Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review; Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces

Fellow Michigan educator Nick Provenzano (a.k.a. The Nerdy Teacher) and I agreed to a book swap this fall. I sent over a copy of my new book and he kindly sent me a copy of his!

Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces is a quick and entertaining read. They don't call him "The Nerdy Teacher" for nothing! The book is full of obvious, and not so obvious nerdy humor (Star Wars, Superheros, He-man and more!), as well as some touching personal stories and anecdotes.

Let's be honest - a lot of the books in the "teaching and learning" section of your local book store, while helpful, aren't exactly entertaining. This one is!

Nick helped expand my understanding and perspective on what it means to be a maker. Making shouldn't be limited to coding and 3D printing - any form of creation (writing a poem, recording a song, etc) is making. "Making is the creation of something new that was not there before" (pg. 9). Personally, I'm not really into coding or 3D printing, but I am still a maker: I write and create digital content.

There is a lot of talk and excitement about creating makerspaces in schools and helping students to become makers. I don't think I have ever heard anyone articulate why being a maker is an important thing or why we should emphasize the skills of creation. Perhaps it is taken for granted; perhaps I'm the only one who doesn't know! Nick helped me out: "Creating more opportunities for students to Make and [celebrating] those creation is how we increase the likelihood that these students will continue to be creators and not just consumers" (pg. 11).

Students are our future. What they create, build, design, innovate, and construct will shape the world. Let's encourage them to be creators rather than simply consuming that which is given to them.

Not only will our students become creators when we encourage them to make, they also learn important problem solving skills. "The more that our students encounter [challenging] problem-based lessons, the stronger their skills will become, and they will be able to better handle bigger problems they will face outside of school in future jobs" (pg. 15). Makerspaces encourage problem-based-instruction which requires teamwork, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Not only does Nick provide the "WHY" of makerspaces, he also dives into the "HOW" providing a simple roadmap for the setup and design of a makerspace. I was quite surprised by the simple, honest advice that Nick provided:

  1. Makerspaces should be open and accessible to everyone.
  2. Get as many people involved as possible!
  3. Fill your makerspace with ideas and possibilities, not just tools and gadgets. 
He does a great job expanding on these three themes in chapters 3, 4, and 5. 

Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces is a great resource for anyone developing a makerspace or for anyone who keeps hearing people talk about makerspaces and is wondering what all the fuss is about. 

Buy the book from Amazon, read it and make something! You can connect with Nick via his blog or on Twitter

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What's Up with Android on Chrome?

The announcement of Android Apps coming to Chromebooks was one of the biggest announcements from Google in 2016. The original announcement happened back in May and the Google Play store is rolling out to more and more Chrome devices. 

I'm a big believer in ChromeOS (I wrote a book about it!), so I was interested in this major update to an already great platform. 

I have two Chromebooks that have had access to the Play store for quite a while (Asus Flip and Pixel). I have installed lots of Android apps onto both devices. 

Here's the interesting thing - I don't use them. 

So far, the ability to use Android on Chrome has absolutely zero impact on my daily use of my Chromebook. In fact, I have forced myself to use some Android apps (Pandora, Keep, Pixlr, Photoshop, Instagram) and it hasn't been a very enjoyable (or helpful) experience. 

The apps are designed for mobile phones and don't scale to fit my screen and the interface is designed for touch which means it takes more touches to perform an action. 

Pixlr, my primary photo editing app, is a good example. The left is the Android version of Pixlr. The right is the web-app. 

So far, I have been greatly underwhelmed by the use Android apps on my Chromebook. The only individuals who seem to be genuinely excited about Android on Chrome are those who want to access Android games. 

As an educator, I always ask "how would a classroom teacher use this tool?" So far, I'm not really sure. To me, it seems that adding Android to Chrome just complicates what was a beautifully simply platform. 

Android on Chrome is still very new, so I will reserve my final judgement. Perhaps app developers just need to make ChromeOS optimized versions of their apps. 

Help me out - have you found Android on Chrome to be helpful? What specific apps are you using that make your ChromeOS experience even better? 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Replacing Readability with Purify

Readability, one of my favorite Chrome extensions, will be shut down on December 10, 2016. You can read their announcement here.  Readability is one more in a long line of web-based tools that, while popular, did not have a monetization plan and were unable to continue development and support of their free service.

Readability was a tremendous tool for helping students access content without all of the clutter and garbage found on most major news sites.

After hearing of the impending shutdown of readability I spent quite a bit of time searching for alternatives. I tried out a lot of different extensions, but only one came even close to providing the simplicity and effectiveness of Readability.

If you are a Readability user, I recommend that you begin using Purify.

Purify Chrome Extension

Purify strips out all of the advertisements, videos, related stories and links that you tend to find on news sites. Purify is unique in that it pulls the content into columns and forces the user to scroll right / left rather than one long column like Readability. Purify does not provide any sharing or save for later options. It does offer the ability to change the font size and style. 

Purify is a solid replacement for Readability and the only decent replacement that I have been able to find. If you have other alternatives, please let me a comment!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

📚 Announcing The Chromebook Classroom! 📚

Two years ago, I decided to write a book. It was easy at first. I had lots of ideas, had enjoyable conversations with various people about those ideas, and starting sketching out the basic outline for the book.

Then it got harder. A lot harder. Writing is a slow, solitary, grind.
I decided that I needed some help (and accountability) for this project. So I asked my PLN if they would be interested in helping develop content for my book. Over 60 individuals said yes! They contributed lesson ideas, technical help, and reviewed my early drafts.

Writing early drafts of The Chromebook Classroom
We even met together in June of 2015 to work on this project together. Here a picture to prove it!

After more editing, reviews, and revisions, we had a finished manuscript that was ready for design and print!

Today, I am excited to officially announce the release of The Chromebook Classroom, the first detailed exploration of the use of Chromebooks in the K-12 classroom!

Starting today, The Chromebook Classroom is available from or for $24.95 (print) or $9.97 (digital). Bulk ordering options are also available.

Buy a copy of The Chromebook Classroom from between now and Thanksgiving (Nov. 24) and save 25%! That's only $18.75!

I am very proud of the final product and grateful to all those who helped make this project a success!

Books are meant to be read and I believe that this book can help educators use technology more effectively. I hope you will consider purchasing a copy for yourself, a friend, or a colleague.

Purchase the Chromebook Classroom from or
The Chromebook Classroom is available from Amazon or

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Visual Language of Chrome

 The Chromebook Classroom
This post is an excerpt from my new book, The Chromebook Classroom. You can download a free excerpt here! If you like it, you can purchase from or on Amazon! 

Teachers who use Chromebooks should adopt a common language to help their students quickly navigate ChromeOS. There are four key symbols that are found throughout the operating system that students should know and understand. Here's how I describe them when I train others on how to effectively navigate ChromeOS.

The "Google Waffle"

This symbol typically appears in the top right corner of Google services such as Gmail, Drive, and Calendar. Click to access your favorite Google applications.

The "Hamburger"

Also referred to as the "pancakes", this symbol represents settings, or options. In some versions of ChromeOS this symbol is in the top right corner of the Chrome browser. Clicking on it give you access to the Chrome menu.

The "Snowman" 

This symbol is also an indication for settings or options. It is frequently found in Chrome Apps. Some versions of ChromeOS have this symbol in the top right corner of the screen instead of the "hamburger."

The "Shish-kabob"

This rare symbol signifies application settings and is usually found within various Chrome Apps.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Turn any Website into a Chrome App

Any time I find a promising web-based tool I immediately check to see if they offer a Chrome App. In most cases, there isn't anything special about the app, it just provides a simple way for me, and my students, to access that particular website.

I have recently been playing around with Adobe Spark (see this post for a review). It's a great tool, but they don't offer a Chrome App. I recently discovered that it's super easy to turn any website into a Chrome App. It only takes 3 clicks!

  1. Visit the site 
  2. Click the "snowman" in Chrome
  3. Scroll down to More Tools > Add to shelf. 

That's it! You now have a link to your site on the shelf at the bottom of the screen and in the Chrome App Launcher. You can remove the app from the shelf if you wish and it will still be available from the App launcher.

Note that each individual user must do this; apps created in this way can't be pushed out to student devices.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Replacing the Research tool in Google Docs

By now you may have noticed that the "Research" tool in Google Docs, Slides, and Drawing has been replaced by the "Explore" tool. While Explore adds a few nice features (see my previous post for a complete overview), it has removed the citation feature which was heavily used by K-12 teachers.

There has been a fairly vocal outcry from educators because of the removal of the research tool. If you are disappointed that the research tool is no longer available you can send your suggestions to Google by opening a Google Document and visiting help > Docs Help > Send Feedback. 

Google does seem to be listening to this feedback as a the Docs team has created a survey exploring the use of the research tool. You can complete the survey here.

**Update the survey above is no longer accepting responses. The Docs team is reviewing feedback and considering a solution.**

While I too am a bit disappointed that the Research tool has been removed, there are a few facts to remember: 
  • The "citations" generated by the Research tool weren't really citations, they were footnotes.
  • Sometimes all you got was a link to the source, not the author, date, publication, etc.
  • While the Research tool gave you the option to switch between MLA, APA, and Chicago style, the formatting of the "citations" weren't in the correct format anyway. 
  • The research tool didn't create a bibliography or works cited page. 
Yes, the Research tool was a great place to start and I would love to see it brought back. However, there are some even better ways to handle citations and bibliographies that you can use right now!

EasyBib - Add-On for Google Docs

EasyBib has developed a free add-on for Google Docs that make it super easy to cite books, articles, and Websites. Just enter the URL, title, or ISBN number and EasyBib does the rest. The add-on will create a works-cited page (bibliography) for you and supports dozens of citation styles (most of which I have never even heard of!). Get started by connecting the add-on here

EasyBib also offers a Chrome Extension, however it requires setting up an EasyBib account and is not as easy to use as the other citation extensions listed below. If you are an EasyBib user, or your school has paid for the premium version of EasyBib, the extension may be of value to you. 

Cite This For Me - Chrome Extension

Visit any website and click the "cite" button and you will receive an automatically generated citation in your preferred format. Click "add to bibliography" to collect all of your sources and then copy/paste or download your list for further use. One neat thing about Cite is the fact that you don't have to log in or create an account to collect your resources (although the recommend that you do.). I tested this extension on several obscure websites and it did a great job. It even prompts you to enter missing information that it is unable to find. 

Apogee Citation Creator - Chrome Extension

Apogee is a super light-weight extension tool. Click the button and get your citation. No configuration, settings, or advanced options. Copy the citation and paste it wherever you need it. Apogee isn't as accurate as Cite This For Me (sometimes it misses the author), but it gets the basics. 

Citation Machine - Website

For very specific or obscure citations (Podcasts, YouTube Videos, etc), you may need to create a manual citation. I have used Citation Machine for many years (it helped me earn my M.Ed. degree!). It has been updated a bit, but is still dead simple to use and supports hundreds of different source material. Citation Machine doesn't automate the citation process, but it guides you through and creates perfect citations. 

I have looked at four possible replacements for the Research tool. Even if Google brings back the Research feature (we can hope!), you will need one ore more of these tools to create a true, properly formatted citation. 

I know there are many more citation tools out there. If you have a favorite that you would recommend, please leave a comment below!