suggested?

Have you ever been part of a group project and had a bad experience because you did all the work but everyone in the group got your “A”? Now a teacher can use revision history to see not only what changes and additions were made to a document, but also WHO made them. So now the teacher can see who did the most work and who did nothing. Now those lazy people who sit back and let you do all the work will get their just reward. (It’s about time.)

Teachers as Contacts

We also recommend that students using Google Apps, add teachers to their contacts. This is something our teachers have students do at the beginning of the school year. It makes sharing a document with a teacher much simpler because they just share it and select the teacher’s name from their list of contacts. You don’t have to hope that students will type your e-mail address correctly every time.

We’re only in our 3rd week of school and already I’m hearing positive comments about how much quicker and easier it is to assess student work with Google Documents as opposed to dealing with Word and PowerPoint files uploaded to Moodle.

If you’d like additional Google Doc resources, here is the site we created to support our Google Apps training: https://sites.google.com/site/stjohnsgdocs/

If These Walls Could Talk

Every once in a while I’ll get a brainstorm. Well this isn’t exactly a brain “storm” but it might qualify as a brain “shower” or maybe a brain “drizzle”.

This particular bit of mental precipitation comes about as a result of combining three different tools. It’s one of those, “If I take something I made with THIS, put it here using THAT, then I can get one of THESE and THAT would be REALLY COOL” moments.  If you’re confused already, please keep reading. All will be explained in due time, but first let me share the story that brought about THIS, THAT, and THE OTHER THING.

It started with our 6th grade Basic Computer Skills class. To teach the kids how to use Audacity (THIS #1 in this formula) they decided to promote Read Across America day by recording themselves reading popular primary grade books from our library. These recordings will be burned to CD to so our 1st and 2nd graders can listen to their 6th grade buddies read the book to them. Many the recordings these students created were quite good. Some used the “change pitch” feature in Audacity to create voices for the characters. (See my post on Interview an Elf) Others added sound effects to add to the drama of the story.

While this was going on I came across a post on twitter from @shaunaaltman wondering if there was a way to create audio files that would play when you scanned a QR Code. Do you think you know where I’m going with this?

If you take an mp3, way, aiff, or other type of audio file created in Audacity or any other audio editing program and post it online where it can be accessed via a URL (hyperlink), you can also take that link and convert it a QR code. When that QR code is scanned by a reader app, most smart phones and mobile devices will just play the sound automatically.

So, I’ve got an mp3 file. How do I post it online? Enter THAT #2. There are several different options for doing THAT.

1) Save the file in your Public Folder on Dropbox.
2) Post the file to Posterous
3) Use a podcasting tool like Chirbit or AudioBoo to post a file online.

Once the file is online, copy the link (URL) to that file and use an online QR Code Generator  (THE OTHER THING). There are many different options out there for doing this as well.

One way to do THIS is to use goo.gl

NOTE: You must be signed in to your Google Account to do THIS.

Don’t have a Google Account? Or don’t want to login? There are countless other free online QR code generators out there. Here’s one that not only lets you generate QR codes, but it also lets you make them “cute”: Beautiful QR Codes

When you have one of THESE QR Codes on your screen, you can right-click, copy image, and paste the image in any word processing document for printing. Once the code is printed you can do all sorts of things with it. Here’s where my brain started storming.

For our book project, we could take the QR Codes linking to the student recordings and tape them to the inside covers of the books. Parents with smart phones could use their smart phones so their children could listen along to their sixth grade buddies read the story to them.

But there are so many other possiblities…

  • Place QR Codes around your school to create an audio tour. That plaque on the gym wall dedicated to that guy could explain who he was and why he has a plaque there. The mural created by the class of 2012 could have the kids from that class telling how and why they made it. The drinking fountain could explain where the water you are drinking is comes from – if you really want to know?
  • Does your school have student leadership elections? Imagine using QR codes to create talking campaign posters.
  • Teachers could add sound to their bulletin boards – a weekly extra credit challenge or hints to last night’s homework.

I could go on, but instead I’d like you to ponder the possibilities instead. Got any other cool ideas? Add a comment and share your thoughts.

Additional Resource:

If you’d like more info on how to use Audacity to create creative recordings here’s a tutorial: How to Make a Podcast

End of an Era

We all have those pivotal moments in our life. Those times when you realize you need to say goodbye to the old and embrace the new. This week it was time to end a long standing relationship and make a big decision to move on to something better.  This week I changed my default browser from Firefox to Chrome.

Now you may be thinking, “This is no big deal”, but understand that my relationship with Firefox/Mozilla goes back more than a decade – back to when it was just Netscape Navigator. Sure we had some good times over the years, but the new opportunities offered by Chrome finally persuaded me to close one chapter of my life and begin a new one.  What was it that convinced me? Here are some reasons…

Browser Sync – When logged in with your Google account, you can set up Chome to sync so that all your bookmarks, themes, apps, saved passwords, and various settings are shared automatically between computers. Just start syncing in your Chrome preferences on all your computers and link it to your Google account. I’ve become accustomed to my browser remembering username or e-mail when I start to type it on a form. With Sync, a username I type in on one computer, is remembered on my other one. I like that.

Apps – The latest version of Chrome allows you to add “apps” to your browser. Your apps appear when you open a new window or tab. Some apps are free, others you pay for. If you’ve used the Mac App Store or purchased apps from iTunes, the experience is similar. Some apps will even run offline. I’ve got to think that this is something that Chrome needs in order to make the Google Chromebook a viable netbook alternative.

Free Angry Birds – Okay, I’ve got to admit that even with these cool features there had to be something significant to woo me away from Firefox and get me to try and explore Chrome.  A free Angry Birds app that would only run in the Chrome browser was the perfect bait to lure me in.


While those were the big three factors that convinced me to change my default, there are a few other things I’ve discovered I like about Chrome since I’ve made the switch…

  • Speed – Chrome just seems to run faster and load pages quicker than Firefox. ( I hear it’s significantly faster than Internet Explorer too.)
  • Compact Toolbar – The toolbars and tabs have been compacted to maximize screen real estate for viewing web pages.
  • Improved Browser Extensions – One thing I love about Firefox is all my browser extensions. Diigo, AdBlock Plus, and several more of my favorite extensions now work in Chrome.

NOTE: Now I haven’t stopped using Firefox completely. I have not deleted it from my computer. In fact I still need it to work with my Moodle 2 pages. It’s just no longer my #1 browser choice.