Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Musical Google Slides

Can you add music to Google Slides?

This is a common question I receive from individuals that prefer Microsoft Office over Google. The simple answer None of the Google Apps products are as robust as their Microsoft counterparts. They aren't intended to be either. When using Google Apps, collaboration is king. If an educator really wants to make the most of the Google line-up, fancy transitions and additional features will not be found here. Take advantage of the fact that students can work on a project simultaneously. 

This topic all came about because one of my teachers had created a Slides presentation with text and images for an event after school. They merely wanted the information posted in slideshow format so that music could play in the background. I needed to find an alternative option quickly because the event was the very next evening! 

Need a photo slideshow? 

Something to consider is that Google Slides is not necessarily intended to be a photo slideshow. So with that said, there are plenty of alternatives out there if you want to accomplish such a task. Recently, I posted how you can use YouTube to create photo slideshows. However, users under the age of 13 cannot legally use YouTube to create a slideshow. So what can they use? With parent permission, minors are allowed to utilize (See terms of service here.) It is easy to use and can quickly jazz up any user's Slides presentation.

If you are wanting to utilize the information from a Google Slides presentation, users can simply download each slide as an image file. Then all the slides can be uploaded into along with a fancy theme and music. If you are wanting your own custom audio, users could use a tool such a Soundtrap to record their voice along with a musical background.

Here's how to get started:

Alternatives to

There are a lot of different options to creating photo slideshows. The entire process is the same as my video on using Users will first need to download each slide as an image and upload them to the desired destination. Here are some other options (along with their terms of service linked):

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Teacher Tech Tip - Gmail Priority Inbox

What's a Teacher Tech Tip?

I decided to start a new series dedicated to quick technology tips that teachers should know. The idea is that it will somehow streamline and simplify the life of a teacher. The idea came to fruition due to a saying one of my dear former colleagues (Angie Sibert of North Side Elementary) used to say to me every time I showed her a little trick on her device. Angie would always say, "After a few minutes with you, you've changed my whole life!" 

Every week, I will push out a technology tip that will help to improve your work environment with technology. I promise that it will only take you five minutes or less to view. I would also like for teachers to submit their techie tips. I'd be happy to edit and publish them for you. Feel free to send a message my way if you want to submit a teacher tech tip!

Gmail Priority Inbox

Just using the Inbox in Gmail is messy. It is hard to keep track of items. You read emails get all mixed in with other emails. What in the world is that star for anyway? With the priority inbox, you can better organize and mark email. You can create your own custom inboxes. Check it out! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Comic Slips

The Exit Slip

Exit slips are a great way to check student understanding after a lesson. Asking a simple question as students are getting ready to leave can help a teacher do a number of things to improve the learning experience for students. For starters, the teacher can simply use the data to determine the quality of the lesson. Whether the students were engaged or not, the teacher has the opportunity to reflect on his/her practice. Second, the teacher can use the data to determine the next steps in teaching. Does a topic need more attention or do you need to accelerate the content? Exit slips are necessary bits of information to help guide that decision. The most important reason is for the purpose of differentiation. Teachers can use the data to create differentiated experiences. Which students can move along with more challenging/independent content? Which students need more small group or individual attention? 

There are lots of different questions you can ask students to get them going on an exit slip. It can be explicit questions to the content, but the best questions tend to allow students to reflect on their learning. If you haven't used a lot of exit slips, here are some great question starters to get your going: 
  1. I tried really hard to...
  2. I think I'm starting to...
  3. I'm going to work harder at...
  4. The most confusing part was...
  5. Two things I remember are...
  6. My teacher can help me with...
  7. I loved the part when...
  8. I can't wait for tomorrow's lesson because...
  9. I wish my teacher knew...
  10. I want to know more about...

The Comic

Comics are a great way to engage students. Real estate is limited in a comic so students need to choose their words wisely. Last week, I wrote about how students can create comics using Google Docs and Webcam Toy. I called it, "Google Domics." It is a fun way for students to communicate their knowledge of just about any topic, and with Webcam Toy, you can take pictures of items to make them appear comic-like.

In my video in this post, I demonstrate using Webcam Toy just as I did in my post about Google Domics. However, I use the "comic strip" option. The difference between the comic book setting and comic strip is that the first takes an individual image whereas the latter takes four consecutive images. This allows for an instant comic strip for a quicker project. 

The Comic Slip

Using a comic slip, the students will need to use the comic strip option in Webcam Toy to take their four consecutive photos. They will need to think carefully about how they want to pose in each one so that they can communicate with their facial expression how they felt about their learning during the day/lesson. They will also need to carefully think about how they are going to communicate through their words. You as the teacher can give them one of the ten exit slip starters listed or make up your own. 

Another option for speeding up the process is to have the students make three different comic strips well in advance to communicate low, medium, and high levels of learning. If students have these saved ahead of time, they can import them into Google Drawings and get started on the text portion of their exit slip immediately. An exit slip is intended for the last five minutes of class time. Pre-loaded comic strips can make it more possible. Have students save their three different versions in a Google Drive folder for safe keeping. 

Google Classroom

If you are a Google Classroom user, this project will work flawlessly for you. Just ask for a comic slip and the question starter directly in Classroom, and have students hit the "create" button to start building their drawing. It will pop up with a drawing in their Google Classroom automatically named with the assignment title and student name. The student just needs to click on it once it is created. The process is time-efficient and fun! 

If you are not a Google Classroom user, your learning management system may require that you have students download their drawing as an image and upload it. That fully depends on what you are using. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Class Blog with Google Sites

Got blogs? 

I love class blogs. When I taught fourth grade five years ago, I had students blog about reading. Students would write book reviews, share their comprehension strategies, and carry conversations about articles related to science topics we were covering in class. A few days per week, we'd scoot down to the computer lab and share our thoughts. I also had five PC's in the back of the classroom where students could rotate in and out if they were itching to tell about their latest read. My students loved it, and I loved it as well because all my students' thoughts about reading were in one place! The lines of communication were powerful. 

Third graders blogging on iPads.
Fast forward a few years and along came What an awesome platform for student blogging! The activity stream down the middle was perfect for teachers to check the latest activity. The controls it gave teachers were awesome as many similar blogging platforms were starting to charge for many of the features Kidblog gave for free. However, Kidblog is now charging for their service. I understand that they have to make money, and this blog post is in no way an attempt to take away from their product. However, I wanted to provide a free alternative for my teachers. So if you are a Google Apps for Education school district, you'll want to continue reading. 

Class blog template

I created a template using Google Sites somewhat similar to the format of Kidblog. It has the stream of posts down the center, access to all student blogs in a list, and students can easily add images, videos and text. However, it is missing the categories and tags that most blogs have. It is also missing the ability to approve posts before they are published, but a teacher can quickly check the history on the site if there were ever an issue.

There are some benefits over the Kidblog platform though. Students can insert video straight from their Google Drive instead of embedding it from YouTube. Students can also easily insert presentations and documents directly into their blog. So if they want to talk about a project they are working on in Google, they can easily add it to their post. They can also add numerous gadgets to customize their own page.

What really took me a long time to create were all the tutorials! I added tutorials built right into the template so you and your students can get started right away. So if your students want to customize their page or need to know how to post, the tutorial is there. If a teacher needs to know how to adjust permission levels or add students, the tutorial is there. I hope you find them helpful. If you find that I am missing some directions, please let me know so I can add them. 

Here's a quick overview of the template: 

If you'd like to download the template, click here.

Why not Blogger?

I've been posting about using Blogger over the last few years. It is a great communication tool for teachers. It is a great communication tool for students. The only problem with Blogger is that users must be over 13 to use it. Even with the Google Apps for Education suite, it is not considered a "core app." Therefore users must abide by the terms of service that Google requires in a personal setting. One of those items is the age restriction. So if you have students under the age of 13 and you are in a Google Apps for Education school district, try out the template! See if it will work for you and your class. 

You have a what?

I get a lot of questions about blogging. Especially when it comes to launching your blog. Launching your blog properly is essential. Blogging is not a magic tool that will fix all your students' learning issues. So here are some tips. 
  1. Set expectations. Make sure your students understand what kind of posts you desire. Model your expectations and spend time highlighting great posts from classmates. You have to set the bar high. 
  2. Set rules for commenting. One of the biggest issues with an online realm is novelty of it. Students will try to throw in silly comments; comments that I refer to as "littering the Internet." 
  3. Review! Review the expectations repeatedly. Continuously highlight great posts and great comments. 
For a more detailed description of these tips, click here

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Google Domics


Comics in the classroom are awesome. Students (and teachers) can utilize comics to explain about any learning concept. There are also a ton of great tools for creating comics online! One of my personal favorites is Pixton. In fact, it is the tool I used to make some pretty cool comics promoting digital citizenship with a character I created by the name of Mr. Noble.  I had won a free one-year membership and took advantage of it. :)

Tools like Pixton are very cool, but what if you wanted to make comics out of real objects? With the combination of Google Drawings and Webcam Toy, users can create comics with any real object! Webcam Toy has a great comic book image filter. After taking a picture with webcam toy, the user can upload the image to Google Drawings and add speech bubbles and captions. Instant comic!

Google domics! 

In my first video, I demonstrate how you can take pictures from your webcam using Webcam Toy and import them into a comic template that I created in Google Docs (available for download). Creating comics in this manner would be a great way for students to share their thinking about a learning topic. They can take their selfies and add speech/thought bubbles to reflect on just about any learning that takes place. Please also notice that I'm using Google Drawings within Google Docs. By placing a table within Google Docs and using Drawings inside the table, the students will have less formatting issues. The table feature doesn't seem to keep items as organized within the stand alone Google Drawings. 

Document cameras rock!

If you have a document camera in your classroom, let your students take advantage of it! Many teachers have the amazingly affordable HD Ziggi from iPevo. The major advantage is the fact that the camera is much more flexible in motion than a Chromebook's webcam. Users can use a document camera to zoom directly on objects. In fact, one time I had students making a stop-motion movie with an iPevo camera. It worked beautifully since the camera was on a stand and could be easily moved from scene to scene. My only regret is that I didn't upload that video to YouTube and it is now lost. 

So what does this mean for comic making? Students can make comics from any object they like. I grabbed a few of my son's Lego figures in my demonstration below. Students could easily utilize action figures, characters from books, or pictures of historical characters to create a comic book version of them. How fun is that?

Looking for templates?

To simplify things, I created some templates in Google Docs that anyone is free to download. Having students utilize the table within a Google Doc and using the drawings makes it easier to keep consistent sizes for the students. I have the templates set that they are available to copy to your Google Drive account. Once you hit copy, it will be added into your drive so that you can manipulate/use them however you wish.
1x3 landscape template
2x2 portrait template
3x2 portrait template
2x3 landscape template

Great options for comics

If you are looking for a quick site for building comics with fewer features, Make Beliefs Comix is a great option. It works well on the web, but there is also an iPad app that users can download for free. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once your students know how to operate the site, they'll be making great comics in no time. 

If you want something a little more complex for free, I'd recommend Storyboard That. Users can create full blown comics with various backgrounds, characters, and customization. It is also fully functional on tablet devices so there is no need for an app. IPad and Android users can go straight to the site and start building. Just keep in mind that you'll want to create your account first. You may not be able to download your work if you attempt to create a comic without signing in first. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rock the Animated Hyperdoc

Hyperdocs are more fun when they are

One of the simplest and most powerful ways to integrate Google Apps for Education is to utilize a hyperdoc. It provides a collaborative space for students to work. It creates a space for students to stay organized not overwrite on each other's workspace. There are a lot of great options for students to work together in an online space, but Google Apps for Education schools have a simple solution already in their possession...the Google Doc. (Start here if you've never made a hyperdoc.)

Last week, I posted about including a Google Drawing right within a hyperdoc. With Google Drawings, students can quickly annotate an image and insert it directly into the Google Doc. This speeds up the process so that students do not have to create a completely separate Google Drawing, download it and drag it into the document. The other big advantage is that students can edit the drawing directly in the document if a mistake is made. This reduces the amount of workflow which in turn greatly affects learning time. 

Let's get 

After my post about utilizing Google Drawings directly in a hyperdoc, Matt Miller was kind enough to retweet it along with letting a member of his PLN, Karly Moura, know about my post. Karly is a big fan of creating hyperdocs and she reminded me that you can also include an animated GIF within them. She likes to create animated GIFs using the Snagit Chrome Extension  to give directions within a hyperdoc. That way students can see the directions along with the written word, and students do not have to go to a separate link or YouTube video to accomplish a task. This, in turn, improves workflow much like using the drawings feature within Google Docs.

If you want to increase the engagement in an activity, students can create their own animated GIFS. They can use Snagit, but I like the idea of students using Google Slides to piece together a short response. They can the download all the slides as images and upload them into resources like Giphy or Another option is to utilize short portions of YouTube. Students can grab up to 10 seconds of YouTube and download it as an animated GIF.

Need an example? 

Below I have example hyperdoc with animated directions for each option I listed previously. Check it out! 

Rock the Animated Hyperdoc
Animate directions or have students animate answers.

Question: What can you use to create animated GIFs?
Written Response
Animated Answer
Snagit Chrome Extension lets you record your screen and download as a GIF.
Giphy. You can upload multiple pictures to create an animated gif. Use Google Drawings or Slides to create multiple frames. Save the images and upload to Giphy.
Giphy. You can use a Youtube Video and trim it within 10 seconds.
Lance works well if your students are under 13 and you don’t want to make an account. It is also easier to use than Giphy.

Need step-by-step directions?

I fully recognize that my directions that I created in animated GIF form in the hyperdoc above are both too small and have too many images to follow easily. So if you need to be able to control the directions and see a larger version, I embedded the Slides presentations below. Hope these are helpful! 

Snagit Chrome Extension

This is a great option if you need to create a quick direction on where to click in a few short steps. It doesn't take long to make a GIF in Snagit, but it won't be as neat and tidy as the students will see you clicking to turn the extension on and off. 


Giphy is a great option for students over 13. It says specifically in their terms of service that no one (regardless of having an account) under 13 can use their services. (See section 2 in this document.) The awesome part about Giphy are all the options. Students can upload their own images, edit existing videos, and even edit existing GIF files. If students create an account, their GIFs are saved directly on the site so they can be retrieved later. The downfall of Giphy is that some of the content is not school appropriate. It is intended for entertainment purposes. So if your students are easily distracted, may serve to be a better option. is the simplest option for uploading your own animated GIFs. You can upload your images, change the order, and adjust the speed at which they animate. It is a great option since there are no accounts involved and they do not host animated GIFs on their site. So that means fewer distractions and students under 13 can use the service. However, animated GIFs are not saved. The user must save their work and be conscious of where it is saved to retrieve it later. 

Want more hyperdoc ideas?

To wrap things up, Karly was kind enough to post a Padlet page where teachers from the #ditchbook Twitter chat have shared their hyperdocs. It is a great resource if you need to generate some great learning activity ideas.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Blogger for Students - Make a Class Blog

Newsletters... you still make them? I absolutely hated writing newsletters. I shouldn't say that I hated writing them, but I hated the fact that I was putting so much time into it and knew that it would either end up in the trash or digested in a student's backpack. (It never seemed to come out in one piece.) I really came to two conclusions about newsletters: 
  1. Parents didn't read them because it wasn't really convenient. My daughter's 3rd grade teacher posts in a Facebook group regularly, and I love it. I already check Facebook. It is great when it just pops up in my feed. If you aren't a Facebook user, parents can also follow feeds on Twitter or Instagram. 
  2. Parents didn't read newsletters because they weren't relevant. Would it have been different had the students had ownership of the newsletter? Yes! I had parents visiting my website frequently because I had examples of class projects, and I had students helping with the updates. 

Class blogs...the virtual newsletter

Want to keep parents up to date on the latest happenings in your class? Use a Blogger blog. (Students must be 13 and older to use their accounts. Students must have access to their school email account.) On your class blog, students can add images, videos, and examples of what is happening in your class. It is a great experience for them to publish and report their learning. It provides a great challenge for all levels of students.

Often times, I get questions regarding getting parents to look at your blog/website. I've had quite a bit of success with a class website, and I'll give you the rundown of some top tips I can offer to get parents involved.
  1. Show students your website when it has been updated. Showing them the posts that you or students have created draws them in. They will more than likely share that information to their parents. Especially when their work or picture is being featured in a project. 
  2. Use a lot of pictures and video. Have students work as teams to build banners or edited photos using Google Drawings. Have students piece together short videos of the activities using the YouTube video editor. You could even have students create video lessons and host them on your blog. Then the entire class can use these resources when they get stuck in class. These extra features are what parents and the community want to see. 
  3. Use social media outlets. You don't have to be a social media guru. You don't have to be committed to all kinds of social media. My suggestion is to use Blogger and merely share the links to your posts through social media. That way parents see it coming in a convenient format, and they do not have to consciously check your page. If you are a bit of a tech guru, but don't really enjoy messing with a variety of social media outlets, check out If This, Than That. You can completely automate your posts to social media. 

Want to get started? Start here...

I put together a Slides presentation with some tips for setting up your blog. There are various settings you'll want to consider in the process. 

Another way to use Blogger

Awhile back, I had posted about students having their own Blogger blog. It is a bit tricky trying to sort through all their blogs if you have a lot of classes. However, it would work great if you want to try it with just one class. If this is something that interests you, click here. 

Need a paper newsletter?

If you need a paper newsletter, you can still get one. When you visit your blog, you can use the Print Friendly extension for Chrome to get a clean version of your blog. Need more information on how to use Print Friendly? Click here. 

Students under 13?

Google does not have Blogger as part of their core apps under Google Apps for Education. Therefore, they have to abide by the typical terms of service. That is that they must be 13 or older to use Blogger. So how do we get around it? My suggestion is to have students create their blog post in a simple Google Doc. Have them share it with you when you are finished. You can then copy and paste the information over when you are ready. Be sure to only use student first names when giving credit on the post. It does require a little more work on the part of the teacher, but your digital newsletter will be done and made by your students.